Saturday, August 7, 2010

Warrior learns peace journalism

Returned to Kampala from Soroti. Good seminar with fine group of young journalists. The last day, we did a 40 min live radio program in which we shared the journalists' produced stories and discussed peace journalism and the upcoming elections. A very professional program, I think.
The young lady at the left is from Karomoja, a troubled area near Soroti in NE Uganda. On the last day of the seminar, she wore a traditional Karomojong outfit--specifically, the clothes of a female warrior.

For more photos of Soroti, including the Soroti Rock, click here.

Uncomfortable Park students blossom in Uganda

From the Parkville Luminary

Note--This piece was adapted from a blog I wrote for NAFSA, an organization of international educators. So, if this seems familiar, it probably is...

KAMPALA, UGANDA--One of my goals as a professor is to make my students uncomfortable. Using that criterion, I’d say the study abroad trip taken in July by two Park University students was a rousing success.

Two communications students, Andria (Andi) Enns and Keith Taylor, recently journeyed to Uganda on a 17-day study abroad program. They shadowed me as I taught peace journalism seminars for radio journalists in Fort Portal and Gulu. The goal of these two seminars, and 22 more that will follow, is to prevent media-induced violence before, during, and after the 2011 Ugandan presidential election.

We got off to a great start, uncomfortable-wise, on the students’ very first day as they toured Kampala. Rather than head first for the nicest part of the city, my genial driver Tabu went straight to what might be charitably called a working class neighborhood. Tabu said bluntly “this is where poor people live”. Crowded neighborhoods like these house a majority of Kampala’s one million or so residents, many of whom eek out a living selling vegetables or trinkets in small stands or on the streets.

The dirt roads winding into the first neighborhood we visited were rutted, cratered, and virtually impassable by any vehicle other than an SUV, and foreshadowed what lay ahead.

As we lurched into the poor neighborhood, Keith and Andi were uncharacteristically quiet. Tiny, broken down shacks and small kiosks lined the main road, which branched off into seemingly endless small paths that would lead to more small shacks, most roofed with rusty tin. Abruptly, Tabu asked if we’d like to stop and to see where his sister lives.

Walking into Tabu’s sister’s tiny house, we were greeted by a smiling, pretty young woman orbited by a number of cute, happy-looking kids. She invited us into her house—just one small room with a couple of curtained, glass-less windows. Conspicuously absent were a kitchen and bathroom. There was no running water, either for her or for her neighbors. As we chatted, Andi and Keith seemed uncomfortable, although their nerves were calmed a bit by the curious children who came over to visit and hold hands.

Our second stop was Tabu’s house. We met his lovely wife and some of his eight (!) children. His house was bigger and in a slightly better neighborhood, but still unadorned by Western standards. We were introduced to his son, who is studying to be a doctor. As we toured his neighborhood, two of Tabu’s smallest kids tagged along, holding hands with Keith and Andi as we took in the sites—small shacks, dilapidated huts and tiny rooms for rent, and an open, putrid garbage dump guarded by a grazing longhorn cow.

As we chatted afterwards, both students said that, despite the poverty, they were not depressed by what they had seen, since both correctly sensed some hope from this place and from these people, who were unfailingly smiling and curiously happy given their circumstances.

Of course, there was a great deal of learning, and some uncomfortable feelings, in the two weeks that followed day one. For example, I made the students eat lunch every day with the Ugandan radio journalists who attended the workshops. It was wonderful to hear Andi and Keith comparing notes with Ugandans about journalism and about life.

The students were also understandably uncomfortable when I sent them off (with Ugandan journalist escorts) to report. I did this kind of reporting last year, and I know how difficult it is trying to piece together a good story under unfamiliar, unusual, difficult, and often intimidating circumstances. Both students excelled. Keith bravely interviewed a loony mayor who ranted on about how Uganda wasn’t ready for free, fair elections, while Andi looked on as a pitiful orphan girl asked a lady journalist if she would be her mommy. For Andi and Keith, having now conquered reporting under the most uncomfortable and difficult circumstances, returning to Parkville and filing stories on the student senate or board of aldermen will be a breeze.

I wish everyone who has ever questioned the validity of the study abroad experience was along with us as we strolled through the “real” Kampala, or when Andi and Keith were out there reporting, or even when we attended a traditional Bugandan wedding. Transformational experiences like these can’t be replicated even in the best classrooms. My hope is that Andi and Keith are just the first of many Park students to test themselves in Uganda.

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