Op-Ed: Teaching Peace Journalism in Ethiopia

Opinion: Steven Youngblood is the founding director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Parkville, Missouri USA, where he is a communications professor. He has organized and taught peace journalism seminars and workshops around the world.

Sometimes, peace and peacebuilding comes in the most unexpected places.

After months of meticulous planning, I had a pretty good idea that our peace journalism project might make an impact on professional journalists and on my students at the University of Gondar UoG, Ethiopia, where I was based. At minimum, I knew I’d have their attention, since civic unrest, including a state of emergency and protesters shot dead by police, has roiled Ethiopia for several years.

But I hadn’t expected the most significant impact of the project would be on ten 7th graders attending the Gondar Community School.

Why was I in Ethiopia? In the fall of 2017, I was named a U.S. Senior Subject Specialist for Peace Journalism in Ethiopia. This project was launched by the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University, the U.S. Embassy-Addis Ababa, and UoG.

I came to the capital Addis Ababa in mid-January, and taught several workshops there before moving on to Gondar. At UoG, I taught two courses, and also presented a peace journalism seminar in April. I also traveled to Bahir Dar (February), Hawassa (March), and Mekelle (April) to deliver peace journalism workshops for university students, professors, and professional media staff. In total, my peace journalism seminars reached about 310 students, academics, and journalists.

These meetings and workshops were successful in planting the seeds of responsible peace journalism, which by definition is when reporters and editors make choices that can create an atmosphere conducive to peace. These choices include avoiding inflammatory language as well as rejecting story frames that exacerbate already tense or violent situations. Peace journalists pledge to give a voice to the voiceless and to peacemakers, and to provide a platform for society to evaluate solutions and to consider non-violent responses to conflict. (For much more, see: http://www.park.edu/peacecenter ).

When I wasn’t working with professional journalists or my students at UoG, I was engaged with a group of seventh graders at the University of Gondar Community School. For about two months, my co-advisors Peggy Landers, Habtie Marew, and I met with the kids once a week to present the basics of journalism and peace journalism and of producing a newspaper. Then, the students organized themselves into a newspaper staff, and went out to report, shoot pictures, etc. Using these materials, they produced their school’s first student newspaper, in English. I was thrilled by the paper produced by the students, and by their enthusiasm. I was even more thrilled when, during our last meeting, the newspaper staff began planning for the second issue of their newspaper.

I strongly believe that the best peacebuilding initiatives breach boundaries (national, racial, religious, etc.) and create new connections among people. That’s exactly what happened with our seventh graders, who not only absorbed peace journalism’s lessons, but came away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world around them, including, I hope, America and Americans. I know the reverse was true; that the students helped me bridge the Ethiopian and American cultures, and to deeply appreciate and respect them as journalists and young people.

Our seventh graders reminded me that sometimes peacebuilding happens in ways you least expect it, and that these serendipitous outcomes are often the most satisfying.

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