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Jim Kelly
IU School of Journalism

Last modified: Monday, July 25, 2011

IU journalism students return from Kenya with stories, better understanding of HIV/AIDS epidemic

July 25, 2011

Editors: Print-quality versions of these and other photographs associated with the Kenya class project are available. Articles available at can be republished with permission from Professor Jim Kelly.

Kenya Course

Photo by Christina Kratzner

A hearing and visually impaired woman who lives with HIV lays strips of Oprah Winfrey's "O" magazine on a thin layer of glue to begin making beads. Through AMPATH's Imani Workshop, she has an opportunity to sell beads and provide for her daughter. (Photo by Christina Kratzner)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A dozen students from Indiana University's School of Journalism recently returned from Kenya, where they and their professor reported on the African continent's continuing HIV/AIDS epidemic and learned about the Kenyan culture by partnering with Moi University students.

Since 2000, Jim Kelly, an associate professor of journalism, has organized reporting workshops in South Asia and Africa for working journalists covering social issues such as HIV/AIDS. This summer and for the second year, Kelly took a class of IU students to Eldoret, Kenya, home to the IU-Kenya Partnership.

The students have published their reporting online at and hope their articles and photographs draw worldwide attention to the issue.

Students in the advanced reporting class arrived in Eldoret on May 21 and soon thereafter were paired with 12 communications students from Moi University. The two-person reporting teams spent the next two weeks collecting interviews, recording audio and video and making photographs.

They interviewed rural residents, medical professionals and agency leaders, including many involved with Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), a health care partnership between the medical schools at IU and Moi University that is saving the lives of thousands in western Kenya.

Kenya Course

The J460 Reporting on HIV/AIDS in Africa class from Indiana University's School of Journalism crossed the equator as they traveled from Eldoret to Nairobi. (Photo by James D. Kelly)

Print-Quality Photo

"Intercultural communication necessarily involves a bit more stress than when one is dealing with the familiar," Kelly said. "The students quickly became friends. They were excited to meet someone from another culture and were surprised by how similar their partner was to themselves.

"Reporting about an epidemic of this scope was certainly new to the IU students," Kelly added. "But much of what the students were seeing and learning was also quite surprising to the Kenyans. They are middle-class college students too. Few had much knowledge of AMPATH and few had any first-hand experience with the problems that afflict the poor here.

"Going into the slums was as eye-opening for them as for our students -- and perhaps more stressful -- since it is their country they are seeing, rather than some foreign land that they will soon depart."

Eldoret, a city of 200,000 in western Kenya in the Rift Valley Province, is the fastest growing city in Kenya and currently is the fifth largest in Kenya. It was the scene of considerable violence after the 2007 national elections. In January 2008 a mob attacked and set fire to a church where hundreds of people had taken refuge from mob violence in the streets. As many as 40 people were burned to death.

The student reporting teams focused on weighty topics. One student reporting team spent days reporting on the street children of Eldoret, who often live in garbage dumps and sniff glue to stay warm and suppress their hunger. Other teams spent their days in the Eldoret slums to report on child-headed households and the plight of those still displaced by the post-election violence of 2008.

Other teams went out to villages where AMPATH workers are testing for HIV or assisting HIV positive clients with their farms, their community support organizations and their small businesses. Most of the stories are about HIV/AIDS and the epidemic's far-reaching effects, but some are about other health issues such as nutrition, cancer, diabetes and clean water.

"Reporting in a Third World country has completely changed my idea of the role of a journalist," said Lauren Kastner, a junior from Columbus, Ind. "Before leaving on this trip I had to keep telling myself that I am not here to provide charity -- that instead the best aid we can provide to this region is to do what journalists do best: telling stories."

"This became even more of an internal struggle for me once we got there because many of the Kenyans that I encountered believed that I was a source of opportunity for them and because I am a white person or a 'mzungu,' that I could instantly solve their problems and pull them out of extreme poverty," she said.

"Kenya has shown me how open people can be and how many stories they are waiting to be told," Joseph Jackmovich, a graduate student from South Bend, Ind.

Kenya Course

Photo by Claire Shirley

Women at the Jaribu Mbele meeting gather to discuss finances and personal issues. They support each other with their counsel and their savings. (Photo by Claire Shirley)

While accuracy in reporting is something emphasized throughout an IU journalism student's four-year collegiate career, Kelly said his students had the extra pressure of knowing that they had to be absolutely accurate because "quite literally, lives hang in the balance.

"Many HIV positive people have bravely spoken on the record about how they have struggled and been helped," he said. "Many more want to tell their story, but justifiably fear the stigma that is attached to anyone who is known to be HIV positive. Unlike a story about a baseball game or a feature about a community event in Bloomington, an error in reporting here on this topic can have serious, life-altering effects on the source."

For the first two weeks of the course, students met daily in Bloomington to learn about the basic pathology of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the history of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) with particular attention to sub-Saharan Africa, and the current programs and other efforts aimed at addressing the worldwide epidemic. They also learned about the culture of east Africa and about the media laws of Kenya.

Guest speakers included people from AMPATH in Indianapolis, Postive Link in Bloomington and a Kenyan graduate student in journalism who previously was a journalist in Nairobi, Kenya. Kelly also invited a HIV-positive man from Bloomington to join the class for an hour so every student would know at least one American living with HIV before they arrived in Africa.

Kenya Course

Photo by Lauren Kastner

A food distribution store worker fills a prescription for fresh leafy vegetables such as black nightshade while clients wait in line for their turn. (Photo by Lauren Kastner)

The third, fourth and fifth weeks of the class were spent in Kenya. In addition to working on projects with students from Moi University, they traveled to Nairobi and met with reporters and editors at the nation's largest newspapers and international news agencies based there. They then returned to Bloomington where they finished their stories and then posted them online today (July 25).

Kelly said a major objective for his reporting workshops, including the IU class trips, has been to inform future reporting on the epidemic in new ways. Elvia Malagon, a graduating senior from East Chicago, Ind., said she now has a better understanding of the virus.

"Before starting this course, I knew basic information about HIV/AIDS but did not know anyone who was openly living with HIV," said Malagon, now a reporter at The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla. "Now I have seen first-hand how HIV/AIDS alters entire families. Although I could never fully grasp the amount of strength the people I interviewed have, it has been touching to be able to hear the different stories of how HIV/AIDS has changed people's lives. This trip has made me more aware of the epidemic. I hope this trip will allow me to better report HIV/AIDS stories in America as well."

The class was financially underwritten by the School of Journalism and its alumni who contribute to the school's several international experiences courses.