Writing about the benefits of orange sweet potatoes may not have been on Emma Bider’s mind when she was taking her first journalism class at Carleton.
But last summer, Bider found herself immersed in the particulars of the sweet potato as an intern at a small-town radio station in the West African country of Burkina Faso.
“They were using radio as a medium to encourage subsistent farmers to plant a type of sweet potato that is more nutritious than the red or white ones they typically plant,” said Bider, who was one of several journalism students who took part in an annual internship with the group Farm Radio International in Africa. “That trip changed the course of my studies and possibly my life. Now I’m planning to pursue a Master’s in Anthropology.”
Bider is one of dozens of students who have participated in the Centre for Media and Transitional Societies internship program since its inception in 2006. The program is organized by Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication.
The internship program began as part of a Carleton partnership with the National University of Rwanda and has since expanded to include placements across Africa and this year, in other locations in the developing world. This year, Carleton is partnering with WUSC and Farm Radio International on the program.
“Over the years these internships have provided our students with life-changing experiences and a rare opportunity early in their careers to live and work in the developing world,’’ said Prof. Allan Thompson, who established the original Rwanda project and continues to oversee the internships. “The CMTS initiative successfully advances the university’s strategic priority of providing students with opportunities to be knowledgeable, active citizens in the global community,” says School of Journalism and Communication Associate Director Susan Harada. This year’s participants will spend at least two months in countries such as Sri Lanka, Malawi, Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Ghana, or Tanzania.
Journalism alumna Marina von Stackelberg (‘14) has undertaken two of the internships, beginning with an assignment at a new television network in Kigali, Rwanda in the summer of 2013.
“I was assigned to the first independent television news station in the country,” says von Stackelberg . “It was really exciting to be doing stories about Rwanda for Rwandans. It informed my experience as a reporter to see how the media works in other parts of the world.”
On her second internship in 2014, von Stackelberg traveled to Ghana, where she joined Farm Radio International’s campaign to promote the use of the orange sweet potato.
Like Emma Bider in Burkina Faso, she served as a communications officer for the group: taking photos, interviewing farmers and radio broadcasters, and recording cooking shows.
Bider says she was struck by the professionalism of the broadcasters. “They were using radio as a means to disseminate the message. They interviewed farmers about the planting, experts about the nutrition, and then everyday cooks about how they were cooking the sweet potatoes.”
Sometimes, they themselves were the focus of attention, says Marina. “You’re trying to be a fly on the wall, but it was hard not to stand out. Local reporters wanted to talk to me and children would yell to me while I was recording.”
After two internships with the program, von Stackelberg recommends it to incoming students. “This was one of the reasons I chose to come to Carleton—just to have the chance to do this,” she says. “We were able to help farmers improve their livelihoods.”
The internships provide students with a $3,000 scholarship to offset travel and living costs. Support for the program comes from the School of Journalism, the Faculty of Public Affairs, FGPA, the Provost/VP Academic, and the Reader’s Digest Foundation.