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Live Feed of Refugee Life

Northwestern undergrads report from refugee camps in Jordan, Malawi and Namibia

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December 3, 2010 | by Wendy Leopold
EVANSTON, Ill. --- On Dec. 13, a live feed connected members of Chicago’s refugee community with some of the 19 Northwestern University student reporters and three professors reporting from refugee camps in Jordan, Malawi and Namibia.

Clemantine Wamariya, who as a 6-year-old hid in a tree with her sister as their grandparents were murdered in their Rwandan home, was among the group visiting Malawi, where she once lived as a refugee.

A website featuring stories, short documentaries, audio vignettes and refugee portraits officially launched Dec. 13 at a reception at Northwestern hosted by RefugeeOne, a Chicago refugee agency. As part of the live feed, the Northwestern student team in Jordan’s Osire refugee camp reported on their work and took questions from resettled refugees and their advocates in Chicago.

For four days (Dec. 11 through 14) the Medill School of Journalism reporting teams documented daily life in the camps through audio, video and print reports on a website at http://www.refugeelives.org/.

Wamariya, who spoke to the students as part of a class on reporting about refugees, returned to the Dzaleka camp for the first time since she was a refugee there. She served as a resource to the Malawi team.

“Our students in Malawi were the first journalists since 2007 to report out of the Dzaleka refugee camp,” says Medill Professor Jack Doppelt. He teaches the reporting class called “Connecting with Immigrant and Multi-Ethnic Communities.”

Doppelt led the Namibia team that will focus on the lives of Angolan and Congolese refugees in the Osire camp.

Peter Slevin, a veteran international reporter for the Washington Post, led the Jordan team, which focused on the lives of Iraqis in an urban refugee setting.

Brent Huffman, an award-winning film director and cinematographer, accompanied the Malawi team, focusing on the lives of Congolese, Rwandan, Burundi and Somali refugees in Dzaleka camp. He and the Malawi student team also documented Rwandan refugee Wamariya’s return to the camp.

“There are nearly 14 million refugees in the world today,” says Doppelt. “Our plan was to depict to the world how refugees live and to establish a connection between resettled refugees in Chicago and refugees in the camps."

Each of the students’ four reporting days focused on a different aspect of refugee camp daily life. On Dec. 11, the students reported how children in refugee camps go about learning. On Dec. 12, they explored health issues. On Dec. 13, they talked with refugees about the difficulties of providing for their families. On Dec. 14, they documented what refugees discuss among themselves.

The 19 undergraduates reporting from the camps recently completed Doppelt’s “Connecting with Immigrant and Multi-Ethnic Communities” class, in which they learned about the international refugee situation, profiled local resettled refugees and partnered with 14 of Chicago’s ethnic media for a series called “Back to the Homeland.”

The trips to the camps were the result of an unusual collaboration of Northwestern and UNHCR (commonly known as the UN Refugee Agency) with AT&T and Research in Motion (RIM) generously providing equipment and technical support. They also celebrated the 60th anniversary of UNHCR, which is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide.

Reports created by students in the Medill class and coming from the three camps can be found on RefugeesLives at http://www.refugeelives.org/ and on Immigrant Connect at http://www.immigrantconnect.org/. The students’ work also will be made available to the UN Refugee Agency for its website. 

The student trips were co-sponsored by the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies.