Despite difficult conditions, mentorship program thrives in Central Africa

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Earth Journalism Network, Central African Republic

Against the challenging backdrop of reporting in the civil war-torn Central African Republic (CAR), young journalists are determined to focus attention on another pressing issue: the environment. As part of the Earth Journalism Network's mentorship program, these budding reporters are learning new skills, acquiring new knowledge and educating their country about the dangers of climate change.

When Bienvenu Gbelo and I first began to communicate over Skype, lowbandwidth cut our meeting short, but I could sense that he was an excited and committed journalist willing to gain new perspectives to tell the climate story as it affects his country. After several unsuccessful attempts, we finally had an opportunity to review our knowledge gaps and determine how we could best learn from each other.

“Pour le moment j'ai des difficultés pour un angle de reportage,” (At the moment, I have challenges related to reporting angles), Bienvenu told me during our exchange. I was impressed with his sincerity and immediately concluded he was the suitable candidate for the mentorship program.

Straight away, we exchanged thoughts on the political, social, and economic components of climate change. Specifically, we examined practical ways in which climate change affects young people in the C

entral African Republic. I asked him if he was familiar with the Central African Republic’s climate plan to be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As he reflected on a response, I provoked him to think of potential impacts of climate change on women and indigenous communities in his country.

Among a list of issues we agreed to work on, Bienvenu opted to start with what I considered perhaps more challenging – an interview with the CAR minister handling the climate portfolio. We reviewed potential questions and thanks to his industrious approach, Bienvenu secured an interview with Sébastien Wenezoui, the Central African Minister for Environment, Ecology and Sustainable Development. Not only was the interview broadcast on Radio Ndeke Luka in the Capital Bangui, it was also featured

on InfoCongo, Central Africa’s pioneer interactive mapping news platform focused primarily on environmental issues.

Under the mentorship program, Bienvenu has gone on to produce a story on the involvement of African youth in the negotiations and is currently working on a feature focusing on the impact of climate change on local women in the outskirts of Bangui.

Bienvenu’s story does not only speak to challenges facing many reporters in the broader Central African region, but also to opportunities to build the capacity of young journalists to critically tackle climate change issues.

In contrast, Yaoundé-based Elias Ngalame is not new to environmental reporting. At the start of his mentorship program, I was not immediately sure what he wanted or enhance his understanding of these critical issues. “Learning is a continuous process,” he wrote to me. “There are many emerging issues in the area of climate change and it is always important to master new techniques and tools to improve our reporting,” he said. Four months after we started working together, he has produced more stories than I expected:

These stories have been published on different platforms in his native Cameroon and abroad.

Online or virtual mentorship in a region experiencing acute low bandwidth difficulties could be incredibly frustrating. Two of the mentors we started the journey together dropped out as a result of communications-related challenges.

However, another mentee based in the Democratic Republic of Congo has refused to let the poor internet connection affect her progress. When our Skype calls don’t work, Augustine Kasambule attempts to connect via email or phone. She leverages all tools at her disposal to get answers to her questions.

This determination to learn, gain new skills and improve are the main reasons why there is a bright future for climate change reporting in the Central African region.