Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
These past five weeks are something I never could have expected.
At the beginning of this Backpack Journalism project, I didn’t really know what to expect and looking back at my first blogs, I can only laugh. I was clueless of the greatness that would unfold in the next few weeks. Now that class is officially over (we got out today at 11:00), I can only feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude towards everyone we met, the CU Backpack Alaska team, and Bethel.
Thank you to Carol, John, and Tim for guiding, teaching, and letting us learn hands-on how to film, write, and create a documentary. Without all of the work you had done in preparation and throughout our trip, it wouldn’t have been possible in any way.
Thank you to Nichole for all of the behind-the-scenes work you did. And for also believing Morgan when he said that he was going to use the net to catch sea otters.
Thank you to all of my peers who have gone through video boot camp, traveled 2,999 miles to Bethel, and worked the past two weeks starting to piece our film together along side me. Thanks for diving into this project and motivating me to do my best. Ily.
I haven’t laughed this much or this often in such a long time. Thank you for almost giving me a six-pack. Seriously, these people are hilarious and brought so much happiness to my days. For evidence, check out our superlatives or the catches phrases from the trip.
This experience has shown me much joy–in people, in our work, and in myself.
Our final blog post is supposed to be what we learned about journalism, theology, the world and ourselves. Because this is so broad, I am going to try to use a list with a comment for each day I spent in Africa. I put them in order with the most important at the end. This is what I learned:
I need to return to Africa to learn more about world, the religion, journalism and myself. “We learn who we are in the process of discovering who we are not.” Thanks to the past month I have a better understanding of who I am not, who I want to be and who I can be. It is a refreshing and welcomed clarity that has been a long time coming.
Time is relative. Sometimes it will feel like I have a lot and sometimes it will feel like I have a little. But the moments that matter will be the ones when I am not keeping track.
No matter what happens to me, I am okay.
“The world is not like west Omaha. 90% of the world is just as poor, helpless and isolated as the people in Abia. Abia is what the world really looks like.” –John O’keefe.
“When you sing, it is as if you pray twice.” –Choir member at Uganda Martyrs’ Church, Lira.
There are certain concepts—self-confidence, self-pity, self-loathing, self-deceit, self-denial and self-indulgence—that seem only to exist in America. I have learned: they do not belong elsewhere.
As I told Jason a couple of nights ago: “Yes. I am a Christian. No, I am not sure that I was before Africa. I guess I thought I was, but not like I am now. No, I don’t know who or what God is. But I know that I need him. I know that my friends and family need him. And I know that he is my teacher, my leader and someone I should always emulate to be like in my life.”
Journalism is all around us. Wonderful things exist in extreme pollution, poverty, disease and warfare. There is always beauty among the rubble. A story exists that someone doesn’t have the words for and a story exists that someone else doesn’t have the ears for. There is always knowledge among the ignorant. There is always beauty and knowledge to be shared.
The church and religion have the power to change—to fix—the world. Not because of what they preach, the power they bestow or the salvation they provide, but because of how they bring us together in a world were we see only light not darkness, only the calm not the storm, only strength not weakness and only peace not violence.
I don’t know what it was about Africa, the people I went with, or the people I met there, but those two weeks in June were the happiest, the saddest and the most alive I have ever been. Africa shocked me. Silenced me. And then gave me words and a voice I didn’t know I could find.
I have a voice. I have a strong voice. And I have a strong head. And I have a strong heart. I am so lucky that I have the ability to observe, to report and to share with those that lack these things.
I will have hard and easy times in my life. During the easy times there will be two sets of footprints in the sand: God’s and mine. During the hard times there will only be one set. Those are the times that he carries me.
The most important things in this world—trust, empathy, happiness, celebration, hospitality, gratitude, assistance, faith, admiration and friendship—do not need a common language.
Regardless if you have known someone two years or two weeks, there are certain people’s souls that your heart will call home and others that will kick you out. Never let go of those that welcome you after two weeks.
No matter what, I always have more to give. Even when I am tired, sick, sweaty, sad, lonely, underappreciated, poor, homeless, disappointed, lost, hopeless and unconfident in my actions, my achievements and myself… I can still lift others up to a place I can only one day hope to be.
I read the above probably 20 times before I published them. I mean every word. And now I only have two left to say to the people of Uganda, those that we interviewed, the people of Abia, the students of Ave Maria, the people who paint the signs, the soccer kids from the village, Herbert, Fred, Nicole, the boy in the green shirt, O’Keefe, Carol, and the students that went with me (especially Teresa and Chase), all of whom have changed me for the better and for good in a way I could never have done on my own: Apwoyo Matek.