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Five BC Journalists receive Webster fellowships to cover Latin America development issues

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

These five BC journalists will visit Latin American in early 2009 to experience firsthand reporting from developing countries:
  • Susan Hollis, freelance, Vancouver
  • April Lawrence, CHBC Television News, Penticton
  • Travis Lupick, The Georgia Straight, Vancouver
  • Catherine Rolfsen, The Vancouver Sun, Vancouver
  • Brooke Ward, The Northern View, Prince Rupert

"These fellowships benefit BC journalists who want an opportunity to see beyond their borders and view the developing world from a perspective of the people who live there," said Deb Sweeney, 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 November will precede February travel to Honduras and most likely Peru 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.

Seeing the World Through New Eyes was a juried competition for BC-based journalists aged 30 or younger, or in their first five years of journalism. The competition was open to full time employees of media organizationS or freelancers with a record of printed or aired work. The Jury Panel (Don Cayo, Joan Marshall, John Richards and Scott Macrae) evaluated 26 entries from a diverse Section of BC print and broadcast journalists. Earlier in 2008, five journalists traveled to Rwanda and Mozambique in the third CIDA-funded Seeing the World Through New Eyes program. The Jack Webster Foundation will be offering the Fellowship in 2009/10 to Africa.

Experiences from the 2008/09 Seeing the World through New Eyes Fellowship Recipients

May 1 April Lawrence | Don Cayo's blog | February 17 Travis Lupick | February 11 Catherine Rolfsen | February 11 Travis Lupick | February 10 Travis Lupick

2008 fellowship recipients
Departing from YVR on February 6, 2009
From left to right: Catherine Rolfsen (Vancouver Sun), Brooke Ward (The Northern View, Prince Rupert), April Lawrence (CHBC TV, Penticton), Susan Hollis (freelance, Vancouver), Travis Lupick (Georgia Straight) and project leader, Don Cayo (Vancouver Sun)

April LawrenceApril Lawrence's story at CHBC news.
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Don CayoDon Cayo's Vancouver Sun blog.
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Travis LupickFeb 17, 2009
Travis Lupick, Georgia Straight

There are certain similarities that unite many of the developing world's mega cities. Driving into Lima from Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chãvez, the first thing that you notice is the billboards.

Miraflores district of LimaThese testaments to globalization crowd the highway in a race to the sky. Most sit on poles several stories tall and stretch hundreds of feet across. They advertise cellular phones, fast food restaurants, and the latest American action movies.

My impression of Lima is that the nearly eight-million strong city is quickly escaping the mediocrity that these billboards represent. Compared to Tegucigalpa - the capital of Honduras where I had just come from - the streets of Lima are clean, the threat of crime is low, and the cuisine is delicious.

Tegucigalpa held a vibrant energy during the day. But into the night, most locals disappeared with the sun, leaving tourists only warnings of thieves.

In stark contrast to Tegucigalpa, Lima comes alive at night. In stylish Miraflores district, teenagers line the sidewalks and wait for admittance into flashy discos, young families gather in grand plazas and play until long past Canadian children's bedtimes, and coffee shops fill with locals to create a noisy chatter that spills into the streets. In nearby Barranco district - something of a bohemian outpost - the scene is quieter but still alive. Couples walk well-lit streets and fill tiny cafés while street artists pack up their work to complete another day.

In Miraflores, I met three notable Peruvian biologists for an interview in a trendy Middle Eastern restaurant. The men drank red wine and commented on the pleasantness of the night. They joked about their favourite Seinfeld episodes and debated who was the real genius behind the show, Jerry or executive producer Larry David. (It was finally agreed that the show's popularity was the result of a Lennon-McCartney type of partnership.)

Upscale Miraflores is something of a jewel in Lima but many neighbourhoods I visited shared its modernity and warmth. Walking the eclectic city's streets, I've seen every sign of a burgeoning middle class. Public art is common but avoids false bravado, beaches are crowded with suffers and bikini-clad women, and upscale supper clubs dot the waterfront.

In the Middle Eastern restaurant, the biologists explained to me that the last decade has been a period of tremendous growth for Peru and especially Lima. The population and economy have increased together in leaps and bounds to create a middle class with disposable income.

The global financial crisis will test all of this, the three men agreed. Peru has so far held off the sharp economic declines suffered by such Latin American countries as Bolivia or Ecuador, but the country's rate of economic growth is slowing and nobody feels financially secure.

In 2008, Peru's economy grew an impressive nine percent, the largest growth rate in South America for that year, according to CIA Factbook. But one of the scientists told me that the latest economic projections for 2009 forecast a growth rate of just four percent.

This week, the billboards that line the airport's highway into Lima remain filled with advertisements. But the Peruvian intellectuals I drank with repeatedly raised the question of how long it will be that way.

Catherine RolfsenFeb 10, 2009
Catherine Rolfsen, Vancouver Sun

Whew! The last three days have been a month's worth of adventures and reporting rolled into one. I've seen howler monkeys and pelicans, hung out with Garifuna villagers in front of their grass beachfront shacks, rode in the back of a pickup truck, witnessed the terrifying destruction of some of Honduras's most precious natural areas, held a baby with pierced ears, eaten a giant fried fish fresh from the river and speedboated through a jungle estuary.

I'm now in La Ceiba, a biggish town which is going wild tonight because of some sort of soccer game. I've hooked up with the WWF (or as they call it in Honduras, la panda) who picked me up off my bus this morning armed with a 20-point itinerary. Tomorrow we're going to Cayos Cochinos, a protected island 45 minutes off the coast where they are apparently filming Spanish Survivor. Everyone is so generous with their time, I know I'll never be able to write enough to do justice what I've seen so far.

Travis LupickFeb 10, 2009
Travis Lupick, Georgia Straight

Things are not always as you imagine them to be. I have generally assumed that if a snack comes in a neat little package, it was wrapped in a large warehouse somewhere probably very far away from where I am eating.

third bridge dividing Tegus, looking downstreamBut today on a trip through El Paraiso province in Honduras, I stumbled on a snack food manufacturing facility that really proved me wrong.

I was roughly 100 kilometers east of the capital, very close to the Nicaraguan border. A European NGO named SwissContact had been generous enough to lend me a car and driver for the day and we had just finished up a long round of interviews and were on our way back to the capital city.

Earlier in the day, at SwissContact's Honduran headquarters in Tegucigalpa, Ivan Rodriguez, a director for the group, told me that SwissContact has been active in Central and South America for nearly 50 years. He described the group as a private-sector foundation that assists small and medium enterprises with growth and development.

For example, Rodriguez told me, SwissContact has helped groups of subsistence farmers in Honduras band together and cooperatively operate as a bloc to access larger and international markets.

Rodriguez emphasized that importance that SwissContact has always placed on education and empowerment over handouts.

That was what I saw in action in El Paraiso province in a very small town outside the city of Danli.

We stopped to pick up chips, I was told by SwissContact's driver. As it turned out, we had stopped to pick up a whole lot of chips - the equivalent of a small crate.

The small, three-room cement building was the sole manufacturing and packaging facility for Tajaditas de platano's Del Racimo banana chips. The entire operation consisted of three deep fryers, four staff members (at the time that we dropped by), and a couple of primitive packaging devices.

As I waited for my driver to collect his large bag of the "warehouse's" product, two women and a young man busily crammed banana chips into tiny bags stamped "Del Racimo", sealed them in a single motion, and tossed the bags into large boxes, ready for delivery.

"I think they make a lot of money," Brenda Morales, another staff member of SwissContact, later told me. "These sell for three lempira [roughly 20 cents] a bag."

Morales explained that years ago, SwissContact had helped Del Racimo establish its small manufacturing facility and connect with national distributers.

Today, while the company's staff still barely exceeds a handful of local people, Del Racimo banana chips can be found on store shelves throughout Honduras.

It made me wonder who made the Kellog's Special K bar that I munched on during the ride back to Tegucigalpa.

Travis LupickFeb 10, 2009
Travis Lupick, Georgia Straight

A walk through the poverty of Honduras

We arrived in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa sometime in the evening of February 8. At the time, I had barely slept in three days and it was starting to show. 72 hours earlier, we had boarded a red eye for Mexico City. Then it was 24 hours in Mexico, one cancelled flight, one tedious stop-over, and a perfect landing in Tegucigalpa - not a sure thing, we were told.

chipsIt is now the evening of February 10 and I'm starting to feel like I know where I am. I imagine that Tegucigalpa is the kind of capital that needs to grow on people. Its vibrancy strikes you at once; it is colourful and the colonial architecture is reminiscent of Old Havana, the people laugh often and the taxi drivers are quick to point out their favourite spots. But Tegus - as the locals call it - is also the kind of city for which you are often warned about the crime, where many of the streets are quiet not long after nightfall, and where it is poor.

I had landed in the country with a small group of British Columbian journalists. We are the 2009 recipients of a Jack Webster Foundation fellowship that supports international reporting.

With a mandate to research development issues, some of us travelled to the town of Choluteca, about two hours south of the capital. There, we saw President Manuel Zelaya, speak to a select crowd of thousands who were due to receive "bonuses" from the government.

It was all part of Zelaya's "Solidarity Network" program, we were told. With the goals of raising people out of poverty and improving health in the country, many were receiving monetary bonuses for their work in education, health or a variety of other fields. (At this point, it might be worth noting that the left-wing government is scheduled to face a national election on November 29, 2009.) Technical assistance and training programs were also launched with the Solidarity Network.

The president was visiting a different rural village every week and handing out these bonuses. On the day we visited, the government was giving 33.2 million lempira to 15,438 families in Choluteca.

The minister of the Solidarity Network is Fernando Garcia. Shortly before the president took the stage, he told us that an estimated 600,000 Honduran families live in what the government categorizes as extreme poverty. Honduras's population is only between seven and eight million. This means that if the minister's definition of extreme poverty is the same as the World Bank's, something like 40 percent of the country lives on less than $1.25 a day.

One day later and back in Tegus, I found myself still wanting to get to know the city and finally with a few hours of down time. I took the opportunity to go for a long walk.

It's about eight blocks from my hotel to the three bridges that separate the twin cities - Comayaguela and Tegucigalpa - that comprise the capital. Garbage fills much of the space beneath these bridges; hawkers crowd the sidewalks, selling everything from plastic cups to condoms; and damaged or unfinished buildings line the water on either side.

Walking across the largest bridge, I wound my way through merchants' negotiations and minded my step around barefoot children. The far side of town seemed considerably poorer than where I was staying. There was more trash in the gutters, the streets were narrower, and the bananas were not as ripe.

Nobody talked to me much on my walk. Returning to the hotel, I stopped at a park bench outside one of the city's larger cathedrals. As I watched young children chasing pigeons, a woman offered my tortillas for a reasonable price. I told her I didn't need any and she smiled at me.

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