Returning home with a powerful story to share
Learning his story through others
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02
Good journalism has always been about shedding light on news that fights to be shared with the world. University of New Hampshire journalism student Merhawi Wells-Bogue understood this, as he returned to campus this fall after having spent the summer filming what he hopes to be a full-length documentary featuring the children of his native village, Mekelle City, Ethiopia.
Wells-Bogue received a research grant through SURF, the summer undergraduate research fellowships, that would allow him to pursue a journalistic research project on both a professional and personal level. The film focuses on the adversity faced each day by street children in Mekelle, a role all too familiar to the UNH senior.
“I wanted to make a difference in my community first before I made a difference in other parts of the world,” he said.
Wells-Bogue spent most of his childhood in Mekelle, until age 14 when he came to the United States. Growing up, he faced great hardship in the streets of Mekelle while working as a street vendor to try and beat the inescapable poverty that overwhelms the country.
“Being a street vendor allowed me to see the dire circumstances of street children,” Wells-Bogue said. “These children were my age, only 10 or 12 years old at the time, and yet they didn’t work like me to survive. They depended on people by begging or asking hotels for leftover food.”
Prior to his trip, Wells-Bogue completed an internship in Washington, D.C., through UNH and its affiliate, The Washington Center. There, he interned at Save the Children, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide relief and development work to children in underprivileged countries. This is where his knowledge was enhanced regarding the poverty children were facing all across the world, he said.
Wells-Bogue said he was determined and ambitious as a young child fighting for his life in Mekelle, unlike many of the street children he saw on his trip. Nonetheless, their behavior impacted him as a child.
“My fate led me to America,” he said.
After living in the United States for eight years, Wells-Bogue was thrilled to return to his country as a student to investigate an issue that he cared deeply about.
“I was happy to see my family,” he said.
While pursuing an education in the United States, Wells-Bogue had the chance to return to Ethiopia and saw the same problem that he saw as a child, with no sign of progression.
“I saw children lying on the streets, and then I began asking myself: How come this problem is still here? What is the government or the people doing to prevent this issue? I knew that the children were going through this also because I could relate to and feel their pain. I decided to do the research and in turn, give these children a microphone so their voices could be heard,” he said.
Returning to Ethiopia was not a problem; however, receiving permission from the street children, their families and government officials to film was a challenge in itself.
“Ethiopians are very sensitive when it comes to media, so for me to shoot videos and take pictures, the first thing I did when I arrived there was to get a permission letter from an office called Tigray Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs (TBOLSA),” he said.
TBOLSA is an office that helps street children, vulnerable children and poor families. Because Wells-Bogue’s research dealt with children and government officials, this was the best place to ask for permission. Teacher Fikire, Wells-Bogue’s foreign mentor, aided him in getting the permission letter from TBOLSA.
Among the sources he interviewed included NGO orphanage managers and founders. Obtaining the interviews for the film required a certain approach.
“I first introduced myself and explained to them that I was originally from Mekelle and as a kid had lived in an orphanage called Human Beings Association of Brotherhood,” Wells-Bogue said. “Now that I live in the U.S. and attend college here, I informed them that I had returned to investigate the dire circumstances of street children as well as what the local NGOs and government officials were doing to help them.”