In Africa: Journalism, Adventure and Hope

I was recently granted the opportunity by The Beach Reporter, the paper I have been freelancing for over the past three years, to write a first-person account of two weeks in Benin, West Africa.

Alana with "House Mama" Catherine
who cares for six orphans
in Tanguieta, Benin, West Africa
As a reporter who leaves opinion and first-person pronouns out of my stories, it was both a challenge and an exciting opportunity. I traveled to Benin to visit a local nurse named Sarah Chapman who I met during an interview for the paper last year. She was in the process of raising money for her non-profit organization, Build a Better Benin, dedicated to improving the health and education of women and children in West Africa.

It is a worthy project, and she is a phenomenal woman, so we've been meeting weekly while she is in the L.A. area to talk about her story and translate her work and humor into book form. Her stories are not generic statistics; they are personal stories of love and struggle.

In November and December, it was time for me to travel halfway around the world to see what she does in person and meet the people in the story. I hope to finish the book and secure an agent and publisher within the year.

In the meantime, I'd love it if you read my account. It's brief, considering the timeline. Boiling two weeks of nonstop activity down to around 1300 words was difficult, to say the least, but it really speaks to a little bit of what I love about the people I met, the sense of wonder and adventure, and how I see my role as a journalist.

Here's a small tidbit from the article, Building Better Communities:

"The sky is alive in vibrant red and orange swatches of light, trickling into the deep red walls of mud huts and down to the terre rouge — the brownish maroon of the earth’s surface. The view is dotted with silhouettes of baobob trees and bobbing heads – large groups of children returning home from school, dressed alike in khaki public school uniforms. It is a vision of warmth and beauty, the browns and reds and oranges swirling together in perfect harmony.

The sounds of children laughing and goats bleeting punctuate the constant whir of motorcycle engines buzzing along dirt roads pocked with potholes. Dough sizzles in oiled pots along the side of the street, and clapping and song bounce off the walls.

This is dusk in Tanguieta, Benin in West Africa, on Thanksgiving night. I am surrounded by 11 children, 200 chickens, a dozen rabbits, goats, baby turkeys, a dog with pink-painted toenails, a nurse from Hermosa Beach, an uneducated “house mama” who cares for six orphans, and the pastor who has vowed to give them a better life. This is heaven on earth."

PS - For the article that served as the impetus for meeting Sarah, and to learn more about Benin, click here. To see current projects, visit the Build a Better Benin Facebook page.