Carleton student’s Rwandan internship gives a new perspective

By: Alison Sandstrom
Four months after returning from a six-week internship in Rwanda, memories for a Carleton University student are still fresh, and in some cases confusing, but she has learned a lot.

By: ALISON SANDSTROM

Four months after returning from a six-week internship in Rwanda, memories for a Carleton University student are still fresh, and in some cases hard to put into words, but she has learned a lot.

Fiona Buchanan, a second-year Masters student, is one of 21 Carleton journalism students who travelled to Africa to intern with local news organizations this past summer.

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Fiona Buchanan, left, with her colleague in Rwanda, Brenda Mutoni. Photo provided by Buchanan.

“I find it tough to express my experience. There were so many different factors that I observed and I’m still trying to understand,” she says.

The internships were facilitated by the Centre for Media and Transitional Societies (CMTS), a partnership between the Carleton School of Journalism and Communication and media organizations across Africa.

Since 2006, CMTS has sent more than 150 students and teachers to African countries such as Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Ghana, and Mali to learn about and contribute to journalism there.

Buchanan interned at Inshuti Ya Bose, a radio station based in Kigali, Rwanda. One week before her arrival, the radio station, formally known as City Radio, underwent a rebranding. It switched from broadcasting in English and Kinyarwanda, the principle language in Rwanda, to solely Kinyarwanda programming.

“It threw me for a loop,” says Buchanan, who was not told of the rebranding before her arrival. Buchanan says she found other ways of contributing, such as writing international news briefs everyday, which her colleagues translated and read on air.

Although Buchanan says she found it frustrating that she wasn’t able to contribute more meaningfully to the internship the way she could have with a French or English station, it allowed her to get to know her colleagues better.

The friendships she formed in Rwanda were a highlight of the trip, Buchanan says.

Buchanan says she was also surprised at the number of unpaid journalists she met in Rwanda.

“Granted, we have unpaid internships here, but it strikes me that it’s a little bit more of a norm for a journalist not to get paid for months on end there,” says Buchanan. She adds that employers often get away with not paying them because so many young Rwandans want to become journalists.

“There are so many students who are graduating with mass communications degrees that there’s not a very big supply of jobs,” she explains. Buchanan says she plans on returning to Rwanda this winter to study the problem more in depth.

Her time in Rwanda helped her understand post-conflict societies, specifically the role media and primarily radio stations played in encouraging the 1994 genocide, she says.

Because of this history, the public and government are often mistrustful of journalists, Buchanan says. For this reason, Rwandan media coverage on remembrance of the genocide are always considered leading news stories.

Although the trip peaked Buchanan’s interest in reporting on Africa, it also made her question her role in doing so as a foreign journalist.

“I’m far from an expert, but maybe what we need to be doing is giving more of a voice to Rwandan people who want to report on their country and actually have a very good understanding of what it’s like there, rather than shipping someone there who comes in as the expert,” Buchanan says.

The restrictions journalists face in Rwanda has given Buchanan a deep appreciation for press freedom in Canada.

“I’ve definitely learned not to take freedom of speech for granted,” Buchanan says.

“We really are lucky in Canada to be able to report in the way we do, even to be able to criticize politicians in the way that we do, and not to feel afraid of that.”

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