Airport to airport, it is 7024 km from Tamale, Ghana to Halifax, Nova Scotia. But for Shahadu Abdul Somed, the journey started ain 2005, when he worked with JHR trainer Samantha Mednick, her support and encouragement would change his life.
Betty Milton is a print reporter working with the Awoko newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Recently Betty took part in a Journalists for Human Rights workshops series that has helped shape her career as a journalist.
‘Journalists really need to know about human rights and gender issues,’ said Milton. ‘With the workshops, I learned how to address human rights issues, gender issues, child rights issues, and how to write properly about these issues.’
Numerous journalists who had attended JHR workshops or worked with a trainer previously expressed keen interest in getting more training and acquiring in-depth knowledge of human rights legislation — and how to incorporate it into their day-to-day work.
However with the duties of JHR trainers focused primarily on journalists at their host media organizations the trainers had not been able to work with all the journalists outside those media outlets as much as they would have liked or as much as the Sierra Leonean journalists, who are eager to work with JHR, requested.
The solution? A workshop series that brought together 24 journalists from more than a dozen print and radio outlets for a three-hour seminar and discussion each week, covering national and international human rights legislation and treaties, journalism skills and ethics, and story ideas.
The United Nations’ human rights office and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone provided support for what became dubbed the ‘Workshop Series,’ and the US Embassy in Freetown offered up cameras and digital recorders as awards for a human rights reporting contest.
Discussions gave journalists a chance to talk about how these laws affect the lives of people around them, and how to incorporate human rights treaties and legislation into their daily reporting. Journalists who participated performed role plays, talked through story ideas and worked on strategies for reporting on Sierra Leone’s upcoming election. Participants also did weekly assignments, producing dozens of human rights stories.
Abdul Samba Brima says the series helped change his perspective of human rights and how to include international and national agreements in his reporting.
‘It did change my journalism significantly,’ said Brima, 25. ‘The workshop strengthened my ability to do thorough investigative journalism, and also helped me to learn more about legal interpretations of human rights reporting, and that was always one of my grey areas.’
‘It’s really, really what we need as journalists in Sierra Leone. We tend to dwell on the minister said, the president said, forgetting that what they said effects everyone.’
With the continued support from Canada’s JHR community more workshops like this can happen in Sierra Leona. More workshops will help more journalists become better reporters who will impact change through their work.
In October, Tegbah broke the story of the government’s negligence in disbursing the promised funds.Other media outlets soon began following his lead.
Within weeks of Tengbeh’s story airing, the Ministry of Social Welfare – who had also started receiving numerous complaints from the community- agreed to meet with the Sierra Leone Union for Disability Issues (SLUDI) to negotiate the prompt payment of the missing funds.
A portion of the funding was finally released several weeks later; members of SLUDI say the media had a direct influence on pressuring the government into action.
“We have been trying for months to get the money allocated by the government to programs for people with disabilities. After the media campaign we were called to a meeting by the government where we received 20 percent of the money allocated to disabilities issues,” says Kabba Frankly Bangura, President of SLUDI. “This is the first time in the country people have got this money. The media keeps people informed. It helped to promote the issues we are struggling for and helps with the outreach that brings the community to action.”
Although some of the funds have been released, there is still more to come and disabled rights activists continue to put pressure on government, including calling for a boycott of the 2012 election, if the issue is not resolved. With follow-through and more stories produced by journalists like Tamba Tengbeh, the government will continue to be held accountable for the funds allocated to programs that aim to defend the rights of some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
At the E.J. Goodridge School in rural Liberia, students were suffering from overcrowded classrooms, lack of chairs and deplorable building conditions. Student who did not get seats either stood to learn or left school for the day. One student broke his arm while fighting to secure a seat during school hours.
jhr trained reporter, Theophilis Seeton, heard rumors of the students distress and decided to investigate and then report on the school’s conditions.
Seeton normally covers Legislative and Presidential activities, but after attending three jhr workshops, including one on Children’s Rights, he became inspired to report on underprivileged Liberians.
“[the workshops] drew my attention to highlight the plight of children at E.J. Goodridge school…where children have a right to education, but simply loiter in the hallways and outside the buildings because of seating capacity,” said Seeton.
On September 7th 2009 his story “Four students to one Chair; Strike Action Imminent” hit newsstands. Just hours later, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, paid an unannounced visit to the school and immediately suspended the Education Minister and two Deputies for their failure to properly manage and monitor public schools. She also ordered US$20,000 worth of renovations for the school.
Shortly afterwards, the Liberian Journalists for Human Rights and Good Governance Network used its monthly funding from jhr to tour ten public schools in the area, and filed similar reports on the radio and in newspapers. After the reports came out Sirleaf sacked the Minister for corruption and appointed a new one.
In late May 2011, jhr trainers Aaron Leaf and Janey Llewellin organized a reporting trip for Liberian journalists to investigate working conditions at an iron ore mine in the north of the country.
In discussions with both workers and management, the journalists discovered that local workers were being hired as sub-contractors, on call. They had no job security, and were being paid US$3 a day.
jhr-trained journalists blanketed local media with the story. Of particular note, Nat Bayjay, writing in FrontPageAfrica, linked the workers’ plight to pending legislation that proposed to raise Liberia’s minimum wage to US$6.40 a day. This article kicked off a furious debate in the Liberian House and Senate.
Just two months later, the Liberian legislature had passed the new minimum wage bill.
Result? In May, Liberian mine workers were being paid $3 a day. Today that is no longer legal.
In the summer of 2011 the Adventist Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi was facing water shortages on an ongoing basis. Despite complaints to the Blantyre Water Board, the issue was not being addressed.
“It has been a persistent problem” said the Hospitals Chief Executive Officer Kirby Kasinja. “We have been complaining but we are just being ignored.”
The Executive Director for the Malawi Health Equity Network Martha Kwataine stressed the importance of consistent water flow. “If there is no water in hospitals, there are very quickly issues of sanitation” she explains. “Water is key to ensure that infections do not spread.”
jhr trainer Travis Lupick and local Malawian journalist Madalitso Musa caught wind of the situation and worked together to produce a story covering the water shortages at the hospital.
Shortly after Lupick and Musa co-published the story “Hospitals Struggle With Water Shortages” in The Daily Times newspaper, the Blantyre Water Board investigated the issue. Result? Days later steady water flow to the hospital was restored.
Read the full story here
In August 2010, jhr-trained Liberian journalist Peter Massaquoi embarked on a reporting trip to Zwedru Correction Palace in Liberia’s Grand Gedeh County. Massaquoi had attended numerous human rights reporting workshops with jhr and wanted to investigate the human rights issues affecting the lives of inmates, including long-term detention without trial.
Massaquoi spoke with the prison’s superintendent and discovered that the prison was devoid of electricity and consequently in complete darkness.
The Ministry of Justice had failed to provide fuel for generators for almost five months – forcing authorities to use candles for night patrols. Inmates admitted to sleeping in darkness for long periods of time and to not benefitting from rehabilitation programs.
After the story “Correction Palace in Darkness” aired on Truth Radio, one of Liberia’s most popular stations, the response was immediate.
The Ministry of Justice called a news conference and threatened the prision superintendent with dismissal. However, Massaquoi and his news team provided clear evidence to support his story, prompting the Ministry to issue an apology. The Ministry subsequently provided a monthly allocation of 125 gallons of fuel to the prison – and the lights went back on.
jhr trainer and broadcast journalist Bonnie Allen produces a documentary film about sexual violence
In 2009, jhr (Journalists for Human Rights) partnered with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to deliver training to journalism students in Liberia on sensitive reporting of gender-based violence issues. The NRC then sponsored Another War – a powerful documentary produced by jhr trainer and broadcast journalist Bonnie Allen.
The compelling film follows twenty year-old Liberian university student Kula Fofana on her journey to understand the realities of life for those that have survived physical and sexual violence in Liberia and to examine the beliefs and causes surrounding sexual violence. The film brings to the forefront voices of rape survivors, frontline health workers, emerging women activists, Liberia’s Chief Prosecutor for sexual assault crimes, the Minister of Justice and the Gender Ministry’s GBV Unit.
Several journalism students, who were trained by jhr and the NRC on sensitive reporting of gender-based violence issues, were given the opportunity to meet rape survivors for the first time, interview high-level government officials and practice ethical reporting of their stories. Kula is also a past participant of many jhr student trainings.
Released in September 2010, the film has since been showcased to more than one hundred Liberian lawyers and judges who are responsible for prosecuting rape crimes in the West African nation. Liberia’s low prosecution rate, and even lower conviction rate, of rapists has been blamed on a culture of impunity, dismissal of rape as a crime, and lack of consideration for rape survivors. Another War provided many of them with their first insight to the realities of sexual violence in Liberia.
The film can be viewed at http://vimeo.com/17083011.
jhr-led Magazine Sets Agenda for a Brighter Future in Ghana’s Old Fadama
On June 4th, 2011, jhr (Journalists for Human Rights) collaborated with students from the African University College of Communications (AUCC) to launch Faces of Old Fadama, a magazine created to put a human face on the largest “slum” in Ghana. Attended by officials responsible for the welfare of those living in the slums and covered by all major media in Accra, the launch put the issue of citizens’ rights in illegal slums squarely in the faces of those responsible, as well as on Ghana’s public agenda. Follow-up media coverage kept it there for weeks.
Cont’d after the slideshow…
The photos are taken by the students of the AUCC (African University College of Communications
Old Fadama, with an estimated population of 79,000, is considered an illegal settlement by local authorities, and residents are often threatened with eviction. Residents are seen as illegitimate citizens. They have next to no access to health, education and other basic services. However, during elections politicians in Accra often campaign in Old Fadama for votes, without either resolving the legal status of the residents, or agreeing to deliver public services once the election campaign is over.
In April forty jhr-trained Ghanaian students from the African University College of Communications (AUCC) and Laura Bain, jhr intern and Editor-in-chief of the magazine, embarked on a reporting assignment to Old Fadama. They discovered that the community had built their own schools and health clinics, organized garbage clean-ups, started businesses, organized HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns, installed accessible water sources and even gathered their own census information.
The magazine showcased these stories and called on the government to recognize the legitimacy of the settlement. In so doing, it drew attention the numerous human rights abuses the residents face and offered the Government alternative solutions to forced eviction.
The launch was attended by residents of Old Fadama, the Canadian High Commissioner, an official from the Accra Metropolitan Authority and Freddy Blay, the former Deputy Speaker of Parliament and now publisher of the Daily Guide newspaper. Launch organizers, including jhr’s Overseas Program Coordinator Jenny Vaughan, also secured a strong media presence from multiple local radio stations, newspapers and all three of the city’s TV networks helping to ensure the issue remains a priority for local authorities.
The media in Ghana has typically covered Old Fadama as a dirty, scary and chaotic place – supporting the idea of the residents’ eviction. Since its release, all three major TV networks, prominent newspapers and several radio stations produced stories from “Faces of Old Fadama” – spawning a new, more open and informed coverage of the settlement.
The Daily Guide newspaper, a primary sponsor of the magazine, has also expressed interest in furthering its partnership with jhr and exploring ways to continue highlighting human rights issues through the media.
By Martin Aseidu Dartey & Shawn Hayward, Citi FM, Ghana
For two years, the clinic in Dzogadze, Ghana, had not had a nurse on staff. The closest hospital is eight miles away on a dirt road that is impassable when it rains.
When jhr intern Shawn Hayward heard about this, he knew it was a story that needed to be covered—access to basic health care is a fundamental human right, and precisely the kind of work jhr is committed to doing in their overseas placements. He returned to his newsroom and produced the story with Citi FM reporter Martin Aseidu Dartey.
What happened next was a welcome surprise.
Having heard the story on Citi FM, Ghana Health Service posted two nurses at the Dzogadze clinic. For the first time in two years, residents can now receive health care in their very own community.
“Martin is happy that his work has had a positive impact in people’s lives. I feel the same way,” said Hayward. “It feels really good to know that my work is having an effect on journalists here.”
Listen to a short 2 minute clip of Martin’s feedback about the story here.