Tuesday, July 21, 2009


By IIJ News Reporter

One of our graduate students who received the John Wilhelm Foreign Correspondence Scholarship through the Institute for International Journalism (IIJ) has secured a major international reporting enterprise in Johannesburg, South Africa. Ellen Schnier, MA’ 2009 will intern for three months at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC News – Television). SABC is the largest broadcast news corporation in Africa. She leaves for South Africa in September 2009.

"The scholarship funds given to Ellen are sufficient to cover her return air fare to South Africa, costs for ground transportation to go to work while in Johannesburg, and lodging for the three months," said Professor Yusuf Kalyango, Director of the Institute. Ellen joins an exclusive fraternity of more than 200 journalism majors who have received international journalism scholarships through the IIJ to intern in more than 30 countries around the world. Other recipients of this year’s international scholarships include Michael Barajas who will travel to Jerusalem in Israel to intern with the Associated Press and Stine Eckert who will intern with the Aljazeera network in Washington, D.C.

While in South Africa, Ellen hopes to learn about the international news environment in one of the largest news markets in the world. It will be a combination of an advanced, well-developed news organization in an industrialized city in the midst of Sub-Saharan Africa. The internship will give her an opportunity to experience South African life and culture. She hopes to investigate issues of poverty, race relations 15 years after the end of the apartheid, and health challenges the nation faces. “Hopefully, I will be able to travel to other African nations either with SABC or Channel Africa which is owned by SABC, to explore the culture and important issues in neighboring countries.

Ellen worked as a reporter and anchor on the Athens MidDay news, where she gathered news, wrote, and edited news packages for the television newscast. During an internship at WLWT, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati, Ohio, she had the opportunity to conduct interviews, including one with the governor of Ohio. She competed on a nationally televised reality music competition, Clash of the Choirs, and her winning choir won $250,000 for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. After the group was named Ambassadors of the Year in Cincinnati, she became a correspondent for WLWT Cincinnati’s local choir competition and produced profiles on several choirs for the evening news.

As for her graduate studies at Ohio University, Ellen has focused on African media and culture. Her thesis examined the U.S. network television coverage of events in Africa from 1977 to 2008. She also investigated and filed a special report for the IIJ’s Globetrotter Newsletter about Uganda’s successful campaign to reduce the infection rate of HIV/AIDS. A second special report investigated the Uganda Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the use of the death penalty in Uganda.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My orna and me -- Walking around as a woman in Dhaka, Bangladesh

by Stine Eckert, Pulitzer Student Fellow

Stine Eckert traveled to Bangladesh as a Pulitzer Center Student. Learn more and see all her reporting: http://www.pulitzercenter.org/showproject.cfm?id=120

Whereas Western dress shirts and dress pants are the socially most acceptable outfit for Bangladeshi men, women predominantly still dress traditionally in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A note on experiencing clothing for women.

Every time I leave my room I have to wrap myself up, with a scarf called an orna.

My orna more or less lives on both of my shoulders and forms a “u” or “v”-shape in front of my breast to cover up my female shape. The ends of my orna dangle loosely on both sides of my back, reaching down to my hips or knees, depending on the length.

My orna has become my permanent companion in Bangladesh ever since a Bangladeshi girl showed me how to wear it properly. Well, at least I try. Without it, I have come to feel something is missing. This doesn’t mean we have a purely peaceful coexistence. No, my orna can be quite a nuisance and when I return to my room, I usually fling it on the sofa immediately. That’s in private.

In public, the orna (sometime also spelled urna) is part of the most prevalent outfit for women in Bangladesh, the so-called three-piece. It starts with baggy pants that taper down at the ankle of the foot and building a balloon shape around the woman’s thighs. They are matched by a long or short blouse and crowned by the orna.

For elements number one and two I stick to wearing jeans or loose linen pants I brought from home, matched by more or less bulky short-sleeve shirts, which seem to be accepted. Since element number three was missing, I was encouraged by several visitors to Bangladesh and Bangladeshis themselves, male and female, to fill the lack of element number three by draping some fabric around my upper body.

Embracing this new style of clothing, in the impossible attempt to blend into rest of female society, I donned a yellow-orange scarf, given to me by an Indian friend. I felt a bit like wearing the uniform of an alien species in Star Trek, a uniform I am constantly fighting with.

Every couple of minutes I need to reign in my orna to make sure it doesn’t travel down one of my shoulders. It also tries to move either to close to my neck softly strangling me when the dusty winds rush through the channel-like streets or droops to low uncovering the desired parts. Its fabric has an incessant desire to bond with the rough bark of trees, discover the pots of street vendors, flirt with the hood of cars that come dangerously close in the constantly thick traffic, or whisper to the concrete of the street.

Once a gusty wind blew the orna up into my face; girls driving by got a good laugh out of me. Imagine running an obstacle course while wearing a blanket in front of you.

I alternate between three ornas, a yellow-orange, a green, and a turquoise-brown one. One is like a short thin net, the other one like a thick blanket big enough to cover me for a nap, and the third feels like a long soft alga. All of them like to use my arms as slides, all of them are eager to make acquaintances with palm leaves along the road, all of them form alliances with my purse to keep me captive while I rummage for a handkerchief and try to keep breathing.

I have been trying to improve our relationship by observing how Bangladeshi women tame their ornas. They wear them elegantly with the color always matching the rest of their three-piece. Their ornas sit confidently on their shoulders, never misbehaving. If so, a tiny tuck shows them who’s the boss. Their ornas don’t seem to bother them. On the contrary, they employ it frequently to cover their heads against the hot-glowing sun. At least half the women don’t wear headscarves and the orna can be pulled over their heads quickly if needed such as when the muezzin calls for prayer and covering one’s head shows respect for the song-like reminder. But even then not all women seek cover.

In short, Bangladeshi women live in peace with their ornas, and the rest of their baggy dress. Few women wear jeans or other Western-style clothing. A 15-year old girl I interviewed at Nari Jibon, a small project teaching practical skills to women, told me she would like to wear jeans but it’s not accepted. In her tailoring class she learns how to sew fatuas—a shorter loose blouse—and three-pieces. That’s also what most shops offer in addition to the better-known saree, a five-meter long fabric matched by a tiny blouse, which seems to be worn more often by older women.

Traditional outfits for men consist of shirts and lungis, a skirt-like piece of fabric that is knotted around the hips and usually reaches to the ankles. But unlike the traditional dress of women, the lungi is not so prevalent among men, who can afford a business outfit. Workers on the street, rickshaw pullers, construction workers, street vendors all wear lungis. Businessmen who want respect don’t, at least not in public. I’ve been told they wear them at home and when they go to bed since they’re really comfortable.

Some other men on the streets wear long-sleeve shirts, called panjabi, matched by loose pants, and a little cap, often in white or lighter colors. Asking a Bangladeshi what that means it seemed that these men practice their religion more. Wearing a cap is a requirement for prayer, wearing the whole outfit might indicate that this man has completed his hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, which every Muslim should do once in her/his life.

The crisp business suits, tightly tailor fitted for the working male, however, rule the world of men in public while women walk wrapped in a cloud of pretty colored ornas and sarees.
Awkwardly I stumble along, ready to scold and adjust my orna for its next attempt to mock me.

Photo: Nipu, Shadia, and Tasnuva wear matching ornas -- big, long scarves -- to match the rest of their three-piece outfit, the traditional outfit for women in Bangladesh apart from the saree.

Learn more and see all of Stine's reporting: http://www.pulitzercenter.org/showproject.cfm?id=120

The Other Side -- A Visist to Nari Jibon, a small women's aid project in Dhaka, Bangladesh

by Stine Eckert, Pulitzer Student Fellow

Stine Eckert traveled to Bangladesh as a Pulitzer Center Student. Learn more and see all her reporting: http://www.pulitzercenter.org/showproject.cfm?id=120

Girls and women learn sowing, English and how to use a computer at Nari Jibon Development Foundation - A visit to a struggling women’s project in Dhaka. Part 3

“I want to get at least two or three computers hooked up to the Internet again,” says Golam Rabbany Sujan. He started as a resource officer at Nari Jibon in its beginning in 2005, later became project director.

The Internet was crucial for the Nari Jibon cyber café that gave women the chance to blog and write about their lives. He had to shut it down in February 2009. “Women don’t like to go to the cyber cafés outside because there are boys which make them feel uncomfortable,” Sujan explains the value of the café. And the women could apply their English and computer skills, too. “The students here were very proud to publish about their own interests,” he says.

But the 14,000 Tk ($205) per month to pay for the local Internet network were too much, Sujan says. He tries to keep up the Nari Jibon blog by posting occasionally from an outside cyber café.

His last post of June 23, 2009 tells the story of 13-year-old Rozina Akthar, who comes to Nari Jibon five times a week as she doesn’t go to school. As Rozina is deaf it was hard to communicate with her when I visited but she showed me her sowing. Sujan’s description on the blog of how Rozina recently got harassed on the street gives an example of the so-called eve-teasing, verbal insults that many Bangladeshi women experience but can do little about.

Mr. Sujan explains that at the moment the whole organization runs on about 14,000 Tk ($200) alone to pay electricity, the phone bill, some of the teachers and Ruma. Mr. Sujan himself and the English teacher work currently without pay.

The chance for more money only comes when Mr. Sujan can obtain a certificate to receive international donations. Since February 2009 Nari Jibon is registered as a Social Welfare Trust, a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). But that is not enough, Nari Jibon needs to obtain the sought-after NGO Bureau status to secure international donations. Yet, just getting the local NGO status was a year-long project.

“It took 36 documents to sign and $1,000 in lawyer fees to get the current status of Nari Jibon,” says Nari Jibon Assistant Director Katie Zaman, a master student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who works on her thesis about women’s work and domestic violence in Bangladesh.

All the documents are ready to apply for the NGO Bureau status, says Mr. Sujan, but ironically more money is needed to get the certificates to tap international funds. It will need at least another 10,000 Tk ($150) in bribes, he says. “The more money we can give, the speedier will be the process.”

Without its major donor and international money, Nari Jibon relies mostly on smaller donations as the fees by the students are not sufficient to cover all costs.

Former main donor and founder of Nari Jibon Dr. Kathryn B. Ward is tired and frustrated. She says she had to pull the plug at Nari Jibon in November 2008 after spending over $65,000 of her own money and more in research grants in the past four years to get the project established. She paid for computers, sewing equipment, and the office infrastructures; students always have paid a small fee to join classes and use the facilities. Some of them, however, expected Nari Jibon to come for free altogether.

Originally Dr. Ward had hoped that other NGOs would fund some of the redundant and less prepared staff and aides at Nari Jibon. As she works as a professor of sociology and women studies at Southern Illinois University, she says she cannot longer direct the project from overseas, nor afford the funding.

The “Mother of Nari Jibon,” as the caption of a photo in the Nari Jibon office affectionately calls her, had to let go of her project but her concern doesn’t end easily. Just recently she sent another $150, which came from her local food coop.

She says after repeatedly giving directions to and promises from the Nari Jibon in Dhaka, its staff needed to take more initiative on their funding, sustainability, and operations. “At the same time, Bangladesh authorities have made registration very difficult.” As a result, Nari Jibon has had difficulties in finding other donors without government registration, she says.

Frustration doesn’t stop with the money. Even though Nari Jibon lists the success stories of its students and the girls I met tell of their joy and pride to be able to have Nari Jibon to pursue their own interest, change in society comes slowly for women.

“The sex workers [who came to Nari Jibon] still have to go home at night and come back with bruises in the morning,” Dr. Ward says.

Currently, she says she needs a break from Nari Jibon and Bangladesh: ”You can have the best intentions and do good things but that doesn’t help with the system in the larger Bangladeshi society.”


On the third floor of the apartment building in the area of Malibagh works the small organization Nari Jibon. Before they occupied several floors and can expand again when more money is available.

Dr. Kathryn B. Ward, professor of sociology and women studies at Southern Illinois University founded Nari Jibon. After giving more than $65,000 of her personal money, more in research grants, and time to establish the project she feels exhausted and frustrated.

Learn more and see all of Stine's reporting: http://www.pulitzercenter.org/showproject.cfm?id=120

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ruma -- A Visit to Nari Jibon, a small women's aid project in Dhaka, Bangladesh

by Stine Eckert, Pulitzer Student Fellow

Stine Eckert traveled to Bangladesh as a Pulitzer Center Student. Learn more and see all her reporting: http://www.pulitzercenter.org/showproject.cfm?id=120

Girls and women learn sewing, English, and how to use a computer at Nari Jibon Development Foundation -- A visit to a struggling women’s project in Dhaka. Part 2

As I talk with Nipu, Shadia, and Tasnuva, who learn English, sewing, and Microsoft Office at Nari Jibon, a quiet fragile women in a bright yellow sari drifts in and out of the doorframe of the computer room. Sixty-five-year old Ruma has been with Nari Jibon since the beginning of the project in March 2005. She helps the tailoring students, brings tea, and welcomes guests at Nari Jibon. She already greeted me as I only got half way up the stairs to the third floor where all classrooms and the office are located.

Ruma came to Dhaka 25 years ago, when she fled from her second husband in Khulna, a village in South West Bangladesh where he still works as a fisherman. As her first husband died she was forced to marry his younger brother, whom she didn’t like. In Dhaka she found work by ironing garments to support her two sons.
“Nari Jibon has changed my life positively,” she says. “If I had a chance like that earlier, I could have worked from home.” She lives vicariously by seeing the younger girls learning tailoring and English as she never went to school. Until four years ago she was illiterate.
“Now I can read and can’t be cheated on prices anymore,” she says. In the morning she reads Prothom Alo, one of the top Bangladeshi daily newspapers. Her next goal is to teach her grandson how to read and write and to better establish Nari Jibon. “I love the project.”
Nari Jibon pays her 1,000 Tk a month, a quarter than what it used to be before December 2008. Rent for her approximately 12 x 12 feet room in the neighborhood costs 1,800 Tk a month. “I have a small house,” she says as she leads me down the narrow passage to her homestead, which she shares with her 25-year-old son who works as a rickshaw puller, his wife Lovely, and three year old son Rapi. Lovely will start a job in the garment factory next month, sowing on buttons.
Outside her house, a row of stoves provides a shared kitchen. Ruma’s flame heats a pot with boiling egg curry. As we sit down on her bed she proudly shows her writing exercises while neighbor women and kids quickly gather at the door, spill into the room, and men peek through the window to eye Ruma’s strange visitor.

A neatly dressed girl in a red and white three-piece with sparkling earrings stands out. Fatima doesn’t know if she is 13 or 14 years but says she also works in a garment factory, motioning to a boy nearby she indicates that she helps produce men’s pants. Every day except Sunday she walks half an hour to start her eleven-hour shift in the factory. Usually she works eleven hours, she says, but today there was not much work and she walked back home by one o’ clock.

As I leave a little girl tries to take my hand, a young man poses to have his picture taken, and Ruma says she’s happy I visited her house.

Learn more and see all of Stine's reporting: http://www.pulitzercenter.org/showproject.cfm?id=120

Friday, July 10, 2009

My first week in Mysore

I arrived in Mysore 9 days ago and have already experienced Indian culture! The traffic is very disorganized, as horns sound all the time and there don't seem to be many enforced rules.The peopl of Mysore seem very friendly and the area seems safe. It's the monsoon season, so there are many rainfalls throughout the day. In Bangalore, horns started honking without a pause at 6 a.m. and people chatted loudly. Every morning, I hear a man singing "tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes,..." and some words in Kannada, the local language. Men walk through the neighborhoods every morning, selling fresh fruit and vegetables.

"There are two different Indias in India... one is the one you've seen and the other one is the rural part," Nanjappa, vice president of rural projects, said.I went into the village Begur yesterday and will study the culture of rural India for the next week. Rural India is home to over 70% of the population, according to the International Human Development And Upliftment Academy (IHDUA), the organization for which I intern. After my observations, I will work for two local newspapers. The IHDUA based in Mysore is a non-government organization established in 1991 by Oncologist Dr. B. S. Ajaikumar. The organization works on four main rural projects: rural literacy, women empowerment, economics, health and education, and awareness about health and hygiene. The IHDUA now works with 55 villages.Yesterday, there was a Self-Help Group (SHG) meeting in Begur. These meetings help a group of men or women to ameliorate their businesses and upgrade their skills. I first sat with a group of men who try to work together to strive for economic development. Because the majority of the rural population doesn't speak English, I could not understand most of the conversation. After the second meeting, which was among women, I went into a room with six girls who produced purses. The other women returned to their businesses, which include selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, chicken or sheep fur. Some of the girls knew some words of English and asked me for my name and my parent's name. Two girls used sign language to ask if I had eaten lunch, which in India means about the same as how I was doing.I rode on the back of a motorcycle the "Indian way" (girls sit sideways) and visited some local stands.

On thursday, the first stop was at a small kindergarden and school. The children seemed shy, because they sat quietly on the floor the entire time. The kindergarden was one room with one small desk and one chair. The walls were full of colorful pictures, so that the children could learn the words of different fruits, vegetables, animals, body parts and so on. Before I left, I wrote a few sentences in a guest book and saw that two other Americans have visited this place.
Unlike the kindergarden kids, the school children wore a uniform. I have noticed that most schools in this area require uniforms, often blue- or green-colored.
My driver then took me to see some rural projects of IHDUA. We stopped at several houses in about 8 villages and every person was very welcoming and friendly. Every single household offered me chai tea and some gave me snacks as well.
In one village, I saw a kitchen garden constructed by IHDUA. The purpose is to provide nutrition through vegetables and fruits to the habitants. I also sat in another SHG (Self-Help Group) women's meeting. The women seemed very interested in my culture as well and my driver translated their questions to me. They asked if I was married and if I wanted to stay at the village with them sometime.
The second project I visited a smokeless oven, provided by IHDUA. According to Nanjappa, women used to inhale smoke and get sick while cooking, so the organization constructed one where the smoke goes outside only.
In a different village, I observed the production of silk. There were large wooden wheels on the front porch with hundreds of silk worms weaving. One of the men told me that it takes three days for the worms to construct the material. I refused a chai, but got one anyway. It seems as if nobody takes "no" as an answer here regarding to food or drinks.
Although it was pouring this morning, it fortunately stopped once we got to Begur. I had a different driver today and the motorcyle seemed to be going a lot faster. Because the villages today were a little more distant from Begur, we visited fewer areas. The people at the first house were keeping different food items, such as mangoes and spicy pickles, in different-sized, blue containers. Provided by IHDUA, these items apparently ameliorate their business. At the next village, we visited a woman that was tailoring, such as the girls in Begur.
At the last stop, women were preparing nutritional supplements for malnourished children.

Career First, Marriage Later -- A Visit to Nari Jibon in Dhaka, Bangladesh

by Stine Eckert, Pulitzer Student Fellow

Stine Eckert traveled to Bangladesh as a Pulitzer Center Student. Learn more and see all her reporting: http://www.pulitzercenter.org/showproject.cfm?id=120

Girls and women learn sewing, English, and how to use a computer at Nari Jibon Development Foundation -- A visit to a struggling women’s project in Dhaka. Part 1

Rozina and Shompa stand up as if a teacher called on them when I enter the room. After settling that they can sit down they seem to be a bit more relaxed. Shompa has pinned a bright pink piece of cloth underneath the needle of the sewing machine in front of her. She has been learning to sow at Nari Jibon Development Foundation for a month now, working in the small room four times a week for two hours. After she first tailored a fatua, a short-sleeved lose shirt, she’s now on to sow a dress.

“Pink is my favorite color,” says the 20-year old political science bachelor student at National University. It will take her a day to make the whole three-piece, a typical traditional outfit for women in Bangladesh consisting of a dress, long loose pants, and a scarf wrapped around the shoulders. But it saves money and is good practice.

As Shompa, which means dream, becomes more skilled she will be able to tailor a three-piece in three hours, just like expert tailors. After her training is over two to three months, she can buy her own sewing machine and work at home. “I want to start my own tailoring business.“ Shompa says, a source for income at the side for her, even when she reaches her goal to become a teacher in political science.

Twenty-twos girls are currently in the tailoring class at Nari Jibon. As the organization struggles to find donors, according to Project Director Golam Rabbany Sujan, Nari Jibon, which means women’s life, had to raise the admission for the course.

Since December 2008 every girl pays 500 Tk or $7.50 to participate up from just 300 Tk ($4.50). In 2007 the girls only paid 100 Tk ($1.50). Fees were low as Nari Jibon started out to especially help poor, underprivileged women. But with a drop in donations it has opened up for everyone who can pay.

To pay her admission, 15-year old Nipu Akhtar works part time in an office, where she helps with accounting and binds books. With her monthly-earned 1,000 to 1,500 Tk ($15 to $20) she can almost pay for her three courses; her parents pay the rest.

Nipu not only learns tailoring but also English for 500 Tk ($7.50) each, and how to use Microsoft Office and create graphic designs, for another 1000 Tk ($15). With her new skills she wants to later open her own boutique to sell dresses.

She says if a woman is not educated, the family wants the daughter to marry to decrease family expenses. “I want independence,” Nipu says. “I will never marry. Only if a nice boy comes and then only after twenty years.”

Opposite to her sits Shadia Islam, 18 years, who already won a little independence by simply coming to Nari Jibon. She says her father was not willing to pay the fees. Besides, he didn’t like the idea she would be working outside her home, she says. But her mom supported Shadia: “My mom pursued my dad and changed his mind, she said to him ‘ Better do it, there’s no gain but no loss either.’” She has one more year in high school and wouldn’t mind marrying after a while, she says. “But I want my parents to find me a husband.”

Similarly Tasnuva Swarena, 22, doesn’t rule out marriage. But she also wants to have a job hoping that the computer class will help her to later find a government or bank position. She will graduate from Dhaka University with a Bachelor in anthropology in three months. But even when she finishes her master in another year, she says “there’s little chance I find a job in anthropology.”

Photo: "Pink is my favorite color," says 20-year old political science student Shompa who later wants to open up a tailoring business at home.

Learn more and see all of Stine's reporting: http://www.pulitzercenter.org/showproject.cfm?id=120