Indiana University

Indiana University School of Journalism

New agreement may bring Kenyan communication students to campus

SoJ Web Report | Oct. 2, 2013
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Courtesy photo
Moi University student Irene Cherbet, left, and journalism senior Jackie Veling partnered for their reporting projects about HIV/AIDS in Eldoret, Kenya, last summer. A new agreement may bring Moi students to Bloomington.
—By Claire Aronson, senior, IU School of Journalism

For a month last summer, senior Jackie Veling reported on HIV/AIDS from Eldoret, Kenya. She and her fellow IU students each were paired with Moi University communications students to conduct in-depth reporting projects.

Now, thanks to a new agreement between IU and Moi University, the IU students may be able to return the favor and invite Moi students to Bloomington.

In late August, IU president Michael McRobbie and five other IU officials toured several countries in Africa, including Kenya. McRobbie and Moi University Vice Chancellor Richard Kiprono Mibey agreed to enhance the already strong 23-year agreement between the schools through Aug. 31, 2018.

This includes building upon the program already in place through associate professor Jim Kelly’s J418 Reporting HIV/AIDS in Africa, an immersive reporting course that has taken IU journalism students to Eldoret, Kenya, three times in the last four years.

Students in the class spend several weeks learning about the HIV/AIDS epidemic through research and through visits with professionals. They develop project ideas, then travel to Kenya, where they stay at IU House and work with the AMPATH program to gather background and information.

The journalism students’ participation is just a small part of the longtime tie between IU’s School of Medicine and Moi University. AMPATH, the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare program, was started in the late 1980s by four IU physicians to serve medical needs in developing countries.

By the late 1990s, with HIV/AIDS spreading, the program began to focus on the epidemic in western Kenya. Today, AMPATH, in partnership with Moi University and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, serves 3.5 million people throughout Kenya.

IU director of news and media Ryan Piurek, MA’02, traveled with McRobbie to Africa, and said the IU group, much like the J418 students, saw the realities facing Kenyans every day.

“We saw a lot of sadness and sorrow,” he said of his time at AMPATH. “You are presented with sobering statistics, but at the same time, for many children and families, AMPATH is the first place in their lives when they are actually getting medical care. So there is a certain amount of hopefulness.”

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Photo by Jim Kelly
IU student Erin Carson, left, showed her Moi student partner the fine points of the video camera operation during an outing in Kenya last summer.
For students like Veling, the key to navigating the cultural and logistical challenge is the partnership with Kenyan students, who act as guides as well as collaborate on the final projects.

Veling wrote in her blog about her Moi partner, Irene Chebet, and the trust she had in Chebet’s journalistic sensibilities, as well as her ability to gain entry to people’s stories because she spoke the language and understood the culture.

“Many times, especially as journalists, we tend to prefer working alone, moving from source to source completely on our own terms, unhindered by outside opinions or preferences,” she wrote. “We love the creative freedom of telling the story however we desire. Today I learned how stupid that was in comparison to having a partner who can essentially show you a whole other world that you never would have been able to see without her help.”

After reporting in clinics, in small villages and at AMPATH facilities, the students return to Bloomington for two weeks of editing and production on their final work.

Kelly created the class based on his extensive experience training pro journalists to work in Asia and Africa. For IU and Moi students, he said, the enhanced collaboration could have even further impact.

“It allows more of our students to work in an environment that is unique and allows students to gain valuable perspective,” he said of the enhanced agreement. “It allows Moi students to come to Bloomington and gain a similar unique perspective of the global community. Prior to this agreement, there was no mechanism to facilitate student exchange.”

In addition to a strong medical program, Moi has trained more than 40 of Kenya’s media leaders. Inviting those students in the Department of Communications program to IU could benefit all involved. Without the reporting partners from the Moi program, Veling said she never would have had such a moving experience, seeing how life can be beautiful, yet devastating and miserable within the same day.

“They were our inside link into the inner framework of Kenya, and they showed us so much context that no amount of reading or preparation could have accomplished,” Veling said.

Even before McRobbie and Mibey’s agreement, the IU students brainstormed the logistics of how they could get their Moi counterparts to Bloomington.

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Courtesy photo
Associate professor Jim Kelly developed the course, which has taken IU journalism students to Kenya three times to report on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Here, he prepared a shot of Moi and IU students during an outing. 
“The IU students spent so much of our time walking around with our mouths open, not even believing we were experiencing this,” Veling said, reflecting on her time covering topics such as birth clinics in Eldoret. “At the time, at least for me, it felt so unfair that they couldn’t have this same experience.”

While a lot of the finer details between the two universities still need to be worked out, the partnership between IU and Moi over the years has resulted in many positive outcomes, Kelly said.

“It has resulted in so much good in the way of healthcare, facilities development, patient care and social work, and yet people in Indiana are largely unaware,” he said. “So my goal for my class has been to report on the good work being done so Hoosiers know just how well regarded IU is in Kenya, and how many lives are touched positively there.”

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