Saturday, November 6, 2010

Excellent seminar; scalding hot water in Mbarara

Great five day seminar in Mbarara--definitely an active group of attendees. (Click here for photo album). When it was over, the attendees (radio journalists) didn't want to leave. In fact, the journalists were meeting, forming their own peace journalism club, as we drove off into the sunset. Hotel Acacia was very nice--one of the best we've stayed in. One small problem--two straight mornings, we had only scalding hot water. And to think I'm usually whining about having no hot water. Guess I'll be careful what I wish for...

Hoping not to damage fragile young minds

From the Parkville Luminary

LAKEVIEW MIDDLE SCHOOL, KANSAS CITY—In Ms. Leah Panther’s publications class, seventh graders are taking their first step into the world of journalism.

As part of their journey, the publications students are studying my blogs/columns filed from Uganda. I’m guessing these are a rich resource for Ms. Panther, who can use my columns as examples of things to avoid when writing, or as grist to analyze poor syntax and trite vocabulary.

Ms. Panther even assigned one unfortunate young lady to interview me (via email) and produce an article about my experiences in Uganda. The young writer is shy and humble (rare traits for a journalist), and doesn’t want her real name used. So, I’ll call her Mary. The questions that Mary emailed me were direct and thorough, and thus I was not surprised when I read the professional story she produced for the Lakeview school newspaper, “Lakeview Lately”. Here is that piece:

"Mr. Youngblood replied, ―I am not having a good day…there is no electricity tonight in my apartment so it’s dark…once my computer battery runs out, I’m not sure what I’ll do, sit in the dark, I suppose. Last week I had the opportunity to speak through email with Steve Youngblood, a peace journalist working on assignment in Kampala, Uganda. He works for Park University and is the father to Lakeview student Alex Youngblood. He describes his work as, ―teach[ing] peace and electoral journalism to radio announcers and journalists. He continues that the best part is, ―meeting new people…over two hundred and fifty so far. He advises future journalists that it’s about, ―self discovery…finding out about yourself. Mr. Youngblood continues, ―there is no more interesting and rewarding job than journalism. Yes, the pay is bad, and the job security not much better. But [you’re] in a unique position to make a positive difference for your community. He tells the story of one journalist in Uganda who did a report about six orphans that had nothing. Dozens of people, touched by the story, donated food, clothes, and other items to the kids.

“Mr. Youngblood will be a guest columnist in this year’s volume of “Lakeview Lately”. Through his articles, the students of Lakeview will have the chance to hear about everything from the day to day life of a journalist, to stories about attacking rhinos. Stay tuned for more stories from our new roving reporter, Mr. Youngblood.”

Excellent work, though there is one little correction: the rhino didn’t actually attack, it just acted like it was going to attack. Of course, just the threat of being stomped into sawdust by a rhino was enough to age me several decades. But that’s another story. (Click here for rhino photo album)

Although I could never match Mary’s eloquence, Ms. Panther asked me to write my own short piece as well for “Lakeview Lately.” My first reaction to this offer was to ask how much they pay. When I discovered that “Lakeview Lately” pays approximately the same as the Luminary, I jumped at the chance. (In fact, now that I write columns for two newspapers, I probably need to hire an agent). My second reaction was to lament the fact that I didn’t have my own newspaper column when I was in middle school, since that might have impressed Carrie Young or one of the other 3,000 girls I had a crush on. The awful truth is, it would’ve done any good anyway since I was (am?) Mr. Geeky McNerd.

Here is my Lakeview newspaper column. Remember, this is aimed at seventh and eighth graders.

“You know how your parents are always telling you how lucky you are, and how you roll your eyes and put your hands in your pockets when you hear these lectures? I’m sorry to report that your parents are right.

I’ve spent the last five months in Uganda. I’ve talked to six orphans who survived on their own in a tiny shack for 13 months without any reliable source of food or medical care. A 14-year old girl was the kids’ “mother”, and took care of the others. Eighth graders—can you imagine being responsible for five little kids?

“Youngsters lucky enough to go to school here (many can’t afford school fees or uniforms) usually attend schools without anything modern—no electricity or running water, no computers or Internet. They’re lucky if they have a chalkboard, let alone a qualified teacher. Kids here are sick more often—malaria is a common childhood illness, and diarrhea from dirty drinking water is widespread. Of course, you may have to walk miles for medical care, and even then, there may not be a doctor, or the medicine you need to get better.

“So, the next time you hear that annoying lecture from your parents, don’t roll your eyes. Instead, think of the children in Uganda.”

I know this is awfully preachy, and parental, but I can’t help myself since my 13-year old son Alex is a student in Ms. Panther’s class. Alex, incidentally, will be the Lakeview newspaper’s first foreign correspondent next spring when he joins me in Uganda. He’ll have his work cut out for him because of Mary, whose excellent reporting has set the bar impossibly high for Alex and Lakeview’s other budding correspondents.

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