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2005/06 Seeing the World Through New Eyes Fellowship Recipients

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2005 Seeing the World Through New Eyes Fellowship recipients
Left to right: Sean McIntyre (Gulf Islands Driftwood, Saltspring Island), Betsy Trumpener (CBC Radio, Prince George), Lena Sin (The Province, Vancouver), Rob McKee (CFJC News, Kamloops), Rob Shaw (Victoria Times Colonist, Victoria), Don Cayo (Vancouver Sun)

The Jack Webster Foundation announced five recipients of the new Seeing the World through New Eyes fellowship established in partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

These five BC journalists will visit East Africa in 2006 to experience firsthand reporting from developing countries:
  • Sean McIntyre, Gulf Islands Driftwood, Saltspring Island
  • Rob McKee, CFJC News, Kamloops
  • Rob Shaw, Victoria Times Colonist, Victoria
  • Lena Sin, The Province, Vancouver
  • Betsy Trumpener, CBC Radio, Prince George

"These fellowships will benefit BC journalists who want an opportunity to see beyond their borders, witness firsthand Canadian organizations that help in developing countries and also view the developing world from a perspective of the people who live there," said Steve Crombie, Co-Chair of the Jack Webster Foundation

"By arranging these fellowships with the support of CIDA, it is the Foundation's goal to offer British Columbia journalists an experience that will widen their horizons in a globally significant way."

A training seminar in January preceded March travel to Africa with project team leader Don Cayo, Vancouver Sun columnist and veteran reporter on global development issues. Neither the Jack Webster Foundation nor CIDA will have editorial control on the resulting work of the fellowship recipients.

Experiences from the 2005/06 Seeing the World through New Eyes Fellowship Recipients

Betsy's Highlights | 22 Mar, 2006 - Lina Sin | 5 Mar, 2006 - Rob Shaw | 5 Mar, 2006 - Betsy Trumpener | 28 Feb, 2006 - Don Cayo

Betsy's Highlights

Seeing the World through new eyes fellowship photo

Photo by Betsy Trumpener

Betsy Trumpener interviewing one of Tanzania's top Swahili rappers, Professor Jay. In a country where hip-hop artists are quoted by campaigning politicians – and invited to perform for Parliament - Professor Jay is at the top of the game. He doesn’t rap about bling-bling and chicks, and he doesn’t brag about a life of crime, like many American rappers. Instead, his Swahili rhymes reflect the daily grind of life - and death - in Tanzania. "We do our music to wake up our people, to wake up their minds." says Professor Jay.

Photos from Malawi

Lena Sin
22 Mar, 2006
Photos by Lina Sin, The Province

Seeing the World through new eyes fellowship photo
In typical African fashion, women greet visitors with song and dance at Madiele village in central Malawi, about an hour from the capital city, Lilongwe.

Seeing the World through new eyes fellowship photo
The ladies of Muonekera village in central Malawi show us the way to their cassava fields, a drought resistant crop they've recently adapted to due to erratic rains, which left the country with a severe food shortage last year.

Seeing the World through new eyes fellowship photo
A boy from Madiele village poses for the camera.

Reporting from Malawi and Tanzania

Rob Shaw
5 Mar, 2006
by Rob Shaw, Victoria Times Colonist

If there's one thing you don't ever want to hear while travelling in a remote part of a foreign country it is this: "I am going to have to place you under arrest."

It is a very bad phrase, right up there with, "We apologize for losing your luggage" and "Sorry, but you can't buy Immodium in this country." Any of the three phrases (or perhaps all three if you were arrested trying to steal Immodium at an airport luggage terminal) will significantly raise the panic level in even the most seasoned of travellers.

Fortunately, I am not a seasoned traveller, hence my spot on the Jack Webster Foundation Seeing the World Through New Eyes Fellowship to East Africa. So when a police officer at roadblock in northern Malawi unloaded the "you are under arrest" speech to me a few days ago, I simply laughed.

It all seemed to absurd. My arrestable offence was the possession of a rubber ball, hand-made and sold by Malawian children in a nearby grove of rubber trees. The rubber was stolen from the trees of a plantation and a large sign by the checkpoint - which I was only now reading - deemed the purchasing of the ball a serious offence. In Canada, we would say the children "allegedly" stole the rubber, but in Malawi, we know better. This is a desperately poor country still reeling after drought decimated harvests last season.

Many people I met told me they are simply without money or food until the next harvest around June. Millions of people across Malawi are starving. To compound the problem, thousands more are sick and dying with HIV/AIDS, reducing working families to young orphans fighting for survival.

So it is quite likely those young kids who sold me the rubber ball had stolen the long strings of rubber from a privately-owned tree, and carefully crafted them together to form the basketball-sized object.

After I realized all of this, in the car, facing a policeman who was telling me I was under arrest, I stopped laughing. It suddenly seemed less absurd. Fortunately, I was travelling with a young but well-connected driver named Victor. In the backseat was Sean McIntyre from the Gulf Islands Driftwood, who had also bought a rubber ball from the children but, seeing the officers accosting me, had quickly tucked it out of sight. The policeman, now joined by another officer, ordered our driver out of the car to go "read the sign" about the illegal balls.

Sean and I were also asked to leave the car, but we stalled while our driver was away, pretending not to understand the language and talking to ourselves about the merits of waiting with our luggage (including digital cameras).

Still, the prospect of a night in some ungodly police station in the middle of rural Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, did little for my constitution. I admit, I was likely a few shades whiter than the flashy cream Chacabana dress shirt project leader Don Cayo was wearing at a group dinner a few nights earlier.

Our driver returned to the car and started a heated argument with the police. He said because the warning sign was at the checkpoint, and not in the forest where the kids were selling the balls, that we were ignorant of the fact the balls were illegal and therefore did not need to be arrested.

In the end, this argument worked. But, as he told us later, the police officers simply wanted a bribe anyway.

They asked how much we paid for the balls - Sean had now admitted he had one - and the total was about 1500 kwacha, roughly $1.50 Canadian. 1500 kwacha could likely buy some food, or alcohol, for these guards and they offered to take the balls in exchange for releasing me from my verbal arrest. So, with some reluctance but also noticing the sun was setting, I "donated" the balls back to the country of Malawi - ironically known as the Warm Heart of Africa - in exchange for my freedom.

Up until that checkpoint, everything had been going swimmingly.
Sean had just donned his swim trunks for a dip in Lake Malawi during a stopover four hours north of the capital city of Lilongwe.

The scenery was beautiful, with white sandy beaches and the shimmering expanse of the lake more resembling a Caribbean island than a landlocked nation.

Our final destination was Mzuzu, about another two hours north, where we had intended to hit our hotel before the sun set.

It was an ambitious agenda, and we had foolishly failed to schedule time for my impending arrest.

But we should have seen it coming. Police roadblocks are common-place in Malawi. Officers check car insurance and cargo from traffic on some of the more popular, paved, routes. Sometimes you travel through a roadblock with a wave. Other times your luggage is searched. Occasionally, as other members of the fellowship have discovered, you are escorted to the bushes and frisked at gunpoint. And then - for those of us who are real troublemakers - there are the arrests.

I am learning quickly that in a country were food and money are scarce, even something as seemingly trivial as a rubber ball can bring with it the most unexpected of consequences.

Reporting from Malawi and Tanzania

Betsy Trumpener
5 Mar, 2006
by Betsy Trumpener, CBC Radio Prince George

Last week in Malawi, I spied my very first "rhinoceros". It was a fat-assed SUV from the World Food Programme, leading the charge through traffic with its impressive hard black tusk of radio antennae. In this season of hunger, Malawi is thick with 4-wheel drive SUVs, whizzing aid workers and foreign delegations and visiting young journalists down red soil tracks through the maize fields to meet villagers who've eaten but one meal that day, to talk with mothers who say their breast milk is drying up. The land rovers speed through villages, dodging women hiking to town with their babies slung lovingly on their mamas' backs, past road side stands selling corn cobs grilled dry and black and delicious. Occasionally one of these big foreign cars may narrowly avoid hitting a small child in a yellow T-Shirt. Every once in a while, in this rush of foreign aid, a local carrying firewood or a twiggy bouquet of radish root on their bicycle, may be nudged off the road onto a highway shoulder of rough rocks.

At restaurant tables over the course of several dark, humid nights last week, a reporter from northern BC found herself rubbing shoulders with friendly, culture-shocked Norwegians who have come bearing computers for nursing students, or a jolly Zimbabwean consulting engineer, or a haughty World Food Programme professional from Sudan, who issues stern instructions to his car and driver over his cell phone. The reporter from northern BC may even find herself helping the World Bank's man in Malawi put his delightful chubby baby down to sleep for the night. In the morning, she will watch a parade of chauffered cars and SUVS pull in and load up for another day of aid work. And one of the cars will arrive for her. Today, the northern reporter is off to Lilongwe's central hospital in air conditioned comfort, her belly full of toast and eggs.

Two large white cholera tents have been set up near the public hospital's front gates. "Ah-hah," smiles a local doctor with equal measures of weariness and irony. "This way, you can catch cholera going in to the hospital OR coming out."

Inside the hospital, a woman in a green smock shouts at the mothers of patients who've been herded into the hallway so the ward can be cleaned. She pours water from a bucket onto the stone floor and flails away with her mop. Inside the ward, a small boy with a tube up his nose wails and cries and the sound is something that hurts, a sound you cannot forget. He is shirtless, maybe seven years old, and sharing his hospital bed with another boy. He has severe malaria. A passing foreign doctor lays a hand on his head and says the fever seems to be coming down. Down the hall, a group of young Malawians in white coats and stethoscopes sits down for their morning meeting. These are Clinical Officers in training - the backbone of the health system, in a country where there are just 100 doctors for 12 million people. They are not doctors, but they are trained to do diagnosis, run clinics, even do surgery. These are the daily pediatric rounds...and a student stands up to deliver last nights death toll. Six children.

Malaria, cholera, pneumonia. Through the windows of the meeting room as they talk, the Clinical officers in training can watch the mothers and grandmothers of the patients doing their laundry at stone sinks: washing the bedding, the clothes, the rags for mopping up. It is also the mothers' job to feed the young patients...whether or not they have anything to eat. Inside, one of Malawi's few pediatricians is grilling the students about their patients and their diagnosis. Then, several students set up a computer to deliver their class assignment - a power point presentation on malaria, that is incongruously illustrated with a graphic of fireworks. At the end, a tall, bearded medical student -- one of just 20 trained every year in this country - stands up and says he would give the presentation a 7 out of 10.

In the hallway, a very thin mother is sitting on the floor with a tiny
baby in her arms. Despite the heat, her month old has a yellow wool hat on his head, and is not moving. The baby has severe pneumonia, a viral infection that is making its deadly rounds here, like a summer cold in Canada. The mother is HIV + and has no food to eat. ut we will meet this mother again and this story will have a grain of hope. There will even be some singing in a narrow hospital corridor where HIV + mothers gather with their babies on their backs and agree to sing a song for a visitor from Canada, nurses clapping and keeping time.They are part of a program trying to stop HIV transmission between breastfeeding mothers and their babies, and these mothers have hope their children, at least, will live.

The fellowship reporters from B.C have all bonded over tales like these - and better - and worse. They share their anti-malaria tablets with each other and swap intense stories and wonder how they can do these stories justice, how to capture the hope and the despair and the outrage and the inspiration. How to tell the truth and not the tired cliches.

How to include the fact that one of our number was almost arrested in a rubber plantation crackdown. How four of us were stopped by the Malawian military near Salima, soldiers strutting with shiney, long M-16s they held close and lovingly as they approached the car and ordered the men to one side of the road to be searched and the women to the other side. How the local women and children we went to wait with were hungry, were suffering, and wanted money. How, as the men were searched on the far side of the road, a young woman pointed to the older women and said in English: "Suffering!! SUFFERING!!" And how all you could do was play hand games with the children - hand pancakes - black hand over white hand over black hand over white - and then get back in the car and drive to the airport at high speed, the villages and the maize fields whizzing by in a blur.

Reporting from Malawi and Tanzania

Don Cayo
28 Feb, 2006
Don Cayo, Project leader

See the World through new eyes fellowship recipients at the airport

Leaving YVR for Lilongwe. (L to R) Rob Shaw, (Victoria Times Colonist), Rob McKee (CFJC Kamloops), Project leader, Don Cayo, The Vancouver Sun, Betsy Trumpener (CBC Radio Prince George), second row, Lena Sin (The Vancouver Province), Sean McIntrye (Gulf Islands Driftwood)

One winner of the new Jack Webster fellowship for young BC journalists got his first insight in Third World realities before even leaving the airport in Lilongwe, Malawi when we arrived on Feb. 26.

We were a group of six, and the van that picked us up could accommodate only four with our luggage taking up the jump-seats in the back. So two of us waited in in the airy terminal rooftop lounge for the van to make a second run.

Frayer Nkhoma, our local guide and the organizer of a couple of days of group activities for our six-day stay, remained at the airport with us.

Mr. Nkhoma is a retired senior civil servant, an accountant by training and a recent graduate of a masters in economics program. So he understands that Canadians are rich and Malawians are not, and that we were the employers and he was the consultant. But nevertheless he insisted on paying for our beverages - two sodas and fruit juice - because, it seems, his ingrained sense of Malawian hospitality overrides his training.

The beverages were expensive by the standards of Malawi, the fourth-poorest country on earth. The bill came to 3,750 kawachas, or about $1 US for each drink.

As Mr. Nkhoma counted out the exact change to pay - plus a 10 kawacha tip - he ruefully remarked that 30 years ago, shortly after Malawi attained independence and minted its own currency, 3,750 kawachas would have bought him a very nice car.

Thus Sean McIntyre, a Jack Webster fellow from the Gulf Islands Driftwood, got his first lesson in African economics: "floating" currencies here mostly just sink. And because the monetary theory that economists tout - that low currencies attract investment and eventually raise the economy back up - never seems to work in economies as rock-bottom low as these, the consequence is high prices, low wages, and ever-deepening and ever-widening poverty.

The next day Mr. Nkhoma took us first to heartening place - a simple and sustainable forest management project that has helped local farmers double their annual incomes from about $300 US a year to $600 or so.

Then we were off to a "school" started by Mr. Nkhoma himself with no financial backing other than what he has taken from his own hip pocket. It's an association of about 700 peasant farmers who've banded together to
try to learn what they need to know in order to improve their productivity, their income, and the odds of keeping their family members alive in a land where people routinely die of starvation.

The school "building" is a big structure framed by small logs and loosely thatched for protection from the sun, but not the rain. About 300 people, men and women in more or less equal numbers, are patiently waiting for us to
arrive. They've come by bus, bicycle and on foot, some leaving their homes as early as 5 a.m. in order to be here by 10 a.m. when it usually gets too hot to walk.

We talk for an hour or so. By a show of hands, we learn they range in age from 20 to 60-plus, though only a handful are over 50. That may not be because older people don't farm or join in groups; it's most likely because few rural people here live into their 60s or beyond.

Easily half the women who've come are heads of households, widowed or deserted by their husbands.

They tell us right off the top that they're extremely frustrated. They're learning how to manage money, but they don't have any money to manage; they're learning the techniques and the benefits of fertilizer, but they don't
have any fertilizer to spread.

They aren't looking for handouts, they tell us, but they sure would like to have someone trust them enough that they could borrow a little to invest in the crop-doubling techniques they're learning about.

As the hour flies by, the people, the women in particular, tell their stories, and as we learn by another show of hands that every single one of them has known serious hunger and that most of them have not yet eaten anything on this day. Jack Webster fellow Betsy Trumpner of CBC Prince George - who is, or likes to think she is, a case-hardened journalist, confesses later that she's grateful she was wearing dark glasses that hid most of the tears
that clouded her eyes.

Our next stop was at a clinic that serves as the first-line medical centre for 180,000 of the million or so people who live in the capital city of Lilongwe. The only doctor - or rather the "almost doctor" as he has not completed his medical degree - sees 250 new patients every day during his clinic hours of 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. He's also on 24-hour call for frequent emergencies, he delivers babies and he performs surgeries.

Our chat with him was understandably short - but nonetheless poignant.

We also met a nurse who tests pregnant women for HIV.

"How many", we asked, "test positive?"

"Maybe one quarter," she replies.

That night we dine with Mr. Nkhoma and his wife and a handful of other gracious and educated Malawians who've helped pave the way for us to get some insights into their country. The bill comes to $150 US, or half the annual
income of many of the farmers we met earlier in the day.

In the morning the Fellows are to head out to various parts of the country to work individually and look in much greater depth at some projects and issues that interest them. Their heavy schedules, plus our jet lag after 38
hours of travel to get here, encourage us to not to linger too long for a post-dinner chat on the hotel balcony before we go to bed.

But from what the Fellows are saying it's clear to me that already, less than 36 hours into their first visit to a Third World country, they are already Seeing the World Through New Eyes.

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