Master of Journalism
School of Journalism and Communication
As an international student from Abuja, Nigeria, Halima Sogbesan initially found it hard to adjust to Canada when she arrived in September 2015. She found the crisp fall weather intolerably cold and she missed familiar foods and her family.
But by the end of her first year, she returned to Nigeria with a scholarship and a mission: to find and report on a group of women whose stories are rarely heard—those who escape the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. She tells their story in a multimedia web project entitled Finding Home: The Long Road Back from Boko Haram Captivity.
What motivated you to tell the stories of these women?
I got into journalism because I wanted to tell the most important stories from my country, especially the stories of people whose voices aren’t heard, and this provided the perfect opportunity for that.
In particular, I wanted to do something about Boko Haram and the women they’ve abducted. Most people have heard of the Chibok schoolgirls, who were kidnapped from their school in 2014. But there are many other victims, as well, and I wanted people to hear from them.
You sought out and interviewed women who had escaped their captors. Some were in Internally Displaced Persons Camps in their own country. What did you learn from them?
We think of the horror of being kidnapped, but I don’t think people realize the horrors they face when they return home. Many are stigmatized; people are fearful of them. There is no trauma counseling or professional help, so they have to struggle to find life—find home—again. Sadly, I think many will never find it.
Did anything surprise you?
I was surprised by how unemotional they were about their experiences. One woman, Fatima, told me about how her husband was killed. I wasn’t sure I understood her because she spoke so casually about it.
Another woman, Maryam, was just 17-years-old and had only escaped three weeks earlier. She talked about her harrowing experiences in a matter-of-fact tone. I couldn’t understand how they could be so strong, but so many people in Northeastern Nigeria have been affected by Boko Haram, that I think they feel they shouldn’t complain.
How did your experience in the School of Journalism help prepare you for this experience?
There were so many things: I learned how to find sources, ask the right questions, use technology and especially how to tell the story in a way that did their stories justice. I hope I did that.
I was also fortunate to receive the Diane King Stuemer Scholarship, which provided $10,000 for my travel and research. I couldn’t have done this story without that support.
What did you learn about your own country in doing this project?
It made me realize how much more work Nigerians have to do. It’s a terrible crisis and the government just isn’t strong enough to deal with the killings, the Internally Displaced Persons Camps, and the women in captivity.
When I shared the project with my father, he said, “Our country failed these people.”
Most people know the basic story, but the beauty of in-depth reporting is that you can dig deeper, can ask how and why, and tell stories that wouldn’t make it into the news every day.
You’ve had the chance to work as an intern in a number of different newsrooms in Canada. Do you plan to return to Nigeria eventually?
I’m willing to go anywhere in the world to tell important stories. But at the end of the day, I am definitely going back. That’s why I got into journalism in the first place.
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