Projects for Peace: The Vision of Kathryn W. Davis

"My challenge to you is to bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war."

Manisha Aryal | True Calling

When the first pro-democracy revolution in Nepal began in 1990, Manisha Aryal was in college and intending to become a doctor. But the political excitement of the time drew her away from biology and into journalism. A series of mentors taught her the art of writing and reporting, and she spent her early twenties covering social and political movements throughout the Himalayas. 

She later learned the Western style of journalism in graduate school at Berkeley, which she describes as akin to boot camp. Writing a piece of at least 800 words every day prepared her for the next stage of her career—reporting from abroad for National Public Radio and the BBC. Spending time with local journalists in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, she noticed that while they had courage and conviction in spades, they often lacked even the most basic training necessary to cover complex political and social issues. She was also bothered by the knowledge that the people she was reporting her own stories about would never hear those stories. In addressing the need for well-trained local journalists in areas and times of strife, Manisha found her true calling. 

She launched this new phase of her career back in her native country during the civil war that began in the late nineties. Over the course of three years she built a nonprofit production house that developed television and radio programs for emerging independent stations across the nation. The success of her work in Nepal inspired Manisha to bolster independent media elsewhere. 

At age 35 she traveled to Pakistan, intending to be there for two months. Instead she stayed for five years, becoming fluent in Urdu in order to work with emerging online platforms, as well as radio and television outlets across the country. She particularly relished her work in the northwestern provinces of Pakistan (and especially the tribal areas), where operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda were taking place. Radio programs she started there provided locals and displaced people with vital information, and the journalism departments at universities she helped establish are continuing to train a generation of broadcast journalists. 

Manisha left Pakistan after she was injured in a Taliban attack on a Peshawar hotel. The bomb blast killed 18 people. Manisha escaped with her life but sustained permanent hearing damage and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Despite being haunted by the attack, she returned to Pakistan because she knew she was making a difference there. “I see my life’s work as strengthening local media and young journalists to become an effective voice for positive change,” she says. 

The Arab Spring of 2011 and subsequent political changes in the Arab world altered Manisha’s focus yet again. Lately she has pursued assignments on Yemen, Syria, Egypt Jordan, and Lebanon—places where her experience as a trainer and a media-development expert is most urgently needed. One recent media project took her to Libya, where she taught a team of journalists with no formal training how to build and maintain a radio station to report on political transition and issues important to the community. 

In Libya, the need for accurate translation was a constant source of frustration for Manisha. She knew she needed to learn Arabic to continue her training work in the Middle East and North Africa, and she determined that the Middlebury Arabic School would provide the intensity and rigor she required. 

A Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace supported her immersion in the language for eight summer weeks. Coursework in the Arabic School gave her a firm foundation in grammar, and now she can work on her own toward fluency.