Vanessa Castro is a freelance multi-media journalist with Deutsche Welles, based in Berlin.
Her journey into journalism began in Colombia, where she was born and raised. Growing up in the nineties, with the backdrop of the civil war, Castro remembers that news coverage of the violence between guerillas, narcos and the government resembled “a show about heros and villains, [it was] good guys versus bad guys”.
Between the ages of 11 and 16 Castro lived with her grandparents on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Together, each night they would watch TV host Jaime Garzón’s current affairs show ¡Quac! El Noticero. Castro was inspired by the way he tried to dig beneath the headlines, injecting humour and always coming from a place of empathy. Garzón covered topics like investigations into the government and paramilitary operations through the eyes of the disenfranchised. Cooks, doormen and shoemakers spoke about these issues from the perspective of their everyday lives. The truth, she learned, was far more complicated than what was often shown on TV and published in major media. Garzón fuelled Castro to seek out the stories of underrepresented voices. In 1999 her hero Jaime Garzón was killed.
“In a country where the war was also being fought in the media,” says Castro, “I wanted to find stories of peace.” Her desire to look beyond the black and white portrayal of current affairs in Colombia led her at the age of 16 to study journalism at the Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia. By 18, she started writing about university life for the newspaper El Tiempo Caribe. Later, she spent many sleepless nights working on El Punto, a student paper she helped to create.
After graduating Castro worked with children, helping them to develop better media literacy. She also produced a children’s television series for Telecaribe. Kids in the series would talk about civil war, peace, and culture. Castro says she would love to bring media literacy programming like this to Germany.
As is the case for many young working-class Colombians, finding the resources to pay for school was challenging. Luckily for Castro she was offered a scholarship to pursue a master’s in multimedia journalism at Universidad del País Vasco in Bilbao, Spain.
Since completing her master’s, she has explored reporting in every medium, primarily working for outlets in Spain and Germany. Castro has been especially focused on covering Europe’s migration crisis and social movements. In addition to her daily reporting, Castro has recently been developing a multi-media series that profiles Syrian refugees who are artists and activists. Her hope is to continue to report on these topics while travelling across Latin America and Africa.
I’m grateful to IWMF for the opportunity to meet Vanessa Castro — we bonded quickly and I sincerely hope we remain lifelong friends. She is a quiet, thoughtful and sincere person, so it was very easy to open up quickly. I imagine it’s one of the many things that makes her a good journalist.
During our initial days of training together in Mexico it was amazing to realize that despite growing up in very different social political climates, we share many of the same struggles. We both have considered throwing in the towel after facing the hardship of navigating the industry, and in Vanessa’s case also the trauma of reporting on the often deadly and devastating mass migrations into Europe. I’m glad she has kept going.
For Castro journalism is more than a profession, “it’s a calling that requires great stubbornness, perseverance, humility and above all empathy.”
Dagna Gallinger, 2019 Honduras Fellow