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Motivated by an Arduous Path

Heritage reporter Festus Dukuly says as a journalist, he's grateful for the power he has "to expose rights abuses so I can do my small part to uncover or maybe even stop them"

That career paths can be long and windy is common the world over.

But in a post-conflict country, the corners are often sharper and the path longer than elsewhere.

In Liberia, every step was prolonged by the 14-year conflict that ended in 2003 with the unseating of one-time rebel leader and later president Charles Taylor, who is now on trial for war crimes at the The Hague.

Elementary and secondary schooling was often stretched over twice as many years as usual, and university education was put on hold time and time again whenever schools were closed because of the conflict.

Today, it is not uncommon to meet 27-year old men and women in the eighth grade–their education delayed the exact length of the war.

The case is no different among journalists here. Many spent years fleeing conflict, catching a piece of education here, another piece there.

Others who were working during the war maintained their careers in name only, as the organizations and companies they worked for shuttered overnight. Many Liberians were forced into piecemeal work to sustain family during the conflict.

Those experiences remain fresh on the mind of Festus Dukuly, a courts reporter at the Heritage newspaper in Monrovia, whose experience mirrors many of his colleagues.

Dukuly’s four-year mass communications degree took nine years to complete, much of it during the worst of the war. His journalist aspirations were initially put on hold because short-term needs required he take a job, any job.

In his case, Dukuly worked as a security guard for several years before completing his degree and getting his first crack at journalism.

“Security work was not a career, not a passion,” Dukuly says. “It was necessity. The situation in Liberia was very bad. I was lucky to have a job of any kind because in those days you didn’t turn down a job no matter what the job was.”

During months when the University of Liberia was open, Dukuly worked jaw-dropping hours to complete his education while maintaining a job.

He worked as head of security from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., then headed straight to classes for 9 a.m.

When classes ended at 3 p.m. he would rush home to change for his next shift at work. Thursdays were the only day of the week he did not have class or work.

“On Thursdays you could not find me anywhere except bed,” Dukuly says.

But the long hours paid off when, in 2006, Dukuly got his first newspaper article published, in the Heritage, about an Amnesty International report on human rights in Africa.

“It was just great,” he says. “I was so proud when I saw the editor had barely changed anything in it.”

Since then, human rights have been laced through much of his reporting, especially since taking up the courts beat.

“Every day I am writing about human rights,” he says. “When peoples’ rights have been trampled they have a right to be heard in public.”

The experience of Liberia’s 14-year civil war that ended in 2003 remains fresh on Dukuly’s mind. During the war he lived on the outskirts of Monrovia, in an area controlled by a notorious rebel leader.

“I saw so many things,” Dukuly says. “I felt if I had an ability to expose the beatings, the crimes, I would have. Now I have the ability to expose rights abuses so I can do my small part to uncover or maybe even stop abuses.”

Today, Dukuly, like many journalists, eagerly seeks training opportunities that were not available during his earlier schooling. In March, he began a one-year intensive course through the American Bar Association to be trained as a magistrate.

He figures the increased judicial knowledge will benefit his court reporting. But he is back to balancing tight schedules, by attending daily classes while maintaining his full-time job.

“It will be a busy year, but it’s nothing like it was during the war,” he says, with a smile.

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Speak is an online magazine that publishes and discusses rights media pieces. Rights Media is the process of writing, collecting, editing, producing and distributing media that creates societal dialogue on human rights issues. Speak magazine mainstreams human rights issues through, progressive, balanced and objective reporting into everyday news stories.

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