Journalism major publishes Pulitzer Center-funded project on economic gender reversal in post-genocide Rwanda

Thanks to her selection for the Pulitzer Center Student Fellowship, Cammie Behnke ’19 embarked on a 12-day reporting trip to one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. 

By Sophia Ortiz ’21

Senior Cammie Behnke spent her Winter Term completing a one-of-a-kind reporting assignment – a project she began preparing for nearly two years ago.

While completing her reporting for her Pulitzer Center Student Fellowship, Cammie Behnke ’19 interviewed female agribusiness leaders in Rwanda who are survivors of gender-based violence. Photos courtesy of Behnke.
“It was amazing how two weeks on the ground reporting can be so transformative and the highlight of my time at Elon,” the journalism major said.

In December, Behnke was awarded the Pulitzer Center Student Fellowship, providing her with an opportunity to spend 12 days in Rwanda and report on the economic gender reversal in a post-genocide society. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting recently published Behnke’s coverage, which examines Rwandan women emerging as business leaders in male-dominated professions. Her reporting includes a nearly 1,500-word feature article, a five-and-a-half-minute video and a collection of photos, as well as her behind-the-scenes notes from the field.

“This is something that I've dreamed about doing for two years and there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing something that I have wanted to do come to fruition,” Behnke said.

With the help of a high school friend, Theo Ndagijimana, who served as her translator and tour guide while abroad, Behnke listened to and understood the stories of men and women in various industries as they recounted their challenges during the last quarter-century.  

Behnke said this experience taught her several skills, including the importance of listening as well as abandoning expectations. Although she navigated through a foreign country on her own with what she explained was a difficult language barrier, it did not prevent her from forming relationships with her interview subjects.

Behnke interviewed women and men from several agriculture cooperatives, including a coffee cooperative in Eastern Rwanda run almost entirely by women.
​“As a reporter, my job was to show the accurate image of what Rwanda is becoming, how it has grown, and how it is still trying to get back on its feet,” she said. “It was incredible how open they were about their stories.”

One of the most significant challenges Behnke faced was pursuing a story “under a government that is known to censor media,” she said. While she found it difficult for her interviewees, particularly female subjects, to be fully transparent about their stories, Behnke knew she didn’t want the government to dictate her reporting.

After returning to the United States, Behnke said she is more confident regarding her plans to pursue journalism following graduation, especially after “two weeks in Rwanda with just two cameras and a tripod on my back," she said.

Behnke said she hopes this experience will serve as an inspiration to other Elon students to be brave in pursuing their interests.

"I used to be very timid and afraid to share my ideas and passions with people,” she said. “Now I will be leaving Elon with a greater confidence, and I hope this experience inspires other Elon students, no matter the major, to pursue their passions and create content that has the power to produce change in their communities."

Cammie Behnke (left) and Sauda Mukamusoni row a boat back to the shore of Lake Kivu. Photo courtesy of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Theo Ndagijimana.
​“They should go all in and see what it will become,” Behnke added.  

Elon University is one of the Pulitzer Center’s more than 30 Campus Consortium partners, an educational initiative that brings Pulitzer Center staff and journalists to Elon’s campus twice a year. With Elon’s membership in the consortium, students – like Behnke – have the opportunity to work with the center on developing international reporting projects, which have been featured on the center’s website and can be disseminated through media partners.

Past Elon students who have participated in the student fellowship initiative have investigated topics such as the Catholic Church’s future in Irelandthe internet’s impact on a rural Guatemalan town, and the de-radicalization in London prisons.

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