An official website of the United States government

Committing to Truthful Storytelling of the COVID-19 Pandemic
April 29, 2021


A Guest Blog by Thomas Mwiraria

I was born last in a family of five. Our home sat on a hill in the upper eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya, in Meru County. Few of my childhood peers related to my interests. I loved chasing grasshoppers and nursing injured goats, and I forgave the snakes that came to our house in search of water. I think my gentleness to all sentient beings started there, realizing that animals are not less deserving of resources. Similar to humans, they are in pursuit of happiness and well-being.

I’m an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging) personality type, according to the Myers-Briggs Indicator test. Sometimes, people like us are referred to as the “Advocate” or the “Idealist,” and that’s true. We are caring and sensitive to how others feel, with high moral standards and a strong focus on the future, typically idealistic. I think it’s why I became a multimedia storyteller. I read, create, and produce from the fiber of my heart. I chose journalism for its power to speak truth and catalyze change. My journalistic values, which are now embedded in my heart, are truth, accuracy, independence, fairness, impartiality, humanity, and accountability.

Thomas at the Pulse Live Kenya Studio, working on a Facebook visual storytelling project for the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media Studies- Video Journalism Fellowship.

The last three years (2019–2021) have been a mighty miracle in my work. In 2019, I was admitted to the YALI Regional Leadership Center East Africa, Civil Leadership. I came out of the program with a reformulated mindset about human-centred design, which has since been central to my work. In the same year, I won the Journalism Now Scholar Prize from the Thomson Foundation’s Journalism Now Program.  

In February 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave a situation report on COVID-19 and remarked that the virus outbreak had been accompanied by a massive “infodemic”— an overabundance of information, some accurate, other portions false and misleading. I have indeed been having a hard time sifting through noise and myths in the search for truth.

As a freelance journalist, I lacked access to local Kenyan COVID-19 experts in the early days of the pandemic. I mainly relied on general information from the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Due to prolonged hours of working, I experienced fatigue, perennial insomnia, and migraines.

Freelance journalists in Kenya are marginalized. They are absent from government organizations because they are either not affiliated with an established media house or denied access. This has made it very difficult for some journalists to practice. The term “media fraternity” in Kenya seems to exclude freelance journalists. 

Thomas in action on a video storytelling project with a fellow storyteller and lawyer.

In the landfall of COVID-19 in Kenya, I reported case numbers from Kenya to the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) Health Crisis Reporting Forum. As the virus spread, so did inequality. My focus then turned to the homeless community in Nairobi. I reported on how the pandemic was worsening the inequality of the homeless people in Kenya. There is no protection for the homeless. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by the lack of information and harshness of the streets. They are more likely to have underlying health conditions than the wider population.

My advice for YALI members interested in pursuing community storytelling is to pursue self-paced communication and journalism courses on platforms such as the YALI Network, Thomson Foundation, and HarvardX. Thanks to the Thomson Foundation’s innovative journalism training, I am now confidently equipped to produce ethical, visual, innovative, compelling, and engaging human stories.

Are you interested in learning how to be a community journalist? Visit our YALISpeaks page for more tools and resources. 

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.