Hamdi Issawi never pictured himself chasing story leads in the company of countless species of insects and amphibians.
But last May, he and six other students had to contend with the Amazon rainforest’s many creatures as they covered the unique economic, political and environmental issues affecting the Tiputini Biodiversity Station.
“My trip to Ecuador was my first time leaving the country,” says Hamdi, a fourth-year journalism student. “I had never considered studying abroad, but I suddenly felt like bursting out of my bubble, and trying something new.”
The Tiputini Biodiversity Station was certainly something new – planted in the midst of one of the most biodiverse locations on the planet, the station is actually more like a camp, with limited running water, candlelight after 9 p.m., and an open-air mess hall with swinging monkeys and swooping bats.
“One day we were sitting outside, eating, and a giant cockroach flew into my friend’s chest, then fell on the floor. There’s so much life there, it hits you in the face – literally,” laughs Hamdi.
The students’ work in Ecuador culminated in an online magazine, The Tiputini Project. Hamdi served as the copy chief of the magazine, and is presenting the final online project to the MacEwan community on April 23 at Student Research Day. He’ll be sharing the stories, videos and images he and the team captured, including his profile of the station’s founder, Dr. Kelly Swing.
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Hamdi says getting to the jungle was easy enough – the real work started when he was tasked with getting to the heart of Kelly’s story. Hamdi researched Kelly’s background, interviewed him twice and spoke with his wife and coworkers. The goal was to truly understand the man and scientist who dedicated his life to protecting the biodiversity of the area.
“Telling this man’s story meant so much to me – it meant I was doing my job right,” says Hamdi. “Journalists research people, we dig into the past, we look at history and we use that information to fill in the story we’re telling. You need to ground yourself in knowledge to produce good work.”
Last month, Hamdi’s profile of Kelly received an Emerge Media Award. These annual awards honour the achievements of journalism and communications students across Canada.
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