No amount of training can prepare you for sitting in a room with two little orphans and being told how their mother abandoned them. She was raped by her Uncle, her family threatened to kill her for engaging in incest and so she fled at the first chance she got. Training cannot prepare you for interviewing a HIV victim whose husband died from AIDs and whose daughter now suffers from HIV. She told me of how her daughter, Lucy, had a “mental retardation” and now had two children as a result of being raped.
It is not uncommon in Africa to hear of disabled people being subjected to rape as their vulnerability makes them an easy target.
I sat next to Lucy and her mother Perez, as Perez cradled Lucy’s newborn baby. They led me to their shack, a room measuring 10ft by 10ft, where Perez was looking after 12 children, many of them orphans. I spoke to the boys as six of them sat huddled together and munched on a packet of biscuits. Perez begged me to help change their life and to tell people about their suffering.
I was in Kibera slum, one of the biggest slums in the world, just outside Nairobi in Kenya. I had just interviewed a medical officer at a clinic who told me how, during the post-election violence of 2007-2008, when hundreds of people lost their lives in Kenya due to tribal politics, he had transported dying people in a wheelbarrow to the main road to beg passers-by for help in taking them to hospital.
The medic himself had been a target of the violence as one day the food aid he was carrying was a target for rebels in the slums. They approached him with a machete and threatened to kill him. He refused to give them the food, food for the starving women and children, and said he was ready to die.
While he was telling me his story a woman was dragged into the clinic in agony, about to give birth, and led to a room with nothing other than a bed in it. If there had been any complications, her chance of dying was high.
Ten minutes later a man, just a few years older than me, told me how his father had been butchered during the election violence simply because of the tribe he belonged to. The persecutors had escaped justice. He said God would punish them.
I found out all of this in the space of a couple of hours spent researching one story for a news agency called African Laughter, where I’m currently on an internship. The aim of the company is to change the focus of Kenyan media from politics to one that informs, educates, inspires change and generally helps to improve lives.
And it is working. Nearly every day we get feedback off people who have been touched by stories and want to help in any way they can. Just last week we published a story about an educated man who has become a drug addict due to unemployment and depression. After its publication we were contacted by a teacher who was so upset about the story she is putting him on a rehabilitation scheme and giving him a job.
Another man we wrote about was a poor farmer suffering from potato blight who went to the city to use the internet and search Google on how to prevent the problem. After reporting it Google contacted him and he is now one of their ambassadors. It is examples like these that show journalism really can change people’s lives.
I have had two emails so far that have really touched me. One said this: “I would like to say thanks for the article. I have read it and it actually made tears come to my own eyes. Thanks a million with my whole heart”, and the other, “Thank you so much for the efforts you are making towards our small efforts and I know through you, we are going to improve the lives of the poorest of the poor in Kibera.”
Next week I’m going to a landfill site, where families are living in the most horrendous conditions, yet one woman has, against all the odds, started a business.
The following day I’ll be off to Korogocho slum to visit a home for disabled children. There are very few homes for the disabled in Kenya and it is an issue that is rarely addressed. We want to change this and finally give disabled people a voice.
In every interview you go to you will always be asked why you want to be a journalist. I spent hours trying to figure out the best answer to that question and working in Africa has finally answered the question for me.
There are so many stories around the world to tell, and we need to tell them. And by telling those stories we can inspire change and, in turn, make the world a better place.
I heard about the news agency I work for through a friend and I applied for a placement with my CV and a few cuttings. If you want to make your CV a bit different from most then I strongly recommend going to a developing country like Kenya.
My employer is http://www.webraza.com, also known as African Laughter. The agency supplies stories to the Kenyan national newspaper Business Daily as well as other East African media outlets and several websites.
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