Tag Archives: rights media

The Ups and Downs in the Life of a JHR Trainer

By: Grant McDonald

I have a secret. I am an imposter. I am an evening person masquerading as a spunky morning person.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the productive early mornings I often have in Juba, South Sudan; but the summoning sound of my morning alarm or the very early phone calls I often receive from journalists I’ve worked with here just to say “hello,” leads to a premature requiem for my dreams.

I don’t check the forecast in the morning, it’s either going to be hot, very hot or raining. I do however scroll through numerous tweets, press releases and articles about South Sudan to get an idea of what the day might hold.

A small community just outside of the main city centre. (Photo: Robin Pierro JHR)

A small community just outside of the main city centre. (Photo Credit: Robin Pierro JHR)

The ongoing civil war has led to near economic collapse, severe malnutrition and severe hunger across the country. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis reveals about 4.6 million people, or 40 per cent of South Sudan’s estimated population, face acute hunger in the next three months. This knowledge doesn’t just ground me, it smacks me in the face and calls me a coward. Alarm clock complaints? Please.

I head to the office of one of my local partners (Agency for Independent Media) which is a 10 minute walk from where I live, passing small tea huts and makeshift homes on the way. Although dry and dusty, there are splendid trees hurling shade towards me, as if questioning my decision to walk under the sun.

My days are never identical. My time here is typically split three-fold. Designing and hosting workshops for professional local journalists in the country, following up with trained journalists to help with their stories and designing journalism curriculum for The University of Juba.

We have a large task ahead of us in the coming days. We’re planning a multi-day workshop followed by a certificate ceremony for journalists who previously took part in Journalists for Human Rights training.

Putting Fires Out

There is one guarantee in South Sudan, the guarantee that at least one aspect of your well thought out plan will go awry.

The upcoming workshop was being held for journalism students who are part of The Student Press Club instead of working journalists.

Two days prior to the aforementioned workshop, I was told – over a spotty phone connection by Dr. Michael Joz — the Secretary General of the Press Club – that his members wouldn’t be participating due to travel budget restrictions. The entire club! Meaning as it currently stood, not a single soul was planning on coming to my workshop.

As the phone line goes silent at the end of the conversation, I stare at my outdated, scuffed-up navy blue cell phone screen which sarcastically flashes 0930hrs…I have less than 48 hours to remedy this situation.

I sort through the beige file folders precariously stacked on top of the office filing cabinets and buzz through the budget. We have money to cover travel for participants! A quick phone call to Dr. Joz and we’re back in business.

Next up, ensuring journalists show up to the certificate ceremony. Timing is everything, something I call the Goldilocks-syndrome. Give people too much notice, they’ll forget. Too little, they can’t make it. I’m looking for the perfect bowl of porridge.

I’m not a religious person, but the Regional Media Trainer I hired can only be described as a God-Send. Onen Walter Solomon took control of this task a few days prior, meticulously calling every journalist in our database (over 100) to let them know of the event. Now, he was calling to confirm.

from left... onen walter solomon, grant mcdonald and david de dau

From Left: Onen Walter Solomon, Grant McDonald and David De Dau. Outside of Agency for Independent Media Office in Juba.

Power Struggle

There are different types of power struggles happening in South Sudan. Some political, others personal…mine is more literal.

We’re in the middle of a fuel shortage (common in Juba). There’s no fuel. What does that mean? It means the generator which gives life to the venue I have booked is bone dry and unable to perform its all important job: generating power!

One suggestion is that we “simply” change the location of both the workshop and ceremony.

I now have less than 24 hours before participants arrive and I don’t plan on teaching in the dark. Walter has also just spent the last several days calling over 100 people to tell them where and when to come for the ceremony as well as inviting local Ministers to be in attendance.

However, just as the sun rises each morning over Africa, things like this have a funny way of always working out here. A jerry-can of fuel has been located which will get us through at least the first day (don’t ask me how one was “suddenly” found, because I just don’t know). We’ll deal with day two when we get there.

Workshop

I arrive half an hour before the start of the workshop in order to get everything ready. Some participants are already awaiting my arrival. Together, we wait to hear the sound of the generator roaring to life.

That glorious sound eventually reverberates through the room at 0904hrs followed by the flickering of lights!

Day one goes well, 15 participants with about 1/3 being female take part. My favourite moments within the workshops tend to occur near the beginning when I get to hear a little bit about each person there. I get to understand why they want to enter this chaotic world of journalism. Their drive inspires me daily.

During a mid-day break, I get word from the venue managers that there will be fuel for tomorrow. A wave of relief comes over me, this also means I can still host the certificate ceremony.

The second day goes smooth as well with a great amount of participation and sharing of ideas. Near the end we discuss the world the way it is, and the way it should be. How as journalists, there is an obligation to help shape this world by delivering the voices of countless individuals to the ears of those in power; and demand accountability.

Discussion of human rights during a JHR workshop

Discussion of human rights during a JHR workshop

The workshop closes at 1500hrs and I have one hour to create a more “ceremonial” feel in the room next door for the handing over of certificates which gets going at 1600hrs.

The generator usually switches off at 1700hrs sharp, so we have to squeeze introductions, speeches and hand over a lot of certificates within the hour. Not a small feat when you’re running on “South Sudan Time,” which can be a bit relaxed.

Through some heavy lifting and sweat we get the room set and the journalists begin arriving along with the ministers and other government representatives.

I’m a bit overwhelmed to see so many familiar faces. After being greeted wonderfully by each of them I have a moment to reflect and in that moment an indescribable feeling of privilege (I suppose it can be called) pushed up from my body and settled in the form of a lump in my throat.

I am so privileged to have had the opportunity to work with so many inspiring journalists. Young, old, rich and poor – we are all equals in the field of journalism; fighting for something so much larger than ourselves.

Congratulating a JHR-trained journalist receiving his certificate

Congratulating a JHR-trained journalist receiving his certificate

I say a few words to the journalists seated in front me. The focus being that the certificate is simply a piece of paper. A piece of paper which will hopefully act as a reminder to continue to fight – through journalism – against human rights violations and a reminder that they can help shape their nation by being a voice for those who have silently faced injustice.

The ceremony comes to an end and just like that, the journalists I have shared ideas, hopes and dreams with are gone. Back out into the world; a world which often views them as the enemy.

I pack my bag and my trusty projector which has – for the last couple days – hummed away as it lit up a small portion of an off-white wall full of chipped paint. The intention of what is being projected is to give a stronger understanding of journalism, human rights and the role the media can play in this ever changing environment.

jhr trainees

Group shot of journalists with JHR certificates

The generator goes silent, and the lights sleep; for another day has come to a close.

As the sun retreats to the safety of the horizon, I will replay the previous days in my mind as I wander home. The tea shops are now closed, the trees no longer cast any shade and the dust has settled.

If rising early means I am able to continue to have the privilege of knowing that the day will bring new challenges, new opportunities and more ways to be inspired…I’ll keep telling people I’m a morning person.

New Station, New Inspiration in South Sudan

By: Grant McDonald from Juba, South Sudan

How often do you find yourself seeking out inspiration? We often scroll through our Facebook page for a link, Reddit for its memes and Buzzfeed for its lists. We rely on pillows and coffee mugs that tell us to laugh and live, we place pictures of cats “hanging in there” on our cubicle walls.

But what if we’re looking in all the wrong places? What if that co-worker we awkwardly pass by several times a day with the obligatory “how’s it going?” holds a story of personal redemption and triumph, what if that barista who spells your name wrong everyday on your to-go cup is someone’s personal hero. Chances are, inspiration is all around us waiting to be found.

A wonderful quality of inspiration is that it comes in many forms. This past week I have found inspiration in the form of equality.

Journalists form smaller working groups as part of JHR workshop.

Journalists form smaller working groups as part of JHR workshop.

Since being in South Sudan with Journalists for Human Rights, I consistently attempt to increase the number of female journalists attending my Rights Media workshops…but it’s challenging. The number of male journalists in the profession far outweigh the number of women. Some media houses prefer to send male journalists to the workshops because they are more senior and other media houses simply do not employ a single female journalist.

However, there is something stirring in South Sudan. Something which could signal a palpable movement in media equality and diversity. A newly formed media house called Equator Broadcast Corporation (EBC).

Management team of EBC touring new studios.

The station has yet to launch, but it has hired a team of driven, intelligent and brave journalists, editors, camera operators, producers, graphic designers of whom I found myself standing in front of this week soaking in the inspiration they seemed to exude. I also – for the first time – found myself hosting a workshop for 41 participants, 50 per cent of them being female.

What was wonderful about this team, was that regardless of tribe, creed or gender, they worked in symbiotic motion. Speaking with management of EBC I expressed my excitement with their decision to hire with such equality. Their response was simple and eloquent, “it makes us a stronger unit.”

Speaking to a room full of inspiring journalists. For the first time, the workshop had a 50% turnout of female journalists.

I was left speechless at the end of the workshop when I was presented with a gift from the station, a sculpture of a circle of friends representing an unbreakable bond and a continuous source of inspiration.

The station – as well as media as a whole here — has a long road ahead of it. Reporters Without Borders latest report on media freedom around the world places South Sudan 125th on a list of 180 countries.

However, against great odds, these young women and men will continue to push their nation forward all the while creating a by-product of inspiration for me.

So close the laptop, lose the lists and mum the memes. Find inspiration in your co-workers, ask the barista to tell you her story. I guarantee, it will supersede an image of a cat “hanging in there.”

“They’ll tell you it’s too early, until it’s too late.”

By: Grant McDonald

I’ve never read an obituary or heard a eulogy reminiscing of one’s monetary power, the size of the building they used to call home or the thread count of the sheets they once owned. I have however, read and heard of their passions, their character and most importantly, their impact on others.

As individuals, we are constantly seeking ways to find fulfilment and leave behind meaningful change. I have been lucky by finding outlets for this throughout my life. Journalists for Human Rights is one of the most inspiring ways that I have come across. Does this fall under reciprocal altruism? To a certain degree, yes.

Reciprocally altruistic is one of the various (almost comical) accusations I’ve welcomed from perfect strangers regarding my outlook on my work with JHR, as well as being: too positive, too optimistic, too hopeful, or just plain naïve.

As each of us push toward our own unique goals however, we cannot be fazed by this. At the same time, we must also ensure we have the evidence to back up our seemingly theoretical optimism. We owe that much to whatever we’re fighting for.

Anyang John Kur holds his published story regarding childhood marriage

Anyang John Kur holds his published story regarding childhood marriage

Since my time in South Sudan I have worked with every media house in Juba and Yei in some capacity, I have trained 85 journalists – many of whom have published powerful human rights stories – I’ve helped launch an SMS-based website to create a network for journalists and written journalism curriculum for the university while also teaching there. These are the hard facts, by the numbers.

I will never forget the powerful impact Emmanuel Monychol Akop had on me. Emmanuel is the Editor of The Juba Telegraph. We were discussing the work of JHR and I felt myself losing grip of my own confidence and optimism as I described to him what we were hoping to achieve. I felt myself shying away from my convictions as I let the outside doubt seep into my psyche.

I mumbled something along the lines that while I understood he might consider it to be too early or too risky to start publishing articles focused on human rights violations…and that’s when he cut me off with a short sentence which re-energized me.

“They’ll tell you it’s too early, until it’s too late.”

In any project within the NGO world, there are – with good reason — hard numbers which need to be accounted for, the hard facts you need to back up your argument.

Head of Communications at Juba University Dr. Williams and I solidifying JHR's partnership.

Head of Communications at Juba University Dr. Williams and I solidifying JHR’s partnership.

However, I have yet to find a way to chart courage, I can’t fit progress into a pie chart and I certainly can’t represent the hope of a nation through a non-linear graph.

So, dear reader, if you truly believe in a cause, be it media development — or something completely different – and it appears to sit impossibly out of reach or naïve to others, think of the words of the late Nelson Mandela:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

We can choose to be pulled down by cynicism and accept indifference as our creed, or we can pull others up through our example and enthusiasm. In the end, that’s what they’ll talk about at your eulogy.

 

Yei, South Sudan: Our journey along the Dusty Road

By: Grant McDonald

A small village along the road to Yei

A small village along the road to Yei

As we passed small villages seemingly frozen in time, the vehicle weaves from one side of the road to the other in an attempt to find the “smoothest” path forward. I couldn’t help allowing my mind to wander to the land of metaphors (one of my favourite places). We can all relate to this within our own lives, we all understand that the road ahead is quite bumpy, it’s difficult to see what’s coming and we fully realize we will eventually need to refuel, but we all hold onto hope that we will find a way to continue moving forward, navigating new territory in search of our goals.

Repairing some “loose parts”.

I was quickly brought back to reality as the Land Cruiser hit what can only be described as a crater in the road leading to some uneasy sounds coming from under the vehicle. Pulling over to assess the damage we found a few “loose parts.” Nothing a wrench couldn’t handle in the interim, until we found a roadside garage to offer a more permanent fix. (We would later fall victim to the road once again on the drive home with a flat tire).

My goal, in the literal sense was getting to Yei (pronounced yay!) to hold Journalists for Human Rights’ first workshop outside of the capital city of Juba, South Sudan. We had hit the road much later than we had planned and now the driver (great guy) was trying to make up lost time.

Yei is located approximately 160 kilometres southwest of Juba. In terms of distance, it doesn’t sound too far if you’re thinking in terms of highway driving at 120km/h. This is different. The drive took us about six hours, six hours of dust, heat and did I mention bumps?

Even with the windows up, dust still finds its way into the vehicle, your eyes, your lungs, I suppose it’s all consuming. We had the windows down, as one does when AC is not available. Mix that with sweat (it’s about 40°C here) and by the time we arrived to our lodging area in Yei, a good shower was in order!

Workshop Begins

The next morning, the first journalist arrives around 8:45 a.m. followed soon after by others from various media houses in the area and some civil society groups. The room is soon full of life, 26 participants, some chatting amongst themselves while others flip through the provided handouts on Human Rights reporting.

Discussing elements within a Rights-Based story.

Over the next couple days, I will have the privilege of sharing new ideas with this group of young, hopeful journalists who are fighting a battle I can’t even pretend to fully understand. A fight to ensure freedom of speech, a fight against injustice and a fight to ensure those without a voice can find one through the media.

We speak of balanced reporting, their ideas of needed elements within a story and mitigating risk. The Union of Journalists, one of JHR partners on the ground in South Sudan deliver a guest lecture on the importance of unity. As the workshop comes to a close, a moment of silence is held for our fallen colleagues. Five journalists had been gunned down in a vicious ambush earlier that week in Western Bahr al Ghazal state, a stern reminder of the risk journalists take here.

Humbled 

I use the word “humbled” too often when describing the feeling which permeates my being after most encounters with my journalism colleagues here in South Sudan. This time was different, I was hit with anger, frustration and a feeling of helplessness as the moment of silence ended. Until one journalist spoke, “We will carry on their work, for a better South Sudan.”

Moment of silence for the five journalists killed in Western Bahr al Ghazal state.

I realized, each of these journalists were on their own individual journey, weaving along a bumpy road, full of craters and obstacles. They are strong, stronger than me, as they unite in a singular voice against human rights violations. Their forward gaze remains unbroken, refusing to settle for the status quo as they push toward their future goals at the end of their own dusty road.

Polio effects linger in Ghana despite vaccines

When Maclean Atsu Dzidzienyo contracted polio as a nine-year-old, his symptoms worsened to the point where his nerves were affected and his legs became paralyzed. Now an athletic 26-year-old, he expertly maneuvers his wheelchair around the dusty compound of the Accra Rehabilitation Center (ARC), where he is completing his year of national service in the Center’s financial department.

Complications caused by the poliovirus, such as paralysis, contribute to reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) that Ghana’s disability rate stands between seven and 10 per cent.

“The majority of the people [who live and work at the Center] became disabled through polio, and a few of them had accidents,” Dzidzienyo said. “Hardly you will hear of somebody who was born with his disability.”

Among other West African countries, Ghana has taken strong measures to eradicate polio in the country within the past few decades, and has made significant progress from the time when Dzidzienyo was a child.

No new cases of polio have been reported in West Africa in 2012, according to the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI). Ghana’s last confirmed cases of polio were in 2009. That year, country health officials publically confirmed that eight children had contracted the virus, which was an increase by about five cases from the previous year. Before these comparatively minor outbreaks Ghana had enjoyed a period of being polio-free since 2003, according to the PEI.

This is a welcome change to Alexander Kojo Tetteh, the founder and CEO of the ARC. He also contracted the virus as a child and had his mobility impaired, though he still retains his ability to walk.

The desks at his primary school were very difficult to maneuver into and the set-up required that the children sit in pairs. No one wanted to sit next to him because they thought they could be infected by his disability, he said.

“Nobody was friendly. So I was not happy as a schoolchild,” Tetteh added.

Children can get inoculated in two ways: with an injection of a dead strain of the poliovirus, or take oral drops, which are typically the most popular in developing countries due to their ability to inoculate more people. The oral vaccine is less commonly used in developed nations because the efficacy of the vaccine depends on the strain of polio it is meant to eliminate, as it is a live culture. It can also change to the form of virus that can attack the patient, causing paralysis and nerve damage.

The poliovirus is now virtually eradicated in many countries around the world due to the development of polio vaccines in the 1950s and a global immunization campaign that began in the 1988. However, the virus can still be found in some countries in Africa and Asia. Ghana continues to have yearly mass polio inoculations. This year’s three-day campaign in March expected to reach about 5.8 million children under the age of five.

Ghanaian journalist lectures JHR chapter about rights media

Francis Npong speaks at the jhr-IIJ media forum

Photo by Robin McGeough

On May 19, the JHR chapter at Tamale’s International Institute of Journalism hosted a community forum about witchcamps.

Among the speakers was human rights journalist Francis Npong, the northern correspondent for The Enquirer newspaper. When Npong addressed the students, he gave a solid introduction to rights media in the Northern Region.

Here is an abridged transcript of his speech. For un-edited audio, listen here.

On choosing a career in journalism

“Now as journalists, if I asked this question: ‘Why are you here? Why do you want to be a journalist?’. If your answer is ‘I want to be rich’, you have chosen [the] wrong profession. I am telling you. If you say ‘I want to be loved by everybody, because journalists are supposed to be popular’, this is the wrong profession or the wrong idea … You are not supposed to be loved by any other person or to be rich. Journalism is … a profession that does reward [financially].”

On journalists’ loyalty

“The journalist[‘s] loyalty, should not be to the state. It should be to individuals and the public. I define my public as the weak, the poor, the sick, the marginalized. Let’s talk about the marginalized; those who do not have any power or the voice to say whatever they feel like saying.”

On the role of journalists in Ghana

“Now, the world is changing. The role of the media or journalists now goes beyond just the traditional role of informing, educating [and ] entertaining. The world needs journalists today more than 30 years ago. This century needs more dedicated journalists than any other century.

Why am I saying all [this]? You can see a lot of things happening… We used to say people didn’t have education, now [someone in] every house somebody has completed [secondary school] and the probability that the person reads or writes is very high.

So why are we still reporting on human rights abuses? And a whole lot of issues that do not speak well of us. That is why there is the need for us to step up [with] our profession, our education to be journalists so we can [correct] the situations that are all over … even within our houses.”

On protecting the identities of survivors of human rights abuses

“People put images of abused children, women or whoever in front [pages] without regard for their dignity… That is very bad. Recently … I published a story on allegations of witches … I put a picture and when you look at it, you will see an image but you cannot see the face. That is an aspect of human rights journalism. You see, you put the picture there and people should not be able to identify the image vividly. Because if I see the woman walking on the road, I’ll say ‘Ah, is that not the woman I saw in the papers?’. So that marginalization will continue.”

On the intentions of journalists

“Society is dynamic. Norms, regulation and rules in society can be changed depending on the activeness of journalists… But we are doing this consciously … in line with professionalism. In journalism, we call it the big five principal. In everything that you do, there must be:

  • The truth
  • Accuracy in what you are doing
  • You must be independent, do not allow yourself to be influenced.
  • In all that you do, you must be fair
  • Commitment to minimize harm in all that you do.

In Rwanda, all the genocide that happened was just [from] the pen of a journalist, who caused that mess … What have you gained from the [genocide]?

In journalism, we are writing, not because of writing’s sake. If you … want to write as a journalist, because you can to write and get a main by-line, forget it! That is not the motive for a journalist … ”

On the dangers of human rights reporting in Tamale

“When I came to Tamale, people asked ‘How can you leave Kumasi … and come to Northern Region to do what, you want to be killed?’. I said no, I want to be part of the change. If there is a change today, I am happy to be part of the change.

In 2004, when were writing issues of corruption, bad governance, women’s rights abuses … For years, I was not sleeping my house. I am telling you, some of us [journalists] survived the storm.
I came here under flying bullets, flying stones and we were there to cover live [events].

It came to a time that I was accused by a police commander … of stealing a document in his office. Look at your safety. How [safe] are you? So it was a bad time to operate as a journalist and human rights journalism was very difficult to practice. But some of did it under a disguise.”

On interviewing survivors of human rights abuse

“You don’t ask silly questions. You must know what you are all about. You must be free to let anything to go through your ears and stay in your mind. But you must be able to sieve it, to be able to make an impact that you want to.

In the witches camp or refugee camp, you will not see them smiling. [So] you should not enter there and start to smile. Look at the mood of the situation and adjust yourself to that mood. Make sure that your lifestyle attracts the person closer to you. If not, they will shy away from you. Those are some of the tricks that when you are going to approach a victimized person you must learn to adopt this style. If not, you will go and you will not come away with the story.

You must build trust between yourself and the victims.

You must never reveal your source of information.”

On gender

“You go to every sector in society and you see that men are on top. And any woman who makes it to the top, they call her a ‘witch’, ‘iron lady’ or a whole lot of names. Do you ever see a man nicknamed like that? No. We are giving our women hell.”