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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Program gave focus on developing nations

By Colleen Dane, Shachi Kurl, Sean Mcintyre, Sarah Petrescu, and Rob Shaw, Times Colonist

A Malawi orphan eats a desperately needed meal because of money raised by Vancouver Island volunteers.

A Rwandan woman, raped during the genocide and infected with HIV, finds hope and inspiration to live through her pen-pal friendship with an HIV-positive Victorian.

A Cambodian woman, her leg lost to the landmines of civil war, re-builds her life, employing other amputees in a thriving silk-export business whose biggest buyers are on Vancouver Island.

These are among the most powerful and inspiring stories published in Vancouver Island newspapers and aired on TV newscasts in the past four years. They were only possible because of a fellowship that supports international reporting through the B.C. Jack Webster Foundation.

As the reporters responsible for those stories from Malawi, Cambodia, Vietnam, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, we know full well their unique value and community impact.

You, the readers and viewers, flooded us with emails, letters and phone calls to express your support for our work. You encouraged us to do more. But it is unlikely you'll see such stories again.

Last month, that fellowship, called Seeing the World Through New Eyes, was cancelled because the federal government's Canadian International Development Agency withdrew its funding support.

CIDA's decision has deeply disappointed us as journalists. We believe our readers and viewers will be disappointed as well.

The harsh reality is that it's very rare for journalists working for Island media outlets to dedicate two weeks to international development reporting. In smaller communities, travel expenses usually only extend as far as a late-night town council meeting.

Few employers are willing or able to send journalists to the ends of the Earth -- even if they see the value in bringing to light stories about local-global relationships and connecting readers to long-forgotten places.

Yet even the smallest communities are now linked with countries around the globe.

When people in the Gulf Islands heard a Saltspring Island reporter was off to visit a community project overseas, they launched an island-wide campaign to deliver notebooks, pens and clothing to a classroom full of kids in rural Malawi. Today, the community-to-community relationship fostered by the trip is stronger than ever.

Islanders rallied behind a Victoria African Aids Angels project by starting their own angel-making groups and raising tens of thousands of dollars for Malawi food projects.

Times Colonist readers helped create a blog for Rwandan women and funded a project to build a lavatory in Mozambique. A touching story of a Rwandan woman and her Victoria pen-pal, both dealing with the difficulties of HIV, garnered a Times Colonist reporter more community feedback than on any other article she'd ever written.

In the Comox Valley, readers rallied around one of their local reporters as she examined the role of agriculture, tourism and non-profits in Mozambique and Rwanda. One story focused on a village that shed its desperate poaching past to launch a thriving eco-tourism industry.

Across Vancouver Island, the impact of an

A-News report on Kong Chim's silk factory in Cambodia kept her business going through a global economic downturn. Viewers here valued the fair trade between a struggling nation and a rich one. Thanks to her customer base here, amputees who would have been left to beg in the streets live with dignity and a modest income.

Since 2006, Seeing the World Through New Eyes has helped 25 young journalists produce more than 150 stories from developing countries.

The cost for CIDA was negligible -- $35,000 to $40,000 a year from a

$3.25-billion budget. When we asked CIDA why it had pulled support, the agency said it had reorganized its spending priorities to "discontinue programs that were a duplication of other activities, or that did not achieve strong results and value for money."

Some have questioned why the federal government has any role in helping pay for media to travel abroad.

But the feedback to our Island stories proves CIDA's money wasn't being spent on mere junkets; the fellowship gave small-town stories a global perspective and provided readers access to more informed and broader-minded journalism.

Nor was the source of the funding a guarantee of positive coverage for federal projects.

Many of our stories highlighted how Canadian funding didn't always translate into success.

Still, our audiences embraced international issues, started conversations and donated their time and money. They helped CIDA fulfil its stated mandate to "lead Canada's international effort to help people living in poverty."

There are many reporters waiting and willing to tell new stories that will inspire Islanders to redouble their international efforts. But we need the support and assistance of a fellowship like Seeing the World Through New Eyes to make that possible.

CIDA should restore funding to the program. And if it can't, or won't, we know there are other organizations out there who would see the value in stepping up to correct what we believe is a regrettable decision.

Colleen Dane is a former reporter for the Comox Valley Record who wrote stories from Mozambique and Rwanda in 2008. Shachi Kurl is a reporter at A News who shot and produced stories from Cambodia and Vietnam in 2007. Sean McIntyre is a reporter at the Gulf Islands Driftwood who wrote stories from Malawi and Tanzania in 2005. Sarah Petrescu is a reporter at the Times Colonist who wrote stories from Mozambique and Rwanda in 2008. Rob Shaw is a reporter at the Times Colonist who wrote stories from Malawi and Tanzania in 2005.
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Confronting Cambodia's past at the Killing Fields

By Thomas Huang


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- I wander the fields, tracing the gentle slopes where the mass graves were. I want to hear the voices of those who died here. I want to hear their stories. That might be a way of honoring them.

Instead, silence enshrouds me. And perhaps that's not a bad thing.Silence allows me to pray.

Silence helps me hold back the tears.

I've come to the Killing Fields to pay respect to the dead. And I've come to remember Dith Pran.
Pran was a wise soul. He persevered through a great horror, but you wouldn't have known it from his quiet demeanor.

I met him through the Asian American Journalists Association about 15 years ago. Every year at our national convention, I taught and mentored college students on a newspaper project. Every year, Pran, a small man who always carried a camera, entered the room and offered words of encouragement.

"Do you know who this man is?" I would ask my students. No, they would say.

And so I would tell them Pran's story. He'd been a photojournalist and translator working with a New York Times reporter in Cambodia in the mid-1970s. He stayed to cover the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge.

He survived four years of hard labor under that regime, pretending to be uneducated and hiding his American ties. Finally, Pran escaped to Thailand. He eventually came to the United States and became a Times photographer.

In a way, I knew Pran even before I met him. His story was the subject of the film "The Killing Fields." I was in college when the movie came out, and when I learned about Pran's courage, something stirred inside me. I began to think about becoming a journalist.

I remove my shoes and walk up the steps to the Buddhist stupa, a towering shrine built two decades ago next to the fields. I pass an altar of figs, flowers and incense sticks. I'm joined by a few other tourists, but no one says a word.

The sign at the entrance says: "Would you please kindly show your respect to many million people who were killed under the genocidal Pol Pot regime."

From 1975 to 1979, Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians. In these fields, known as Choeung Ek, the Khmer Rouge executed and disposed of several thousand people.

Many of them had been interrogated, tortured and brought to the fields from Tuol Sleng, known as S-21, an old school that's now a museum a few miles away. Many of them were killed with farm tools -- hoes, knives, shovels and hatchets.

I enter the memorial. Before me, on several levels, lie piles of human skulls. They stare back at me, some discolored, others showing the damage inflicted upon them during the executions.

At first, I am overwhelmed with sorrow and revulsion.But then I ask myself: How else should we remember the genocide and memorialize the dead?

The Cambodians still are struggling with the best way to bring those responsible to justice. (In July, a United Nations tribunal convicted the first Khmer Rouge official of war crimes and sentenced him to 19 years in prison. Four other former leaders await trial.)

But, at least at this memorial, the Cambodians have decided to confront the terrible past and resist erasing history.

Pran died in March 2008 after battling pancreatic cancer. He had worked hard to educate us about the Cambodian genocide. He had worked hard to encourage younger journalists like me.

So, as I leave the memorial, I say a prayer for Dith Pran, hoping he finally has found some measure of peace.

I say another prayer for his country. Despite Cambodia's beauty, I know it's one of the world's poorest countries, devastated by the killings.

As I leave the fields and walk out onto the city street, a girl approaches me. "Papa," she says in rehearsed English. "Give me one dollar, and I go away."

Then a man nudges his 2-year-old daughter, who is completely naked, toward me. She holds up her tiny hands in prayer, beseeching me. I turn away; I fear that if I give her money, more people will approach me.

She is silent, and in that silence, I hold back my tears. It isn't until I write these words a few months later that I begin to weep.

If you go

Getting there: Access Phnom Penh on most major airlines, including Korean Air and Delta Airlines, with a connection through Seoul, South Korea. American Airlines has flights with connections through Los Angeles and Hong Kong.

The killing fields: The Killing Fields site, known as Choeung Ek, is about 10 miles south of Phnom Penh, so you'll need to hire a taxi or motorbike to get you there. To enter the memorial, you're asked to donate $3. With that donation, you can get a guide to show you around, but I didn't find that necessary.

It's a small area and easily walkable. Steel yourself before you view the human skulls in the Buddhist stupa. In addition to the memorial, signs indicate where detention areas were located, and a visitors' center provides historical information about the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide. cekillingfield.com.

Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, is the former school where thousands of people were interrogated and tortured. It's now the Museum of Genocide. The most moving, and overwhelming, section contains hundreds of mugshots of the newly arrived. www.tuolsleng.com.

Where to stay, eat: I enjoyed my stay at the colonial-style Raffles Hotel Le Royal (92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh; raffles.com). It was built in the late 1920s and has a lot of charm. I also received recommendations for Blue Lime, a more modern hotel with 14 rooms (42 Street 19Z; bluelime.asia).

The Foreign Correspondents Club (363 Sisowath Quay) has become a bit of a tourist draw, a multilevel complex with a cafe, restaurant, bar and shops. I had a decent chicken sandwich for lunch and an Angkor beer while looking out upon the Tonle Sap River, trying to do my best foreign correspondent impression.

Where to shop: Phnom Penh was evacuated during the Khmer Rouge regime and became a ghost town. When people moved back, it became a city of drugs, prostitution and violence. Those problems have largely subsided in recent years -- or at least are less than evident to the tourist. Still, it's odd to think there'd be good shopping here. Street 240 is known for its antique shops and boutiques. I liked Couleurs D'Asia (33 Street 240), which sells beautiful, traditional Khmer cotton scarves.

More to do: The National Museum (just north of the Royal Palace) is a gem. You'll find hundreds of artifacts and statuary from across Cambodia, as well as a courtyard with fountains full of koi. It's a good place to relax after viewing the horrors of the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng. www.cambodiamuseum.info.

Resources:

Tourist information: gocambodia.com and visit-mekong.com.

Getting an electronic visa to Cambodia is easy and costs $25. Apply online at evisa.mfaic.gov.kh.
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