Storytelling Abroad: SPH and COM Students to Report from Guam and Vietnam.
Storytelling Abroad: SPH and COM Students to Report from Guam and Vietnam
Sara Mar and Eliza Billingham are the first fellows since 2019 to travel internationally as 2022 Pulitzer Center Student Reporting Fellows.
Sara Mar of SPH and Eliza Billingham of the BU College of Communication are going global this summer as Pulitzer Center reporting fellows to document public health stories in two places that don’t often make US news—Guam and Vietnam.
Each took the Global Health Storytelling course that is an interdisciplinary collaboration among the School of Public Health (BUSPH), College of Communication (COM), and the Pulitzer Center. BU has been a member of the Pulitzer Center’s Campus Consortium since 2011. The Pulitzer Center Student Reporting Fellowship provides young storytellers with funding, training, support, and a mentor. Since 2011, the Pulitzer Center has hosted 27 BU students as reporting fellows.
“The stories that Sara and Eliza proposed are a perfect fit for the Pulitzer Center ethos of telling nuanced stories that really matter but don’t often make into the headlines or stay there for long. They are both natural storytellers and careful researchers. I can’t wait to read their work,” wrote Jennifer Beard, BUSPH clinical associate professor in the Department of Global Health, who co-teaches the course with Anne Donohue, COM associate professor for journalism.
Mar, a recent health policy and law MPH graduate, plans to travel to Guam in July where they will report an environmental justice story about the public health impacts of military occupation on the people of Guam. Mar’s proposal grew from a 2021 series they published as a Public Health Post fellow.
“We still aren’t really talking about the health of Pacific Islanders and people living in the US territories,” Mar said. “The initial proposal was to explore the impacts of open burning and open detonation on the health of indigenous communities.”
Mar said the US Air Force filed a permit to burn and detonate munitions on Guam, which has been challenged by indigenous advocacy groups who filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the work. Mar plans to explore the military activity’s impact on a drinking water aquifer, people who attribute their cancer to military operations, and to follow where the story takes them in the two weeks they’ll be on the island.
“It will be important when I’m there to get a sense of the place, try to interview people and places that are meaningful to them and document what it is actually like on the ground,” Mar said.
Billingham will travel to Vietnam in August to report a story about a drug rehabilitation center just outside Hanoi, the capital city. She previously visited the center when she was teaching English in the area.
“They have a very optimistic view of the way God heals and sets free from drug addiction. It was founded by men who had this kind of experience,” Billingham said, adding that rehabilitation options are typically limited to government-run centers. Billingham’s project will explore the faith-based center that expands options for people living with addiction, and often also HIV.
Billingham said she thinks her previous connections in Vietnam helped her fellowship application. She’s familiar with the area, has a place to stay, a translator, and knows how to drive the common local form of transportation—a motor bike, something she’s looking forward to doing again, she said.
“I’m also mostly excited to hear about these stories of people who want to be rehabilitated from their addiction. I think that takes an incredible amount of strength,” said Billingham, who is expected to complete her master of journalism degree later this year. “I want to be a responsible, good conduit for their life experiences if they’re willing to share.”
Mar and Billingham will share their reporting projects in October at a Pulitzer Center event in Washington DC, and hope to have them published in a major media outlet, something the support from the Pulitzer Center and their BU coursework is training them for.
“I think the Global Health Storytelling course prepares them well for unpacking complex public health stories in a way that makes sense to a broader general audience. We emphasize the power of STORY, characters, scenes, a narrative arc, to draw us in to an issue that a typical public health publication might fill more with stats, data, research methods, etc.,” wrote Donohue, who will retire in December. “I hope this collaboration continues for a very long time. It has been the highlight of the last ten years of my career.”
Beard concurred with the interdisciplinary advantages of the collaboration. “The public health students learn how to personalize their population-based perspective and temper their urge to advocate by talking to fascinating people who have a great deal to say, listening to them closely, and writing stories that shine a light on both problems and solutions,” Beard wrote. “And the journalism students learn how to bring a global, population and evidence-based perspective to their narratives.”
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