Posts Tagged ‘children’

On the horrific events in Newton, CT today

Friday, December 14th, 2012

I wanted to post some of the beautiful, passionate, important things I have been reading from my friends in response to the horrendous school shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT. We’re all pretty much on the same page here: we need SERIOUS legislation making gun laws a hell of a lot stricter in this country. We can’t stop people from doing crazy things, not all of the time, although I agree that mental health care should be easier to get and much more affordable at that. And we can’t make our schools into impenetrable fortresses that are as welcoming as jails. This has no educational value, nor is it necessary. Evidence? See the rest of the world. But the number of people who die senselessly in the USA because of guns and an intense lack of courage and will from our leadership to stand up to politics is something about which we should be deeply ashamed. NO MORE. It has to stop.
-Danielle Shapiro, a journalist, lover of all children, and aunt who can’t stop thinking about her nephews today

Now from my friends:
-Liam O’Rourke, a teacher:
I went to work today, a mere 20 miles from Newtown. I walked into a building full of children. I taught nine year olds grammar; I read “The Woman in White” with seventh graders; I discussed the ending of “Moby Dick” with a senior who thanked me for teaching it to her, because (in her words) “this book is everything.” Then at lunch a group of little six to eight year olds came to me with their lunches and begged me to read them the last pages of “Over Sea, Under Stone” because our last class was canceled due to our afternoon holiday party. They sat rapt. They gasped aloud when Mr. Hastings almost got the grail away from Barney, cheered when the children defeated the dark ones, and laughed when Great Uncle Merry scolded the newspaper reporter. Then I stood in the dance studio and watched as 83 kids from 5-18 sang Purcell madrigals in their chorus and later Pat Benatar in karaoke. They danced. They played. They ate cake. Now imagine that someone walked in… I don’t need to finish that fucking unutterably awful thought. Anyone who will not accept that guns and gun violence needs to be taken seriously in this country is a person who, in my mind, is complicit in each and every one of those children’s deaths today. If you are still unconflicted in your support for the right to bear arms indiscriminately, then you are dead to me. Because I promise you that I will choose the brilliant, silly, joyful, spinning, dancing, singing children over your right to bear arms EVERY SINGLE TIME.

-Emily Ziff Griffin, a mother:
Dear President Obama:

I wrote you recently, a month or so before the election to urge you to take a stand on the things that matter to me as a new mother, things I believe also matter to you—the environment, education, food safety and obesity, the mental health of our veterans, and gun control. I received back a lovely form letter detailing the work your administration has done on environmental i
ssues. Thank you for that.

But I am writing again today and have decided that I will be writing you every day for the next year or until you take a serious and effective stand on gun control. I am sitting in my office in New York City watching reports of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting flood the internet while my 10-month-old daughter sits in daycare in Brooklyn. The horror that fills my heart as I look at the pictures of these tiny kids being shuttled into the parking lot, their mouths agape in fear and sorrow is overwhelming. And this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that we are being confronted with this type of image. This keeps happening. And yes, we need to better treat the mentally ill members of our society. And yes ultimately it is “people who kill people.” But Sir, we quite simply need to control, in no uncertain terms, the access people have to these weapons.

You are in a position to help. It is your duty and responsibility to help. I and millions like me re-elected you because we believe you are who you say you are. And that person you say you are would not sit idly by, again, and do nothing to make this issue a priority.

You’ll hear from me again tomorrow.

Thanks for listening,

Emily Ziff Griffin,
American anti-gun mother

-A letter from the parent coordinator at the school in NYC where my friend Valerie Otto’s daughter attends:
Dear 41 Families,

I am loathe to write anything right now on the tragedy today in Newton, Connecticut.

But I send this out to you–hug your child very tightly tonight and speak to him or her of your love. Whisper of grace and awe and joy and hope (and carry in your own hearts and minds the idea that maybe, just maybe, our children will see a world in which those things can somehow take root and cover this heavy darkness.)

Speak softly in your voice….but carry the sound and fury in your soul and scream to the sky……Please, no more.

My thoughts go to the families of those killed, those injured and those who witnessed. For those of us who work in the elementary school system, we are one today.

My gratitude and love goes out to you all…..

Your Grieving PC

-Laila Al-Arian, a journalist, an aunt:
Can’t stop thinking about the children who were brutally and senselessly killed today and can’t possibly imagine what their parents are going through. Gun control, America. We have willingly sacrificed our first amendment for the sake of false security and have clung to false notions of the second for the sake of a powerful lobby.

-Jana Winter, a journalist. This is her story today from Newton:


Thursday, October 21st, 2010


When I was last in Congo, in March, I visited the island of Idjwi. I wrote about meeting a little girl on the side of the road who was all by herself, dirty, had obviously been crying and was terribly malnourished. After urging the village chief and elders to find an adult to be with her, a woman came who turned out to be her mother. Turns out that 9 percent of the children on Idjwi, and there are thousands of them, suffer from malnutrition. This little one was not alone.

I followed up with Roger and Bahati and sent money to them so that the mother could bring the child to the hospital. I wasn’t sure if she would survive. I’ve never before seen a child so small and limp from lack of food. But the mother did take her daughter to the hospital where the little girl received care. I subsequently learned through Roger and Bahati that she was getting better.

Today I got to see for myself.

Roger and Bahati and I ventured again to Idjwi and met with the girl’s mother. Turns out, that although I thought her name was Nathalie, and that she was 3, her name is Anuarite and she is just 2.5 years old. Her older sister is Nathalie, and is 4. Her younger sister is Dione, 1.5 years. They all, and their mother, Nankomere, looked much better – cleaner and better fed. Nevertheless, I left the mom with a bit more money for a hospital follow-up because I remain concerned that the girls are not as healthy as they could be.

But it was a huge relief to see them, and especially, Anuarite, doing so well. I completely didn’t recognize her when we arrived at the hut. She had a head full of little curls, round cheeks and some actual muscle – not much – but some on her legs and arms. I couldn’t for all my efforts get her to crack a smile and she seems tired still. It’s probably a legacy of the malnutrition. Nathalie was much more affectionate with me, clinging to my legs and staying quite near me the entire length of my visit.

Roger and I had gone shopping and picked up some dresses and shoes for the three girls, which we gave as well. The stuff is way too big for them now – we had all the ages wrong of the sisters – but they’ll grow into it and have things for the future, which is key.

Their mother told me she had used some of the money left over from the hospital stay to buy items to sell as a petty trade. With that, and the farming she continues to do, she has herself been able to feed her children better – she showed me the dried fish, cassava flour and beans in her tiny mud hut. She has even bought her three girls some new clothes. When I met Anuarite, she was barefoot and wearing only a tattered, oversized, and soiled t-shirt. She didn’t even have on underwear. This time she was in a smart skirt and top set that matched her sister Nathalie’s, her face was clean and and she had on a pair of underwear fashion from some old cloth.

But the main point is that she was much improved physically and I was really thrilled.

I intend to keep up with the family and support them in the little ways that I can. And I will keep working on getting that smile from Anuarite. I know it’s coming.

Sara and Baraka

Thursday, October 21st, 2010


Nothing has even come close to lifting my spirits as the sight of 15-year-old Sara and her 1-year-old daughter Baraka did today in Bukavu. I wrote about them last March when I did the piece on children born of rape for the Christian Science Monitor. Sara was abducted and raped and had a child when she was 14. She has no family. If I remember correctly, her parents were killed. I am not sure what happened to her one sibling.

She lives now in a group transition home for women who had been patients at Panzi Hospital. She remains there, but is set to move soon, I believe, to another of the hospital’s homes.

My interview with Sara many months ago, really moved me, as most of those I conducted with young rape victims did. But her face and her child stayed with me better than the others. First because of her deep love and affection for her daughter, even after what she had been through, and second because her daughter is such a happy, lively child. None of that has changed. Baraka continues to giggle and gurgle and smile constantly. She was afraid of me, unfortunately, perhaps because I look so odd to her. But she is a gaggle of happy energy for others. And Sara is still a profoundly kind and big-hearted young girl. She laughed at her daughter’s frightened reaction through her own slightly bewildered eyes.

My heart swelled when I saw her. The minute she saw me, and the instant of recognition passed between us, her smile opened and she ran to me, Baraka on her back, and we hugged. She was so excited and surprised to see me. It was instantaneous joy and totally sincere and unscripted and real and again, Sara managed to move me, nearly to tears. I am sure after our interview she never did expect to see me again. And I was so thrilled to see her. I never forgot her and there seemed something very important to both of us in knowing that.

It’s often so difficult as a journalist here for me to hear about such horror and then simply walk away. I know all I can promise is a story and I believe deeply in the power and potential of journalism to change lives; to change the world. But that does not often translate for a girl whose lost her whole family, her childhood and any real semblance of security. So to be able to come back, and to see how much my doing so meant to her, and to realize how much it meant to me as well, was a profoundly important experience. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who felt some tie, some connection. Sara felt it to.

Sara is now in school, fourth form, something she wanted desperately. I’m ecstatic. She is healthy, Baraka is healthy; Sara has friends in school, she is learning French and Swahili, and math and she seems happy. We were able to communicate in French a bit, she knows some basic phrases, and after much prodding, she shared with me her new English too: “Good morning! How are you?” She was so shy and sweet and could barely look at me and keep from giggling as she said it. But I know she was happy to share. She also showed me her school notebooks, paging through slowly, so I could see as her writing in French had improved since September and how she has gone from measurement conversions to simple geometry in math.

Before parting I left her with some money for school uniforms, notebooks and pens, and little extra to get her hair braided. It costs $1 and she likes to do it twice a month. I am more than happy to support such vanity. She’s a beautiful girl, thoroughly, in her core. I can’t wait to see her again. In fact, I’m sad to leave her.

Farm patrol in Rugari

Thursday, October 21st, 2010


If anyone were to tell you that Congo is a beautiful country, don’t doubt it. I saw some truly spectacular countryside today.

Roger and I accompanied the Indian peacekeeping contingent from the Rugari COB (TK) (part of MONUSCO, the UN mission in Congo) on their regular farm patrol where they walk through the vast cultivated countryside whose farmers they are sent to protect.

Hill upon rolling, bright green hill, plotted in neat round rows for beans, sorghum, cassava, potatoes and other vegetables. The terrain was rarely flat, often offering long vistas over the valley below and towards the mountains opposite. The farmers were genial, greeting us graciously as we passed with big smiles, energetic waves and “Jambo! Habari!” (Hello! How are you!) Children hollered happily as we passed, they shy ones warming up after the initial shock of seeing my white skin – Mizungu! Plus, Roger is so sweet with them that few can resist cracking a smile once he goes in for a robust high five handshake.

The land was lush and the footpaths slick and muddy. They cost me my footing once on a downhill slope. Note to self: find walking stick before next rural Congo trek. It makes one feel a little more sheepishly clumsy because the locals run up and down these paths in sure bare feet or meager plastic sandals. Here I was with my water-proof, extra comfy, good soled Tevas and I couldn’t hold it together. Typical.

Besides the fact that we saw a really special area, the reporting was fruitful. More on that in the story…

World Press Freedom Day

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. But on this day, this year, I am not thinking about the dangers for the many journalists whose bylines I’ve come to associate with places like Mogadishu or Manila, Kabul, Moscow or Islamabad. It’s not because I don’t have immense respect for them and for the risks they take to bring their readers essential reports from some of the most dangerous, repressive corners of the world. I do.

But this year my thoughts are with those who rarely, if ever, get a byline. Yet these are the individuals without whom most foreign journalists – myself included – would never get a single story written.

These nameless men and women are the fixers, the translators, the drivers, the local reporters and aspiring journalists who make the work of their foreign peers possible. They are brave and determined individuals who assume nearly all the risk for telling stories those in power would often rather stifle and who are far too rarely recognized for their efforts.

Of all the journalists who have died around the world because of their work, 90 percent are locals, according to CPJ. It is common that their murderers are never found, prosecuted or convicted.

I recently returned from a three-week reporting trip to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was my second time there, covering stories primarily about women’s and children’s rights and sexual and gender-based violence. I was mostly in Bukavu and Goma, the regional capitals of South and North Kivu respectively, where violence and insecurity has been ongoing since the late 1990s.

Impunity and disregard for the rule of law is rife in Congo, a vast nation with a shoddy record of protecting the members of its media, especially in the east. Six journalists have been murdered since 2005, according to Reporters Without Borders, and three in Bukavu – one each in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Fixers are not immune. According to a 2004 CPJ report, Acquitté Kisembe, a fixer for Agence France-Presse, disappeared while on assignment in 2003. He was presumed dead.

Though Congo is seeing increased stability in some parts of the country, risks for journalists remain. On my first trip, last October, I reported on the death threats one month earlier made to three female journalists based in Bukavu.

On both trips I worked closely with a local interpreter whose assistance has come to be not just helpful, but a professional and personal necessity.

He, like so many of his colleagues around the world, guides me through every step of what I do in Congo. He’s found for me secure accommodations and reliable drivers to ferry me safely along eastern Congo’s gutted, perilous roads. He’s made contact with countless sources before I’m even in country to insure that I’ll have the story I’ve promised my editors. He’s spent hours helping me schedule interviews and translating them as we go. He never lets me walk into a police station or military compound alone. He tells me where I can go safely and where I can’t. I don’t question his judgment.

As we bump our way through Bukavu’s muddy streets, he shares his insider’s take on Congolese culture, politics and history. His lessons often become the silent background informing so much of what I write. And, no less important, he steers me to the best food and Internet connections in town. I’ve told him many times – and I can only hope he knows how sincere I am when I say this – I would be totally lost without him.

But his name goes nowhere on my stories. He’s a silent, but invaluable, partner. For me, this World Press Freedom Day is a reminder of my indebtedness to him and his colleagues everywhere.

At CPJ’s Impunity Summit, held last month at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Owais Aslam Ali, secretary-general of the Pakistan Press Foundation, underscored this point that unnamed locals are key to our work. Yet he felt that the international media community is not doing enough to protect and support those journalists and fixers upon whom we rely so heavily.

“This war is being covered by the foreign media on the cheap,” he said of the ongoing conflicts in Pakistan. The brunt of the dangers are being borne by the local media, he said, adding that they are pushing the limits of what they cover for, and because of, the foreign press.

Yet, Ali felt that there was scant support by the international media community for the journalists who take risks to bring us these stories, who become internally displaced as they flee their homes in the face of threats because of their work. He called the foreign media “callous” in this regard. The only journalist’s murder in the last decade to have been solved and prosecuted to a conviction in Pakistan was that of Daniel Pearl, an American, in 2002. But to Ali, the case was evidence that with international pressure, attention and support, there can be justice for all journalists, even when they are local.

So, today, I’ll be thinking about the names behind the names we see in print. I’ll be thanking them for their courage and tenacity and wisdom. I am grateful for the continuing work CPJ does to protect the fixers (here are some recent examples: I hope that others at the Summit heard what I did from Ali – that when we speak up for journalists, let’s not speak only for those whose names appear in print.

(this post was written for the blog of the Committee to Protect Journalist)