When I was at the university I wrote my dissertation on the Role of the Media in Conflict based on Rwanda and Darfur. I interviewed many journalists that covered both conflicts. I always thought it must be very difficult, challenging but exciting to cover a story in Africa. I wanted to try it myself. After working in Europe and Asia, this year I finally got the opportunity to go to the black continent. I got a grant with the European Union and Minority Rights Group International. I went to Uganda- pearl of Africa to cover stories connected with minority rights issues. I focused on the homosexual rights as the President has just signed the anti gay bill that allows imprisoning people for seven or fourteen years if they are homosexuals. My second topic was Batwa tribe, which is a minority group in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and DRC that was evicted from their forests in early nineties and now they don’t have their own land and place to live.
The project started as an online course. Once you finish with good results the six lucky participants are offered a face to face training in Uganda. Me and 5 other European girls from Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland really enjoyed the first two days of training that prepares you how to report on minority rights and more importantly how to talk to the community. As a freelance reporter I’m used to the news environment, which is quite fast, and very often you need to work under pressure. I found it quite difficult to conduct interviews with those people. There are some rules you need to follow in order to get the information you need. Those people have been threw a lot in their life so you need to first gain their trust and talk to them without camera before you start interviewing them. On our first day visit in the community we didn’t have much time so I was running around with my camera trying to capture as much as possible and I didn’t have much time for interviews. I was quite frustrated even when talking to people, which doesn’t have a good effect on the people you interview. But the second day was much better. I could actually spend time with community listen, observe and talk to them. They opened up in their interviews and were very interested to tell you their story. Also it was the first time I had to work with translator, as the people there don’t speak English. This was another challenge, as you cannot really ask follow up questions and is more time consuming.
Be professional but if you have to – cry
Working in the field is difficult. You don’t always have the logistical arrangement that you have in the city. You always depend on other people like fixers, interpreters etc. Apart from that you usually talk about difficult topics like rape, poverty, malnutrition, death. It was very difficult for me when I was interviewing one of the Batwa women who told me that since she was evicted from the forest and living in the slums she doesn’t have food for her child or for herself. She needs to either beg or collect plastic bottles and then sell them. She is also quite ill and can’t go the hospital. When I was talking to her and recording her on the camera tears came to my eyes but I tried not to cry and be professional. At the end I gave her some of my clothes and money. She hid them in her hat and then cried. She said to me” Thank you angel you just save my child” This was truly the best moment in my career. This amazing feeling you get that maybe with your story someone will see it and make a difference in those peoples lives. To cover a story in the field you need to be sensitive to other peoples feelings and let them tell you their story, you should not rush them or interrupt them. Be their friend and not a journalist.
Africa is not Europe
Africa is not an easy country to work from but once you will get a story there you can get it anywhere. I feel that even after this short 2 weeks I learnt really a lot not just from the MRG training and their professional team but also from the local journalists. When being in Kampala and covering my LGBT story I was lucky to meet two local journalists who explained to me that the western world very often describes Africa with their own eyes without even asking Africans for their opinions and misinterpreting many things. They made me sensitive that I should look at my story not just with my own eyes but with eyes of local people. This was very precious advice and helped me a lot when writing my stories.
Changing the world is fun
Being back in Europe I look now at everything from different perspective. As a person and as a journalist I m starting appreciating more little things that previously didn’t matter. And as my personal motto is “changing the world is fun” I know I won’t change it from one day to another but at least I can try. I have now a mission that I want to accomplish and make people more aware of the problems in Africa. It is something I promised to the Batwa people- to share their story with the world.