"Humour can be found in every situation"
Mansfield alumna, Dhruti Shah (English, 2000) is a journalist with over 13 years experience in covering trauma, terror and violence. She has recently completed Rotary International Peace Fellowship - a programme which promotes the understanding of peace and teaches conflict resolution.
• What have you been doing since leaving Mansfield?
I left Mansfield in 2003. I went travelling to South East Asia with another Mansfield alumna before returning back to the UK and embarking on a career in journalism. I worked in local newspapers before moving to the BBC where I’ve been for nine years working as a journalist in a variety of roles, but with my primary focus being news.
I’ve worked as a writer for the BBC News website, in investigations at BBC Panorama, as a digital storyteller working on special projects and as a verificationista focusing on eyewitness media and fake news. Right now I work as a social media producer in the BBC’s Business and Economics Unit and I also work on World Service special partnership projects.
A lot of the stories I’ve worked on in recent years have been around conflict and trauma and is something I have a real interest in. In 2015/2016 I was selected for an Ochberg Fellowship at the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
Established in 1999 for journalists seeking to deepen their knowledge of trauma and improve reporting of traumatic events, the Ochberg Fellowship is awarded to outstanding senior and mid-career journalists in all media who have specialized in covering violence, conflict and tragedy, including such issues as street crime, family violence, natural disasters, war, conflict and genocide.
• What drew you to the Rotary International Peace Fellowship?
I wanted to develop on what I had learned while I was in New York. There is a lot of overlap between trauma, storytelling, peace and conflict. Also peace and conflict underpins every bit of storytelling that we, as journalists do. So when I saw this opportunity, it felt like a natural fit. I had to apply. I liked that fact that it wasn’t just for journalists but people from a variety of backgrounds. I wanted to learn conflict resolution skills, meet new people and have an adventure. This course provides you with a professional development certificate and allows a dip back into the world of academia.
• What is the Rotary International Peace Fellowship and why is it important?
For me, the fellowship is a network that I can utilise and give back to. I think it’s important because the fellows are all immersed in the topics they are studying and making a difference to the world around them. It’s a fellowship involving people taking action.
• Your Fellowship peers seem to have come from very diverse backgrounds. What did you learn from them?
I learned a lot from them. I wrote a piece for the BBC News website about this. For example, Sharada Jnawali from Nepal was a very comforting presence for me during those three months. She taught me a lot about food and being attuned to your natural surroundings. Travis Burke, from the US, gave me lessons in rock climbing and cheered me on even though I’m not the most sporty person at all.
I was lucky to have a supportive group of women - Michelle Healy from Ireland, Natasha Dimitrovska from Macedonia, and Maja Pecanac from Bosnia-Herzegovina – who provided key lessons in resilience.
My family heritage is Kenyan-Indian and I had my own ready-made family thanks to Kenyans Dan Noel Odaba and Karisa Baya and Jane Wambui Wanjiru who took me in as their sister. It was all about forming a community, even though we were all so very different. I learned something from every single person on that course and those who were running it.
• What do you feel is the most important lessons you learned while completing the Fellowship?
I learned to have confidence in my abilities; I learned humour can be found in every situation – even dark humour has a part to play in order to be able to move forward. I learned that conflict can occur everywhere but what’s key is having a bespoke strategy to deal with it.
• Do you have any stand-out memories?
As part of the fellowship we went on field trips. We went to Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand to learn about the Mekong River and the ongoing fights over it. The influence of China is strong but not necessarily beneficial to all those who rely on the river. We spent time with villagers who use not just the river but the forests and land surrounding it. Walking through a forest, falling behind my fellow fellows but spending time trying to communicate when I didn’t really speak Thai and my companions didn’t speak English but yet we had a common bond stands out. Smiling and foraging together before joining up as Facebook friends despite the language barrier definitely brings up fond memories.
I also visited an ethical elephant sanctuary while out in Thailand. The friend I was with and I were so enthused by what the organisation was doing and how they were dealing with issues of natural conflict, we put them in touch with the organisers of our fellowship. Fingers crossed that those connections lead to something positive. It’s also an amazing feeling to come across creatures that have hope of rehabilitation despite atrocities they have had to face.
• How do you hope to use what you learned in the future?
I wanted to enhance my storytelling and I have already made changes in the way that I operate. Peace and conflict are drivers when it comes to narrative storytelling and I expect to be a better storyteller now.
• Do you have any advice for those wanting to follow you into journalism?
Be passionate and hone your newshound sense. It will stand you in good stead even in a non-newsroom environment when seeking out opportunities.
Dhruti has written more about her experience of the Rotary Peace Fellowship for the BBC website.
For more on what Dhruti has been doing : http://dhrutishah.weebly.com/