It’s cultural

Jayme Doll is a reporter with Global TV in Calgary. In the winter of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in Sierra Leone as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

Hospitals, airports and even some schools have them. But this is the first time I have seen one in a radio station.

By most accounts it’s a pretty standard broadcasting building. A long narrow hallway leads to a collection of darkly lit studios equipped with fat microphones, sound boards covered in fingerprint stains and floor to ceiling black wavy foam padding the walls. But there is a red on air bulb missing above one of the small broadcasting cubicles replaced instead with a crucifix. Written in white paint on the door is the word: Chapel.

It should have been obvious from the start — the place after all is called Radio Maria. The station manager is a Priest, although you wouldn’t really know it at first glance. Dressed in well worn khakis and a half unbuttoned floral print — he’s been here on and off since the 60’s. An Italian with a hearty laugh and bronzed skin he says “I go where they send me; we are here to serve the entire world.”

The chapel is small with about a dozen chairs. The alter is draped in red African cloth with a large microphone balancing on top. The resident Priest says mass here every morning at 6am, broadcasting over the airwaves.
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A cluster of journalism students, their professor, my better half and I pile into his office. Think reggae meets rectory. The walls are painted in an eggshell blue bright printed curtains fight to keep out the sun but it pierces through the fabric creating a colourful glow only adding to the dynamic decor scheme.

“Why have you come?” he asks. I tell him I am a journalist doing a series of stories on human rights. I look forward to working with some of his staff. He tells me I am very welcome and says he is particularly concerned about the use of force on women and children. “It very much concerns me to see children being beaten by their parents and women by their husbands. They say this is a cultural thing but cultures can change.”

He challenges the students that are with me. A group of well dressed eager twenty something’s I have been helping mentor over the past couple days break their silence. “If we don`t beat the women they will think we don`t love them,” says one of the students. The other boys laugh. “It`s part of our culture.”

That little twinge inside of me when I disagree with something starts to creep up like an anxious ant crawling up my leg wondering which way to turn.

I try to be diplomatic. I look toward a pretty young woman crouched on a cushion next to me. “Do you agree with this? Do you have to be beaten to feel loved?” She shakes her head “No I don`t believe in it.”
“The best gift you can give to your children is to love their mother. If you show her respect, they will grow up to respect and love as well.”

The Father seems to have struck a chord, the smirk is wiped off the students faces and they nod.

This is not the first time I have had this debate while sitting around a coffee table in an African country. I think it just reinforces the lack of knowledge there really is for human rights or interest in changing opinion and habits. If educated journalists think it`s ok to beat a child or woman, how will they ever see the need to do a story on domestic violence.

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In the few shorts days we’ve been here, we have noticed a push to create awareness around domestic abuse by the government. Murals are painted on wooden billboards, denouncing spousal abuse.

But judging from today’s conversation it’s clearly going to take more than an oil paint illustration with an ‘x’ through it to stop an age old practice.

The Priest has faith. “I’m starting to see change,” he says. “It’s coming slowly.”

This post was originally written on March 6, 2013. You can also view it via Global News.

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