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Kane and Sagan Travers Reflection

Our travels to India and South Africa introduced us to people we will never forget.

A little girl in a busy Cape Town hospital whose face was hidden by the mask that prevented her airborne superbug from infecting others. A drug-resistant TB survivor who laid out a platter of donuts when we visited her home because “Canadians love Tony Hortons.” Tiny premature babies fighting drug-resistant infections in New Delhi neonatal wards, whose fragile ribcages peeked through their skin and betrayed every breath. Farmers, shopkeepers and food industry titans in Amritsar and Bengaluru who invited us into their chicken coops, slaughterhouses and feed mills to show how they use antibiotics in their hens. Farmers and fishermen in Hyderabad who said pharmaceutical factories polluted lakes and rivers that were not only the source of their livelihoods, but their fondest childhood memories of swimming and playing in the water.

All these people, and so many more, welcomed us into their lives and trusted us with their often complex, incredibly personal stories of battling health problems, losing loved ones and even contemplating suicide.

We took the responsibility of bearing witness to their hardships seriously and tried to weave their powerful experiences and resilience into the broader tale of the global epidemic that is drug resistance in our six-part series: Contagion.

The R. James Travers Foreign Corresponding Fellowship afforded us the opportunity to bring these stories back home to Canada and illustrate to Canadians why the rise of resistance to life-saving drugs in the developing world should matter to them.

We would never have been able to pursue this project without the fellowship and this life-changing experience will stay with us forever.

That’s why we would tell future recipients of this fellowship that it isn’t just a one-year event. The story you pursue has the potential to alter your journalism career. Through your extensive reporting abroad and at home, you’ll become an expert on the issue and your work doesn’t have to end once your project is published. We still hear regularly from our sources in India and South Africa, whether it’s a mother sending photos of her now healthy baby being discharged from hospital or a researcher alerting us to a new diagnostic tool that could save lives. And as Canada works on developing a cross-country action plan to respond to drug resistance, we plan to continue to hold the government to account.

So, future recipients, select a project that you’re passionate about and you can see yourself working on for many years to come. The gift of this fellowship will last a lot longer than you think.

Of course, there are a few other pieces of advice we’d like to share:

  1. Start your visa application or applications immediately. The paperwork is complex and the bureaucracy is often difficult to navigate. Rejection is common for small mistakes and it’s best to give yourself plenty of time to reapply should you be rejected the first time.
  2. Do extensive research and preparation, but be flexible enough to pursue reporting leads on the ground. Give yourself room to breathe in your schedule because you’ll find sources you want to spend more time with or meet sources who introduce you to other people whose stories you’ll want to hear.
  3. Take time to appreciate the experience while you’re there. Spend enough time with your sources to capture the details you can’t get on the phone from Canada. It’s those details that will eventually capture your audience.
  4. Back up your files every day and bring a ton of extra SD cards for when your internet connection is non-existent.

 

And seriously, start your visa application immediately.

Aleksandra Sagan and Laura Kane are 2018 recipients of Travers  Fellowship

Reflections by other recipients