2011 Daniel Pearl Intern: Alexandra Wexler

Alexandra Wexler

A Stanford graduate student has been chosen as the 2011 Daniel Pearl Memorial Journalism Intern.

Alexandra Wexler is working toward a master’s degree in communication, specializing in journalism, which she expects to complete in June. She will work in a foreign bureau of The Wall Street Journal this summer.

The internship was established to commemorate the work and ideals of Pearl, a Stanford graduate and Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002.

In an essay written as part of the application process, Wexler, noted that “the most interesting pieces of journalism for me are those that tell the story of someone ordinary and outside the limelight. Their stories touch our lives because they are just like you and me — ordinary people living in the same everyday world.”

Wexler is from New York City, and previously had internships at ABC Eyewitness News in Durham, North Carolina and the Durham Herald-Sun. Her writing has also appeared in GlobalPost.com during a stint in South Africa. She has a bachelor’s degree from Duke University.

A committee of Communication Department faculty members evaluated applicants for the internship. The final decision was made by The Wall Street Journal.

Pearl, a 1985 graduate of Stanford’s Department of Communication, was kidnapped in Karachi on Jan. 23, 2002, while working on a story retracing the steps of “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. A month later, on Feb. 21, his captors released a videotape of his slaying. He was 38.

I am not a Mizunga

By Alexandra Wexler

Ten miles long and just three miles across at its widest point, Rusinga Island is not a place many people know about.  Located in Lake Victoria within the borders of Kenya, Rusinga Island is home to fewer and fewer people each year.  A combination of urban migration and HIV/AIDS has devastated the adult population, leaving behind a community comprised mostly of grandmothers and young children.

I arrived on Rusinga Island in June of 2010, to write a story for GlobalPost.com.  Through a source, I had heard about a man, Alphonse Okuku, who had done what no other village child who went away to school had done before.  He came back.

After finishing boarding school, Okuku returned to Rusinga Island to start some small community initiatives, which have since blossomed into a variety of services.  Since then, the percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS has decreased from more than 42 percent to 17 percent.

During the four days I spent on that tiny island, I learned about the people who lived there.  Though they made their homes in huts made out of mud and sticks with tin roofs, and I had grown up in Manhattan and went to Duke and then Stanford University, I still was able to find a common thread with them.

The collection of Daniel Pearl’s selected works, which is titled, “At Home in the World,” resonates powerfully with me, for I feel the same way.  There is no place on Earth that I would not like to go see and experience, be it somewhere as small as Rusinga Island or someplace of vast size and importance.

The most interesting pieces of journalism to me are those that tell the story of someone ordinary and outside the limelight.  Their stories touch our lives because they are just like you and me—everyday people living in the same everyday world.

“If the people are healthy, they can work,” Magdaline Ouma said. “They can get something for their children and for themselves. But, if you have a sick community, there will be poverty. A community with no HIV/AIDS — that’s a very big dream we have.” And it is also a dream that translates easily into any language or culture.

I had the pleasure of hearing Mariane Pearl speak at Duke University in 2009 while I was an undergraduate there.  Her talk was about violence and dialogue, and how it is possible to use the latter to combat the former.  In my budding career as a foreign correspondent I hope to do just that, whether that violence comes in the form of a superpower with 1000-pound bombs, a microscopic virus, or a terrorist with a machete.

The children on Rusinga Island shouted, “Mzunga!  Mzunga!” when I arrived each morning, which meant, “Stranger!  Stranger!”  But I am not a stranger.  I read to them, showed them pictures, and taught them how to paint.  I am at home on Rusinga Island, at Stanford University, and everywhere else I travel.

As a journalist, I would like to use my ability to tell stories to give voice to people who otherwise would have none.  I would be deeply honored and ecstatically happy to begin my career as a foreign correspondent by walking in the shoes of Daniel Pearl, and by writing stories that illustrate the common humanity in all of us for The Wall Street Journal.