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Journalism students reporting on HIV/AIDS in Africa

AMPATH Agribusiness Manager Naman Nabyinda asks about the major obstacles to growth during last year’s farming season and teaches how to overcome them. (Photo by Deanna Allbrittin)

AMPATH Agribusiness Manager Naman Nabyinda asks about the major obstacles to growth during last year’s farming season and teaches how to overcome them. (Photo by Deanna Allbrittin)

A dozen students from Indiana University’s School of Journalism are again in Kenya, reporting with guidance from their professor about the African continent’s continuing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Since 2000, Jim Kelly, an associate professor of journalism, has organized reporting workshops in South Asia and Africa for working journalists covering social issues such as HIV/AIDS.

For the third time, Kelly took a class of IU students to Eldoret, Kenya, home to the IU-Kenya Partnership with Moi University. Students have begun publishing their reporting online at a website devoted to the project.

Students in the advanced reporting class arrived in Eldoret on May 21, after touring Nairobi the day before, including the National Museum and the Karen Blixon Estate (remember “Out of Africa?”).

Shortly after arriving in Eldoret, the IU students were paired with communications students from Moi University. The two-person reporting teams are spending two weeks collecting interviews, recording audio and video and taking photographs.

They are interviewing residents, medical professionals and agency leaders, including many involved with Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare, or AMPATH, a health care partnership between the medical schools at IU and Moi University.

AMPATH has treated 115,000 HIV-positive patients at 23 sites in urban and rural Kenya.

Irene Chebet, left, and Jackie Veling spent the day reporting in Turbo, where Veling says Chebet provided not only translation but also good journalistic advice. (Photo by Jackie Veling)

Irene Chebet, left, and Jackie Veling spent the day reporting in Turbo, where Veling says Chebet provided not only translation but also good journalistic advice. (Photo by Jackie Veling)

“Reporting about an epidemic of this scope was certainly new to the IU students,” Kelly told me in 2011, the last time IU students went to Kenya for the reporting project. “But much of what the students were seeing and learning was also quite surprising to the Kenyans. They are middle-class college students too. Few had much knowledge of AMPATH and few had any first-hand experience with the problems that afflict the poor here.

“Going into the slums was as eye-opening for them as for our students — and perhaps more stressful — since it is their country they are seeing, rather than some foreign land that they will soon depart.”

Eldoret, a city of 200,000 in western Kenya in the Rift Valley Province, is the fastest-growing city in Kenya and currently is the fifth largest in Kenya.

It was the scene of considerable violence after the 2007 national elections. In January 2008, a mob attacked and set fire to a church where hundreds of people had taken refuge from mob violence in the streets. As many as 40 people were burned to death.

Reporting on many stories is happening this week and students teams soon will translate, write and complete editing of their reports. On June 12, the IU students will say goodbye to their Moi University counterparts and then travel to Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha, where they’ll see the wildlife and take in what also is a breathtakingly beautiful country.

Stories already online include Deanna Allbrittin’s post about asking for directions, Jordan Dunmead’s column about the challenges of explaining what she is experiencing and Jessica Campbell’s article about the reliance on animals for food, wealth and work.

While in Kenya, the students also meet with media professionals at organizations such as Reuters and Associated Press, and with local Kenyan news media leaders.

For the first nine days of the course, students met daily in Bloomington to learn about the basic pathology of the human immunodeficiency virus; the history of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, with particular attention to sub-Saharan Africa; and the current programs and other efforts aimed at addressing the worldwide epidemic. They also learned about the culture of east Africa and about the media laws of Kenya.

While accuracy in reporting is something emphasized throughout an IU journalism student’s four-year collegiate career, Kelly told me his students had the extra pressure of knowing that they had to be absolutely accurate because “quite literally, lives hang in the balance.”

“Many HIV positive people have bravely spoken on the record about how they have struggled and been helped,” he said. “Many more want to tell their story but justifiably fear the stigma that is attached to anyone who is known to be HIV positive. Unlike a story about a baseball game or a feature about a community event in Bloomington, an error in reporting here on this topic can have serious, life-altering effects on the source.”

You can start reading their reports online and later in June all of their reporting will be available on the class’s home page.

 

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