Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Northwestern students report from Africa

Beginning her first day of reporting in Amman, Jordan, Medill sophomore Christina Walker was already learning firsthand some of the horrors of refugee life.

Walker traveled to Amman in December as part of Refugee Lives, a Medill-led program focusing on human rights reporting around the globe. Reporting teams, made up of both Medill and non-Medill students, traveled to Jordan, Malawi and Namibia to chronicle everyday life of refugees.

The trips were the culmination of Medill professor Jack Doppelt’s fall course, “Connecting with Immigrant and Multi-Ethnic Communities.” The trip’s goal was not only to allow students to experience international reporting, but also to expose them to refugee living conditions, Doppelt said.

While speaking with an Iraqi refugee who was handcrafting Christmas candles, Walker’s conversation turned from arts and crafts to kidnapping in the blink of an eye, she said.

Walker’s interview subject soon revealed that her brother was kidnapped in 2007 and held for ransom.

“There was so much more to it than just being a story,” said Walker, a former staffer of The Weekly. “Our job there was to recognize what these people had been through and what they had seen. It was really an eye-opening experience.”

The reporting teams traveled to their respective destinations in mid-December, spending between four and six days on-site reporting on education, health, employment and everyday conversation. Their stories – including both text and multimedia pieces – were published on the program’s website, RefugeeLives.org.

“The opportunity to be exposed to the setting of the refugee camp is something you can’t appreciate by not having done it,” Doppelt said. “It was, from everything the students have been telling me since we’ve been back, transforming.”

But while the experience was memorable for the 19 NU students and three professors accompanying them, participants agreed the trips included challenges. The Namibia team fought its way through a harrowing government bureaucracy before it could report from the Osire refugee camp, Doppelt said. Meanwhile, student reporters in Amman had to navigate an urban setting and those in Malawi battled shoddy Internet connection for the duration of the trip.

Brent Huffman, the leader of the Malawi team, said he chose the Dzaleka Refugee Camp specifically for its obstacles. Along with poor Internet connection, his team had to work through the police corruption that runs rampant throughout much of Africa, he said.

“Luckily, we went with a former refugee named Clemantine Wamariya. She returned to the refugee camp for the first time since growing up there until she was six,” Huffman said. “Having her there was crucial for us. It would have been a completely different experience without her.”

Although Huffman and his team’s trip lasted only four days, it was about more than just reporting, he said.

“The more time we spent in the camp, the more our desire to actually help these people became bigger and bigger,” Huffman said. “It was really hard on the fourth day to think, ‘We’re never going to be back here again.'”

Doppelt is looking to make the program a fixture at Medill and include non-journalism students for a more interdisciplinary approach, he said. The reporting teams’ goal was to bring stories of refugee life back to campus in an effort to attract other NU colleges to the program.

“This project was intended to go into the future and open up these opportunities to other students,” Doppelt said. “That’s part of our mission: to get people to really appreciate the human face of a refugee.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Northwestern students report from Africa