South Sudan is a very difficult place to practice journalism, but that hasn’t stopped young students from launching themselves into media careers.
“I learned that we have to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute,” said journalist Florence Arile.
Arile is one of 19 students who recently graduated from the very first class of the Media Development Institute (MDI), which operates under the auspices of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS). MDI has long been the dream of the media sector in South Sudan – an institute that would leave short-term, ad-hoc journalism training projects behind, and establish the first South Sudanese journalism training center, initiated and run by the South Sudanese media community itself.
“Looking back at history of South Sudan, there has never been a school that purely trains journalists,” said Michael Duku, executive director of AMDISS. “Many journalists are already practicing, but they don’t have official formal training. This earns them a good reputation from institutions, the media sector, from the entire country, that they have fulfilled a requirement, that they have achieved a certain level.”
While the idea of the institute has been a dream of the sector for more than a decade, MDI was finally established in 2014. After the curriculum was designed and the instructors hired, the MDI class of 2016 began its journalism certificate program in February. Four instructors – two of them South Sudanese professionals - taught on eight different modules, with each of the modules taught in four weeks (20 days) of full time classroom lessons. 19 students, including four women, graduated after nine months of intense study in November 2016. Eighty percent of them have already been retained by media houses.
“I have said one too many times how much of a difference MDI has brought to my life,” said graduate Martha Elizabeth Agama, who has been a practicing journalist for more than three years. “I did not know at the time that this would be a turning point for me. The hands-on training and out-of-the box ideas challenged me to be better and ever professional.”
While the current climate for journalists in South Sudan is quite challenging, Duku said the course left the students even more impassioned about the field than ever. “In the beginning, some of them, with the current situation, were afraid. But after getting into it, they are even more interested, and are digging deeper. We always encourage them, bring them role models, to inspire them, give them courage. It is difficult, but if you do it in a professional way, you can prosper. These students want to go and continue and do it with passion.”
MDI is supported by the USAID-funded i-STREAM project implemented by Internews.