Each week, frayintermedia highlights a journalist doing good work on the continent and honours them as our #FaveOfTheWeek. Meet multi-award-winning Kenyan multimedia journalist Mercy Tyra Murengu who won the Merck Foundation ‘More Than a Mother’ 2020 award for East Africa in the radio category. Murengu covers a wide range of stories including those on the environment and human interest.
Q. How did you become a journalist?
A. It's something I cannot explain, but I can say it is a passion I had from the word go. I grew up knowing that I wanted to be a journalist, although I couldn't define what a journalist is by that time. But I can say I, just learnt from the television and listened to the radio. And most times I took part in debates in school.
And then, after form four, my father really wanted me to be a doctor.
So he paid school fees in the medical training institute in Kenya. But the points I had could not give me a chance to just do direct medicine. So I had to do nursing instead, which was still better for him. After all, it was in the medical field. So it became a problem. And he said: “If you don't want to go to school, then you'll stay at home and let your siblings go to school.”
So one day I just woke up and went to town so determined, telling myself that I'm going to look for what my heart wants. So I met a friend of mine and she told me about a school. And she told me her sister had graduated from that school in mass communication. And it's a good school, you know. So I got so much interested and I knew that was exactly what I was looking for.
Q. What does being a Merck Foundation winner mean to you?
A. This was not a national media award, it was an East African media award and me being a winner in the radio category is an honour to me and to God because it was not easy. Not as if I did not expect it, I know what I'm capable of doing. I knew my story was an award-winning story. So presenting that story, I knew I needed to do that to bring change to society. So being a Merck Foundation winner means a whole lot to me. It means a change to society. It means humanity to nature. It means acceptance.
Q. What drew you to tell your award-winning Merck Foundation story?
A. Most men fear talking about their problems out. Unlike women, most men believe that they're too strong to share their deep most secrets. You know, it is not easy. So for me, what actually drove me to do that story is the fact that the society needs to know that it's not only women who undergo infertility. Also, men have the same challenges.
And there are so many things and factors that contribute to infertility in men, something that I really highlighted in that story. I also was drawn by the fact that most people, especially men, don't believe that they can also be infertile because of the mode of upbringing, knowing that women are the ones to be blamed, especially when something like childlessness occurs in a family. So I just wanted to highlight the importance of acceptance. The the the fact that someone is infertile does not mean that he is not reasonable.
And it's a major problem because most men do not want to talk about it. They do not want to talk about it because of how the African setup is. They believe they need to just be strong and no one needs to ask them questions. And all questions and allegations need to be directed to a woman. So I just wanted to change the narrative with the fact that infertility should not be a problem for the society. Infertility should not be a reason for divorce. Infertility should not be a reason for discrimination. Infertility should not be a reason for badmouthing or gossiping people in society. Instead, it is a challenge and an eye-opener to the society to embrace what God has given us, to embrace humanity and to embrace the call of nature.
Q. What stories should African journalists be telling more?
A. Most times we find so many African journalists dwelling much on politics, dwelling much on sports, dwelling much on maybe the environment, and they forget much more of health issues in the society. So I believe the stories that most journalists don't do are the human interest kind of stories that deal much on health.
We've seen journalists who do not have the code of conduct where they go to the field. And because the field is dry, they just forge a story and just air out. That is being a liar, a cheat to the society, something that should not be practised by journalists. But in my own opinion, journalists should just be all rounded. Let us not just focus on politics. Let us remove that narrative that says: “If is not politics then it is not news.” There are a lot and so many stories that can be done by journalists. Look at health stories, look at gender reporting, there's a lot to talk about business reporting.
Q. Despite all the challenges why do you continue being a journalist?
A. Despite all the challenges in the profession, I continue being a journalist because I believe that is what I'm destined to be. You know, they say it's God who decides people's destiny.
But just, in a nutshell, I believe I am that voice which the society needs, that voice which can speak on their behalf, that voice which can change the perception of different aspects of life in the society. I believe I am that voice that you miss in your house. I believe I am that voice that commands authority to the leaders who needs to take responsibility for their duties, you know. So I am a journalist, not as a career, but I am a journalist by calling.
So to me, having gone through all these challenges and still holding on, not because I did not have an alternative, I told you my father wanted me to be a doctor. I even entered a nursing course. I had other alternatives, other opportunities to just choose another course. But there was something inside me that really wanted me to be a journalist. So it's much more of just a career. It's much more of just that profession where you just go to class and study.