An Opportunity of a Lifetime

The Asia Journalism Fellowship is an annual programme based in WKWSCI that gives foreign journalists a platform to discover Singapore and explore their passions.

Nathaniel (centre, in blue) with other AJF participants and directors. This year's AJF brought together journalists from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. PHOTOS COURTESY OF LEONG WAI LEONG

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Camelia Nilrukshi Nathaniel was once fearful of public speaking, but her stint as a fellow at the Asia Journalism Fellowship helped her overcome that fear. The AJF gave her a nurturing avenue to pursue and present her research on resettlement and rehabilitation in post-war Sri Lanka.

“Dr. Cherian George (one of AJF’s directors) gave me the opportunity to make the presentation, and all the other staff at AJF were there to give me the strength and confidence to do it,” said the Sri Lankan journalist, who is one of 14 fellows from this year’s AJF programme.

Based at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, the AJF is an initiative co-founded by Temasek Foundation and Nanyang Technological University. Every year, about 16 journalists from Asia are selected to spend three months in Singapore. The selection process involves a presentation of their portfolios and a write-up on themselves.

These journalists pursue personal projects and conduct discussions to find out how various newsrooms across the continent operate. The fellowship is now in its seventh year.

During the programme, fellows are assigned advisers who are industry practitioners. Research typically covers issues pertaining to Singapore and Southeast Asia. This year, the issues included Singapore’s health care and the human trafficking of Bangladeshis.

“AJF gave me the confidence to take on any issue."

At the end of the programme, fellows are required to present one of their research projects in the form of an article, book or documentary.

Once or twice a week, AJF fellows would visit WKWSCI to attend workshops on skills like photography and web analytics. Having access to the school’s facilities was of a tremendous help to the fellows in their research, Nathaniel shared.

Another key highlight for Nathaniel was her sessions with her adviser Alan John, another AJF director and former deputy editor of The Straits Times.

She said John was an invaluable help to her research as he was able to put her in touch with relevant interviewees. For her other project at the AJF, Nathaniel chose to research on autism-related facilities and care in Singapore as her son has autism and it was a matter she cared deeply about .

John helped to link her with The Straits Times Senior Correspondent Radha Basu, who has written extensively on autism.

The AJF also assisted Nathaniel with gaining access to autism schools such as Pathlight School and facilities like Professor Brawn Café, as well as an interview with Autism Resource Centre President Denise Phua, who is also a Member of Parliament. These were crucial components of her research, she said.

The AJF gave Nathaniel newfound confidence to speak in public.

Nathaniel, whose foray into the media industry started as a newscaster for a local radio station in Sri Lanka, writes for The Daily Leader, an English-language newspaper in Sri Lanka.

She also does political interviews and investigative pieces on corruption within Sri Lanka’s government.

Since returning to her country, Nathaniel has begun writing a book on autism, detailing the experiences gained from the time spent with her son and her observations during her stint at the AJF.

She has also been promoted to the post of deputy editor at her newspaper. She added that all the presentations at the AJF were “very well-planned” and that the programme has been helpful for her career advancement.

“AJF gave me the confidence to take on any issue,” she said.