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Young journalists give Africans a reason to smile

by Archives January 26, 2005

Paying someone to shut up here in Canada can help give a voice to the oppressed in Africa.

Nationwide university chapters of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) – a charitable organization dedicated to supporting African journalists – are uniting to recognize the victims of human rights abuses around the world.

“Speak Silence” is JHR’s latest fundraising campaign. It challenges its members and supporters to take a collective vow of silence in blocks of 12 hours, for up to 48 hours, in recognition of those who cannot speak about their suffering.

“It’s symbolic,” said Nelly Bassily, a third-year Journalism student and president of JHR’s Concordia chapter. “I’m doing it for 24 hours and it’s going to be quite a feat for me because I like to talk […] You’d be surprised at how many people would pay to make you zip it.” By coming together in silent solidarity from Feb. 9-11, JHR hopes to raise awareness of human rights issues around the world.

“We need funds to get students to places like Zambia and Ghana,” explained Laura Lovasik, a fourth-year Journalism student and public relations executive for Concordia’s JHR. Once there, students are set up in workshops with local journalists that help provide them with tools to report concretely and accurately about human rights issues. These workshops are designed and developed in consultation with African human rights experts, Non-Governmental Organizations and the media.

“They don’t know that female genital mutulation is not hygeneic, or that it should actually be abolished,” Lovasik explained.

The mission’s aim is to educate Africans about their rights and improve journalistic practices in their countries. In the long run, JHR is determined to ensure the African media becomes a more effective watchdog of their government and society. For there to be peace, security, and a strong democratization process, JHR believes that public and media awareness must extend beyond African borders. Ultimately, the establishment of programs, training seminars and newspaper supplements will enhance both the quality and quantity of human rights for those reporting on the continent.

JHR was founded in May 2002 in Canada, and presently operates in Ghana, Benin and Senegal. Concordia joined last September after Bassily initiated talks with Ben Peterson and Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque, co-founders of JHR. Eleven other university chapters are involved, including McGill, Ryerson and York universities.

“If we can get a good 30 people from each chapter, it would be great,” said Bassily. On Feb. 9, JHR will be on the mezzanine with several different performances scheduled, including mime acts to reflect the theme of the fundraiser. “It’ll be funny and witty,” Bassily said.

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