TORONTO (June 27, 2023)—Montreal-based freelance journalist Josie Fomé has released her new documentary exploring the rise of local philanthropy within the international aid sector in response to the pandemic.
Fomé used the Gordon Sinclair Roving Reporter Bursary to explore what happened to communities in Kampala when borders closed and what do locals say is needed to make development work ethical as the world slowly attempts to “reopen” after the pandemic.
“I was a bit shocked when I kept reading article after article about organizations shutting down because staff feared for their safety even though African countries at large were the least hit by the virus. I asked myself, what does that mean for the communities they were tasked to support,” says Fomé. The documentary, which can be found here, has also been screened in Kampala.
The Gordon Sinclair Foundation awarded the Roving Reporter Bursary to Fomé at the onset of the pandemic. As the global public health emergency set in, Fomé was forced to delay and refocus her project. She ultimately travelled to Uganda in 2022 to report, produce and edit the documentary, which looks at how local non-profits in Kampala responded at the height of the pandemic when international aid organizations shut down operations as a result of COVID-19.
A graduate of Concordia University’s journalism program, Fomé has worked with Canadian Black Standard, CTV News and Sayaspora. She is also the host and producer of Filling the Void with Josie, a podcast that focuses on the experiences of recent university graduates in Canada.
As a Gordon Sinclair Roving Reporter, Fomé conducted about 22 weeks of field research in Uganda, where she spoke to various staff members at a number of nonprofits in Kampala to gauge what the situation was like for them pre, during, and post pandemic; identified different organizations, sectors, and communities that were most affected; managed a small crew to assist with filming; and conducted interviews with experts within the international development industry amongst other tasks.
“The conversation around ‘dead aid’ may not be new, but I’m curious to see how the international development industry will shift as a result of local communities stepping in to fill the gap left behind by large international NGOs. This bursary allowed me to dig deeper into the stories I want to see more of and confirmed for me the type of stories I want to tell. So much is happening on the African continent, and it goes beyond the stereotypical narratives, and I want to be one of the people bringing more light to those stories,” Fomé says.
“I want to bring this story home to Canadians who are filled with good but misplaced intentions and to screen it in Uganda where the concept of philanthropy is not a novel one and continues to grow in traditional and nontraditional ways. Community has always been at the center in different ways, shapes, and sizes.”
The Roving Reporter Bursary was created in memory of Gordon Sinclair, who made his name reporting around the world for the Toronto Star in the 1930s. The bursary replaced a university scholarship for journalism students that was been given out annually since 1986 by the Gordon Sinclair Foundation, established by friends of the remarkable journalist, author, radio commentator and television personality who until his death in 1984, was one of Canada’s most enduring celebrities. He earned that celebrity during a career that included periods with the Toronto Star, CFRB radio and as a panelist on CBC’s long-running news quiz program Front Page Challenge.
At a time when most news organizations have cut back on travel, the Gordon Sinclair Roving Reporter Bursary is meant to support a major research and reporting trip by an early career Canadian journalist who has within the past five years graduated from one of Canada’s university-level journalism programs. The purpose of the $15,000 bursary is to encourage a young journalist to get off the beaten track and to spend a considerable period—a minimum of six weeks – away on a reporting assignment.
In recent years, bursary winners have used the award to document stories inside Canada and around the world.
In 2019, Sarah Lawrynuik used the Roving Reporter bursary to report on political changes and the erosion of various freedoms in Eastern Europe. Her field reporting in Ukraine earned her a nomination for a CAJ (Canadian Association of Journalists) award for human rights reporting.In 2018, Katrina Clarke used the to report on Indigenous education in Australia and Canada. The results of her reporting were published by the Toronto Star and theCBC and provided an international context to Canada’s efforts at truth and reconciliation.
In 2017, award-winning investigative reporter Annie Burns-Pieper travelled to Madagascar to report on US President Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule—which bans foreign aid to groups that perform or promote abortion—and how it has impacted global health programs, specifically family planning and women’s health services.
Applicants to the Gordon Sinclair Roving Reporter Bursary were invited to submit a proposal to travel abroad or to a region of Canada that is not usually well covered by the media and to research and then prepare a substantial body of journalistic work on an important issue.