Author Archives: Nina

About Nina

Human rights issues have always been a passion of mine. And so has traveling, so it's no surprise that I incorporate that into my professional work. I'm currently working in Freetown, Sierra Leone with Journalists for Human Rights. This isn't my first time with JHR or in Freetown, in 2008 I had the opportunity to go and train local journalists. I worked with them on numerous human rights issues from child poverty to the role of the UN backed Special Court. The international court was set up to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for the country’s civil war. And I am thrilled to be back here to do more work with the local journalists. Prior to my second JHR stint, I worked for CBC in Canada's Northwest Territories. My reporting included Aboriginal issues, environment and politics. I've also filed for World Report, CBC Newsnetwork and The National. I've also reported for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in Toronto where I covered major national stories such as the Ipperwash inquiry , the Caledonia land dispute and the impact of the residential school system on Canada's Aboriginal population. My journalism career started as an internship at CBS in Miami, Florida where I worked side by side with veteran reporters. I have a degree from Ryerson university in Journalism.

A Turning Point for local JHR Trainers

Two Sierra Leonean JHR trainers of the program known as TTT ( Train the trainers) made history recently.

They had the opportunity to conduct a workshop for another international NGO, Handicap International. This is the first time that JHR trainers in the TTT program have provided training workshops for an NGO besides JHR.

Martha Kargbo and Kevin Lamdo are both in the TTT program,which means they are being trained to become full time journalism trainers themselves for other local journalists in the country.

Kargbo and Lamdo spent an entire afternoon providing the training to volunteers who work with people facing disabilities. Some of the workers are also living with disabilities themselves. The aim was to improve how they write reports and issues they are working on.

Kargbo says it is a step in the right direction for JHR, “Partnering with other NGO’s that are dealing with human rights issues especially disabilities, it’s a very good thing because we are giving support, ” she says.

She says they went through tips in story writing, including the 5 w’s (who, what, when, where and why).

Kargbo says putting a human face to the story was also emphasized and quoting conventions in reports such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Joanne Lee is a coordinator for physical rehabilitation and health programs. She says she saw this workshop as a good opportunity to increase training for their workers. She hopes they will have the skills to report both positive and negative things they are seeing in their work and to lobby and advocate for people with disabilities. Lee was pleased with the workshop from the JHR trainers.

” One thing we really liked is that it is delivered by local journalists to local workers,” says Lee, “That is a strength, they are here and understand the Sierra Leone connection and give the right skills, so there is potential for future work on this kind of thing.”

Mariama Jalloh was one of the participants and says the workshop was useful

Especially learning about the 5 w’s and she plans to apply it to her work now.

Jalloh hopes JHR and Handicap International will continue to partner, she says through training they will have more knowledge on how to work for people with disabilities.

Reporting during election time

Emerick Roy Coker is a host and journalist for Universal Radio in Freetown.
He’s also someone I was training through JHR earlier this year.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs I’ve seen firsthand the challenges journalists face here on a daily basis.
And with a presidential and parliamentary election set for November 17th, I wondered just how much more challenging a journalist’s role could become ,especially reporting on human rights issues.

Coker says journalists here encounter many barriers. He did some coverage earlier this year on the push for gay and lesbian rights and faced anonymous threats through texts and phone messages.
“That is a big issue in Sierra Leone, some believe our culture, it is not part of that,” says Coker.  “That is Western practice, so we should not be giving voice for those practicing same-sex rights.”
He plans to tackle the issue again during the elections.

Concern about violence during this election has also been on his mind, some incidents have already happened. The latest took place the last weekend of October where at least 10 people were wounded in the Kono district, known for its diamonds.
As a journalist he’s concerned about being a direct target for violence.

“Journalists during the last elections were beaten, lost their gadgets, up until now they have not been refunded,” he says.

Martha Kargbo works as a producer, reporter and presenter for Premier Tok Radio. I am currently training her through JHR’s Train the Trainer Program which teaches local journalists to become trainers through JHR. Kargbo also has concerns about her safety during the upcoming election.

“I’m not nervous but I’m worried. I work till 9, 10, 11 p.m., so before leaving the office, I make sure I look around the office so that there’s no threats, and I will not go direct to my home, I will stop from point to point so that I make sure someone is not chasing me, or looking where I’m going. ”

She also says she has faced similar situations like Coker when tackling human rights issues.

“There is no freedom of information act here, the press is still harassed,” she says. ” Politicians are still trying to buy the press, corrupt them so those who are refusing, are having challenges, they are being refused interviews, there’s security threats. It’s very difficult to work in a country like Sierra Leone.”

Both Coker and Kargbo say they just hope things will go smoothly during election time and insist that despite the challenges they have they will continue to push the envelope when it comes to reporting in Sierra Leone.


The Power of Television

Innovative and creative was the approach an organization called Advocaid used to help educate people about their legal rights in Sierra Leone recently.

They did it by dramatizing issues through a series on local television .

Now, the series called Police Case has been nominated for an Innovating Justice award.

I worked on a story about the series with a local journalist I was training right before it went to air.

On a Saturday afternoon we headed to a local police station to interview production staff of Concept Multimedia. This is the company that shot end edited the series , which centres around a character named Adama, facing a charge of domestic violence. She is arrested and thrown in jail without access to a lawyer.

When the journalist and I arrive the actress, Whitsunnette Wright playing Adama is rehearsing a scene where she sits in a cell venting to other women prisoners about the unfair way police treated her.

The reality of this situation is far too common according to a paralegal who works at Advocaid who we also speak to.

The organization works to help women integrate back into society and has even helped her.

The paralegal prefers to not be identified as it could affect her job at Advocaid. But does add that there is a great need for such a series because so many people, especially women, are violated of their rights when arrested.

In fact, in the past year, Advocaid has helped more than 400 women in Sierra Leone who were denied their legal rights in some way.

She says the most common problem is that women are not informed of the reason for their arrest.

Which was why there was such an urgent need for the series to air.

She is also quick to point out though that Police Case is not meant to shed a negative light on police but rather to educate people about their legal rights.

The winner of the award is set to be announced this November.


Still Going Strong

This isn’t my first time in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Four years ago I was here doing the same work with JHR. I briefly worked at a radio station and then because of my TV skills moved over a TV station called ABC Action News . It was on its last legs.

Most of the time I was there training journalists the station was off the air due to financial and technical constraints.

Many of them naturally were frustrated and starting to lose hope.

I wondered what would happen to the station and these journalists, it was a shame to see them so frustrated when they had so much passion.

After I returned to Canada they would creep into my thoughts every now and then.

I would wonder -what are they doing now, are they even still in the country? Or doing any kind of journalism?

Fast forward to 2012 and I’m back in Freetown doing the same work with JHR.

My first few days in, I bump into a video journalist I frequently worked with last time I was here.

I am pleased to hear he is doing camera and editing work at the Special Court in Freetown. This is where three trials of different rebel groups who fought in the country’s civl war took place.

A few months later I am out covering a story at the federal court house and do a double take as I see another journalist I used to train.

He is still working in radio and still holds the same passion for his craft.

About a week later I am rushing for yet another interview and I hear someone calling me, I turn around and see yet another journalist from the same former TV station.

He proudly tells me he has started up his own production company.

It just goes to show that if the passion is there for something you believe things have a way of sometimes working out.

A Debate on Reporting Skills

How do journalists go about reporting fairly and accurately- especially during crucial times like elections?

In just under three months people in Sierra Leone will hold elections.

The media will play big role during this time period.

That was why JHR and the Academia of Sierra Leone joined forces and held a public debate on “Conflict Sensitive Approaches to Media Reporting” recently in the country’s capital, Freetown.

I attended the program along with my JHR colleagues curious to hear what would transpire throughout the day.

The head of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sierra Leone, Memunatu Pratt was Chairperson. And the lead Speaker was Dr. Julius Spencer who has served as a Minister of Information during the Tejan Kabbah administration and now owns Premier Media-one of the leading media houses in Sierra Leone.

Dr. Spencer points out that some journalists tend to sensationalize reporting. Even the way someone uses words in a story can sway a reader he says. He also spoke of how sensationalized headlines can have an effect on how someone views a story. He says that can cause conflict between people and even result to violence.

Another issue he touched on was how some reporters tend to cover only press conferences where they get their transport paid and a lunch. As a trainer I have seen this firsthand. And it ‘s something I try to discourage journalists here from doing. Or at least if covering a presser get other voices as well to balance out the story and put a human face to it. But as one person from the audience pointed out during the debate, many journalists do not get paid on time and some not at all. And they have to stay until the end of the presser to get their money and by then they are close to deadline and have to get back to file. Plus, when you have to put food on the table- what are you supposed to do? And that’s a solid point too and another thing I have witnessed. Many journalists here also pay for their own transport and cell phone calls for interviews.

One comment that came from several people throughout the day was the lack of actual journalists who attended. Perhaps they had too much on their plates already that day with looming deadlines. So I decided to seek out a journalist who did make it, Mohamed Wurie to see what he thought.

He agreed with much of what was said during the debate, “Most journalists are not paid by media houses,” he says. “Most just do programs when they get transport paid.”

But he adds that he is hopeful and positive some attitudes will change. He says the debate was worth having because it was a lively and thought provoking discussion. And even if only a few local reports are done it’s a step forward.

I think that is an important fact too. And I think that it’s always good to keep a conversation going and discuss how to move forward and improve on a craft.

No steps are too small.

A Fine Balance?

A red blanket is draped over Ken Rinka while he jumps as high as he can. He is performing a traditional dance of his Masai culture, whoever can jump the highest gets the girl he says. Rinka is 23 years of age and he does this mainly to impress tourists who come on safari in the Masai Mara in Kenya. He says his village is a place where tourists can see a traditional way of Masai life. They pay a fee of about 25 Canadian dollars and can walk around the village interacting with the people who live there. The Masai have kept their traditional lifestyles – living like their ancestors have been doing for thousands of years. This is contrary to most other Kenyan tribes, who have adapted to more western lifestyles. But that soon could change here too.

Rinka is just one of the hosts to tourists in this village and does it as a part time job, he says he doesn’t normally dress in traditional clothing anymore. He wants to be a doctor and struggles on whether or not he even wants to stay in his village or live elsewhere.Leaving the community would be a big step and one he is not sure he is ready to take he says. But he does not agree with all of the traditional ways of the Masai.

“They do polygamous marriage, he says. ” People don’t like that so much now, I am not sure I want to do that. Also, people are relying only on cattle for food and drink..I want to try different things.” Traditionally the Masai drink the blood and milk of cattle and eat the meat he further explains.

Chief Muli of the village says this lack of interest is no surprise to him – the majority of youth are no longer interested in the Masai way of life he says. He realizes this is natural to a certain extent, but worries about the culture eventually dying out completely. He hopes tourists who come to the Masai Mara keep visiting the village so interest remains in the culture. He also encourages young Masai to work as hosts to tourists and make some money by doing so. Currently the Masai are the biggest and most well known Indigenous group in Kenya and the Chief would like to keep it that way.

This struggle of balancing traditional values and a more modern lifestyle is happening all over the world with Indigenous cultures, including in Canada. Cynthia Wesley Esquimaux is a member of the Chippewa of Georgina Island First Nation in Ontario. She has taught Aboriginal studies at the University of Toronto.And she currently sits as the Nexen chair of Aboriginal Leadership.

Esquimaux says she is constantly seeing the identity struggle young Aboriginal people face, “The main reason is there has not been enough transmission of traditional knowledge to the youth,” she says. ” The hip hop culture is a good example of youth creating their own evolution of Aboriginal culture, and there are many youth who attend pow wow’s and ceremonial events with other communities, because their own do not practice traditional values and ceremony. ”

Like the Chief back in Kenya, Esquimaux says elders in Canada also try to engage young generations. “Well, elders are waking up spiritually and making the effort to speak to youth in a variety of venues, certainly going to schools is a good way of meeting them where they live, and helping with theatre and language acquisition,” she says. ” I make it possible for them to attend my classes when I am teaching at the University.”

There are actions being taken to recognize challenges like this that Indigenous groups face. Every year on August 9th people acknowledge the International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples. Esquimaux is glad for this day as it gives people pride in their culture.

It was created by the United Nations in 1994 and also aims to recognize the rights of Indigenous people. According to the UN there are an estimated 370 million Indigenous people in some 70 countries around the world.

Esquimaux is hopeful Indigenous cultures in Canada and elsewhere can survive.

Back in the Masai Mara, Ken Rinka is also hopeful he and others will somehow be able to find a balance so that they can cherish their traditions but also move forward to develop new skills in a fast changing world.

The Charles Taylor verdict

Being in Sierra Leone April 26th was a very interesting time…it was the day the verdict came down for Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia. Taylor was convicted by the UN backed Special Court on an 11 count indictment. The judges found him guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone. The crimes included murder, rape, sexual slavery, mutilation and amputations. I had just arrived in Freetown, the capital, the night before. And made my way to the special court of Sierra Leone where the verdict was broadcast live from the Hague in Holland. Local and international journalists flooded in to report on the verdict.

Perhaps what was most compelling though was the hundreds of Sierra Leoneons who came out to hear the verdict, from Freetown and from rural areas of the country. About 1,000 people showed up in total. I spoke to several people that day about what their thoughts were on the verdict.

Sierra Leoneon Alhaji Jusu Jarka wants to see Charles Taylor serve 100 years in prison. He lost both hands during his country’s civil war which ended in 2002 and he blames Taylor for that. He now is chair of the Sierra Leone amputee association. He welcomes the verdict saying, ” This sets an example that no matter how high you might be in authority , when you go against the law, you must pay and they must wipe out the impunity that is happening.”

Not everyone agrees, Eldred Collins is a former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) member. That was one of the rebel groups who fought in the war. Taylor is accused of supplying the RUF with arms and ammunition in exchange for diamonds. Collins says the verdict is too harsh and that Taylor was not responsible for what happened to the country. “You can say he gave us a way to come to Liberia from Sierra Leone and some other help but that communication was only for about 2 years.” Liberia has diamonds people have been forced to lie in this trial.”

Still, others on the streets of Freetown say they are not interested in what happens to Taylor. Michael Bangura is one of those people…he lost both his parents in the war and says it’s too traumatic to hear anything more. He now makes his living driving a taxi and barely makes ends meet. “I don’t have interest, the war is the past, I lost my parents, it was difficult, I don’t want to hear about it anymore., ” he says.

Taylor’s sentencing is due May 30th. According to the Special Court rules- sentences must be given a specified term of years. And the court may not impose a life sentence or death penalty. The prosecution is asking for an 80 year sentence.

Taylor’s defence has already said it plans to appeal.