On Day 3 of Washington Weekend, Reporting Fellows gathered at the National Press Club for presentations on “Climate and the Environment,” “Art, Tech, and Sustainability,” and “Global Health.” Reporting Fellow Program Manager Libby Moeller wrapped up the weekend by thanking everyone for their inspirational presentations and applauding Reporting Fellows, advisers, Campus Consortium partners, staff, friends, and family.
Climate and the Environment: Asia and Africa
Mandile Mpofu (Boston University) spoke about the deployment of Improving Rangeland and Ecosystem Management (IREMA) programs in the Kunene region of Namibia. Her story is one of resilience, persistence, and “the loss of a century’s old way of life, and to me that was a story worth telling,” she said.
Although it remains a small pilot project, IREMA is “helping,” said Mpofu. “It highlights the role government can play in climate change adaptation.”
Katie Schulder-Battis (Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism) investigated climate solutions in Ulaanbaatar, the largest city in Mongolia. “There’s been a transition of nomadic herders moving towards large cities,” said Schulder-Battis. “This has led to a tremendous change in the amount of pollution.” It has also brought together people who, for millennia, roamed over lonely tundra with livestock. Now, these same people are developing new kinds of climate change solutions: “What really amazed me was the ways in which […] organizations work together,” said Schulder-Battis. “In the media, things were getting worse as they lost traditional herding, but the amount of innovation that this moving inspires could actually be transferable to other communities around the world.”
Mishaal Hasan Shirazi and Sarah Shamim (Northwestern University in Qatar) reported on how poor and minority people most vulnerable to flooding in Lahore, Pakistan, are doubly victims of government-sponsored solutions. An anti-encroachment drive ordered by the Pakistan Supreme Court evicted thousands settled along the banks of floodways. Demolitions partially or completely destroyed their homes, shops, and places of worship.
“Doing this story helped me understand the amount of problems that exist and the number of problems that are ignored as well,” said Shamim.
“It really made me understand the intensity of what [the flooding] was,” said Shirazi, and how it “affects them for a much longer time than we think it affects them.”
Katherine Coetzer (Davidson College) spoke about climate change in Lower Mustang, Nepal. The village, said Coetzer, “will likely disappear in 10 years,” but “people are hesitant to leave because of political dynamics.” Mustang residents heed science, but they also see “these changes as related to the spirits of the land,” said Coetzer. “The river is eating the village,” one woman told her.
“I think there is something to be gained from encountering the natural world as spiritual, too,” said Coetzer.
Julia Manipella (University of Oklahoma) reported on traditional textile-making in Bangladesh. On one hand, the practice has been commercialized in recent years, turning heirlooms into commodities. On the other hand, hand-sewing garments has put money in women’s pockets and presents a slow, decentralized alternative to fast fashion. Manipella implored the audience to “take a moment to think about the human behind each stitch of [your] clothes and be present and available to open yourself up to how your own circumstances may be more connected to global citizens than you ever anticipated.”
Art, Tech, and Sustainability
“During my reporting, I explored the complex relationship artists have with artificial intelligence to hopefully produce a story of hope, companionship, and innovation amidst a time of great uncertainty,” said Christian Thomas (Hampton University). Thomas traveled to Japan to report on A.I. art and examine a community embracing the advancements, in the face of great opposition from the artistic community.
John Bateman (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) researched the diversity of funding for arts organizations in Mississippi to compare if the data aligned with the talks about change. “Numbers start the conversation,” Bateman said. “We need inventory. But it's got to go beyond the inventory; how do we use this inventory and turn it around to focus on the lived experience.”
Brittany Klintworth (Glendale Community College) reported on an organization in Italy innovating to protect its garment workers in the face of mass consumption of fast fashion. “When I look at [the clothing I have at home], I think of the stories behind the garments and I want to support places … that are only doing the bare minimum but also taking those extra steps to care for their employees,” Klintworth said. “Because it's never just clothing. The stories behind the clothing revolve around the people making the clothing, and they are what matters and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Abigale Kreinheder (Flagler College) left directly from Washington Weekend to travel to Indonesia to report on Kopi Luwak coffee production. She shared her pre-reporting research and plans to speak with farmers who want to continue sustainable practices “in a world driven by this expansion, instant gratification, and greed.” Kreinheder is excited to ask farmers the question “What does Kopi Luwak mean to them? ... It’s easy to have our own opinions, but … how does it affect their daily lives?”
Global Health II
Allison Delgado’s (Forsyth Tech Community College) project highlighted an inequitable system of health care in Peru, which disadvantages Indigenous communities. Health care in Andean provincial centers is sparse or underequipped, and doctors are often technicians rather than specialists. With most roads unpaved, ambulances cannot reach people, so they end up walking two to four hours to reach a clinic. Making the long journey to a city, such as Lima, doesn’t always help, Delgado said. There, public health care isn’t at the same level as private—more expensive—health care, and many doctors don’t speak Indigenous languages such as Quechua.
Elsewhere in the Andes, the town of Latacunga, Ecuador, is struggling to prepare for the imminent eruption of the nearby Cotopaxi volcano, the subject of Barbara Espinosa Barrera’s (Boston University) project, Containing Our Backyard Volcano. Cotopaxi had been dormant for many years before new seismic activity began in 2015, when the volcano made loud noises that frightened residents and caused a panic that killed seven people. A group of activists say Latacunga isn’t doomed; however, constructing infrastructure that diverts the flow of lava away from the city could save it. Barrera interviewed activists and residents in Latacunga, her hometown, to determine: Is this “likely to save the city or is it a far-fetched dream?”
In Buenos Aires, Jacob Boyko (South Dakota State University) noticed a city divided. On the one hand, he had been there when its relatively wealthy downtown erupted with patriotism when Argentina won the World Cup in 2022. But Boyko also noticed the poor living conditions in the villa miseria in the southern part of the city, where a polluted river causes skin diseases, tumors, and lead poisoning among residents. He returned to Buenos Aires to pursue his project, reporting on ACUMAR, the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin Authority, charged with removing raw sewage and relocating residents in danger. The government is constructing a new water treatment plant it hopes will remove 70% of waste, but it will take time. “The future hope is that people will be able to swim and fish in the water,” Boyko said.
Precious Williams (George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health) investigated the impact of poor drainage systems on livability in Lagos, Nigeria. Poor drainage infrastructure means one-third of the population is at risk of flooding, with clogged waste waterways breeding malaria-carrying mosquitoes and other diseases. “People need to see that this is a problem,” Williams said. “We can’t keep living like this.” Williams said the solution to “decongesting Lagos” is community-based, but the government also needs to treat public health as a priority.
Blessed Sheriff (Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health) reported from Sierra Leone as it attempts to provide psychological and mental health care to a population where 98% of people who need help can’t get it: “We are watching a mental health system being built from scratch.”
In 2016, the country had just one psychiatrist. In the years since, the government has introduced a new mental health policy and a psychiatry residency program to combat societal stigma. Sheriff interviewed patients and doctors, discovering in the process a crippling Kush addiction epidemic that brought 80% of patients to the psychiatric hospital. Though the system remains fragile, doctors were facing the epidemic with strength and courage, Sheriff said, as they watched their patients reclaim their future.
“For a resource-constrained system, it’s not just material circumstances that push a mental health movement forward; it’s also a mindset,” Sheriff said.
In the Q and A portion, the panelists underscored the importance of community agency and awareness in combating health issues, as well as holding local and national governments accountable for inaction. Williams and Boyko both noted, for instance, how government programs to manage waste tended to go unfinished. “Everyone pushes the issue around,” Williams said.
But across all the projects, the Fellows looked for people working to change that.
“We need a kind and resilient system,” as Sheriff put it.