US journalism students create website to record visits to refugee camps

News Stories, 17 December 2010

© Courtesy of Jack Doppelt
Hendricks Kabemba, a 21-year-old refugee from Democratic Republic of the Congo, with American journalism professor Jack Doppelt.

GENEVA, December 17 (UNHCR) A group of journalism students from the United States has been visiting three refugee camps operated by UNHCR in Africa and the Middle East and recording the experience on a new website.

Some 20 students and several journalism professors from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, in the northern state of Illinois, travelled this month to Malawi, Namibia and Jordan to document the challenges faced by refugees in different locations.

The students are recording their impressions in video, audio, slide shows and text and pushing the material out on Twitter and other social media. Subjects have ranged from the custodian of a library in Namibia that might be one of the busiest, for its size, in the world, to the first resident of the same camp, who escaped from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) nearly two decades ago.

"Most Americans have been relatively blind to the issues associated with refugees, especially in the under-reported regions of the world," wrote one student, Kevin Short, in an e-mail shortly before he left. "But estimates [of the number] soar into the tens of millions . . . creating a clear moral imperative for those in a position to help." Short added: "I feel enormously blessed to have this opportunity."

The project is led by Jack Doppelt, a professor at the school who also publishes a website covering migrant issues in the United States. He teaches a class that focuses on immigrant and multi-ethnic communities in the Chicago area. This is his students' first effort to cover stories in the camps themselves.

UNHCR has facilitated access to the camps and provided logistical support for the students while there. The trips were funded in part by the Carnegie Foundation and AT&T, which is providing equipment. Students paid for their own travel.

The blog from Namibia includes this snippet about a 17-year-old orphan and musician with dreams of becoming a pilot. "Gabriel Yuma is busting at the seam. He's so frustrated. He wells up when he gets animated, and he gets animated frequently."

A blog from Doppelt cites his translator, Hendricks Kabemba, a 21-year-old refugee from the DRC who has no family and who now longs to go to university, though he does not see the chance. The future "is a question that lies in me," he says. "I'm like a question mark." The students from Illinois are truly a world away.

To see the students' website, go to www.refugeelives.org

To see Prof. Doppelt's website on migrant issues, go to www.immigrantconnect.org.