So far my journey with Umthathi has started by sitting in on workshops that the organisation runs with their ‘facilitators’, as well as numerous discussions, introductions and getting to know the people who make this project work. I haven’t experienced any hands on action within the community yet, but I’m itching to do so.
I believe the community I will be working with have some great stories to tell, both of difficulties and successes. This is especially intriguing for me as a journalist as I believe in the value of understanding the world through other peoples experiences. Because of this I hope to learn about Umthathi through the eyes of the facilitators and the community members they work with. Above all, I hope, through hearing people tell their stories about individual gardens, to learn about the passion that goes into their cultivation.
One challenge that I will face is that of the language barrier, as I’m not fluent in isiXhosa, but where there is a will, there is a way, so I intend to utilise my colleague, Litha, who speaks isiXhosa as much as possible. I also sense a slight unease and shyness with the Umthathi facilitators in expressing their personal knowledge and stories; but I have faith that as we continue to get involved and establish relationships this barrier can be broken down over time. I sense that some of this apprehensiveness stems from previous negative experiences that Umthathi staff have had with journalists. It is possible that these experiences have left them feeing used and exploited for the journalist’s own needs and that no lasting benefits have been created for Umthathi. This intrigues and challenges me. For me, the most beneficial form of journalism is that in which long term relationships are formed. Through such journalism one can get to grips with issues at a more fundamental level, by telling people’s stories as they are experienced on the ground, everyday. These methods have the potential to create journalism which has lasting benefits for all those involved. For this reason I am especially excited that this lasts over a number of months. I particularly want to challenge myself to offer the community media exposure that is lasting and can continue to be worked on once I finish this course. Such work could have increasing benefits for both Umthathi and the community they operate in.
Hopefully when I look back later on my time spent with Umthathi, I’ll have a sense of accomplishment, not only because I have helped them to establish long-term strategies for media exposure, but also because of what the experience will have taught me as a young aspiring journalist in South Africa. If I accomplished this, it would give me a great sense of fulfilment in my role as a young South African journalist.