It was just days ago that my
daughter had her 11th birthday. She was excited about this birthday as never before, but I
understood why. A couple of days prior, she was
accepted to the Frederick Douglass Academy
in Manhattan for middle school starting next fall. The school is regarded as one of
the best in the city and going there has been her dream.
that evening, the family, all well dressed, gathered to
observe the day. Balkisu was about to cut her cake when one of her younger
siblings suddenly moved
past her and dashed for the cake. It was a dramatic scene that made us all
laugh. But then something struck me:
The thought that all of this could not have happened had I not had the
opportunity to escape death and seek refuge away from home. My daughter may
have lived to see her 11th birthday but her younger brothers who were born here
in the U.S.
would not have been there at all. How lucky we all are, I thought.
This year marks my 11th year of
seeking refuge away from home. My
forced exile came on the heels of attempts on my life by members of the
then-brutal rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Front during the
decade-long civil war of the ’90s in Sierra Leone. My crime was being a journalist and, worse still, reporting on the
war. If not for the Committee to
Protect Journalists, I wouldn't have lived to see this day.
Living in exile as a journalist
has been challenging for me particularly because I now no longer carry out what used to be my daily
the news to the Sierra Leone
public. But there has been
plenty to be proud of.
freelancer, I have gotten to experience the
high standards and competitive
nature of the American media. Since coming over to the U.S., I have been reporting as a
correspondent for the Sierra
Leone media, including the Sierra
Leone Broadcasting Corporation. I have
reported on events relating to Sierra
Leone in particular, and Africa
With the help of CPJ, I got a
freelancing position at the Voice of America in Washington
between 2001 and 2005 reporting on Nigerian developments in the state of New York. Aside from writing a couple of articles for
American publications, I also have had the opportunity to share my experience
with journalism students at various universities, explaining the challenges
that journalists face in crisis
situations in third-world countries. Presently, I work in the administrative
department of The Associated Press at its New York
Headquarters, where I became the
second Sierra Leonean to win the
prestigious AP Gramling Spirit Award for efficiency. The first was
Clarence Roy-Macauley, a former AP West Africa correspondent. All of this
creates an opportunity for me to gain a broader sense of the important role the
media play in shaping society. And I
have been playing my part in shaping Sierra Leone.
Aside from gaining a better understanding of and practicing the
profession I cherish, I have also been privileged to attend a great institution of learning
here in the United States.
With both a B.A. and an M.S. in Global Affairs from New York University, I can safely say my life as
a journalist in exile is a success.
Aroun is a freelance journalist living in New York. After
covering human rights violations in Sierra
Leone’s capital, Freetown,
for local television and radio stations, Aroun was forced into hiding. He fled
his home country in 1999. In 2002, his family followed.