Malawi: Blogger wins BlogHer International Activist Award

We first wrote about her in a post that profiled four Malawian female bloggers, on November 4th, 2007. This time we write about her exclusively, and her recent achievement solely to do with her blog. Malawian blogger Pilirani Semu-Banda has won a scholarship award that will take her to the BlogHer '09 conference in Chicago, USA. The conference will be held July 24-25. Ms. Semu-Banda is one of 5 winners, with the other winners being Annie Zaidi (India), Cristina Quisbert (Bolivia), Toyin Ajao-Dawodu (Nigeria) and Esra'a El Shafei (Bahrain) (Ms. El Shafei is unable to attend this year due to another commitment).

Through her eponymously titled blog, Ms. Semu-Banda blogs with a purpose to “bring awareness and change to Malawi's social and economical problems,” according to a description from her nomination published in an announcement on the BlogHer website. The description goes on to say that Semu-Banda's writing has influenced development projects, citing “the improvement of monitoring programs to get rid of child labour in the tobacco industry”, and “an increase of treatment to women suffering from fistula,” as examples.

<em/>Pilirani Semu-Banda

Pilirani Semu-Banda

In her most recent blog post, Semu-Banda wrote about poverty as the key issue that was “uppermost” in the minds of most Malawians as they prepared to vote in Malawi's fourth multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections on May 19, 2009.

Semu-Banda is an award-winning journalist whose stories focus on marginalized groups and individuals, and on social problems including child labor and exploitation, inequality, and human rights abuses. In December 2008 she received an ‘Every Human Has Rights’ Media Award, presented by Internews Europe, in France, for her story “Playing with Children's Lives: Big Tobacco in Malawi.” Attending the ceremony and presenting the awards to her and other winners were The Elders, who according to The Daily Times included former US president Jimmy Carter, former Irish President Mary Robinson, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Also receiving an award at the event was Malawian journalist Gabriel Kamlomo, of Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), for an investigative radio report he did on a clinic that accidentally transfused HIV-infected blood to a then 2-year old child, in May 2007. ZBS is so far the only Malawi-based radio station that transmits both on airwaves and on the Internet in real time.

Semu-Banda has previously won an Education Journalism Award, and has on two occasions been voted Malawi’s best female journalist. The BlogHer International Activist Scholarship award is the first known international award to be won by a Malawian blogger for a blog. At this year's BlogHer annual conference Semu-Banda will join fellow award winners on a panel titled “Leadership: The BlogHer ’09 International Activist BlogHer Scholarship Winners Share Their Work”, on Saturday July 25, 1.30-2.45pm. The BlogHer conference will be held at The Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, in downtown Chicago.

The Selection Committee for the 2009 International Activist Scholarship comprised 7 judges, who included Georgia Popplewell, the Managing Director for Global Voices Online. The other judges were Denise Tanton, Elisa Camahort Page, Julie Ross Godar, Kim Pearson, Nelly Yusupova, and Jenifer Scharpen. The selection committee “were looking for sites that were, in fact, bloggy, and for those that had a specific activist intent.” And they have high hopes for what this award entails for other bloggers: “We are convinced that we can all learn practical advice about affecting social change via blog from our scholarship winners…and we can all walk away inspired by their courage, their perseverance, and their accomplishments!”


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