Reporting on the fires in Birere, a neighborhood in Goma, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was the first time I covered an emotional story. What I learned during my reporting fortified me, but it also reminded me of how tough it is to be a professional journalist.
When I was interviewing a woman whose home had recently burned to the ground, she broke down into tears.
Crying loudly is a characteristic of people in my community. Congolese people easily express their feelings. When in pain, we cry as loudly as we sing when we are happy.
As she told me about difficulties in her life caused by fire, which took away everything she had, she cried loudly. And she wasn’t the only one. Several of my sources for this this story were feeling pain. They also cried.
As a reporter, I had to deal with loud feelings. Luckily, this didn’t surprise me. I know my community well.
For myself, I had to stay focused. I could not show my feelings about what happened to them. As a journalist, I concealed my emotions in order to focus on theirs.
Even though I did not show my emotions, I learned an important thing. There is a way you can show to your source that you empathize with the difficult time they are passing through: Give them enough time and explain my process.
I spoke carefully with my sources, in depth and in detail. I explained my journalistic ethics.
When I came to the site of the burned homes and I explained that I was not there to help them with money, some of them were angry. One woman called me a witch because I was there taking pictures without dropping a tear after what my neighbors were going through.
In this situation my big task was to explain and make them understand that I am an ethical journalist. My role, I explained, is to make sure that the world is aware of what is happening in our community. Some of them understood, but others didn’t.
I know that my journey as a journalist in DRC is full of challenges. But I will overcome them and keep telling the world our stories.
Sylvestre Ndahayo, GPJ, translated this blog post from French.