2022 Daniel Pearl Intern: Elissa Miolene
Elissa Miolene has been chosen as the 2022 Daniel Pearl Memorial Journalism Intern. Miolene is a master’s student in the Graduate program in Journalism. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online audiences and aid agencies in the United States, East Africa and South Asia. As a communications specialist, she has used storytelling to boost the visibility of large international organizations, small grassroots groups and large United Nations agencies, working at Save the Children, CARE International, Alive Medical Services and UNICEF, among others. As a journalist, she has investigated topics like marine life recovery in New England, family reunification systems for South Sudanese refugees, and child acrobats in Uganda’s largest slum. Prior to beginning her graduate degree at Stanford, Elissa was leading digital content and storytelling for the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, a UNICEF-hosted fund that works with over 600 partners to combat child abuse across the world. Elissa holds a master’s degree in Politics and Policy and a bachelor’s degree in both Journalism and Global Studies, both of which were obtained at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Miolene's Winning Essay
In Uganda, green mangoes are eaten with salt. The combination is so acidic that even a slice will make your tongue curl – but impossibly, part of you will want to taste it again. You’ll try another sliver, and the blinding, bitter reaction will repeat itself. But if you’re doing it right, the Ugandans around you will already be handing you another slice.
At least, that’s how it went for me. When I ate my first green mango, I was interviewing Deborah, an HIV-positive woman, at a clinic in Kampala. As the only American at the clinic, I stuck out pretty clearly – and on this particular day, the contrast wasn’t working in my favor. Deborah had agreed to be interviewed, but she was hesitant. And rightly so, as we were near total strangers. But a few minutes into our conversation, a friend sat down on her left, pulling unripe mangoes from the plastic bag beneath her arm. Her children, the friend explained, had shaken the mangoes off a tree in her village, and she’d brought them to the clinic to share with those she’d meet.
The two women began to slice the mangoes, peeling the skin in perfect curlicues, and creating a delicate heap on the table. We got to talking about their children, their village, their husbands, their lives – and after a while, I pulled my notebook back out again. Deborah sprinkled a slice of mango with salt and handed it to me. Almost immediately, I yelled out in surprise, causing the women to roar with laughter. Eventually, so did I. All at once, we were just three women with a shocking – but shared – flavor on our tongues. We were trying to reach common ground, and despite our differences, I think we did.
From then on out, I’ve tried to find the green mangoes in every story I write. They are the elements that connect two cultures, and force a journalist and subject to see each other as who they are: people.
While interviewing a formerly incarcerated teenager in the Maldives, that green mango was a shared love of photography, and how she’d wake up just before sunrise to catch the rays on the waves. While interviewing a family of Afghan refugees, that green mango was a book of stickers, and the patterns their 3- and 5-year-old daughters would create on my recording equipment. While interviewing a transgender activist, that green mango became a walk in the park, where we explored discrimination in the health care system by digging into her personal story. Green mangoes are moments of human reckoning, and they are what journalism, at its roots, is all about.
Daniel Pearl understood the value of green mangoes more than anyone. Both through his work at the Wall Street Journal and outside of it, Daniel Pearl put himself out there – no matter the consequences – to bring truth, understanding, and connection to people around the world. He listened. He asked questions. And he told the stories that needed to be told. It’s not always the easiest way to write a story, but it’s the right way to be a journalist. As I go forward in my career, like Daniel, I’ll be keeping green mangoes in mind.