The right to be heard

The stories I have heard from refugees are heartbreaking. One day, during a rare break on the ground, I sat with an IWMF administrator at the entrance to Nyumanzi transit center, where thousands of new arrivals camped in tents while awaiting transfer to a settlement. My colleague (who is not a journalist) remarked how difficult it is to insert herself into someone else’s life and story, asking questions and taking pictures. It feels intrusive. But she wondered how it felt as a journalist. I told her yes, it is difficult, and it does often feel intrusive. But if someone says no, I stop taking pictures, and I don’t force an interview on someone who doesn’t want it. There is also a flip side to the perceived intrusion. I told her about the many times I have worked on stories involving people with tragic histories and NGOs trying to help them. And I told her that often, NGOs aim to protect their “clients’” privacy by keeping journalists away (or regulating how interviews are conducted). The right to privacy is a legitimate right. But so is the right to free speech. And I told her that I often find people really want to share their stories—even after NGOs or authorities try to prevent them. They want an audience. They want people to know what they have endured. And they want someone to listen because no one ever has. That right—that need—deserves just as much respect as the right to keep a story private.

To all the South Sudanese and Ugandans who shared their lives with me this month, I thank you. I hope your words will reach many eyes and ears, and people who want to hear you.