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.
Showering was a funny conversation the last two weeks among the members of our group,
we had limited resource of water in Bethel, (it coasts approximately 350$ per week to fill your tank). With kind of respectful and mindful attitude, we economize the using of water in good way. We weren’t neither anxious nor careless, and the whole group has a kind of agreement that it is more authentically of we do that, since our documentary has being oriented more and more toward environment and global warming issues…
When I first heard about the Backpack Journalism Project as a freshman at Creighton, I was immediately intrigued and knew that someday I would love to be a part of this experience. Now more than two years later, I am just beginning what I consider to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
What first attracted me to Backpack Journalism, beyond the practical reasons like it fitting with my major, was the chance to travel to a new and compelling place with a group of Creighton students and faculty. In addition, I have always loved movies, and the idea of filming a documentary sparked my interest in the program even more.
When the 2014 trip was set for Alaska, I was thrilled for many reasons: no passport needed, beautiful scenery, cooler temperatures and the chance to see my favorite animal, the moose.
Once I committed to the program and continued to learn about Backpack Journalism, I realized how much more there is to this project than what meets the eye.
Even though this year’s group won’t be leaving the country, our destination will feel like a whole new world. Bethel, the town in which we will be spending most of our trip, is not in the “pretty” part of Alaska. The landscape is flat and wet (we were all instructed to purchase mud boots to pack), and it is one of the poorest regions of the United States. We will be immersed in a culture far different than the Midwest and encounter a new way of life.
Bethel is a place full of people with stories to be told. As we learn about important issues in this community, we will be reaching out to people to tell us about their experiences. The finished product of the trip, a documentary, will be a way to share these stories to a larger community and give a voice to the people of Bethel.
I know that I will gain so much from this experience far beyond filmmaking and writing. Being a part of Backpack Journalism is encouraging my love of learning in a new way. Stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing a completely new place will be a tremendous challenge but one that will make a lasting impact on my life. Throughout this trip, I am excited to be exploring issues that interest me, including poverty, religion and the impacts of climate change. Beyond these topics and others, I look forward to learning by being with people and establishing relationships.
I have been anticipating this trip for so long now, and I am incredibly excited for this journey.
I don’t think you can understand good and evil exclusively. I think also that in some cases, you can see moments of pure goodness in the middle of the worst kind of evil.
Look at a man like Joseph Kony for instance. We learned in Abia, which is an Internally Displaced Person camp, that one of the ways Kony would “train” the children he kidnapped was by gathering all of the kids from the same town, choosing one of them, and ordering the others to kill him. This would ensure that these children’s connection to their home would be shattered, the emotional links to their parents would be shattered, and that they would never be able to return home.
This is one of those times where I can’t believe the absolutely insane amount of evil in the world. This man took these children, his own people, and turned them into complete monsters. In the wake of something like that, I start to believe that there is nothing, no amount of good that can combat that kind of evil.
At Radio Wa though, I think I found it.
Radio Wa is a radio station that is affiliated with the Catholic Church. During our visit to this station, we learned that Wa had a channel that broadcasted details about the war and those in “the bush” (people who had been taken by Kony).
In particular, one of these broadcasts was designed so that the families of the children that had been taken could communicate a message to those in “the bush” in the hopes that their children would hear it:
“We still love you. Come home.”
I think that that level of unwavering, unconditional love is something that no amount of evil or men like Kony have any hope of destroying. That kind of love is the kind that never weakens, even as one’s child has been transformed into a complete monster. That kind of love is the kind of love I think we can learn from, the kind that never dies or is even shaken. I find that that love, in this nation where I see fights in the street, poor people with no way out, and people whose lives have been shattered by war and poverty, is one of the purest forms of good I have ever seen.
Alberto, the man who runs Radio Wa, told us that there were many kids who made it out of the bush, and they said the reason they came back is because somewhere out in the wilderness, they heard these broadcasts. It’s no surprise then that during the peace talks, one of the conditions of peace was that that specific broadcast be shut down.
TL;DR: No evil is strong enough to shatter real love.
Most days of the week, I’m not sure I really believe in God. Moments like today though, well, read on.
Today we were treated to several performances put on by the Ave Maria Vocational School here in Lire. Some were funny, most were catchy, but all were entertaining. It made me remember something I learned in the music and dance class I took in Limerick: music and dance, in almost every culture, is a method of defining a people, a way for them to be entertained amidst whatever may be going on in an individual’s life. People gather, dance, make music, laugh together. In particular, when a group of people are in conflict, this becomes absolutely necessary.
To the Irish, music and dance became especially important during the numerous British subjugations where families were forced out of their homes and thrown on the streets, left to starve. Through all this turmoil, the people needed something that allowed them to come together, laugh, and forget for a little while about the troubles facing them. It gave people a sense of community and familiarity amidst a threatening surrounding.
Today we visited a school of over 350 students. I learned that a third of them are infected with HIV, most are orphans, and who knows how many were terrorized by the war and Joseph Kony.
Yet through it all, these people find a way to make music, dance, and have the happiest looks on their faces when they do. They invite us to dance with them, hold our hands and give us hugs, ask to take pictures with us, and wave at us as we leave.
As well, today I witnessed a rare moment where it was difficult for me not to believe in something greater. It started raining, and one of the priests told us that in Uganda, rain is seen as a blessing from God. It started raining as the kids were finishing their final dance, and continued as we took pictures with them and received hugs.
Now, up until now I thought I was ready for everything. I was ready to see starving people sitting on the ground, ready to see little kids carrying even smaller kids on their backs, ready to see tragic and terrible things. But I was not ready for this. I wasn’t ready for the level of kindness I was shown after the performances were finished. I wasn’t ready for a complete stranger, a kid, take my hand, and lead me around the dance floor, give me a hug after, and ask to take a picture with me. I wasn’t ready for all of the kids, as we were leaving, to give us hugs, ask to take pictures with us, and tell us we are always welcome. Why should these people do something like that? We haven’t done anything for them. We haven’t made their lives any better. Yet for some reason, they show us a kind of kindness I haven’t seen before. The kind of kindness that I was not ready to see in this country where a third of the kids we met won’t be here in a couple years, or even months.
In a moment like that, despite everything I believe to the contrary, it’s hard to believe that there could be evil in this world. It’s difficult not to believe in something as thin as “goodness.” Which, I suppose, is kind of the point. Especially in my current journey in
trying to understand what “goodness” is.
I still haven’t come to a conclusion, but here’s what I saw today: people who live in a country where for the last few days, I’ve seen overwhelming poverty. I saw these people gather together, make music, laugh and dance and sing, and invite us to join them, give us hugs and tell us we are always welcome there. I saw a people that, from my extremely thin and shallow observation of them, are a people who have every reason to be angry, bitter, and sad, take the time to show us hospitality, and say and do some of the kindest things I’ve ever seen. Today, I saw something I was not ready for, and I’m still processing it.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “issues” (poverty, corruption, war, death). But more than that, I’m also trying to keep in mind not just the issues themselves, but what to do about them.
Up until a few months ago, I figured that one person can’t really do a whole lot on a large scale. One person can’t end poverty, or war, but one person CAN do what they are able to given their situation. Which I think is really the best thing to do. I thought that was the nature of “service,” that it’s a way of doing what one can to make the world a little bit better. One person can’t end poverty, but they CAN volunteer and help out at a homeless shelter. It’s not a lot, but it’s as much as they are able to.
Then the whole Kony 2012 thing happened, and with it came a shitstorm of attention, most of it bad. At some point, criticism started extending beyond just the video, or even Invisible Children, soon it started focusing on college-aged Americans and how their efforts to “make a difference” are both selfish and insulting. That their motivations to help out were a way to either validate their privileged life, or a way of exerting their role as being “a good person” or “savior.” Granted, I do believe there are those who fit this role. There are people who buy expensive clothing and think they’ve done their due diligence by donating $5 to charity. There are those that spend 6 days a week drinking and one night a week volunteering and make that their justification for living a debaucherous lifestyle. Even at Creighton I think there’s a “yay service” aspect, where it seems doing volunteer work is either a way of fitting in, or a way of beefing up one’s Resume.
And of course, these kinds of criticisms and questions are the kind I’ve asked myself lately. How can I be sure I’m doing the right thing for the right reasons? Today as we drove by certain slums, I saw people that looked like they were barely surviving, manning a small shop that no one went into, probably never making much profit. And I felt sorry for them. Being in that situation, to me, is one that I feel is akin to being imprisoned inside one’s own economic circumstance and lack of opportunity. I thought to myself, I wish I could help them. I wish I could help them out of that situation.
The problem with that line of thinking however is that it assumes several things: It assumes that said people never had opportunity because they run a shop, which is social prejudice. It assumes that they are unhappy with their life, which is based on nothing but mere observation. It assumes that said person is lesser than me, and that it is my job to “help” them ascend to my position of life, which is fitting that “savior” role that said critics accuse people like me of doing.
At the same time, there are those who ARE in that situation. There are those that, due to where or how they were born, can’t break free of economic or social limitations. There are people who simply aren’t in a position they can break out of on their own, and those people, it seems, require help.
So then what is the answer? Should I go home and never do what little I can to make the world a better place? Do I ignore the critics and do my best to “help” people, which violates their dignity? Or do I continue doing what I feel is right and necessary, regardless of what someone else may have to say about it? What is the right thing to do?
I’m interested in answers, not just in asking questions. Hopefully I’ll find the answers soon.