Tuesday, January 27, 2009

May the best Parkie win!

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, has just announced this year's "Win a Trip" competition, in which he takes a college student to Africa on a reporting trip with him.....sounds like a project that has "Parkie" written all over it.

Here's the text of his column, which you can also find on the Times site:

I’m pleased to invite you to apply for the 2009 Win-a-Trip contest. As I wrote in my column, I will take a university student with me on a reporting trip to Africa, giving the student a chance to blog for nytimes.com and to file videos to The Times and Youtube.

Just to get you in the right frame of mind, here’s how Michael Kinsley envisioned the trip in one of his columns in The Washington Post a few years ago:

It’s the middle of the night. We’re in a small tent pitched on the rocky slope of a mountain trail: me, Nick, our trusty guide, three prostitutes we’ve rescued from a life of sex slavery and four local businessmen unjustly accused of insider trading on the village’s primitive, hand-pumped stock exchange. Outside, the jackals are yelping. Inside, nature is calling. Urgently. Am I man enough to face the jackals, or masochist enough to wait until morning? Answer: Whatever. I’m tough. I can handle either of these. But ultimately, the jackals are less terrifying than the thought of one more minute listening to Nick’s tales of all the real adventures he’s been on that make this one seem like a game of patty-cake. I flee the tent, am devoured by the jackals and Kristof gets a column out of it.

Actually, we’ll stay away from the jackals on this trip. I’m not sure where we’ll go, but some possibilities are Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia and/or Ghana. The coup in Guinea is still sorting itself out, so we’ll see how that develops.

The contest is open to students at American universities – either undergraduates or graduate students – who are 18 years old or over. I know I’ll get indignant letters from other people, but right now I’m confining it to students. Please consult the full rules, which explain more about eligibility.

You can apply either with an essay or with a video, or both. Send the essay to winatrip@nytimes.com. Post the video on my Youtube channel, www.youtube.com/NicholasKristof, next to my own video invitation for applications. In either case, just explain why I should pick you.

So what kind of a person am I looking for? The truth is, I’m not entirely sure – except that I want someone with excellent communication skills, who can blog and vlog in ways that will capture the interest of other students. If you’ve done blogging, vlogging or journalism, be sure to mention that. Ditto for anything else that makes you special or will make your voice more memorable.

The first winner I chose, a journalism student named Casey Parks, interested me because she had never been outside the U.S. and had grown up poor, in the deep South. I wondered how she would compare Mississippi poverty to African poverty, and I thought that she would bring a useful perspective that I lack. The second student winner, Leana Wen, was a medical student, and I thought it would be interesting to see her take on health care in a country like Congo. For the second trip, I picked a teacher as well, Will Okun, and I chose him partly because he was a superb, funny writer and partly because he was a talented still photographer. So…there you have it…more madness than method, and that will probably be true of this year’s selection as well.

The International Committee of the Red Cross will sift through the applications, written and video, and help narrow them down to a group of finalists. Then I’ll work with my assistant, Natasha Yefimov, in picking a winner. We may want more information or references from some people (confirmation, for example, that you don’t snore).

The application deadline is midnight eastern time on Feb 13. I hope to choose the winner by mid-March and then travel in April or May. The trip will be a week or ten days, probably, and will include a Times videographer to help with the videos. To some extent, I can try to work with the winner’s schedule, and my hunch is that likewise professors will be accommodating, but if you know that you simply can’t take a week or ten days off in the late spring, then it would be best not to apply.

So read the rules and perhaps look at the fruits of the previous trips. You can do that by clicking the links above or going to the Times home page and searching for “Casey Parks” or “Leana Wen.” Their blog posts and videos will come up.

One other thing. Only one student is going to win this trip, but there are lots of ways you can go and spend some time in the developing world. Many organizations accept volunteers, as English teachers or helping in other jobs, and I strongly encourage you to think about work like that next summer or in the next school year.

The possibilities are vast, but here are a few alternatives. Two of the best development organizations based in the developing world are the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India and BRAC in Bangladesh, and both accept some volunteers. Or if you have an interest in health, there’s the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Somaliland, Africa, a remarkable institution. Or teach English to brothel children in Calcutta at an anti-trafficking organization called New Light, run by Urmi Basu, another of my heroes. Or just poke around a bit on the Internet, and you’ll find many, many other possibilities. If you’ve had an interesting volunteer experience abroad, post a comment about it, or if you work for an NGO in the developing world and could use a volunteer, please note that with your contacts.

And may the best applicant win!


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