Thursday, October 14, 2010

The students are finishing classes this week, tomorrow is mother's day, this weekend is Lake of Stars and so it is only fitting that I take a few days vacation.

The three-day music festival has inspired me to take a week-long vacation at the beach. I have never been one to crave the beach for more than a few hours at a time but somehow Lake Malawi is much different.

I had taken an overnight trip to Cape Maclear a few weeks ago and I didn't realize how much I needed to relax until I actually got there. We went swimming and kayaking, relaxed on the beach, ate yummy food and explored the cliffside. I don't really have any plans for what I might do there but my room is booked and I will be on my own so I guess anything is possible (if my bank account allows it).

That being said, I will not be checking email or Facebook from this moment further. Until I return, of course.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


note: prepare yourself for an extremely informal posting that sounds like it was written by a 12-year-old

Hey readers,

Sorry it's been so long. I know, I know, a typical apology from a typically lazy blogger.

Poor excuses aside, I have been searching for a new house, updating my visa (the back-alley way) and trying to get some work done at MIJ in the meantime.

With all the pressure that has been building up, I finally relaxed for half a second on Saturday evening and that's when the flu hit me. I was hoping for malaria, as it's sort of a rite of passage for living in an African country, but my test results ruled that out yesterday.

Three full days in bed and I knew it was the flu. But more on that later.

Anyways, consider this my official "blo-pology" (Shoutout to A. Hayter for his love of smooshing words together).

I am alive and will be posting more soon. I have a few postings in the works so it's just a matter of smoothing them out and publishing them.

Love from Malawi!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Student Body Politics

For photos and a more interactive read, check out:

At 11:52 a.m. there was a knock at the office door. It was the students informing me that they were ready to begin. On Wednesday, September 1, 2010 a group of classmates gathered together for the first ever jhr chapter elections at the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ).

Eight minutes early—an unusual feat for Malawian students who often abide by “Africa time.”

I hopped out of my chair, encouraged by their excitement and walked across the hall with voter ballots in my hand.

Of course, we didn’t end up starting until a few minutes after noon. We waited for the stragglers to trickle in. Some had still been in class while others were practicing their speeches on the steps outside.
As approximately 30 students took their seats, a quiet buzz in the room turned into a boisterous chatter—making it sound more like there were 60 students present—and soon enough it was difficult to speak two words without being interrupted.

Shouting over the students’ voices, I described the process for the election: first speeches, then voting and the results would be posted the following day.

During our jhr information session the previous week, everyone wrote their names on a sign-up sheet and stated their position of interest, of which each person indicated they would run for a spot. But only half decided to follow through.

A student votes as executive candidates take a break
Nineteen people ran for nine positions. Secretary went to Iness Chilangwe; the lovely Olivia Mlelemba took Treasurer; VP Events went to the outspoken Triza Chikwawa; VP Promotions was appointed to Chance Mwai Mfune; Nandie Mambucha beat two others for VP Outreach; VP Communications was taken by the inspirational Stephina Gwetsa; Maggie Wingolo took VP Finance in a landslide; and Vice President was appointed to Geoff Justice Kawanga—the only candidate for the position.

Shockingly enough, in a male-dominated school, of the 19 people that ran for executive positions, 11 of them are female. And seven of the nine elected positions are female. Gender deliverable for CIDA—check!

The speeches began with the secretary position and dramatically worked their way up the presidential race. Some of the speakers gave short, timid speeches while others rambled along until they were clapped off the podium.

One student named Allan Nyasulu, who ran for VP Outreach, started his speech by saying, “I am not a politician, but allow me to speak as a politician for a moment.” He continued on for a couple of minutes and finished by explaining that although “Malawians don’t know their rights,” he has the ability to reach out.

Maggie Wingolo, approached the stage with confidence and addressed the audience with one line: “I am a business lady so I know how to keep money safe.” It took 13 words to secure her votes for VP Finance.

The noon-hour was coming to a close, and after the only candidate secured his position as Vice President we moved on to the four presidential speeches.

One candidate didn’t receive a single vote. It was down to Elizabeth Muapasa, Sahiba R. Kour and Archibald Kasakura.

Muapasa spoke first. She also shouted over her peers’ voices. Although she seemed to have the most captivated audience (which is tough to say with such an animated crowd), Muapasa’s speech about being open-minded only locked her into second place in the presidential race.

Students pose for the camera as they submit their votes
Next up was Sahiba R. Kour, who had approached me a couple of times before the election to get more information about jhr and the chapter. I sent her off with my best wishes and a USB key full of information. She was prepared. Speech scribbled on a piece of paper, Kour mentioned numerous qualities of a good leader.

“Active, enthusiastic and passionate…available for anyone at any time…[and a] respectable public persona,” were a few traits Kour self-identified with. Further, she has also worked with Amnesty International.

“Ooooh, really?” some of the students asked. “Yep,” she replied assuredly.

Last but not least, with his vest flung over his right shoulder, Archibald Kasakura walked slowly to the front of the room. He asked the rowdy students for permission to speak. The room hushed for a moment.

“I am not here to tell you what leaders do but I do have a couple other things to say,” Kasakura mentioned coolly as the noise started to pick up again.

He described himself as “established, organized…[and] a natural-born leader.” Kasakura closed by telling the newest group of jhr-lovers, “in my heart, there is human rights.” His regular human rights freelance pieces to The Daily Times puts truth to his words.

Luckily, as mediator, I couldn’t vote. It would have been a tough call.

As voted by the first jhr student chapter at MIJ, Sahiba R. Kour has acquired the position of President. With her knowledge and respect from her peers, Kour is well-equipped for the job.

Kasakura’s response to the outcome is one of honour: “I will do whatever I can to help out in any way that I can.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Three cheers for suicide

Note: The title is not meant to offend, but merely provide an example of sensationalism

A few days ago I was hosting a study group with a few MIJ students. We were speaking about the importance of quality writing and the concept of sensationalism came into mind. When I brought it up, the students admitted to having never heard of the word.

I gave them a brief lesson, citing the aforementioned story on the woman being dipped into boiling porridge as a local example of sensationalist photography.

We were also looking at an article titled "Measles kills 19 in Dowa in one week". This story refers to a local church not allowing vaccinations for a group of children, leaving many to die. I suggested that one way to create a sensationalist headline would be to say, "Church kills 19 in Dowa".

I also referred to some international examples of sensationalist cover stories after the earthquake in Haiti.

Recognizing that sensationalism is fairly relative, I explained to the students that there is a fine line that some media outlets have crossed in order to sell more copies of their paper.

They understood... I hope. Although it was only a few students that received this mini lesson, if it means that three more journalists understand the concept of sensationalism before they move on to careers in the media, I feel a-okay.

On a similar note, yesterday afternoon there was a lively discussion in the newsroom of The Daily Times (as described by jhr-intern Philippa Croome) about this very subject.

They were covering a story about three siblings who took part in "a bizarre religious ritual". Two men and a woman committed suicide by jumping into a fire. The debate over which photo and headline to use became heated (no pun intended).

Most people in the newsroom wanted to use "SHOCKING" as the headline, along with a photo of the charred bodies laying in a fire pit.

After much debate, Philippa left the office without hearing the final decision. Her and the EIC felt the photo and headline were too unprofessional, while all of the reporters and the Managing Editor wanted to use the sensationalist cover.

This morning as we drove off to work, Philippa and I peered out the window at the boy selling the newspapers. He held them up for us to see and laughed at how intently we stared.

We both cheered. They went with a less graphic photo and the headline, "Horrible suicide".

Yes, the cynical print journalists cheered for horrible suicide.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Woman dipped in boiling porridge"

Front page of The Nation today.

Yes, this stuff actually happens.

Sobbing on a doorstep at 5 a.m.

Some days out here in Malawi are really $%*?ing tough.

I often wonder if I did the right thing taking "my dream job." I have wanted to work with jhr overseas for as long as I have known about them. I've been building my portfolio for this job. At 23 years old I know that I have achieved something that many are still dreaming of.

But I am sometimes unsure if it was right to leave my friends and family behind to make temporary relationships with people I will likely never see again. From this six-month contract I can only pray to do something beneficial for someone.

A couple of nights ago I hit a breaking point. After a night out on the town, my friend drove me home at 4:30 a.m. I was exhausted from dancing the night away and socializing with my new friends and all I wanted to do was crawl into my bed and sleep.

As my friend drove away, I put the key into the door. Mysteriously, the key snapped in half - one section stuck in the keyhole, the other in my hand. I tried and tried again to pry the door open, tearing the skin of my thumb, but it was no use. Of course, moments later my phone died and the only person that was home was my landlord. Because I was getting home so late (or rather, early in the morning) I didn't think it was right to disturb him by banging on his bedroom window. So, I sat down on the pavement and cried. Nay, I sobbed.

The mangy dogs came over to comfort me and it was surprisingly nice until the little one started biting me. I pushed them away and continued to cry.

I missed everyone back home. I missed my family, my friends (who I hope will still want to hang out with me after my second stint to Africa) and most of all, I missed my fluffy, white duvet. There was nothing I could do at that point. I couldn't wander the streets to my friendly neighbours because I don't know them. I couldn't call anyone because my phone needed charging. All I could do was cry out the frustration that had been building up for weeks.

At 6 a.m. the landlord came to the door and had a good chuckle at how pathetic I was. To make matters worse, he had been awake for the past hour but didn't know I was curled up in a ball on the doorstep.

Apologizing through my sobs about breaking the key, I walked to my bedroom and collapsed on my bed. When I eventually woke up, the tears had dried on my cheeks. I washed them off (along with my pitiable demeanor), got dressed and sat down to do some work - one of many sources of frustration. But this is what I came here for... to work.

So, I will keep trekking - keeping in mind that it is important to have the occasional mental breakdown.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The first report

Each month I am required to submit a monthly report to jhr so I figured I would do the same for you, my readers. For those of you who know exactly what I am doing here, you are exempt from reading this entry.

Blog postings
Every Friday afternoon, I submit blog postings to Although I have been lazy with my postikadi blog (in that I typically repost these weekly entries), I am satisfied with the amount of blogging I have done. Compared to my trip to Uganda last summer, I have a lot more work to accomplish (as per CIDA and jhr requirements) and so, I do not have nearly as much downtime as I did then. And I can honestly say this in the best possible way.

But, the time is passing quickly and there is so much left to do.

Portfolio development classes
We have split up two classes into eight study groups. From Tuesday to Friday, Amy and I each work with a group of five to eight students (if all are in attendance). Each week has a theme. Because none of the students have practical journalism experience, we have started with the basics: story pitches, components of a story, research, interview tactics, fact-checking, etc.

We have asked each of the students to come up with a story idea and use the study groups as a basis to form an in-depth human rights story. The hope is (for those who are ambitious) to pitch their stories to media houses in town and possibly internationally.

Some students have decided not to show up to these classes, but we are doing our best with the ones who are keen to learn. A few of the students have said that they are very grateful to be given the opportunity to learn outside the classroom. It is these student journalists that are going to achieve the greatest work.

Human rights debates
Every Monday morning, the certificate students have a human rights class. Amy and I take over the last half hour and their subsequent break to monitor human rights debates.

Some of the topics we have covered so far are: prisoner’s rights, children’s right to primary education, the right to economic gain vs. land ownership, and issues of a liberal dress code in relation to the rise in rape cases.

Yeah, heavy stuff.

The students get really fired up about the debates and usually when they approach the point of no return, we take it down a notch and relate the debate to journalism. Our intention with the debates is to get the students to see both sides to contentious issues.

Stay tuned for a full posting about the future debate on homosexuality.

The Malawian Institute of Journalism is also home to a radio station. Although I don’t have radio experience, I sometimes sit in on their editorial meetings to give my input on their stories. I regularly find myself encouraging the reporters to speak with people who are directly affected by the issue they are researching, as most journalists in Malawi restrict themselves to speaking with only one source (another topic altogether).

Student chapter
After re-building a jhr presence at MIJ (as it has been two years since the last jhr intern has been here), we are in the early stages of establishing a jhr student chapter.

For those of you who don’t know, it is a campus club that raises awareness of human rights through events, fundraisers and by reporting on human rights issues through various mediums.

We have interest from the university across the street and they will be holding elections for the executive positions sometime this week. Because the students at MIJ have been off for two weeks, we are only just holding an information session this week. So far, they seem interested.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress of the chapter.

We are supposed to be re-building the online newspaper at MIJ but this will likely coincide with the student chapter. We are working on recruiting a team of volunteers to run the publication so that we don’t get stuck doing all the work and then have it come crashing down after we leave.

I have a couple of potential freelancing opportunities lined up. If these are successful, I will post the links for you to read.

That seems to be all for now.
It’s nice that I’m busy this time around. Makes for less blog posts, I know, but it means I am holding onto my sanity.
Thanks for reading, as always.