Neha Wadekar, Kenya
How do you usually find humanitarian stories?
Since starting to work in East Africa more than four years ago, I have developed a network of sources and contacts, ranging from staff at various nonprofits, to government officials and most importantly, people on the ground. Often, my story ideas come from the most unexpected places – an Uber ride across town or a conversation at a cafe, for example. I also take time to read reports, news briefings and coverage from other reporters working in the region. These can be important sources of information and inspiration.
What challenges do you encounter?
One of the biggest challenges I face when reporting humanitarian stories from East Africa is getting funding and support from grantors and publications. It can be difficult to convince a funder or editor based in New York or London that a particular crisis, especially a gender-related crisis, is worth the money, investment and space.
What feedback or reactions do you get for your reporting?
I spent this year covering issues ranging from teenage pregnancy to abortion access to child marriage and female genital mutilation. The response from nonprofits, experts, humanitarians and individuals has been overwhelmingly positive. People are relieved and grateful that these important stories are finally getting the coverage they deserve. The most rewarding feedback is when story subjects, or people like them, reach out to express thanks for highlighting their experiences in a humane and respectful way. Of course, I occasionally receive feedback that criticizes the stories, especially when they touch on controversial topics like abortion. But these are rare.
How has COVID-19 affected your work?
When COVID-19 was ramping up in Kenya, I did as much research and reporting as I could via phone, WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom. This was to ensure that I was not putting anyone, especially my most vulnerable subjects, at risk of contracting the virus. As we have learned more about the transmission of COVID-19, I have begun field reporting again. But I operate cautiously and carefully, always wearing a mask, washing my hands, keeping a distance and taking every precaution to protect myself, my sources and my reporting team.
Do you have a tip to share for other journalists interested in covering neglected crises?
Perseverance! These types of stories are some of the most underreported, undervalued articles in the media world. They are also some of the most important. If you believe a story is worth telling, then keep pitching. Keep pushing. Keep applying for funding. Keep making your case. Eventually, you will find fantastic editors and supporters of your story who will believe in it as much as you do and who will help you bring these important issues to light.