Volunteer Review: Marcos F., General Journalism Projects in Togo
My name is Marcos and I work as an International Relations lecturer at the University of Lisbon In 2006, I decided to start spending my summer vacations doing volunteer work at different community development projects around the world. Every summer since then, I have developed personal and professional skills while working side by side with different people on projects that are meaningful and make a difference.
As a lecturer, and with every step of my journey, I have become more aware of the need to know the world first hand and avoid the dangers of locking myself up in an academic ivory tower. With every new project, I have strengthened my resolve to explore the diversity of the world and learn more about how people cope with local and global structures, how they embrace, resist, or adapt to the change that is sweeping across the world nowadays.
Working as a journalist in Togo
After all these years and projects, West Africa was the next step for me and so I decided to embark on an internship with Projects Abroad. I found at Projects Abroad the new possibility of working at a radio station in Lomé, the capital city of Togo. My expectations were very high before flying there and I can tell you now that they were met perfectly.
By working as a journalist at a radio station, I expected most of all to gain contact with the social and political agenda of the country in order to understand what was going on there and how society was responding to different domestic and external challenges. That was exactly what I had the opportunity to do every time I went out with my colleagues to report on the daily news.
Nana FM is a major partner of local NGOs and international agencies operating in the country, which means a considerable part of the news coverage dealt with development, sustainability, transparency and gender issues, as well as with democratic consolidation in Togo. These are the subjects that I am most interested in from an academic point of view, so it was extremely rewarding for me to be able to witness how Togolese society is being shaped today and talk about it with different people.
My daily life at the radio station
Working at a radio station required that I adapt my routine to the agenda and frenzy of news reporting, meaning that I did not have a typical 9 to 5 schedule or a five-day working week. At about 8am every day my motorbike driver Emmanuel was waiting to take me to Nana FM. The ride took usually 15 minutes through Boulevard du Mono, by the sea. Once at the radio station, my work consisted in practicing the technical tools at the disposal of a radio journalist.
Firstly, I learned and practiced how to write content for news bulletins. Unlike the content that journalists prepare for the written press, these must be extremely short to introduce the audio reports. I also spent time editing the audio pieces recorded while away reporting in the field. The main news bulletin took place at noon every day. As another journalist in the newsroom, my role was to listen carefully to the news pieces and other sections of the bulletin. After that, the managing editor would come to the newsroom and discuss the bulletin with the group of journalists. Finally, the next day would be planned for and reports assigned to different journalists.
Living in Lomé
For me, experiencing Lomé went hand in hand with reporting for Nana FM and it came out as the best way to know the city. Like every place in the world, it possesses its own poetic everydayness that is worth knowing and experiencing. For someone like me who believes there are no grandiose truths to look for out there, the little things that hide beneath the surface of everyday life are all too fascinating because they disclose a unique beauty that does not depend on color or form, but rather on the ties that bind people together.
Exploring Lomé with my Nana FM colleagues worked just like that, going from neighborhood to neighborhood via motorbikes and shared taxis, never knowing exactly where the events would take place because in Lomé there are no exact addresses. It was like mingling with the locals once they knew I worked for Nana FM and being treated just like one of the local journalists. I always felt very welcome, not like a tourist, and sometimes there was a genuine interest in knowing my culture and me. Weekends were also very busy, running from football match to football match, from political rally to political rally, with my photo camera all too ready to shoot.
However, when I think back, the fondest moments are still the motorbike lessons I took from Emmanuel on Saturday afternoons. Full of generosity and patience, he taught me how to drive his run-down motorbike through the quieter neighborhoods of Lomé, while local dwellers rushed to give me their advice every time they saw me doing something wrong. Five weeks is not enough to really know Lomé of course, or any other city for that matter, but something you can do is take your time to explore the magical everydayness and try to understand what lies beneath it. I always do it.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.