by Louisa Reynolds | 2014/15 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow
November 02, 2014
Not even when armed men showed up at Solange Lusiku’s house in the middle of the night, tied up her husband and seven children and stole the family’s savings, did she falter in her commitment to journalism and the pursuit of truth.
Lusiku, a 42-year old Congolese journalist and editor of independent newspaper Le Souverain, is a truly remarkable woman. This year she was chosen as one of the IWMF’s Courage in Journalism awardees and as I listened to her story during this year’s IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards in New York, I felt moved and inspired.
Serbian journalist Brankica Stankovic shared a similar story. Stankovic is an investigative journalist for TV B92 who has paid a heavy price for exposing the links between the mafia, politics and business in her country. Since 2009, she has received a number of threats against her life and even during the award ceremony she had to be accompanied by her four bodyguards.
CNN war correspondent Arwa Damon, who covered the civil war in Syria in 2012, shared her experiences as a female journalist in war torn countries and spoke about the importance of finding stories that put a human face to each conflict.
What these three women have in common is a passion for journalism and a determination to go out there and find the stories that truly matter even when doing so means risking their own lives.
Attending the award ceremony gave me a deeper understanding of what the IWMF is all about and made me feel honored to be part of the organization as this year’s Elizabeth Neuffer journalism fellow, a program named after IWMF Courage awardee Elizabeth Neuffer, who died in an accident while covering the Iraq war in 2003.
During my trip to New York I also attended the IWMF’s Founders Breakfast at the New York Times, where I had the opportunity to meet the journalists whose commitment to gender equality in the media led to the creation of the organization 25 years ago.
At this meeting I was asked to give a brief presentation about challenges and opportunities for freelance journalists and what the Neuffer Fellowship has meant for me.
I began working in Guatemala in 2006, first as a reporter for Inforpress Centroamericana and then for daily newspaper El Periódico. In 2011, I decided to start freelancing and I’ve never looked back. I love the freedom it gives me to pursue the stories that truly matter to me and I love being able to work on those stories without the constraints of an immediate deadline. But before I began my fellowship I felt I was at the point where I risked burning myself out. The crazy working hours, the fact that your home becomes your office, financial constraints and the security concerns associated with working in a dangerous country without the support of a news organization…. You reach a point when all of this takes its toll.
The fellowship has allowed me to make a pause in my career, return to academia and gain a deeper and more theoretical understanding of some of the issues I have reported on in Guatemala, such as human rights, transitional justice and gender violence.
It has also given me the opportunity to gain new skills such the use of multi-media to tell stories in a more dynamic and visually appealing way and the use of data analytics in the context of investigative reporting.
On a personal level, being here has given me the time and space to assess what I’ve done so far, what my priorities are and what I want to focus on when I return to Guatemala. A fellowship is a time for learning, reflection and self-discovery.