Category Archives: Journalism

Check Out My Haiti Story…

My story ran today in Women’s eNews!

Haiti Quake Puts 63,000 Pregnant Women at Risk

The Haiti earthquake has increased the risks for an estimated 63,000 pregnant women in Port-au-Prince, as medical facilities and supplies have been destroyed. The UNFPA is distributing delivery and ‘dignity’ kits to help minimize the damage.

UNITED NATIONS, New York (WOMENSENEWS)–Rose Mirlande Veilard could no longer feel her baby’s kicks and became scared. The Port-au-Prince, Haiti, resident wondered if her baby had been killed during her struggle to leave her home near Champs de Mars, the presidential plaza, during the earthquake.

Since the earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, the 22-year-old has slept in a car parked outside of a church. When Veilard was finally able to see a doctor at a hospital, she found out her baby was still alive, the U.N. Population Fund, or UNFPA, told Women’s eNews.

But other women in Haiti will not be so lucky.

When the earthquake hit, Haiti’s Ministry of Women was in a meeting with 20 development partners who work with the UNFPA. Almost everyone in the meeting was killed or injured.

“It’s very tragic,” said Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, chief of UNFPA’s humanitarian response team. “You lose the people who could respond and support these communities.”

Of the 3 million people affected by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti, and the aftershocks that continued as recently as Jan. 20, an estimated 63,000 are pregnant women. In the month ahead, 7,000 women are expected to deliver. Giving birth or seeking prenatal care in a city where even the presidential plaza is destroyed poses countless risks to women in Port-au-Prince and throughout the quake region. The New-York based UNFPA has spearheaded efforts to help minimize the risks these women face.

Logistics a Challenge

“The challenge for Haiti is logistics,” Mahmood said. “We do not want pregnant women, or women and girls overall, to fall off the radar screen.”

Even before the earthquake, giving birth in Haiti was no easy feat. The country has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Northern Hemisphere. For every 100,000 births, 670 mothers do not survive. Fifteen percent of all births before the earthquake had complications that required hospital care, such as hemorrhaging and high blood pressure in the mother, according to the UNFPA.

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The First Decade: From Long Island to Kampala to Brooklyn

At the Source of the Nile River in Jinja, Uganda, where some of Gandhi's ashes are scattered.

Hey all, whether you are in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, Uganda, or Kenya, I really wish you a blessed new year in 2010!

This year was one of the most challenging of my life– but also the most rewarding.  Many times I felt as if I had slammed my head
or fell over my feet (both metaphorically and in the real sense!), and other times I prayed for a crystal ball that would let me go back in time.
Do things differently.

I can’t say this enough- Hindsight is 20/20.  Hindsight is 20/20.  But mistakes offer the most powerful lessons of all.  In many ways, I entered 2010 with
a gigantic blindfold over my eyes, and had to let reality be my teacher.  I realized I was scrappier than I ever imagined, but simultaneously blessed
in more ways than I could fathom.

I enjoyed writing at New Vision this year.

2009 was a year of writing for Women’s eNews, Saturday/New Vision, and the New York Post.  It was a year I began in Jackson Heights, Queens, shifted to Brooklyn, moved to Kampala, returned for respite in Long Island, and relocated back to Brooklyn.  It was my first year that I was not in school.  Where my interview subjects ranged from the president of the Kampala ghetto (with a cabinet, no less!) to Felix Kulayigye, Manhattan garage owners, NYPD officers, bicyclists, colon cleansing patients near the Old Taxi Park (I kid you not), and a woman who survived living with HIV, a white blood cell count of 0, poverty, and cancer– but now weighs 80 kilograms, runs a support group for discordant couples at Mulago Hospital’s Infectious Disease Unite, and has reunited with her husband.  Her name is Zam.

It was a year of launching the Ugandans Abroad website and social networking site, and making our first e-commerce store at our Africa Connections ebay website.  I used all sorts of proxy sites to access Facebook at New Vision, tweeted quite a bit, started this blog, and temped at Iconix.

I got horrific food poisoning at Shell Club, was cheated dramatically Abii Clinic in Wandegaya, and attacked by bugs in New York’s Central and Highbridge Park.  When I would cough in Uganda, people feared I had swine flu.  I began paying back my students loans in June.  I skyped a bit, but mainly used gmail chat
as my favorite form of communication.

My father gave me a red Blackberry Curve for Christmas, allowing me to file from the field.  It was definitely an upgrade from my kiboko phone.  Or is it a
kikumi phone? I can’t remember.

To go further back… I spent New Year’s 1998/9, ten years ago, in Sayville.  I was 13 years old, and went to an awful laser show with my then step-brothers.
I was in eight grade (S2 for my Ugandan readers!), and had glasses, stringy brown hair, and pants that were too short for my rapidly growing legs.  My favorite past times were chatting on AOL instant messenger, drinking Mountain Dew, playing Mario Kart and Sim City 2, as well as Grand Theft Auto.

In 2000, I moved back to Oyster Bay, where I enjoyed history lessons, diatribes about Hillary Clinton (haha well maybe not that part! My family and I are lifelong Democrats), and learning about ancient Greece & Rome from Mr. Levorchick.  During a world history moment on Africa (an afternoon’s worth of coverage in 4 years of high school), I nearly blew off the assignment, disinterested in ancient Mali.  I lived in Karen Court, and did spring track with Grace and Stephanie.  I was awful at the 200 meter, but at least I got in pretty good shape.  I took my first and only photography class with Mrs. Crowley, who was terrified of peanut butter but loved my photos and writing.  The key quote from her is- “Has anyone seen a lens cap?” It was when Mrs. DiMaggio was Mrs. Scudieri, and I tried to get through Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.

My city of ruin...

In 2001, there was 9-11.  My biology teacher, Mr. Billelo (spelling?) told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and we turned on the radio.  I figured it was an awful accident, then saw my best friend Stephanie in the hall.  I told her, and she gave me a startled look.  Mr. Rose, our history teacher,

told us that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, and the White House was on fire, the Pentagon attacked.  We thought he was kidding.  Mark Mitchell burst into stunned laughter.  Classmates began calling their parents who worked in the New York City.  I came home to my teary father, who hugged me and paced around the living room, devastated.  We went with a friend of his he had been seeing to a temple the next day to grieve.  On September 12th, there was a terrible smell of decay.  Only a week before, my friends and I had attended a boat tour of the NYC skyline for my friend Lisa’s sweet 16– the last time we would ever see the city whole.  I was writing for my high school newspaper, and we debated what to put in the next issue.  What should be our focus? Our teachers refused to turn on the televisions to keep calm, but students went to computer labs that week to download images of the crumbled towers.

In 2002, I took the PSAT, AP exams, and had my first boyfriend (no comment, but tragically, he loved anime, a type of Japanese animation).  He fetishized East Asian women (I hate the idea of racial/ethnic fetishes- shudder!), and dumped me for a Korean girl, hoping she would be “submissive.”  Glad that relationship didn’t survive! I looked him up on facebook, and found him overweight with long, greasy brown hair to his waist, working in IT.

Joshing Around in College

In 2003, I proudly served as my school newspaper’s features editor, and applied to colleges, a mess of anxiety.  I was accepted early decision into Sarah Lawrence, and felt more dread than excitement about university life.  In 2004, I finished up my freshman year in a difficult semester, full of drama and disappointment.  I joined facebook– back when just a few universities could participate! That summer, I interned at the Anti-Violence Project, and was fired from IHOP for being a shitty waitress.  I handed out copies of my poetry chapbook to my office coworkers.

In 2005, I took economics, history, and had a difficult summer at home.  The following year, in 2006, I spent the summer interning at the U.N.  I lived in the Columbia dorms (hey- where Barack Obama went to college! yay), and hung out with my friends who lived nearby in International house.  In 2007, I traveled to Uganda and Rwanda for the first time for a study abroad program with Makerere University, living with Ugandan host families in Kampala (Kanyanya) and Busia.  My life has never been the same since then.

Studying Abroad in Uganda, 2007...

That fall, I began my master’s in journalism.  While I had been in Uganda, I debated whether to go into international relations, development studies or journalism after getting accepted into three different master’s programs.  My heart was in journalism, so for better or worse (I didn’t realize the extent of problems in the industry), I began my new, exciting life at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism– community board meetings in Queens, living at International House with Adeola, Nadia, and other amazing friends, and (not) doing ballroom dancing or salsa (I have two left feet, to put it mildly!).

24 and with a master's degree in journalism! Graduation- Me, Jeff Jarvis.

Through CUNY, I got a grant from the Knight Foundation to intern at New Vision, and ended up going back to the English daily to work after graduation.  I also got a grant from CUNY to start my Ugandans Abroad website and Africa Connections company, which launched at the end of November.

I have no idea what the next decade will bring.  Journalism? Marriage? East Africa? New York? Someplace entirely new? Children?

God, I am staying tuned… please love and protect me in these years ahead.
Surround me in your love, and help me to grow as a person, writer, journalist, daughter and friend.

Love,

Becky

Where I will be for my 25th birthday?

New Bills for Ugandan Women

My colleague Raymond Baguma wrote an amazing article for Women’s eNews that ran yesterday.  Check an excerpt below, then click to read the rest on the Women’s eNews website.

Uganda’s parliament recently passed bills on domestic violence and female genital mutilation. Now one female lawmaker hopes colleagues will approve in January long-awaited modernizations of marriage and divorce.

KAMPALA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)–After parliament’s recent passage of key laws to protect women here, Jane Alisemera Babiha, chair of the Uganda Women Parliamentarians Association, is hoping a bill to modernize laws on marriage and divorce will sail through in January.

“We are anxious to have this law passed by the beginning of next year,” Alisemera told Women’s eNews recently.

“It is only natural that as women, we should champion for the cause of our fellow women who we represent,” added parliamentarian Mary Karooro Okurut, representative of the Bushenyi district. “But in our campaign, we are also enlisting the support of men.”

The proposed law grants women the right to divorce spouses for cruelty and impotence. It also gives women the right to consent to marriage, often overlooked in African traditional weddings arranged by family and clan elders.

The bill also prohibits the customary practice of widow inheritance. In some Ugandan communities, widows are inherited by their brothers-in-law even when they do not consent to the marriage. The law gives widows the right to remarry people of their choice.

Sex without consent in marriage is prohibited by the bill, and there are incentives in the law to promote co-ownership of property between spouses. It also establishes a female-friendly protocol in the event of divorce: equal division of property and finances

Happy Thanksgiving

The olden days, a.k.a. last summer in Kla

Hey everyone, how are you doing? Well, the site I am doing with Emmanuel is almost ready to go up, though our hosting site is being a bit difficult. Thanks for all your encouragement and support as we transition to our new web presence. This project was definitely a labor of love… and it will be live next Monday at http://www.ugandansabroad.org.

There has been all sorts of interesting/disturbing/fascinating stuff going on in Uganda and her neighbors…

-The U.N. released a damning report to some media houses (still haven’t been able to access the real thing) that said two Rwandan rebel groups, including the FDLR (composed largely of the former Interahamwe, which commited the Rwandan genocide), were recruiting in two refugees camps in Uganda– one of which I even visited in 2007, Nakivale, when I was with SIT. It also said that Uganda and Burundi were smuggling $1.2 billion in gold out of the DR Congo, purchasing gold from FDLR-controlled mines, and reselling it in the United Arab Emirates.
As a reporter, as sick it is, my first impulse was– whoa, what a story! I could imagine eight or nine follow-up stories coming from this report, and stories that would come from the follow-up story. Immediately, I began imagining commodity chains (it’s the Joshua Muldavin in me!). And this report had one hell of a commodity chain, from Spanish NGOs giving funds to the FDLR to recruiting in the camps that are repatriating their Rwandan refugees as we speak (I got to cover this for Women’s eNews!).  If you somehow can find a copy of this report, please let me know– I am dying to see it, and I don’t get why the UN leaked it so many press organizations, then didn’t share it with the public.

In eastern Congo, the mineral trade fuels and funds war-- at the expense of millions of people.

Other things that I have been paying attention to…

-If you want a good story, there’s always the General James Kazini murder saga (and see, this actually is a nice segway from the UN report, since Kazini spent a great deal of time looting minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo).  This famous general, who has led troops against all sorts of insurgencies in the Great Lakes region, was allegedly bludgeoned to death by his lover in Namuwongo, in one of the strangest stories I’ve heard in awhile.  Andrew Mwenda had a great take on it. Whether Lydia Draru, his 28-year-old lover, really killed this top general, I have no idea…

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Tuesday

beckula

Hey folks, good afternoon.  How is your Tuesday treating you?

It’s sooo hot at work, but despite that, I am gulping down hot ginger tea.  This will not surprise anyone that knows me, of course, but I still feel the need to tell you that I would take a hot cup of coffee or tea anywhere, in the southern Sudan or perhaps Death Valley in California. 

I don’t like iced coffee because I have no self-control, and it seems like a waste of money.  Whenever I order iced coffee in New York, it seems like the delis and Dunkin Donuts  give you a massive amount of ice and a tiny bit of coffee.   The few coffeeshops in Uganda are just as guilty.  After I forked over a small fortune at Cafe Pap for a small iced coffee, they handed me a tiny cup full of brown ice, I swear.  Where is the coffee, I wondered.  Meh.

As mentioned, another problem with iced coffee and tea is that I have no self-control.  None! I’ll just gulp it all down in one swallow.  At least if it’s hot, I am forced to show some sefl-restraint.  By the way, this is why I could never smoke a cigarette.  I have an utterly addictive personality.

I wrote one story today, and need to write another before I can head back to Kitintale.    I really needed to throw out these horrible contact lenses in my eyes yesterday, but alas, I wore them to work again! Out of desperation, I went around lunchtime to Eye Care at Lugogo to buy another pair of lenses, and the doctor told me he couldn’t examine me because I already had lenses in my eyes.  I offered to take them out, but he said my eyes need to be free of lenses for 12 hours or else I’ll spoil the eye exam.  I’m skeptical, but I am going back tomorrow at lunchtime, in my glasses. 

What’s new in Uganda-

mugabe

-Robert Mugabe and I are in the same country.  He’s here for a conference, and has been joing other foreign dignataries in bashing the Western press  & local journalists for writing bad stories about the African continent.

Here’s an article from New Vision about it.  Props to Henry Mukasa:

“When Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe raised his hand, prolonged applause filled the hall. Mugabe once again seized the opportunity to attack the Western media, which have criticised his handling of the economy and his political opponents.

“There are agencies like BBC, CNN. When you act as agents (correspondents) of those kinds of media, do you have the option of being impartial?” he asked.

“If they are pursuing a hostile attitude, do you protect the interests of Africa because you are Africans? Can you report truthfully or factually or do you fear losing your jobs.” He urged African journalists not to serve neo-colonialist or imperialist interests…
King Mswati III of Swaziland wondered why the media do not cover the positive projects happening on the continent.

To which Stephen Asiimwe of the East Africa Business Week replied that the media report a lot of good things about Africa but they are not appreciated. Instead, he said, the media are reprimanded for the critical articles.

Zimbabwe’s deputy prime minister Tokozani Khupe asked bluntly why media reports are always “lopsided”. In response, Charlotte Ampaire of the Uganda Media Centre said the media are a two-way street and governments needed to be more open and accessible. “

Productive Reporting Day (Woot)

Hello, how are you? Today was a very productive reporting day.  I got a great interview after camping out for a bit at the World Bank-funded Butabika Hospital in Kampala, which will be perfect for some stories on mental health in Uganda that I have been working on.  I interviewed a 13-year-old girl and her mother from Bunia, DR Congo, who fled the country seven years ago.  The young woman, her name is Sarah, had suppressed her memories of the war for years, but the memories came flooding back when she was kidnapped at a market in Kawempe last month, and molested.  Thankfully, she managed to escape, but was held in captivity for a day without food, and defiled.  Since then, all of the traumatic memories of her father and brother’s deaths by rebels in the eastern Congo have overwhelmed her.  About three times a day, she said she has flashbacks of her father’s day, and imagines that men with machetes will either attack her or the people around her.  At night, she suffers from terrible nightmares.  With terrible timing, UNHCR announced that they were cutting off support to her mother (they had been covering her rent in Kampala, where her mom worked as a washwoman), and she would have to resettle to a refugee camp for Congolese.  They were given two choices of camps that offer services for people living with HIV.  At this point, Sarah discovered that her mother had gotten infected when she had been raped by rebels in 2002 (they then fled to Uganda)– the mother hadn’t felt strong enough to tell her that she was positive.  When she found out, Sarah went completely mute, and her mother took her to Butabika for treatment for PTSD.

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Bathing by Bucket: My Glamorous Life

press

Hey everyone, greetings from Kampala.  It’s 69 degrees here, a bit cloudy, and very humid.  I’m at work, trying to nail some sources for my huge story queue.  Apparently, I haven’t been taking care of my queue (this is making me think of Netflix, but I mean the laundry list of reporting tasks that are accumulating at warp speed), so I am trying desperately to get my sources to get back to me, meet me asap, and write the stories that I finished most of my reporting for.  Eeek.

Getting home to Kitintale yesterday was a bit tricky, it was impossible to get a taxi (in Uganda, the minivan-style buses are called taxis, and taxis are called special hires or specials), all of them were full, and I ended up having to walk part of the way.  Luckily, my friend Igor was with me, since he also has moved to Kitintale, but the lack of street lights, sidewalks, and the strong whiffs of sewage that kept hitting our noses made it a less than desirable experience! Next time, I need to go to the Nakawa bus park, rather than walking to the roadside, hoping to get a seat.

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