Translate page with Google

Pulitzer Center Update March 26, 2008

Round one: Meet the winners

Global Maternal Health Essay Contest, Sponsored by The Pulitzer Center and Helium

The Pulitzer Center is partnering with Helium to get your voice heard on important global issues...

Global Issues and Citizen Voices — a Canadian mother of two talks about child labor in Congo, a woman in California remembers her Vietnam veteran brother who died from the effects of Agent Orange, a counselor and adjunct professor from Colorado who had never written on international political issues chimes in on Venezuela President Hugo Chavez.. These are but a few of the citizen voices from the Pulitzer Center's inaugural essay contest in partnership with By the time the Global Issues/Citizen Voices contest ended on March 12, 689 essays had been submitted on 13 different questions. The winning essays — one per question — are featured starting today on the Pulitzer Center website. And we're kicking off Round Two with four new questions focusing on Peru, Burma, Lebanon and Sudan.

Each essay in our Global Issues/Citizen Voices Contest goes through an anonymous peer review process on with the aim of the best articles rising to the top. For the first contest, the Pulitzer Center reviewed 130 finalist essays.

In addition to the Pulitzer Center featuring the winning essays on its website, the authors will receive a Pulitzer Center Citizen Journalist Award. We are not endorsing the views expressed in the essays; we simply believe those designated as winners offer unique perspectives, insightful commentary, alternative views or well-researched arguments.

Many other essays submitted provided interesting takes on these issues as well. We invite you to comb through them to get a flavor for the diversity of opinions. See all the essays submitted in our first Global Issues/Citizen Voices Contest

With our inaugural essay contest, some individuals wrote on several issues; some wrote from first-hand experiences; others undertook research on topics they had never heard about before. A few even said the topic-specific writing made them wish they had been journalists in their first careers! And at least one writer challenged the Pulitzer Center's own news reporting — demonstrating the sort of public debate and engagement that is very much a Pulitzer Center goal.

The Pulitzer Center's mission is to bridge a divide and inform an American public about under-reported international issues. The online Global Issues/Citizen Voices Contest in partnership with Helium is our latest effort to get Americans thinking and talking about some of the most pressing global issues today.

With access to the Helium community of writers, we found the debate went beyond U.S. borders and reached around the world. Our winners live not only in California, Colorado, Florida and Washington; but also in Australia, Canada, France, Spain and the United Kingdom. Men and women from their 20s into their 50s, stay-at-home moms and bankers, humanitarian aid workers and freelance writers. Some have traveled to other countries; others have not.

These are not professional journalists telling the story from the ground; these were the consumers of information and we wanted to find out what they knew and what they thought about these issues that the Pulitzer Center seeks to shed light on around the globe. Many brought to the table a wealth of additional information and insight.

There is Daniel Figueroa, a 27-year-old banker, youth minister and father of two from Florida. His interest in international politics began in high school when he joined a model UN team. He had a chance to represent China during a simulation and a new passion was born. For the Global Issues/Citizen Voices contest he answered the question "What is the responsibility of American companies — and American a chinese worker making goods bound for the U.S.consumers — for the unsafe working conditions in Chinese factories?"

"I learned a lot from the Pulitzer Center website about this issue," said Daniel, who writes under the name Daniel Xiao Wang. "Before, I understood sweatshops in China were a problem, but I really had no idea of the depth of the issue. Pulitzer's site then took me to other sites, such as the National Labor Committee, where I found examples of the extent to which abuses were occurring."

Others had more personal connections to the topics: Petra Newman's daughter is a quadriplegic who had to be tested for HIV after concerns she received tainted blood during surgery. Debra Triplett's Vietnam veteran suffered the effects of Agent Orange. Steve Hutcheson is an engineer and international development specialists who has worked in the world's hotspots.

Petra Newman, a 59-year-old mother of four and grandmother of five, came upon Helium by chance last summer. She is her quadriplegic daughter's primary caregiver and they write as an outlet. Her essay on "How Concerned should Americans be about HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean?" brought back memories of the testing her daughter underwent. While not from the U.S. (she's Canadian), Petra The Caribbean has HIV rates second only to those of sub-Saharan Africa.knows that HIV/AIDS can affect anybody. "I know it is not just the Caribbean," she said. "Anybody can get AIDS. That's why I was so passionate about it and that's why I picked that subject."

In her essay she draws on the Pulitzer Center reporting by Antigone Barton from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Florida and Australia and the various links both from the Pulitzer Center website and other websites. And such website links are what Petra says provide her with good resources on world affairs. Petra doesn't tell her personal story in the essay but she asks questions and is pointed in her conclusions.

"Are we so arrogant as to believe ourselves above this horrendous disease; that because we are an affluent country it doesn't affect us," Petra writes. "Have we become complacent because it's been around for over twenty-five years, thereby thinking its of no immediate danger to us?"

Debra Triplett also writes from personal experience and leads off her essay with an excerpt from a letter her older brother wrote during his Vietnam tour. Her essay stays very personal throughout; she tells how her brother Bob suffered for more than 18 years with kidney failure, had two kidney transplants and took over 56 pills a day to stay alive. She blames Agent Orange. Bob died six years ago.

A publicist for musicians and artists, a poet and a former community newspaper owner, Debra is a 51-year-old Texan by birth who moved to California as a child. She writes under the name DJ Triplett and says there were many topics she would have enjoyed writing on. But she wrote to honor her brother's memory when she answered the question "What responsibility does the U.S. have toward Vietnamese who believe they've suffered illnesses as a result of their exposure to the dioxin Agent Orange?"

Her conclusion: war reparations are not new and the U.S. has paid reparations before.

"In a near 20-year conflict that left America wondering what we were doing there in the first place, as well as left a beautiful, once colorful country devastated, and resulted in the death or missing of 58,246 American soldiers, one wonders what we owe those that remained in Vietnam," Debra wrote in concluding her essay. "Those South Vietnamese villagers, taken over by their Communist brothers, left in ruins and in what any American would consider poverty. Should the U.S. pay reparations to Vietnam? Do we need even ask?"

Ethiopia's impoverished Somali regionFocusing on U.S. involvement in another part of the world, Kallie Szczepanski of Washington took on the question "Should the United States consider Ethiopia an ally despite its poor human rights record?" She took advantage of the Pulitzer Center reporting of Nick Wadhams and the interview transcripts available on the website.

Kallie, 33, wrote her undergraduate thesis on Ethiopia, but only visited the country for the first time last year. With a law degree and having lived overseas for five years, Kallie is embarking this fall on a PhD in History, specializing in Ethiopia. Her thoughts on journalism: "Good investigative journalism is absolutely essential, and sometimes it's the only thing standing between people and tyranny. We need more of it."

Her opinions come through very clearly in her well-written, fact-laden essay weaving together history and current affairs. She begins by stating that the U.S. needs to remain allied with a "strong Ethiopia, nearly as much as Ethiopia needs continued support from the U.S." She doesn't ignore the civil strife, human rights abuses or regional considerations; she even refers to the "rather besmirched" U.S. human rights record in light of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. She uses this all to support her conclusion that "in the end, the U.S. has much more to lose from abandoning its alliance with Ethiopia than from maintaining friendly relations."

"Whose advice are you more likely to take, your best friend's or that of a former friend who betrayed you?" Kallie asks in her essay. "The U.S. can more easily exert whatever moral authority it has left if it continues its close relationship with the government of Ethiopia."

Sara Turner, a 43-year-old self-described 'stay at home mom' of two, generally writes poetry, fictional novels and articles in the categories of life and reflections. She had never written a piece like her essay on "Who should take a stand against child labor being used in Congo to dig out coltan?"

"It stirs me from an emotional level. I have two children of my own," said Sara, who lives in Canada. "I wanted to touch people enough to make them read it all the way through."

She said the photos and commentary by journalist Carlos Villalon on the Pulitzer Center website were "very eye-opening." She researched further online looking into the issues of fair trade and child labor practices.

As she wrote in her essay, "I didn't realize when I began researching this project that it would be anything other than a writing assignment. I had no clue what I was opening myself up to and I don't know if I can delve any deeper into the truth, because the truth of the situation in the DRC is one of horror. Five and a half million people have died there in the last 10 years of which they estimate half to be children. The war is brutal and is fueled in large part by the richness of the minerals that are being mined."

Sara's article joins together her personal reflections and her research, underscoring her point that the answer to the question lies in knowledge: "accountability, responsible trading practices and as consumers, we need to hold the manufacturers to a standard."

Deborah Bauers, 55, of Colorado is another Helium writer — a prolific one at that having only joined Helium about 1 ½ months ago but having written nearly an essay a day since then. She generally writes on her interests, whether personal or professional. She is a licensed professional counselor so mental health issues have been a particular focus for her.

For the Global Issues/Citizen Voices contest, Deborah embarked in a new direction. Deborah recalled hearing media reports about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and then she came upon the Pulitzer Center-posed question on Helium, "Does President Hugo Chavez's criticism of U.S. policies represent popular sentiments in Venezuela, and perhaps Latin America at large?" Her essay considers Chavez's popularity in terms of his personality, his policies across economic lines and his relations with his neighbors.

Like many Helium writers, Deborah said she had never heard of the Pulitzer Center before the Global Issues/Citizen Voices contest. She credits the contest with opening "her world view."

"The whole idea of writing to the political arena is new to me," Deborah said.

For Steve Hutcheson, the essay he wrote reflected his international experience in such places as Kosovo, Aceh and Afghanistan. He spent 2 ½ years in Afghanistan and managed nearly 500 subprojects that built everything from schools to irrigation systems. His last job with the U.N. Development Programme was as project manager for the National Area Based Development Program — overseeing a $45 million annual budget and a staff of about 400, including individuals seconded to the Ministry for Rural Rehabilitation and Development. In 2005, Steve won the inaugural "Pride of Australia – Peace Award" for his humanitarian work overseas.

An Australian, Steve now lives in Thailand. Steve thought the Pulitzer Center reporting from Afghanistan was one-sided because the reporters joined up with the military and there was limited comparison to what work the government was doing there. In his essay on the question "Can the U.S. military be effective in nonmilitary efforts to revive a war-battered community?" Steve speaks to the military responses he has seen to crises as well as post-conflict. In Afghanistan, Steve believes ultimate responsibility rests with the government in country. The military has many roles, Steve wrote, but it is not equipped — whether because of perceptions, costs or physical requirements — to act as a nation builder.

"The military has a role to play; however once that is achieved they need to retire. If not to their base, then out of the country if that is appropriate," Steve wrote. "Countries prosper under the stewardship of self-determination with appropriate guidance, not a duplication of the existing government services as in some way the foreign militaries are now supposing to do. In Afghanistan and indeed Iraq, the military intervention has seen an escalation of insecurity partly in its quest to win public support and partly in its ability to solve the problems of containment of the enemy."

For David Chaproniere, he has never been to the country he decided to write about: Somalia. David, 42, is a proofreader and editor for a leading London law firm who has followed media reports regarding fatalities mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq. He did not know much about Somalia before he saw the question "Is the accidental killing of civilians by U.S. forces, in places like Somalia, an unavoidable part of the war on terrorism?"

It struck a chord in the same way as Afghanistan and Iraq, David said, "the issue of innocents killed in war." David took the time to compare and contrast the situation in Somalia with the situation in Lebanon, especially focusing on air strikes.

"The level of acceptance therefore comes down to whether civilian deaths are out of all proportion to the reason for the air strikes themselves," he wrote, "or indeed whether the air strikes are out of all proportion to the enemy numbers they aim to take out." At the end, David concludes, the action is "grossly out of proportion with the resulting destruction and death of innocents."

Stephanie Whybrow, a 30-year-old Australian writer now dividing her time between France and Spain, takes her essay readers on a journey down the Camisea River and through the Amazon rainforest, painting a vivid picture of this enormous expanse and the impact — pros and cons — the harvesting of natural resources has had on the "lungs of the earth." Through this material she seeks to answer the Peruvians on the river near Porotobangoquestion "Should U.S. environmental standards apply when multinational companies develop the petroleum resources of fragile ecosystems such as Peru's Amazon?"

"We must keep commercial projects accountable," Stephanie writes. "The role of monitoring our planet's fragile ecosystems cannot solely rely on U.S. environmental standards. In our plight to protect the Amazon and the fragile ecosystems of our environment, it is all too easy to point the finger at the mining companies and environmental standards shortfalls. A more active involvement and solution begins in reflecting on how our everyday behaviors affect our environment. In the end we all use energy resources; we are the consumers at the top of the chain."

Her view of the contest: "I liked the opportunity to investigate something that interested me in hopes of educating others," Stephanie said. "The Global Issues/Citizen Voices contest is great for pushing for further voices — there are many people with voices who are willing to share information."

Caroline Harmon was another writer on environmental issues, her interest stemming in part from the time she worked for an environmental show home. This entry was her first submission on Helium. For this 28-year-old charity fundraiser and freelance journalist living in the U.K., "journalism has the potential and opportunity to change things and opinions, but journalism also has the responsibility to help people learn about issues. It's great to see the Pulitzer Center looks at under-reported issues."

For her question "Should a global climate agreement hold the U.S. to a higher environmental standard than the rest of the world?" Caroline took a page from an intergovernmental panel's suggestion to greatly reduce global carbon emissions by 2030 and even considered the feasibility of proposed carbon credit cards. She notes that a global climate agreement will only work if all countries are "involved and prepared to do as much as they can, not as little as they can get away with."

Family ties to India gave Ravi Embar, a computer programmer/analyst in Canada, the push to write on the question "What would the most effective way for the Indian government to respond to the Maoists insurgency?" Ravi's philosophical approach to the question considers what he calls the "best practices" from India leaders last century and seeks to push the current government in that direction.

Ravi said he likes the idea of websites like Helium and initiatives like the Pulitzer Center's Global Issues/Citizen Voices contest because they "increase the amount of knowledge that is pooled." His view is that Helium and the Pulitzer Center have "effectively harnessed" the internet's ability to pool resources and knowledge.

Loyce Kareri looked toward her home continent of Africa in answering the question "Why should the world care about the environment in places like Mozambique, Zimbabwe and An estimated 150,000 people live in and around Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique Rwanda when there are so many other stories deserving attention?" Loyce, who writes under the name Loyce K. Joe, is a 30-year-old freelance writer and student living in Ohio. She moved from Kenya to the United States in 1999 to further her Christian ministry vocation. Loyce is passionate about addressing cultural stereotypes and promoting social justice, contributing to these causes in and through her writings.

"Other than the Africa bit attracting me to this title, I also have a passion to put a positive spin to articles regarding Africa. Too often I see articles on Africa are slanted in some way," Loyce said.

She likes the "instant publishing" of Helium and found the Pulitzer Center website extremely helpful, especially the in-depth accounts of recovery efforts in Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Mozambique. Loyce was inspired by the story of Zimbabweans with no money who are still trying to fight poaching.

She cited recent events in Kenya as an example of journalism used as a "great tool for change." "The media has been such a threat to the newly elected government with all the truth they've been exposing that they silenced the media," Loyce said. "But within the silence, they still spoke out. Kenyans are even using their blogs to show the truth on both sides. This is a case where I believe journalism has been used responsibly to bring needed change — and the truth to the people."

Perhaps Rachel Hanlon summed up a key idea behind the Global Issues/Citizen Voices initiative when she offered this comment: "It's great to get voices out there," she said. "Frankly there should be more stories about these issues, instead of focusing on the elections. Everyone should be aware of these topics since we live in such an integrated world."

Rachel writes under the name RL Hanlon. She is in customer service in the towing industry and a 29-year-old mother of three living in Australia. She tackled the question "What responsibility does the world bear for rehabilitating child soldiers from the horror of serving in armed conflict?" Her essay raises numerous questions for readers to consider in answering the primary question posed. And through her questions she incorporates information in quick fashion that highlights the problem, what is being done and what she believes needs to be done.

She then puts the responsibility for rehabilitating child soldiers — and helping refugees in general — back squarely on everybody's shoulders. "Welcome them to a world they're trying to yet again, find some sort of peace and sanctuary in, trying to adopt as their new surrogate family."