JHR has worked with hundreds of journalists in Sierra Leone since starting programming in-country in 2007. Some of the journalists attend large forums. Others come to smaller, intensive workshops. Still others have applied for and received a JHR Fellowship.
I believe the Fellowship program is one of the most effective ways of spreading human rights awareness in-country while enhancing journalism skills. The Fellowship program has three main goals:
1. Build the capacity of local journalists to complete in-depth, investigative stories on different locally relevant human rights issues.
2. Provide incentives and acknowledgements for journalists who aim to increase awareness of human rights issues.
3. Increase the number of stories in the local media on locally relevant human rights issues.
Essentially, after applying for and accepting a Fellowship, a journalist is assigned a point-trainer. That person works one-on-one with the Fellow on their story idea. The trainer helps refine the story, organize the outline and helps gather the applicable international human rights instruments. The local journalist is responsible for the sources, interviews, attributions and research… to create a feature article or radio piece. JHR tops up local salaries with a financial stipend, often more than what a journalist is paid from their media house… which is often nothing. As we say in Salone, “we work hand-in-glove”.
This is an intensive program… leading to some great journalism and some fabulous rights media pieces. The JHR Fellows, over the years, have worked on stories about child rights, education, health, prison/prisoner services, intellectual property rights, housing, teen pregnancy, gender violence, illegal adoptions, national power supplies and others.
And, where are those journalists now?
Arthur Samai Jr. is now a news director at a radio station in Liberia where he regularly reports on human rights issues and recently covered the Liberian election. He has helped his family back here in Sierra Leone build a house and resurrect their family lot.
Arthur did his Fellowship in 2010 on illegal adoptions that took place during the 1990s and the role that one NGO, Help a Needy Child, played in those processes. Illegal adoptions were rampant during the war years and continued into 2010. Impact? The government of Sierra Leone put a moratorium on adoptions in the middle of 2010 partly as a result of stories like Arthur’s.
Abu Bakar Jalloh, affectionately referred to as “ABJ” is a JHR Fellowship superstar. He completed his Fellowship in early 2009, just after I arrived in Sierra Leone. ABJ did a video documentary on water and sanitation conditions in Freetown. He also attended every single JHR event up until his departure for Germany, where he completed a tv production training course with Deutsche Welle Akademie.
ABJ is now producing a nightly tv show and working as a freelance journalist in Bonn, Germany.
Sarah Bomkapre Kamara is a young, talented journalist who also happens to be the current President of Women in the Media – Sierra Leone. Sarah completed her Fellowship – and her Mass Communications Degree from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone – in 2010. Sarah was working part-time with Cotton Tree News, supported by Hirondelle Foundation, when she proposed her story idea to JHR. Sarah investigated conditions for blind students at tertiary institutions in Freetown. Her radio documentary touched on disability issues, government promises and the inability of most Salone institutions to cater to the needs of people with disabilities, especially those with visual impairments.
Sarah is now doing her Masters Degree, under a full scholarship, at a university in Groningen, Germany.
Bondakassy Yayie is now the editor and proprietor of African Pre-Colonial Magazine, based out of Freetown but distributed quarterly throughout the country. His magazine is widely read and although he says he works on a shoestring, the articles and layout are significantly attractive to advertisers and patrons. He regularly covers issues of human rights, rights media, politics, lifestyle, history and tradition.
Bondakassy did his JHR Fellowship in 2010 on intellectual property rights, copyright, piracy and theft in the music industry in Sierra Leone. He talked to the historical greats of the industry as well as the up-and-comers in the burgeoning music industry. At the time, Sierra Leone relied on antiquated copyright and piracy laws – inherited from the British during the Colonial period pre-1950. Interestingly, Sierra Leone has recently re-written the piracy and copyright laws to include music, photography, newspapers, etc. Impact? The laws are much tougher now… and the beneficiaries/musicians are now seeing returns on their efforts.
Sometimes it takes time for a Fellow or Fellowship project to create an impact for the journalist and for the country. But these JHR Fellows, among the many we’ve worked with, have progressed and changed the media environment and our Sierra Leonean community.