by Tabitha Redeppening
Youth Coordinator, Pax Christi International
This September, the Young Peace Journalists project of Pax Christi International was initiated. The purpose of the project is to enable youth to conduct interviews with people who had to flee to the journalist’s home country, to listen to the stories of refugees, to get a better understanding of the situation, and to share and promote the interviews online to raise awareness of the plight of people seeking refuge.
Interested young adults applied from all over the world: the Netherlands, Croatia, Lebanon, UK, New Zealand, Ukraine, Italy and the USA. In real-time video conferences, the participants came together for the first time, got to know each other and received a virtual training for two days to be prepared for conducting interviews. During the training, it was clear that the participants have different backgrounds and motivations to join the journalist project. While some already had a lot of experience in working with refugees, others knew about journalism or had valuable personal experiences. It was obvious that the group would complement each other with their skills and competencies so that they could work on the interviews on their own, while they would receive back-up from the group.
The training was about the principles of responsible journalism and how humans are shaped by the stories we have heard or in which we believe. We all see the world through different lenses – lenses which have the colour of our life experience, things that we identify with. A peace journalist has to reflect on their life and is aware of the “lenses” in order to see past them and report in a peaceful way. It means that the journalist does not let her experience shape the story which she writes – she is just the medium for another person to speak about their concerns. Furthermore the participants got a brief overview about the situation of refugees today and how different policy levels respond to it. Very interesting was the session of Dahham Alsoud, who gave out of his experience tips about do’s and don’t’s in interviewing a person who has had to flee. Additionally, Nathan Hermans talked about the situation in an emergency centre for refugees in Belgium to give the participants insights into the life in which many refugees live.
Last but not least the journalists got creative writing exercises to lose the fear of writing in a foreign language and to improve their creative thinking, which will also help them in preparation for the interview. They already wrote wonderful and deep stories about their names in which many of them revealed the ambivalent relationship which people have with their names: is it a label which we want to fulfill or do we determine how our name is perceived by the people we meet?
Currently, each of the journalists has been asked to prepare and conduct the interview. In regular exchange session they deepen their understanding of what they have learned in the training and talk about their progress, new findings or difficulties to solve them as a team. Many of the journalists already have an interviewee or an idea who to approach.
The stories will be published on the redesigned Pax Christi Peace Stories blog to raise awareness of the situation of refugees. Moreover, the journalists show that positive change can start with everybody. They prove that youth should not be underestimated. They should not only be heard because they are the future leaders; they have also a voice which is valid now! With this voice they can support even vulnerable people in our society.
In a special session the group will take a closer look at the interviews to learn from them about the needs and problems faced by refugees. Out of this the journalist group will develop policy recommendations. In a face-to-face meeting in 2017, the participants will finally meet EU policy makers and present these recommendations.
The current journalist group is a pilot project and other application rounds will follow. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.