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June 10, 2007

Women Who Rock the World

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Job: Public Information Officer, TV Unit, United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Sudan

Translation: I film and file news reports about the situation in Sudan.

Is it dangerous?: Sure, but that's the appeal. You're telling a story that would otherwise go unreported.

Toughest part: The equipment weighs 60 kilos (132 pounds), which is what I weigh, too.

At age 35, Beatrice Mategwa is a one-woman show-researcher, reporter, filmmaker, editor, producer-creating news clips on humanitarian issues to be picked up by agencies and broadcast around the world.
Born to an engineer father and schoolteacher mother, Mategwa grew up in Nairobi, Kenya. The youngest of seven children-and a twin-she decided early on that she was going to become a lawyer.

"But then, in college, I got a job working at a weekly paper," she remembers. She fell in love with telling other people's stories. After graduating, she got a position with Reuters's TV division. A month later, the U.S. embassy in Kenya was bombed. "It was terrible," says Mategwa, "but for a young reporter-trying to beat the competition to the story, making sure the world knew what happened-it was also exciting."

After that, she was hooked. "My bureau was in charge of covering the news for 14 countries, from Sierra Leone to South Africa. I traveled all the time," she says. "You have to love adventure in this job. You work long hours and often put yourself in serious danger. Several of my colleagues were killed in Sierra Leone."While working for Reuters in Sudan two years ago, Mategwa heard about the job with the U.N. "They were setting up their first television unit in the country and needed someone to run it," she says. It was a big leap, from a commercial organization to a humanitarian one. "I just said, 'Let's do it. Let's see if I can make this my new home.'"

Literal home is a two-bedroom flat in the heart of Khartoum, Sudan's capital city. Mategwa's day begins around 8:30 a.m., when she checks in at her office to see what stories are on the radar. Then she grabs her equipment and heads out into the field. Sometimes, as with assignments in Darfur, it gets dicey. "It's a choice-do you stay home or do you go? I always go," she says. "I want to tell the stories. My parents, though, they worry a lot. Some-times I don't tell them where I'm going."

So who is well-suited to this kind of work? Best if you are curious, fearless, and a bit of a loner: "Most of the time, I'm by myself, in 120-degree heat, lugging my equipment and trying to get the best shot." One day, she says, she'll be ready for a "proper relationship." Just not now. "When I see my friends from high school back in Nairobi, it's odd. It's like they've moved on and I've moved on, in very different ways. And I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."

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