INTERVIEW: How Our ‘Unusual Journalism’ Is Changing Lives Of IDPs In Kenya — 24-Year-Old Journalist

In the heart of Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya, a young Sudanese journalist is making waves with her unique approach to community reporting. NIRA ISMAIL, a 24-year-old, has become a powerful voice for the displaced and a vital link between the diverse refugee communities and humanitarian agencies in the region.

Working with Sikika Radio, a two-way communication service implemented by DW Akademie, Nira is part of an innovative project that began in 2019. Sikika, which means “be heard” in Swahili, aims to improve access to information and increase participation for people affected by displacement, including both refugees and host communities.

Nira’s work goes beyond traditional journalism. Through her role as a community reporter, she not only informs but also empowers, holding humanitarian organisations accountable and bridging gaps in communication with IDPs.

In this interview with TAYO OLU at the 2024 DW Global Media Forum (GMF) in Bonn, Germany, Nira shares her experiences, challenges, and the unique impact of what she calls “unusual journalism” in the world’s largest refugee camp. Excerpts…

As a community reporter, I am the voice of the community and a link between the communities and humanitarian agencies in Kakuma. I also promote unity among the host community and the refugees who are in Kenya where we are.

What inspired me is the fact that we are diverse. We have a bunch of people from everywhere and I have always been happy about it. I always like, OK, if we are this diverse, we can learn from each other and we can collaborate but then in diversity also comes a lot of conflict and sensitivity. You have to be very careful when you are threading the waters of diverse countries or communities.

So, I decided to get into community reporting because I would have a bigger and better voice to be able to tell my fellow youths or tell the refugees, the host, and the agencies to collaborate and also hold the agencies accountable when it comes to providing services to the refugees.

My biggest impact is the fact that, as I have said, is holding these organisations accountable and also improving the services that the refugees get in Kakuma.

What I mean by that is that there are instances…for example, the main challenge is water shortage. I wouldn’t lie, Kakuma is a semi-arid area so we have to rely on water provided to us at designated times during the day.

So, it gets to a point now when the agencies stay in town and then there is the camp area. So, before the agencies realise that in a certain area there is no water or the pipe has burst due to the heat or something, it takes weeks. And you could find in that area people go without water and they have to travel long distances of about two hours to go get water elsewhere and that has exposed women who actually get this water into a lot of crimes and issues, maybe they could be raped along their way or a man would come and just harass them.

And as a reporter, I get to learn there is no water in certain areas and since I have a direct link to the agencies, I know who is working on the water and sanitation and how I can get them, I go talk to them and be like ‘hey my people, there’s no water in this area, could you come to check it out’. So, they go check it out and fix it and people have water.

So, I think it’s providing solution and impacting other people in my community.

Woo, hahaa. Diversity can also be a challenge, I won’t lie. We have to produce our content in more than five languages because people come from other places. There are countries that don’t speak English, Swahili and they only know their national language and mother tongue right? But in that we’ve also adapted to it. We decided to come up with a solution where we have different nationalities represented as community reporters.

For example, I am a Nubian, I am from Sudan and I represent my people. So, when it comes to a programme that directly impacts my people, I can do it in Arabic, I can do it in Swahili and I can do it in English.

We also have someone from The Congo. If it’s a programme or things that directly affect their people, then they can do it in either French or their languages like Lingala, English or Swahili because they also understand these languages.

When it comes to the host community, there are also Kenyans (reporters). Someone can also do that. So, that has been the biggest challenge. The other is getting the trust of the agencies. It has always been hard for international humanitarian organisations to work with or bring communities on board when it comes to solutions and decision-making or things affecting the refugees.

I remember when it started in 2020, it took us at least one or two years for them (the agencies) to realise that what we were doing was actually important for them and for the refugees as well.

So, that has been a challenge but right now, we are in a very great position, I could say, with them.

This programme is actually by DW Akademie, so when it comes to international recognition, I could say so. They are the ones who fund the project for us but we want to be an independent refugee-led media house in Kakuma. That is what we are working towards and coming to this forum (DW GMF) is actually one of the ways I want to interact with people and get another funding for us, where we can now go independent and not be a DW Akademie project.

It’s actually a podcast. A podcast but it’s not online because Kakuma is analogue. People do not use Spotify or YouTube as much, so what we do is produce our content in say six or seven feature stories on things that are directly impacting the communities. And then we have three hundred listener groups and those three hundred, you’d find we have around 20 to 30 people and these people are situated in different parts of Kakuma, the camp.

So, with that, after producing the content we syndicate to them because we’ve distributed radios to them. And then we have a WhatsApp (group, channel) so we upload our programme on a memory card and then call them together every week on Friday. Now we do like the rounds by going to each community and making them listen to it. And then after the programme, that’s where we get the feedback and that informs our next programme and which topics to focus on and how we can deliver more instead of just focusing on the normal journalism.

So, it is different from journalism all over the world.

I am 24 years old. I graduated with a diploma in communications and media studies from Kenyata University, Nairobi.

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