Alex Pena is not wasting any time in hopes of becoming a foreign correspondent. He’s headed to East Africa to find stories no one else has told. Here’s what he posted on Facebook on December 28th:
“Tomorrow, I leave the U.S. with my backpack, a camera, and a crazy dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. First stop, London, then off to the horn of Africa to start my new year. I’ll miss you all very much, but I’ve got to go!”
Alex just graduated a few weeks ago from Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida. He’ll be freelancing for Voice of America and plans to be based in Nairobi, Kenya. He also hopes to pick up other freelance assignments with other media companies.
Alex says “Two main stories I will look into is the rise of Islamic militants in Southern Somalia and the recent incursion of the Kenyan military to rid Somalia of them. Also the effect that has on food aid in the region as East Africa continues to struggle with the worst famine in over a century. The goal is to bring these stories to the mainstream media in America.”
TO BECOME A FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT …YOU MUST BE THERE
Alex’s inspiration to become a foreign correspondent was NBC’s Richard Engel. Alex remembers going home from high school and watching Engel in action on television. Since then he’s met Engel in person and keeps in touch with him.
Alex also knows that East Africa is not a region without conflict, and it may not be a safe place for a journalist. But he believes this is the only way to find the stories he wants to cover. He adds “How else can I find the stories if I’m not there? On the ground reporting is very important to me. I’ve seen how powerful and important it can be, so being there seemed like the best way to tell the best stories.”
WHEN WAS THE SEED PLANTED?
Alex got interested in journalism after he took a television production class in high school. Then he made his mark while going to Florida Gulf Coast University. He recalls the school lacked equipment, but that didn’t stop him from learning.
The 22-year-old says “They had no cameras, and just a weekly newspaper. I remember finding an old photography tripod and turning my point and shoot camera to video mode and filing multiple stories that way. I edited on windows moviemaker and then posted the YouTube videos on the schools website.”
INTERNSHIPS OPEN DOORS
Alex was eager to learn as much as he could about journalism so he applied for multiple internships. That’s where he made good connections and got good experience.
He had five internships, mostly in local news and one with NBC News with Brian Williams. Alex got that internship after he won the National Association of Hispanic Journalist’s student fellowship.
It was during his first week as a local news intern that Alex showed his fearlessness. He says “During my first week as an intern at NBC-2, the earthquake in Haiti hit. I grabbed my camcorder, managed to buy a plane ticket to the DR (Dominican Republic), and crossed the border into Haiti. I came back the next week for classes with a story about a local Fort Myers resident who went in search of his family in Haiti”
Alex’s Haiti story impressed the local NBC affiliate’s news director who decided to air the story. That opened the door for more opportunities for Alex. More of his stories would later air on NBC-2.
Alex also spent his own money on other assignments. He headed to Mexico to cover the drug wars. That landed him on CNN. Alex has been such a stand out that ABC News student campus program awarded him “Roving Reporter of the Year. Professors at the school are amazed by Alex’s work, because the school doesn’t even have a journalism degree program.
BACKPACK JOURNALISM IS A MUST
Alex is a one-man-band. He shoots, edits, and reports. He also knows the tools and equipment he’ll need in the most remote areas of East Africa.
He plans to travel to Dadaab refugee camp on the border of Kenya and Somalia. He says “In those types of reporting situations, I have to prepare to have no resources at hand and be completely independent.”
HIS STRENGTH: SUPPORTIVE LATINO FAMLY
Alex admits he’s nervous, and so is his family in Florida; but they’re all confident he will achieve his goal. He says “No matter how crazy of an idea it has been. From drug lords in Mexico, to camping in tent cities in Haiti, they have stood by me 100% saying that I could achieve anything, but I’d have to try first. I bought them a bunch of African phone cards for Christmas so they can call me directly once I’m there.”
This young journalist thinks big and only has one fear in his heart. He says “I fear failure, like anyone else, but I think the key is to not let that ever stop me from going out into the world and trying”.
Good Luck Alex! Keep us posted on your travels and experiences on your blog!