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2016 International Investigative Reporting Fellows

American University communication MFA student Kent Wagner and graduating journalism major Camila DeChalus have been named 2016 recipients of the Pulitzer Center Campus Consortium International Reporting Student Fellowship. Wagner's reporting project will examine the environmental devastation in Borneo through the lives of the people most directly affected by it. DeChalus' work will explore how the  Catholic Church in combating climate change in Colombia and how it is allowing them to raise the public’s consciousness about climate related issues within marginalized communities that have remained silent for years.

Camila DeChalus

Camila DeChalus

Camila DeChalus is a multimedia journalist that wants to combine her passion for storytelling and global affairs to educate the public about social issues that go under reported. For the past four years, Camila has pursued a Bachelors of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism and minored in Latin American studies. She has also served as a leader of an Alternative Break Program to Cuba, and a participant in the Public Policy of International Affairs fellowship program. Camila hopes to use the work experience she gained at various television companies like Voice of America and Univision, to continue to report about issues that occur in Latin America and in Africa.

FELLOWSHIP PROJECT:

The grassy plains of Nariño, Colombia where riverbanks overflowed and over 2,000 Arabica coffee plants once stood is now made up of dessert terrains scorched by the dry heat and severe droughts.

Over the past 10 years, Colombia has become one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change. The northwestern regions of Colombia, where the majority of indigenous and Afro-Colombians live, constantly experiences riverbank erosion, livestock depletion, and loss of soil nutrients. The drastic conditions of global climate change have left millions of families and farmers unemployed and destitute.

The Catholic Relief Services based in Colombia has taken the initiative to start Borderlands Coffee Project in Nariño, which provides a holistic approach to sustainable coffee production by integrating educational resource management to local farmers with market-driven programming to boost farmers’ household income and build farmers’ commercial relationships in the international market. The project provides a sustainable income for farmers and a portion of the money generated by the program funds local research groups looking for long-term solutions to global climate change.

By exploring the role of Catholic Relief Services in Colombia and their collaboration with local farmers, Camila will examine how Catholic organizations are gradually changing the culture of Colombia into a more eco-friendly environment through sustainable employment opportunities and educational programs. Most importantly, she will analyze how the church’s participation in combating climate change is allowing them to raise the public’s consciousness about climate related issues within marginalized communities that have remained silent for years.

Kent Wagner 

SOC Kent Wagner (2)

Kent is a photographer, audio producer, and filmmaker concentrating on science, natural history, and environmental subjects. He has completed projects for the National Park Service, NASA, and the USGS. A past engineering major at Berklee College of Music, he holds a degree in Electronic Media and Film from Northern Arizona University, and is an MFA candidate American University.

FELLOWSHIP PROJECT:

The ecological devastation of Malaysia and Indonesia has recently been called “the biggest climate story on the planet.” It involves illegal logging, slash and burn agriculture, palm oil cultivation, and habitat loss. Although aspects of this crisis are well known, the human toll is harder to quantify and remains under-reported. Kent will examine this far reaching catastrophe through the lives of the people most directly affected by it.

The central character, Radu Mera’an, is a member of the Penan tribe. He is part of an indigenous group known as the Orang Ulu. There are fewer than fifty Orang Ulu still practicing their traditional nomadic lifestyle. Their fundamental tenet is known as malong—the concept of taking no more than one needs.

Supporting the narrative is Nelson Batu-Lawi, a cartographer mapping the historical hunting grounds of the Orang Ulu. Karmele Sanchez, a veterinarian fighting to save the world’s remaining orangutans. Lucy Peters, a conservationist at the Danau Girang Field Center, in northern Borneo. Chyntia Retnani, a shift-worker at a sustainable palm oil processing facility in Sarawak. Shinta Chloeing, an ecotourism guide in Sebangau National Park. And Leo Oktania a fireman battling to end the blazes which threaten southern Indonesia.

These diverse people each experience the tragedy of Borneo’s deforestation in their own way. By weaving together their stories, Kent will outline the challenges we all face in this crisis, and point to a number of the viable, realistic, and achievable solutions available if we can act now.