Galvin Zaldivar, Senior Reporter

Uganda hosts the largest refugee population in Africa and that leaves children vulnerable.

Humber post-graduate journalism certificate students Lucy Lau and Harmony Multani, along with Humber Journalism professor Heather Kelly, partnered with a Danish university to report on the work being done to end systemic violence against children in Uganda.

Three in four young adults have experienced some form of violence during childhood in Uganda, according to the 2018 Uganda Violence Against Children (VAC) Survey, a joint study by the African country and UNICEF of 5,804 children between the ages of 13 to 24.

Humber Journalism student Lucy Lau (left) and Journalism Professor Heather Kelly speak to Leilah Bbaale, chief news editor and journalist trainer at Spice FM, a radio station in Hoima, Uganda, that broadcasts information for refugees (Harmony Multani).

“I think (the survey) says 80 per cent of children are abused,” Multani said. The survey found three of four young adults experienced violence during childhood. One in four young adults reported being sexually abused aged 13 or younger.

Lau said there are more than 1.4 million refugees in Uganda, the most of any African nation.

“And that is also linked to the instances of violence and children that is experienced here because many of these refugees come from a degree of trauma and … the violence in their own lives kind of plays a part in the issue here as well,” she said.

The Denmark Uganda Vietnam Exchange (DUVE) aims to create teaching tools and materials to educate students and professionals in communities where children are vulnerable. The project is funded through the European Union’s Erasmus+ Programme and led by Denmark’s University College Absalon.

Jaspreet Bal, a Child and Youth Care professor at Humber, said she was invited to be part of the project to provide a Canadian perspective.

“So, we’re creating just a whole bunch of different components to it,” she said. “Folks are just visiting each other’s countries or seminars and workshops, and then we’re all working to create … a website with multiple e-learning modules about violence against children in different countries, so different practitioners could use them on the ground.”

Humber post-graduate journalism certificate students Harmony Multani (pictured left) and Lucy Lau capture the sunset during their first night in Kampala. (Heather Kelly)

Bringing these different perspectives, knowledge and experiences together, helped challenge the preconceptions of all involved, Bal said.

Humber sent postgraduate journalism students Lau and Multani, along with Kelly, to Uganda on Jan. 10 to document the work of DUVE.

“This project is threefold for us,” Lau said. “The first part of the project is producing video content for them that they can share on a future website that illustrates the work they’re doing here on the issue of violence against children and the learning materials and the workshops that they’re facilitating.”

Their work over that week will also count towards their independent study course, where they will expand on the issue of violence against children, she said.

In conducting their research and preparations, Lau said they found Uganda is the host of the largest number of refugees in Africa.

Multani said participating in documenting DUVE is exactly the kind of journalism she wanted to practice.

“I wanted to get into journalism because I wanted to capture these stories around the world that are potentially making change,” she said. “And so as soon as this opportunity came up, I was really passionate about applying for it.”

Humber Journalism student Lucy Lau interviews Kenneth Okwir, country director for Internews Uganda, about Internews’s work with Uganda’s refugee population, while Harmony Multani, also a Humber Journalism student, handles camera duties. (Heather Kelly)

Lau said being able to test her skills in real life, high-pressure situations on such a project, has been a fantastic opportunity.

“I really applied to this program so I can improve my shooting and editing skills,” she said. “And I feel like I’ve really had the opportunity for that here and being pushed into the deep end, I think is one of the best ways to learn because you’re forced to adapt, you’re forced to work and think and troubleshoot quickly on your feet.”

To help prepare Lau and Multani with what to expect while working on DUVE, Bal said she spoke with the journalism students as they were heading over there and explained the project to them.

“I was able to share a child and youth care approach to working internationally,” she said.

In talking with Lau, Multani and Kelly, Bal said she cautioned about falling into the trap of “poverty pornography” when intimate images of suffering, especially those of children, are used to elicit pity.

She said the journalists need to employ a “cultural humility” framework that involves understanding the cultural identities of the people in the study while acknowledging their personal biases.

“We talked about how to be respectful, how to use a cultural humility framework and how to do international work involving children,” she said.