The second day of Washington Weekend 2023, at the Friends Meeting of Washington, began with a panel featuring professional journalists, titled “How to Tell a Good Story and Get the Word Out.” Three rounds of Reporting Fellow presentations followed. In the late afternoon, Fellows embarked on a scavenger hunt to see city landmarks. The day wrapped up with an evening reception at Nick's Riverside Grill in Georgetown.
Global Health I
Julia Knoerr (Davidson College) reported from Immokalee, Florida, on food access and insecurity among migrant workers. Many Immokalee residents live in a food desert, lack adequate housing, and face declining mental health driven by the stresses of economic inequality. Through spending time in the community, though, Knoerr highlighted the resilience of Immokalee’s community outreach team and organizations such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which are committed to providing healthy and bountiful food to their neighbors. “I tried to focus on solutions and community response in my reporting,” Knoerr said.
“The postpartum experience is the most ignored stage of the pregnancy journey,” said Florence Middleton (University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism), whose photojournalism project After Birth demonstrates the lack of postpartum maternal health care in the United States. Middleton noticed a shocking statistic in newly released CDC data—65% of pregnancy-related deaths happen postpartum. To build the story behind the data, she will report from Arkansas, a state with strict abortion restrictions and high maternal death rates.
Jesus Villalba (Westchester Community College) also noticed a gap in the U.S. health care system, particularly for undocumented people. As Knoerr also noted in her presentation on Immokalee, undocumented individuals are less likely to visit hospitals and clinics due to the risk of punishment, detainment, or deportation. “That has further generated a culture of fear for undocumented workers,” Villalba said. Villalba, formerly undocumented himself, said his next steps are to find an ethical and humanizing way to portray undocumented stories, which are often reduced to numbers.
For her project, Laila Gad (Hunter College) is looking across the world, to Singapore, where the country’s aging population is struggling with extreme heat, driven by climate change. Singapore is experiencing rising heat three times faster than most places due to urban heat islands, composed of large swaths of concrete and fewer green spaces. Eighty-seven percent of older people in Singapore also live in public housing, which is significantly less likely to be equipped with air conditioning. “I found that heat is harder to visualize because it doesn’t have devastating effects visually, so it’s harder to show the devastation that heat brings to older adult populations,” Gad said.
Joy Tosakoon (The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health) plans to report on the systemic lack of comprehensive and gender-affirming care for trans people in Thailand. Transgender people are highly visible in Thai society, Tosakoon said, but they are also highly discriminated against, less likely to finish school, more likely to work gig jobs, and thus less likely to afford health care, particularly gender-affirming care. Thailand’s medical system is also often hostile to the needs of trans individuals, who are frequently misgendered and placed in hospital wards that don’t align with their gender identity. Meanwhile, medical schools don’t train doctors in gender-affirming care.
Each panelist focused on how health systems have failed marginalized segments of the population, so during the Q&A, they found parallels across their work. Tosakoon and Middleton both said they want to create awareness of the issues they report, hopefully to spur action by policymakers. Gad said she is taking a climate literacy approach—she wants older Singaporeans to be able to “see themselves in the story” and be able to find solutions.
Both Villalba and Knoerr spoke about the importance of language access. Knoerr published her story in El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language version of the Miami Herald, because she knew it was just as important for her sources to be able to read it as other communities that might learn from them. In exploring options for his multimedia project, Villalba said what’s most important is that he is embedded in the undocumented community, able to speak their language, and attuned to what is at risk. “I know how loaded a question can be,” he said.
Peace and Conflict
Audrey Thibert (University of Wisconsin-Madison) talked about her work on migration in Tunisia. Thibert sought to show how “individual stories of [migrants’] isolation paint a bigger picture of distress.” While many African migrants are desperate to escape Tunisia for new lives in Europe, they are also building communities while they remain in the country.
Elene Chkhaidze (Georgetown University Berkley Center on Religion, Peace, and World Affairs) reported on religion, heritage restoration, and peacebuilding in Cyprus, a disputed region bifurcated by violent conflict into Western, majority-Catholic Greek and Eastern majority-Muslim Turkish territories.
“It’s important to know that religion can serve as a really powerful force in peace and reconciliation,” said Chkhaidze. Meetings between religious leaders on joint religious heritage site restoration projects “bring acknowledgement of mutual trust and mutual grieving as a result of the conflict,” she said. A regional peace agreement recently failed. “Trust and peace ground should already exist for reconciliation,” said Chkhaidze. “It is reconciliation that gives birth to a peace agreement! Not vice versa.”
Lalini Pedris (American University) spoke about her project related to the convergence of humanitarian and environmental crises in Bangladesh. Sprawling and polluted Rohingya refugee camps impinge upon elephant habitats, resulting in sometimes fatal confrontations. Bangladeshis, meanwhile, “feel that their needs are not being taken into account by international organizations,” said Pedris.
Madison Powers (Elon University) reported from El Paso on the precarity of migrant families who cross the United States’ border. Powers described a “balance of fear and hope.”
“A lot of what we think of when we think of the migrant journey,” she said, “is the difficulty of the journey outside of the U.S., not necessarily inside. […] The journey doesn’t get easier once you cross.”
Mayara Teixeira and Beibei Liu (Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism) screened scenes from their forthcoming documentary, After Landing. The film follows a couple who crossed the Darien Gap to make a new home in North America. “In our film,” said Teixeira, “we’re trying to make a metaphor by comparing them to migrating birds, […] trying to escape from hostile weather […]. But after landing, do they really find a better life?”
There is “chaos in crisis,” said Teixeira, “so you zoom in to see people’s faces.” Both described walking a difficult line, somewhere between being reporters and their subjects’ friends. They continue to speak with and film the couple. Liu said, “Being a documentarian is not just being the first camera in a crisis, but also being the last one to leave.”
Development, City Challenges, and Identity
Anusha Mathur (University of Pennsylvania: Penn in Latin America and the Caribbean) spoke about her experience in Playa Venao, Panama, reporting on the rapid expansion of tourism and residents’ opinions on how it affects their environment and livelihoods.
“I found it increasingly hard to let go of their individual stories in search of the bigger picture,” Mathur said. “To tell a cohesive story inevitably meant that certain perspectives, even entire people, would have to be left out … And I realized that making sense of Playa Venao meant putting each person's experience within the larger context, even if that meant only a few would end up being central figures in my piece.”
Maggie Wang (Yale Program on Climate Change Communication) reported on New Clark City in the Philippines, which has been envisioned as a smart, green, sustainable, and disaster-resilient city that will be the future of urban life. Wang's research examined the viability of the city and to what extent the city will make a true impact on the issues it attempts to address.
“Cities are sites of power, and power inequality, and that has consequences, both promising and perilous for our future as a world community,” Wang said. “Especially when it comes to climate change … mitigation, and adaptation, it's really important to understand how this kind of power is used and misused in places like the Philippines.”
Lauren Harpold (Washington University in St. Louis) traveled to Amsterdam to speak with citizen activists fighting against gentrification in their neighborhoods, drawing comparisons to her current home of St. Louis, Missouri. “I really think it's more of a question of what does any city have to do with any other city?” Harpold said. “Gentrification and displacement assumes many different forms … but it universally subjects housing and neighborhoods to commodification."
Simeon Hardley (Southern Illinois University Carbondale) will be reporting on the impact of high school basketball in Cairo, Illinois, a city with a dwindling population and structural support. He plans to follow student athletes for a semester, using basketball as a way to tell a greater story about a community that has experienced white flight, a high violence rate, and a low-income environment. “[I want to] show the current state, show what the residents in that community are hoping for the future, and [show] how basketball is a sport that children use as an outlet to see better and more than what they've been given,” Hardley said.”
Jermaine Ervin Jr. (Huston-Tillotson University), an education major, traveled to the United Kingdom to explore what Black education looks like outside the United States. Ervin focused on The Black Curriculum, an organization dedicated to empowering young people to engage with Black British history. Ervin concluded his presentation reciting lines from an original poem:
"Different nations, same color of skin. We fight for the information of our ancestors not because they owe it to us, but because with one slight difference in events, and a roulette wheel of possibilities, we could have been raised in a different pair of shoes, looking through a different lens with the same emptiness we seek to indulge with knowledge."