[The following piece was published June 3, 2013, on The Mantle.]
MASERU, Lesotho – In November 2011, I was newly arrived in Africa, so full of hope, writing dreamily of Lesotho’s “veritable field of dreams” for journalism trainings.
Eighteen months later, rejection slaps me in the face so often, I’m ready to press charges. I’m a pauper on the streets, banging my tin-cup.
Hey buddy, can you spare a dime? Yes, it’s for a journalism training. But not only will it improve Basotho health, it just may save lives!
I came to Lesotho having taught journalism over the past ten years in New York, Central Europe and Hong Kong – and soon realized I was the only journalism-skills teacher in the entire “Mountain Kingdom.” I studied how to help a tiny nation of 1.8 million, clustered in hamlets among the tallest peaks of southern Africa. Not to teach any kind of journalism, but specifically, health journalism.
The list of what ails the Basotho of Lesotho is depressingly long. They suffer the world’s third-highest rate of HIV infection – an unfathomable 23 percent among the most sexually active, ages 15-49. Malnutrition has hit 40 percent, as two-fifths of the children under age 5 endure stunting of the brain and body. Then there’s TB. Diabetes. Breast cancer. Cervical cancer. And so on. Everywhere you look, bad news.
Meanwhile, it’s darn near impossible to find a decent example of explanatory journalism, to inform and educate society on simply how to cope with all this. Which is unsurprising, since Lesotho lacks any real journalism education or professional training. Among reporters and editors here, “The blind are leading the blind.” (Though, this is not their fault, as I’ve written in a related post.)
Though I’d landed in Africa with no contacts whatsoever – as a dutiful “trailing spouse” following my wife’s career in international development – so optimistic was I about my freelancing prospects that I boldly launched a new feature for my website, and immodestly named it The Media Missionary of Maseru.