Despite bumps, Ethiopia PJ project achieves goals
(GONDAR, ETHIOPIA and PARKVILLE, MISSOURI USA)-Whenever you close out a grant project, granting agencies always require a cascade of data that demonstrate and measure the ways that the grant has succeeded. Instead, I prefer to go with my gut as I evaluate the success of this semester-long peace journalism project. I know you will excuse (embrace?) my lack of complex data-filled charts.
First, a quick overview: In the fall of 2017, I was named a U.S. Senior Subject Specialist for Peace Journalism in Ethiopia. This project was launched by the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University, the U.S. Embassy-Addis Ababa, and the University of Gondar (UoG).
I came to Addis Ababa in mid-January, and taught several workshops there before moving on to Gondar. At UoG, I taught two courses, and also presented a peace journalism seminar in April. From my Gondar base, I traveled to Bahir Dar (February), Hawassa (March), and Mekelle (April) to deliver peace journalism workshops for university students, professors, and professional media staff. In total, my peace journalism seminars reached about 310 students, academics, and journalists.
In general, the audiences at these events were receptive to the idea of peace journalism. I had a number of journalists comment that there are aspects of PJ that they appreciated and would endeavor to implement. Even journalists from State Radio/TV in Hawassa were receptive to PJ. There, we talked about PJ and state media. Attendees, reporters and managers, listed potential benefits of state media for PJ. These included access to many different people and cultures; access to government leaders and decision makers; and better resources than private media. The discussion got really interesting when we talked about how state media structures might provide an obstacle for PJ. These are the disadvantages the attendees said state media pose for peace journalism: Inability to criticize the government; interviewees reluctant/afraid when dealing with state media; censorship; and inability to balance stories with opposition voices.
These meetings and workshops were arguably the most successful aspect of the project. At each location, we drew a good, engaged audience (75 or so in several instances), along with lots of favorable local press coverage.
My classes at UoG produced more mixed results because most of the students didn’t possess the requisite English skills to fully understand the course content or excel at projects and tests. My departmental colleagues have also noted the students’ substandard English, so this is more than just my whining. In both classes, 95% of the feedback I got from students was a simple “I don’t understand” or “Can you explain this again?” In my report to the U.S. Embassy, I wrote that despite this, I still recommend placing other American journalism academics at UoG. To address the English deficit, I suggested that that students enrolled in any American professor’s class be required to concurrently enroll in a parallel English language lab, or utilize systematic tutoring.
My other major initiative was my scholastic journalism project, and it was, pardon my lack of humility, an unqualified success. I worked with a group of seventh graders at the University of Gondar Community School. For about two months, my co-advisors Peggy Landers, Habtie Marew, and I met with the kids once a week to present the basics of journalism and peace journalism and of producing a newspaper. Then, the students organized themselves into a newspaper staff, and went out to report, shoot pictures, etc. Using these materials, they produced their school’s first student newspaper, in English. (Click here to see the newspaper) I was thrilled by the work of the students, and by their enthusiasm. I was even more thrilled when, during our last meeting, the newspaper staff began planning for the second issue of their newspaper.
Overall, I believe the project achieved its goals, and provided a good foundation for peace journalism in Ethiopia. I hope to continue working with the UoG journalism department; in fact, we have applied for a joint grant for a media literacy project. And one way or another, I’d love to continue assisting the community school’s enthusiastic seventh grade journalists.
NEXT: In part two of my Ethiopia wrap up, I’ll get a bit more personal: What will I miss (hint: think beans), and what won’t I miss (hint: scattered animal parts).