Travelling to Ethiopia to investigate a story was a huge risk and one I will certainly take again.
The dream of being a travelling journalist is one that would appeal to most wannabe hacks, for me; it really was just that, a dream. The idea of covering exciting stories and working in hostile environments was one that I never thought could happen. In April of this year that dream turned into a reality.
The story was on a condition called fistula, a maternal healthcare issue which impacts over 2 million women in Africa. It leaves a woman incontinent and a social outcast.
Due to prolonged labour the babies shoulders are unable to pass through the vagina and the tissue between the babies head and the pelvic bone becomes damaged. As a result holes develop between the rectum and the bladder, the baby is born still born and the woman is left incontinent. Returning to her village, she is shunned by her community and her husband divorces her due to the smell.
With the focus being Africa, my destination of travel had to take me further than the Watford gap. After months of research the country of choice was made, Ethiopia, it appeared to have everything that I needed in regards to interviewees and non-government organisations (NGOs) that were trying to help these women.
As this was the first time I had investigated an overseas story, I decided to conduct as much research as possible. This is one of my key learning’s, in-depth research is crucial. Leave nothing to chance; ask as many questions as you can prior to going, and prepare the questions you want to uncover once you have arrived.
Hamlin Fistula, was the NGO of choice, they gave me permission to visit and stay at their site in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. This was a huge bonus. They arranged for me to interview women who had been treated as well as those awaiting treatment.
The best advice for any travelling journalist is to ensure all your interviews are established before you go. It may seem obvious, but the last thing you want is a long trip with nobody to interview.
In preparation for my visit I had to meet with a government diplomat for a briefing at the Ethiopian embassy in London. He informed me that Ethiopia was making progress and negative stories were not what the country wanted or needed.
As a journalist this was a challenge, as I wanted to present a balanced and truthful account, but of course I empathise with and understand the negative press that Ethiopia may have received in the past.
The embassy provided me with a filming visa that allowed me to interview the government minister for women and children. Having a government perspective on sensitive issues, such as this, is very important.
Prior to any travel, check with the embassy and find out what press associates need in to order to film abroad. Many countries have restrictions on journalist and some will not even allow you to film outdoors without a permit.
Do your research; is the country safe to travel too? With the recent news of journalists being kidnapped and killed by terrorist extremist groups, safety is a primary concern. The government have a know before you go, site, which offers great advice. Try not to be reckless.
The decision was made that I would film as well as take pictures and write text for a multimedia project. This meant that I had to become a ‘jack of all trades.’ As a lone travelling journalist this was hard, but I learnt that it was important to have my kit ready the night before and to make sure all my batteries were charged on my handheld camera, digital camera and laptop.
I had some amazing moments, listening to the stories of these women and what they had been through, their testimonies were powerful.
The most memorable time was my visit to one of the rural areas in Ethiopia. The journey was not easy. The rural area is vast, with a huge population, very different from the city, of Addis Ababa. I travelled by plane for an hour and once I had arrived at my destination I than had to travel by car for two hours to the rural village. This was brilliant, a once in a life time experience.
I visited a health centre that Hamlin Fistula and the government had established to help expectant mothers. The difficulty with this process was not only was I planning to write but I was also filming.
A lot of my filming was actuality, which meant that I followed the person as they carried out the day to day job as well as asking them questions.
Highlights were the live birth I saw, as well as the treatment that the nurses and midwives gave to expectant mothers. The bonus for me was that I had someone who could interpret the language, a guide to help me carry my equipment, as well as a fixer who organised a lot of my interviews.
Finally, be prepared for set-backs. They will happen and it will be frustrating. I had a great interview prepared with the minister for health, I waited for three hours and unfortunately they stood me up. But expect things not to run perfectly.
In the new year my journey will hopefully take me to Lebanon where I will spend a longer period of time working for a publication.
Travelling or being based in another country to cover a story is not easy but it certainly is exciting, you will grow, it will change the way you view the world. I had travelled extensively before, but I had done nothing like this, so enjoy every moment. If I was given the opportunity to do it again, I am going to take it.
If you would like to see the finished multimedia project from the work I carried out in Ethiopia, please see this link.