World Federation of Science Journalists

WFSJ Mentees meet their mentors in Nairobi

November 21, 2006

Journalists participating in the mentoring program of the World Federation of Science Journalists met their mentors in Nairobi (Kenya), 4 to 10 November 2006.

The first face-to-face meeting between the 60 journalists from Africa and the Middle East and their 15 mentors was held in conjunction with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Nairobi.


The main achievement of the meeting was for the mentees to finally interact directly with their mentors. Since the beginning of the program, last September, exchanges between mentees and mentors had been only at a distance, either through emails, a dedicated website or through telephone conversations. Now that mentors have met their mentees, they have a much better understanding of their needs ... and feel much more comfortable in commenting on their work.

The meeting was also the opportunity to test the first two lessons of an eventual online course in science journalism. The two first lessons were developped by Jan Lublinski (a German science journalist) and Julie Clayton (a British science journalist) through a collaboration with The presentations of the lessons were done with the group occupying one whole floor of a downtown Nairobi cybercafé!

Another key step in the three-year mentoring program was having all participants agree on what outcomes they expected from the program. Such a consensus regarding outcomes will guide the project and will be the basis for its evaluation.

Several speakers and experts contributed to the six-day meeting. Rod Harbinson, Head of the Environmental Program at Panos (London), a veteran of Climate Change Conferences explained how to cover such a complex event. Anthony Nyong and Fatima Denton, of the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa Program, described the particular challenges facing African countries regarding climate change. Finally, Prof. Norah Olembo, Executive Director of the Nairobi-based Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders' Forum (which provided logistical support to the WFSJ meeting), addressed the group on the closing day.

At the beginning of the week, all participants were registered at the Climate Change Conference which they were able to attend and cover on several occasions.

Unexpectedly, twelve journalists from Cameroon, Iraq and Jordan, were not granted visas upon arrival at the Nairobi airport -- though procedures to obtain visas had locally been initiated with the Kenyan immigration services. Hoping that the issue would be resolved in a positive way, the group of 12 waited at the airport. After five days, they had to return to their respective countries without joining the larger group. At least, basic needs were covered (there are sleeping cabins at the Nairobi airport!). More so, the stranded group was able to work and discuss some of the same material that was available to the main group. They could participate, for example, in the testing and evaluation of the online courses.

Finally, all left Nairobi determined to strengthen their work as science journalists. Several are also intent to initiate associations of science journalists in their respective countries, another major objective of the WFSJ program.