Tag Archives: CU Backpack

Finding the Story

The Backpack Journalism team enjoying some well-earned pizza after several long days in the editing room. (From front left to end: Lizzy, Izzy, John, and Matt. From front right to end: Andrew, Jacob, Nat, and Zack.)

One of the Backpack Journalism program’s greatest perks: the journey doesn’t end once your plane lands back in the United States. Unlike other Creighton FLPAs (Faculty-Led Program Abroad) which conclude in their destination country, Backpack Journalism continues in Omaha for approximately one and a half weeks, allowing us students to process our eye-opening experiences overseas with the people who have taken the physical (and spiritual) odyssey with us. It’s also a time for us to come down slowly from the daily heightened emotions we endured in Uganda, as well as a final period of cherishing each other’s companionship before breaking for the rest of summer.

But the last phase of Backpack Journalism isn’t just reflections, relationships and rainbows; we don’t let up on the gas pedal either. Rather, our team works harder than ever to find the story we want to tell.

If you aren’t familiar with editing videos or have never tried to string together pieces of a documentary before (don’t worry, I was naïve going into the editing room, too), you might expect the composition process to be one of the easier parts of filmmaking. After all, when you strip editing down to its basic components, it’s just combing through the footage you’ve already taken, scripting a story from the interviews or lines you have, and testing different sequences to find whatever arrangement delivers the most compelling storytelling.

Of course, developing anything that remotely resembles a rough cut is much more complicated than you’d initially think. First of all, even if you go into the editing process with a general idea of the story arc you’d like your film to take, executing that narrative depends entirely on the clarity of your interviewees’ answers and whether your shots visually reinforce those statements. In our case, we realized that some of the points we wanted to hit originally – radio and its peace-building role in the settlements, inaccessibility of soap for the refugees, and the different challenges posed against urban refugees versus rural refugees – were not strong enough segments to include simply because we didn’t have enough footage or direct quotes to translate the complexity of these ideas. We also had to rearrange chapters in the story or spend more time focusing on particular elements so that the documentary would be less erratic and more tonally consistent.

Another challenge with editing is finding the balance between talking heads and b-roll. You need your interviewees to provide context for the content onscreen, but you also can’t economize on your b-roll by allowing dialogue to operate as a primary storytelling device (that would be a violation of the age-old “show, don’t tell” rule). At the same time, your b-roll can be used to elevate the story or manifest an emotion visually; but again, without context from your interviewees, the message may get lost in translation. Even when you decide what interviews you’re going to include or what footage you can incorporate, it’s still hard on you as a filmmaker because you inevitably have to give up great shots or poignant quotes for the sake of telling a focused story.

Did I mention that editing involves transcribing all your interviews and organizing every piece of information you’ve gathered on your interviewees? Because that is also a huge part of working in the editing room. It took us over two full days to transcribe 24 interviews (29 if you count our group interview of teachers as one transcription per interviewee), so as you can imagine, quite a bit of patience and meticulous listening is required during the early stages of editing.

So yes, finding the story is not a straightforward process. I think John sums up the challenges of effective storytelling best: “It’s all a puzzle. We only have the pieces right now, and we’ve got to figure out how they fit together before we can start looking at the bigger picture.”

In a way, I feel the same about my reintegration back into the United States. I feel like a lone puzzle piece that no longer fits in the space I occupied before. I’ve got new tears and scars on my edges. The image on my surface is not as clear as it once was. Perhaps I belong  in a new picture.

Luckily, I’m not trying to solve this puzzle on my own. I feel incredibly blessed by the presence of my Backpack Journalism family, who not only empathize with my struggles, but also understand them. I don’t know how I would be able to make sense of my new, ruined self without  the genuine friendship and honest conversations I’ve received from these compassionate, insightful, and fiercely loving students.

We’re finding the story together. And along the way, we’re also finding ourselves.

What I Took for Granted

Photo by United Nations Girls Education Initative.

Sometimes when I’m working on a creative project or experiencing a new environment for the first time, I like to jot down random observations or thoughts that have struck me throughout the day, usually in bullet points. This little written exercise serves as my way of reflecting back on what I’ve noticed in the surrounding world and how I’ve felt about it. In addition, the practice helps me collect material for potential poems, short stories or blog entries that I may write in the future.

While we were in Uganda, one of the observations that cropped up regularly in my nightly note taking was the realization that most of the basic needs refugees and nationals struggle to address are things that I’ve taken for granted. As we gathered stories and interviews for our Backpack Journalism project, I found myself shocked time and again by the challenges facing East Africans, particularly in terms of their security and education. I started compiling a list of these difficulties, keeping track of what surprised me most so that I could develop a newfound appreciation for what I have.

Things I’ve Taken for Granted:

  • Sleeping without a mosquito net.
  • Food on the table.
  • Having the choice to eat or leave food based on its taste (Growing up, our family had this rule that if you tried the food on your plate without complaining, but didn’t like its taste after a few bites, then you wouldn’t have to finish it. The only exception to this parental policy was broccoli; you were required to eat ALL of those).
  • Drinkable tap water or easy access to clean water.
  • Soap.
  • Paved roads.
  • Owning pets.
  • Effortless communication with friends and relatives through texting, email, calls, or social media apps.
  • Close proximity to hospitals or health care centers.
  • No tuition bill for attending public elementary, middle, and high schools.
  • Quality education.
  • The encouragement I received from family and teachers to perform well in school.
  • Having parents who supported my desire to pursue higher education, both financially and emotionally.
  • Feeling on par (and sometimes superior) intellectually with the boys in my classes.
  • Getting good grades as my number one responsibility before college.
  • Books for my own reading pleasure.
  • Easy access to feminine hygiene products.
  • Not missing school because of my menstrual cycle.
  • Sex education.
  • Experiencing a full childhood and adolescence before I turned 18.
  • Receiving gifts on birthdays and holidays.
  • Being valued as a human being, NOT a future bride. 
  • Having empowered women to look up to in my life.
  • Extended relatives who would never traffic or exploit me should something happen to my immediate family members.
  • Knowing my rights.
  • Sleeping under a roof.
  • Sleeping in a bed.
  • Living in a small room with only one other person (Shoutout to my freshman roommate, Rachel, and all our rowdy times in Kiewit 728), not my whole family.
  • My privilege to travel outside of my home country.
  • No bribes with local law enforcement.
  • Never experiencing a violent conflict firsthand.
  • Never fleeing my country due to a violent conflict.
  • Living with the future in mind rather than being worried about the day-to-day.

My Comfy Couch

To say and feel that we really belong to each other is much easier when living, playing, and working alongside those who are often excluded from that realm of belonging. The people we got to know in Uganda have lives beyond our temporary time together. And as I slouch on my so-comfy-that-it-works-as-well-as-AdvilPM couch to write this post, I’m distracted in just imagining how the people we met in Uganda spent the day.

I know none of them were on a couch as comfortable as mine, and I feel guilty about that. But I feel even more undeserving of how comfortable I feel in my townhouse. It is my home: a shelter from the storm or a shade-giving tree from the equatorial sun or even just a deep, overdue exhale after having been stuck on the inhale all day. Imagining their day without a home and its release to return to is just really sad. And, when I was there, I did my best to create a make-shift, albeit unstable, home within a conversation – a space for that exhale – because I think that a lot of people (myself included) are in a desperate search to find someone that makes them feel heard and listened to.

You see, sometimes I think the best we can do is meet the people in front of us as if they are ourselves. And I think that would work if everyone did that, but not all people do. I, for one, know I could do better.

And what do we do about those that are not cared for and met by the people around them? Well, we can put ourselves in front of them so that we can care for and meet them, and they can likewise care for and meet us. And some might say to let them care for themselves so as not to create a culture of dependence. But we, all of us, desperately and deeply need each other. So, these acts of meeting and caring are not one-way exchanges from giver to receiver but instead a mutual sharing in which we become more human in our recognized need to be with one another.

The problem is that the people I met in Uganda are no longer the people in front of me in Omaha. But, I am grateful for all that I learned and what was shared with me by them and can use that to better meet the people in front of me here.

All this is to say, I’m thinking about and miss the people we met in Uganda. And want nothing more than to be sharing in a life-giving conversation with them as we sip (that’s for you John) on drinks (Herbert’s Well 2.0) on my so-comfy-that-it-works-as-well-as-AdvilPM couch.

I think I’m going to nap on my couch now.

This is Water

Under the sun’s harsh glare, a father shepherds his family of six through the fenced compound that makes up the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control offices in the border town Nimule. The father instructs his children to stand quietly while a guard wearing a menacing rifle over his shoulder sifts through another family’s belongings, checking for concealed weapons or other forbidden objects.

Next, the father leads his family to a water pump; the kids splash tepid water against their skin, attempting to wash away the grime they’ve carried from the bush and dusty roads in South Sudan. The water also provides some relief against the sweltering heat that permeates the compound, but the mother drags her younger sons away form the water spout so that the thirty individuals behind them have a chance to clean themselves.

From there, the family waits outside a small doorway with approximately sixty other refugees, all anxious to get through their basic medical check-up. It takes half an hour before the family is finally funneled into the meager examination room and seated shoulder to shoulder against the wall. The examination room is nothing short of chaotic. Medical personnel quickly assess their patients’ health at a glance, only pulling aside those who require immediate medical attention. Some refugees beg for further assistance in Arabic or broken English, but only one translator is present to relay their demands to the other overwhelmed staff members. Babies cry as doctors force medicinal drops down their throats. Children fidget with the tags on their wrists while parents stare forward into the dingy room, their eyes hollow, their minds loud.

After their stop in the medical room, the family shuffles through the Immigration Registration office. The father exchanges their names for identification papers and gives his thumbprint for a bar of soap, a box of sanitation pads, and protein bars – four per person. These, along with the clothes on their backs, make up the family’s only belongings as they struggle in the uncertainty of facing tomorrow.

We’ve documented a lot of misery over this trip: students unable to afford their school fees or scholastic materials; girls worried about being sold into early child marriages; refugees suffering from hunger pangs in the wake of food shortages. Throughout the process of filming these hardships, we reminded ourselves that the footage was necessary to tell our story. However, witnessing this particular family’s ordeals from behind my camera lens felt wrong. I felt like a vulture circling the weak. Who am I to film a family at their most vulnerable point?

This question has rolled around in my mind ever since we left Nimule. Receiving an on-site perspective of the refugee experience has challenged my understanding of journalism in general. I was never intellectually ignorant of the ethical implications concerning reporting  live trauma, but I was emotionally ignorant of the toll such practices take on the journalist’s spirit. I also keep thinking about that family, wondering where they are now and hoping that they are doing better than they were yesterday.

As I reflect on the sorry scene at the border town, I’m reminded of an essay by David Foster Wallace that I read in a freshman theology class. In the essay, Wallace tells the story of two young fish who are unaware that they are swimming in water. He proceeds to explain that the “immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” Essentially, he argues, it’s easier to wander unconsciously through life, existing within the “default-setting,” unaware of what you’re missing; but, the ultimate freedom of human experience – uncovering the “Capital-T Truth” – is to consciously engage with your reality and choose how you will respond. Only in this way will you realize that “this is water.”

Documenting suffering is morally challenging, but I believe that the longterm effects of sharing these kinds of stories warrant the discomfort. By reporting, we are able to advocate for the marginalized, to remind the powerful that these people exist and that they need our careful attention. Witnessing is hard, but the reality is if we don’t tell these stories, they won’t be told. This is journalism; this is water.

When we finished following the family around the compound, we asked the father how he felt going through the immigration process. We wanted to know if he was feeling hopeless, if he experienced any doubt after uprooting his family from South Sudan and arriving in Uganda with absolutely nothing. The father replied that while their situation was still desperate, at least they were out of immediate peril. His answer startled me in its honesty. A chance to live is better than a resolve to die.

We ended our interview with the family by asking the father what he hoped for for the future. The father told us that he hoped to put his kids back in school, to see his children complete their education and build a better future for themselves.

This is the refugees’ hope. This is the refugees’ experience. This is water.

The Nile River.

A Princess in the Most Unlikely of Places

I grew up watching princess movies: Cinderella, Mulan, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, etc.

There is debate surrounding these films’ depictions of women as weak and dependent on the “heroics” of men. While a worthy debate, I am not here to argue about that.

Instead, I’m here to tell you about a princess I met today who differs from films’ portrayals.

As with most princesses, her dress distinguishes her from others. It was made with a white, fluffy material that had pink accents along its seams. But, the reddish dirt here has been kicked up and now cloaks this white material. And the fit isn’t quite right – a few sizes too big so that the straps repeatedly fall off her shoulders. And, because of overuse, there are rips on its skirt.

There is no doubt that she inadvertently knows (or is learning) how to walk like a princess. Movies depict princesses perfecting their walks by carrying a stack of balanced books on their heads. It is commonplace for women here to carry items (far more heavy and misshapen than a stack of books) on their heads over long distances.

And, despite being no older than six years old, she can already capture people’s attention with a certain energy about her that makes people want to follow. I first saw her across a circle of people playing frisbee. She joined in opposite the side where I was standing. I smiled at her, and she noticed so placed her hands over her giggling mouth. Not knowing what to do, I did the same. In response, she moved her hands to the side of her head, and I did the same. It became a game of copy cat in which I followed her lead.

After the frisbee circled around a few more times, she moved so that she was standing right next to me. And, it was my honor and privilege to toss her the frisbee, which was followed by a celebration (jazz hands) regardless of her catching the frisbee or not.

With the makings to be a princess, she lacks a crucial prerequisite: a country. A princess has to have a country to call home.

The devastating fact I have failed to mention is the setting of our meeting. We travelled to a border town that splits northern Uganda and southern South Sudan and visited an immigration center that receives fleeing South Sudanese refugees.

Our princess is a South Sudanese refugee girl seeking security and stability in Uganda.

Cinderella had Jacques and Gus. Mulan had Mushu and a lucky cricket. Snow White had seven dwarves. Ariel had Flounder and Skuttle.

Our princess deserves the same support that these Disney princesses had in the form of health services, food supplies, and education.

May we all be the sidekicks that refugees both need and deserve.

Discovering a Generous Heart

It’s impossible to predict the new experiences you’ll gain when you enter a foreign space for the first time. For instance, I never imagined that I would feel adventurous enough to suck on a tilapia’s eye (I wish I could say that I managed to swallow it like the other brave students who attempted stomaching the Ugandan delicacy, but I couldn’t stick it out once I tasted its salty cornea). I also didn’t expect to let go of my inhibitions and dance like no one was watching at a cultural performance, crazily swaying my hips to the African drums and laughing uproariously with other uncoordinated visitors from all over the world. And I most certainly did not anticipate the incredible generosity and welcome I have received from the Ugandan people.

Uganda is not a comfortable place to live by any means. 84 percent of Ugandan youth are unemployed, and only 46 percent of college-educated people have jobs. There is a significant economic divide between the poor and the wealthy few; the majority live on less than $1 USD a day and struggle to meet basic needs such as food security or healthcare, while the rich minority reap the benefits from the financial disparity. Malaria, a tropical disease transmitted through mosquito bites, is a real threat, but the simple antibiotics that may help reduce risk for parasitic infection, such as Doxycycline, is not affordable for individuals  living below the national poverty line.

However, despite having very little and struggling greatly, the Ugandans are some of the most generous people I have ever encountered. They are generous in their compassion for other people, quick to sympathize and offer aid if possible; they are generous in their love for Christ, demonstrating their devout faith by connecting God back to all things; they are generous in their time, patient in listening to another’s story and ensuring that individual feels heard; and they are generous in their laughter, taking great joy in the simple pleasures of life.

One moment of generosity that particularly stood out to me  involved a seven-year-old boy we met during our first afternoon in Kampala. While we were enjoying a late lunch at Caffe Java, the restaurant staff brought out a large chocolate cake to the boy, who was celebrating his birthday with his family. After blowing out his candles, the boy cut the cake into multiple bite size pieces and began moving from table to table, offering peripheral restaurant patrons a bit of his dessert.

When the boy reached our group, it took us a few minutes to realize that he wanted to share his cake with us. In the United States, we don’t give food off our table to strangers; such a gesture probably wouldn’t even occur to us. But here was this child, who did not have much, unselfishly giving up his cake for people he did not know, making sure that every one of us was fed. I couldn’t believe that a seven-year-old was capable of such love for his fellow human beings. It was a profoundly touching and humbling experience.

A storm rolling over Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in East Africa. This is also the site of the legendary eyeball-eating incident, which was not as delicious as the boy’s cake.

For the rest of our time here and beyond Backpack Journalism, I want to practice the same generosity that flows through the Africans’ hearts. I will work to offer more of myself to others, to give attention more than I receive it. And maybe one day, I will be able to emulate the same generous spirit as the boy who felt compelled to share food from his table.

It’s funny — I imagined that Uganda would change my heart, but I never expected to be moved so quickly.

Anticipating Africa

After a week of class, I am already exhausted and not feeling very well. Packing is slowly coming together and my brain is mush. I am super excited and a little nervous at the same time. Regardless, tomorrow will be here soon!

Creighton University, Backpack Journalism Team 2018 Photo: Tim Guthrie

I look forward to the adventures of this trip. I believe that we have a great group going, with a combination of skills that will make it superb. Although most of the week has been serious business, there have been some definite highlights of fun. There have been a lot of information received this week from filming and shooting to theology and refugees in Uganda. I feel that I have a much better understanding of how the exposure triangle works on a camera and spent some time this past week shooting in manual mood. A first for me, even after the numerous photo and video courses I have taken.

I have a few concerns, most of them are not so much related to the trip, but more to my family while I am away. The biggest concern I have directly related to the trip is the process of getting there and back. I have only flown once and never out of the country. I am also in high hopes that I wake up feeling better tomorrow, feeling sick to my stomach is not the idea way to start this trip.

Inspiration loading…

I am not sure that I have been inspired from any conversation that has taken place during this first week. Perhaps because for me, inspiration leads to doing something that I would not otherwise be doing.

In the words of Carol Zuegner, it is time to “get packing.”

Companions, Not Champions

Our Backpack Journalism team has learned a lot about “letting go and letting God” over the last 48 hours.

This Monday we experienced our first unexpected complication when the airline cancelled our flight to Amsterdam – the one we had specifically booked together as a class months ago – merely days before our scheduled departure. We were suddenly thrust into an uncontrollable situation, forced to quickly change our original travel plans so that we could still guarantee an on-time arrival in Entebbe by the end of this week. Fortunately, thanks to John’s persistence with the travel agency and Delta Air Lines, we’ve all managed to procure seats on different flights. Unfortunately, we’re separated into smaller groups for our first international flight, meaning that we’ll need to be extra vigilant with our camera equipment (Although, John’s scared us enough about losing our gear and ruining the documentary that we’ll probably hold onto the devices like our lives depend on it…which, is not an implausible outcome should we – God forbid – leave behind a camera charger or tripod…).

Also, fun fact: Our class will reconvene next month in Amsterdam. I mean, sure, we’re only apart for one travel day, but it’ll be June 1 when we reunite so that technically counts! Funny how random coincidences like that happen, but I digress.

Your CU Backpack 2018 adventurers: [bottom row, left to right] Lizzy, Carol, Izzy (peekaboo!), Natalie, Ben, [top row, left to right] Brick, Matthew, John, Andrew, Tim, Zach and Jacob.

As you can probably imagine, the days leading up to our Uganda trip have been nothing short of hectic. We’ve withstood crash courses in videography and interviewing techniques; we’ve crammed in lessons on approaching trauma through a journalistic lens and critiquing postcolonial narratives in Africa; we’ve sustained an abbreviated seminar in ecclesiology and how the Church has redefined its mission and identity after the monumental Vatican II. On top of riding out an information tidal wave, we’ve scrambled to pack, take care of last minute obstacles, and fine tune the smaller details. It’s exhausting and overwhelming at times, but it’s also been a great bonding experience. I already feel significantly closer with individuals from this year’s Backpack group than I did at the beginning of Boot Camp, and I’m excited to continue fostering those deeper friendships as we brave the unknown together.

The chaos of Boot Camp has also helped influence me toward a more reflective mindset. As our preparations move from vision to reality, I find myself contemplating my motivation behind journeying into the developing world to witness suffering. What can I offer to a people who have endured hardships beyond my comprehension? Why am I going out to capture human devastation and another’s trauma when I know that our project will not make the impact necessary to improve that individual’s quality of life? What do I personally gain from exposing myself to the epicenter of a social justice issue?

These are difficult questions, but necessary ones. Too often we who come from privileged places fail to examine our own motives before entering vulnerable spaces. We’re quick to presume that any minor charitable action compensates our shallower intentions. We readily perpetuate dominant, egocentric narratives to dismiss the uncomfortable truths that make up realities on the margins. We assume that our willingness to engage with impoverished individuals points to our inherently good, altruistic nature. We don’t like discomfort; we’re more content to pretend we’re the solution rather than to acknowledge when we are the problem.

Undisputed acceptance of myths born from entitlement is a dangerous practice and can be particularly harmful to the community you interact with. Sans critical self-examination, one unwittingly falls prey to the trappings of volunteerism, a form of dehumanizing people who are suffering by capitalizing on their image to boost your own social status. Furthermore, you can become tone deaf to oppression – especially when you stand to benefit from injustices.

I won’t pretend that I haven’t subscribed to some of these injurious attitudes in the past, nor will I claim that I am capable of perceiving my own cultural blindspots. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out whether my inclination to pursue social justice stories is entirely pure.

Although I don’t have the answers to all my questions yet, I do know one thing for certain: that Backpack Journalism is an opportunity for accompaniment, not achievement.

In “Unfinished Houses: Building the kingdom on God’s time,” John J. McLaughlin argues that the most important component to service work is developing meaningful relationships with the individuals you serve. It’s not about completing work that will make a discernible impact or fixing the issue, although those efforts are not without their value. Rather, it’s about surrendering yourself “totally to God and God’s poor,” listening to those who are suffering, doing your own small part, and leaving the rest to God – a practical application of let go and let God, if you will.

And that is fundamentally what Backpack Journalism is about. We are not called to be champions for the refugee crisis, but we have been given a chance to form companionships with each other and the people we’ll encounter. We probably won’t affect as much change in these individuals as they will in us, but that is the beauty of accompaniment: the human relationships you experience have the power to follow your heart and mind even after you’re gone.

As for me, I’m working to keep my heart and mind open.

I Am

Like any procrastinator, I weighed the brainpower necessary for (1) packing and (2) blogging, figured that packing would require less brainpower, and, therefore, packed while watching a film instead of writing my blog.

While tempted to watch all of season 3 of What’s New, Scooby Doo?, I instead watched a documentary film that my dad gave me called I Am.

In I Am, director Tom Shadyac asks each interviewee the following questions: What’s wrong with our world? What can we do about it?

G.K. Chesterton responded to the former in a letter that read, “Dear Sirs, I am,” and Shadyac uses this for not only the film’s title but also its ending narration:

“So now I ask one more question, what’s right with the world? Here’s to the hope that one day we can all answer the same way, ‘I am.’”

I leave the United States saying, “I am,” as meant by Chesterton in his letter with the hope of returning saying, “I am,” as meant by Shadyac in his ending narration.

In his interview with Shadyac, Desmond Tutu says, “the truth of who we are is that we are because we belong.” Mother Theresa made a similar diagnosis of society’s problems when she said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I am wrong when I see myself as separate from others and treat others as separate from me. I am wrong when I treat my neighbors (literally the house next door) as strangers. I am wrong when I limit my definition of neighbor merely to close geographic proximity.  I contribute to what is wrong with the world.

Anyone can recite phrases like those of Tutu and Mother Theresa. But, to allow the fundamental human interconnectedness that they celebrate seep into our everyday actions and show that we do, in fact, belong to each other proves to be much more difficult.

So, may the people I encounter in Uganda serve as a sort of fuel that lasts a lifetime – a fuel to be what is right for the world.

Your CU Backpack 2018 adventurers: [bottom row, left to right] Lizzy, Carol, Izzy, Natalie, Ben, [top row, left to right] Brick, Matthew, John, Andrew, Tim, Zach and Jacob.

Why Backpack Journalism?

There are few things that bring back memories of my childhood quite like sitting down at the kitchen table in the early morning hours to read the local newspaper. From the time that I learned how to read, I was infatuated with the newspaper and would excitedly spring out of bed at 6:00 am on the dot in order to ensure that I had as much time as humanly possible to read about everything going on in the world around me before school. There were two sections of the newspaper that really stuck out to me – the sports and world news sections. By reading these two sections, I was able to experience all of the “important things” going on in the world without ever having to leave the comfort of my hometown situated snugly along the U.S. – Mexico border. In particular, stories about far off places with seemingly unpronounceable names in Asia and Africa captivated my imagination and filled me with curiosity. One day, when I was about eight or nine years old, I remember telling my mother that I would go and visit these far off places and write stories about them as a journalist. I remember her just sort of chuckling about my constant comments about this dream. Nevertheless, I insisted that one day I would really visit these far off places and write about them as a journalist. 

Fast forward a few years and suddenly my home snuggly situated along the U.S. – Mexico border and its sister city just across the Rio Grande were the center of the news stories that I loved to read. Witnessing these stories firsthand was completely different than reading about them. Corruption, poverty, rampant crime, and bloodshed became harrowing realities instead of far off issues that others had to deal with. With these horrors, my childhood innocence and almost everything that I had loved about my home disappeared.

Almost as quickly as these horrors descended upon my home along the U.S. – Mexico border, they disappeared without a trace. Even though they have disappeared from the the front pages of newspapers across the globe, the horrors of what took place never truly left my mind. Instead, they have left a lasting impact that has inspired me to truly be the change that I want to see in the world. These horrors have inspired me to strive for justice and to seek out ways in which I can bring justice about.

For me, the Backpack Journalism program represents a truly amazing way to bring about justice and awareness in the world that I live in. It allows me to tell the story of people living on the margins of society suffering from a violence much like that which struck my U.S. – Mexico border home. I truly feel that the way to end the world’s suffering is to highlight the issues faced by marginalized members of the human population. If more people are aware of the things plaguing human society, there are sure to be more people willing to go out and fight for justice and bring forth positive change. As a future journalist, Backpack Journalism offers me the opportunity to make a difference in the world around me by utilizing the skills of my future profession – while at the same time fulfilling my childhood dreams. That’s why I am participating in the Backpack Journalsim program.