Mellissa Fung speaks at Lakeshore for national lecture tour

Mellissa Fung at Humber College (Lakeshore campus) Mellissa Fung spoke to Humber journalism students about her experience as CBC foreign correspondent in Afghanistan. (Giancarlo Di Peco)

Giancarlo Di Peco
Biz/Tech Reporter

Former CBC journalist Mellissa Fung spoke about women in Afghanistan and answered questions on Wednesday from Humber students on the last stop of her seven-school tour.

Fung toured Canadian schools with Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC), a non-profit development agency that works in continents such as Asia and Africa to create sustainable solutions for global poverty. AKFC felt Fung, who reported during a seven-year period from Afghanistan and was taken hostage during the conflict, offered significant experience as a Canadian journalist.

“My first tour in 2007 I was embedded with the Canadian military at the base in Kandahar,” Fung told the gathering of journalism students at Lakeshore campus. “Halfway through my six-week rotation I started getting restless, I wanted to get off the base and talk to women and children, start doing stories on real people.”

Fung, who was kidnapped October 12, 2008 in Kabul, spoke about the trials Afghan women face in the country and how their way of life has been improved since 2001. She focused on the three major areas of development in the country: education, health care, and human rights. She was released from captivity in November of 2008 after 28 days in captivity that left her with physical scars from multiple stabbing wounds and mental ones she finds much harder to discuss, instead choosing to write about them in her memoir, Under an Afghan Sky.

When she returned to Afghanistan after her abduction, she was asked a number of times why she decided to return to the country.

“For me, the stories become personal,” Fung said, “We’re all journalists in this room, you never want to become the story and I became the story in a big way, at the expense of the stories I went there to tell.”

Fung returned to Afghanistan with the mission to finish the stories she never finished because of her kidnapping. The trips back to the area were “a little about trying to make it right again, put the spotlight back on the Afghan people.” Fung added that she wasn’t sure if foreign intervention helped, and she needed to investigate herself.

“We wanted to bring Mellissa to journalism schools across the country because we think that the reporting she does on Afghanistan tells a really important part of the Afghan story,” said Rosemary Quipp, public affairs officer at AKFC.

Fung displayed a short video that detailed positive developments in the country, and participated in a Q&A with the students and faculty that attended the event.

“We were really fortunate to have Mellissa Fung here today,” said Carey French, a professor in the journalism program. “She is so integral to our understanding of Afghanistan.”

Journalism student Adam Jönsson, 23, editor of the J-Source International Bureau at Humber, a project to link information about Canadian journalism across the country, found the seminar especially helpful.

“It is important especially for me who wants to do journalism work abroad,” Jönsson said.

Fung’s presentation was passionate and she felt that she needed to talk about the women in Afghanistan, aside from her own experiences.

“Starting from my first tour there I always thought I needed to meet the people, especially the women,” said Fung. “The Taliban were oppressing women there and girls weren’t allowed to go to school, it was something I needed to explore whether or not foreign intervention meant a better life for women and girls.”

Fung hopes that her tour will increase the attention on what is truly occurring in Afghanistan and not about what she went through.