At the debriefing held from 15-18 July in Bangkok, the 11 fellows shared their initial findings from their field work and consulted with an editor to refine their stories produced under the fellowship.
Fellows from Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam spent three weeks in a second country in the region and to produce stories under this year’s theme, “Documenting threats to the rivers of Southeast Asia”.
Fellows went to different locations in five countries to feature a variety of issues affecting rivers, dam construction on the Mekong, oil plantations in Kalimantan in Indonesia, and urbanization in Singapore, ecotourism in Cambodia, and river management in Thailand, among others.
As they looked back on the immediate experience, they said that the fellowship allowed them to broaden their perspective on the region as well as learn how to work alone in a foreign country.
Furthermore, they expressed delight at the opportunity to dedicate three whole weeks of their time to uncover the details of their story. Previously, they have not allocated such an amount of time to cover a single topic of interest.
Fellows also maintained that the fellowship was rewarding because it increased their level of journalism. They had to work in a difficult, unfamiliar environment and getting information was challenging. Ultimately, they stated that overcoming these challenges made them better journalists.
The fellows stated that the language barrier was the main obstacle while covering their respective stories. Another problem was the reluctance of some people—be it officials or villagers—to speak and go on record.
Effective time-management and difficulties in working away from their comfort zones were also a common challenge for the fellows.
In some cases, surveillance by authorities and suspicion by locals was a concern. Some fellows relocated for this reason to avoid suspicion.
The challenging nature of the fellowship program was highlighted during the debriefing, as the fellows were entirely responsible for all aspects of developing their stories. They were expected to select the topic, conduct background research, interview people, write stories, and take pictures.
Nevertheless, they were grateful for the experience, for it increased their journalistic aptitude. (by Birat Lekhak, SEAPA Intern)