Media speaker Farrah Fazal exposes social injustice through storytelling

Posted October 9, 2017

One in five people living in the largest refugee camp in the world, the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, have family living in Minnesota. Recently, one of those five refugees, a 3-year-old girl named Anfa, went from having family members in the Minnesota heartland to being there herself.

Just as Anfa’s parents were ready to head to the United States after gaining refugee status when baby Anfa was born. The newborn did not have refugee status, and was therefore unable to be properly interviewed or vetted. Anfa’s mother made an impossible choice and had to leave Anfa behind.

Farrah Fazal who was also born in Africa, is an investigative reporter for KSTP-TV in St. Paul, can really connect with the diverse communities she often reports on. Fazal’s ability to connect with the diverse communities she covers enabled her to change the life of a Somali family living in St. Cloud, by finding and helping to reunite Anfa with her parents.

Anfa’s story was just one example of the type of compassionate and involved reporting that Farrah Fazal advocates for and that she shared with UWRF students and community members last Thursday night in the UWRF’s North Hall Auditorium. Fazal was the featured media speaker during the latest installment of the communication and media seminar titled, ‘Shining a light into the shadows,” which was sponsored by the Communication and Media Studies Department at UW-River Falls.

Fazal, who can speak several languages, first told the audience of her diverse background, of being born in Africa and then living and being educated in London and Alberta. Fazal is also an award-winning investigative journalist who has worked for news stations in Texas, Montana, Florida, Canada, Missouri, Nebraska and currently Minnesota.

Reporting with an emphasis on social justice, Fazal covers issues of immigration, sex trafficking, terrorism, the Somali community in Minnesota. She was even one of the very few journalists to get into Pakistan to report on the Taliban and to cover riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Since arriving at KSTP, Fazal has reported on a series called “Hell to Heartland” about the local Somali community in the Minnesota heartland who are separated from their families back in their homeland of Somalia. Her first story of the seminar highlighted the plight of a three-year-old Somali girl, Anfa, who had been separated for three years from her parents, who live in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Fazal was an integral part of a seven-month process of bringing the 3-year-old Anfa from a refugee camp in Kenya to St. Cloud to reunite with her parents. Anfa was just one victim of President Trump’s travel ban on Muslim countries as she was delayed from getting to the United States due to the ban.

Many in the audience acknowledged that Fazal’s story on Anfa humanized the issue of immigration and of the travel ban. Anfa and put a face to the name of “refugee.” Fazal said of her story, “this shows that people are people all over the world” and that, this is a story that she hopes everyone could connect to because we all know what it is to like to have parents who would miss us if we were kept from them.

Not only did Fazal get those in attendance of the seminar to connect with Anfa, through the use of Facebook and Twitter, Fazal was able to share her trips to Africa to visit Anfa to get hundreds of thousands of people around the world to care about a little girl separated from her parents. Fazal credits “the power of storytelling, the powers of connection” to get people to care and connect, which ultimately is her goal as an investigative journalist and storyteller.

Fazal, who doesn’t own a television, credits social media as an essential tool for her job. “We have to think differently how we tell stories,” she said, adding that fewer people are watching broadcast television.

So how is she changing her story format to fit social media?

Fazal explained how she used different clips and segments of Anfa’s story to post on Instagram, Facebook and SnapChat. She is aware that different audiences require different content. “On instagram they want a pretty picture and a couple of sentences, she said, on Facebook, people love stories. They love to read long stories. I have had to learn this is how I can do journalism. I can tell a little story with some pictures on Facebook, and then it’s important that they are coming to see me. They want my stories so it’s important for me to engage and be connected and tell it.”

She admits that the multiplatform storytelling keeps her busy, but it is an essential way to keep her stories relevant and to reach and connect with her audience and build understanding.

The best part of her job, Fazal said, is telling stories of people and issues that matter and make a difference.

“I am in the service of people” she said. “I am going to tell their story; I am going to open that window. I am going to help somebody else, including me, understand a little piece of their lives.”