Inspired by her childhood trips to Kenya with her parents for an international nonprofit, Christena Dowsett has returned to Africa with Action Africa Help International in East Africa as a photojournalist.
Originally recruited to UNT as a track and field athlete, Christena only accepted because of the Mayborn’s full-fledged photojournalism program. She eventually took a year off of sports to concentrate on her love of the lens, and it’s paid off in spades.
Having a Bachelor’s of Arts in Journalism from the Mayborn certainly helped her land a spot with Action Africa. “[They] had posted a job listing for a media intern for a three-month stint,” she says. “I knew it was a long shot, but I applied anyway. It took several months of back and forth bargaining to come up with a situation that would best suit both sides, but they finally offered me a one-year contract, and I happily took them up on it.”
Christena has spent the last eight months in Africa, making a difference as a photographer, videographer, designer, copy editor, blogger, and website and social media manager—all rolled into one. “The Mayborn offers a holistic approach to journalism,” she says. “It allows you to see the whole machine working together. If you’re a print major, you still get to understand broadcast. If you’re a photographer, you still have to learn design and copy.” She often wondered why the Mayborn made her learn every side of the industry. But she soon found out. “Because I paid attention and didn’t slough off the extra stuff, I’m able to live in Africa now and do the work that I love,” she says. “I have competitive advantage because I’m able to do so much more than just take good pictures.”
Her work in Africa can be heartbreaking, such as finding out a woman she documented in South Sudan died of AIDS. However, she says, “I cling to where I have seen real change happen in someone’s life. In Kenya, I documented a deaf mother’s struggle to save her girls from early marriage. In turn, an organization for the deaf found a way to give her work so that she can provide for her family.”
Working in such extreme conditions, Christena knows she can still count on her former professors here, even two years post graduation. She lists Tracy Everbach, Nann Goplerud and Thorne Anderson as major sources of support and inspiration. “Open doors and shoulders were always available across the whole department if I needed to get out a good cry or simply couldn’t handle the weight of the world,” Christena says. “Whether it was related to journalism or not, they always took the time to invest in me. Even now I don’t go more than a few weeks without communicating for critiques, advice and discussions about the meaning of life. They continue to educate me and work with me even two years after graduating and I think that’s really what makes the difference.”
Visit Christena's website to view her work and read up-to-date blog posts about what she's doing.