Bertha Foundation supports activists, storytellers and lawyers working to bring about social and economic justice and human rights for all.
A few months ago, Bertha Foundation launched a new global fellowship program for activists and investigative journalists called the Bertha Challenge. We invited applicants to pitch projects that explore and expose one of today’s most pressing social justice concerns: equitable access to land and housing. To read more about the Bertha Challenge click here.
The response to our call was extraordinary. We received 130 applications from 47 countries. The quantity and quality of these applications is a testament to the impactful and fearless work being done around the world to better understand and respond to the forces that perpetuate land and housing injustice.
Today we are proud to introduce our 2019/2020 Bertha Fellows.
Location: United States
Host Organization: Highlander Center
Charice is a popular educator, auntie and abolitionist from Alabama and Tennessee. She proudly identifies as a Black & queer Appalachian (Afrolachian) and seeks her own justice and dignity as such. Her life and work have and will continue to be centered on her folk and communities of color, workers, land stewards, educators and the incarcerated.
In 2017, Charice joined the Highlander Center, a regional popular education and social justice training center. She then directed two cohorts of an intergenerational fellowship for training and projects addressing current economic and racial inequity in Central Appalachia (land ownership, mass incarceration, youth rights, harmful development, community governance, etc). Previously, she educated youth on food justice and land sovereignty, as well as organized towards power shifts in Knoxville to address the current housing crisis and development that harms cash-poor communities.
Charice’s current educational work confronts the structural impact of capitalism and racism, which includes privatized land ownership that promotes excessive land holdings by large corporations and institutions such as colleges and universities. Her primary focus is prison abolition, solidarity economies, democratic governance and land reform that involves reparations for Black folk and Indigenous peoples’ land that was looted by the U.S. government.
Location: Northern Ireland
Host Organization: Participation and The Practice of Rights Program (PPR)
Elfie is a human rights activist and grassroots community organizer who lives and works in Belfast. She has organized with various campaigns in Britain, Ireland and Greece, for migrant and refugee rights, environmental justice and access to safe housing. Elfie’s studies in social anthropology led her to Greece to specialize in the self organization of groups responding to the refugee ‘crisis’ in Athens.
Elfie’s current activism supports homeless people, refugees and asylum seeking families in Belfast – a city plagued by sectarian division and security barriers where disputes over power, land and housing have fuelled conflict for centuries and political and developer led manipulation of social housing policy is ongoing. Since 2017, Elfie has been lead organizer with ‘Equality Can’t Wait – #BuildHomesNow’ – a campaign led by homeless families in Belfast and supported by human rights organization, Participation and the Practice of Rights. Elfie has supported families to map vacant land in the city, document continued religious inequality and uncover the extent of child homelessness by developing a youth led response. Throughout the Bertha Challenge, Elfie will work closely with Bertha Fellow Barry McCaffrey, an investigative journalist at The Detail.tv.
Location: South Africa
Host Organization: Ndifuna Ukwazi
Jared was Co-Director at Ndifuna Ukwazi, an activist organization in Cape Town bringing together attorneys, organizers and researchers in campaigns to counter the powerful interests and policies that replicate spatial apartheid and inequality. He was a founder of Reclaim The City, a social movement of poor and working class people in the inner city who are resisting evictions, stopping the collusion and sale of public land to private companies and securing affordable housing in well-located areas. He has worked to secure the first commitment since the end of apartheid to build social housing in the heart of the city, an end to relocation camps for evictees and inclusionary housing in private developments. He helped to occupy a derelict public hospital in the inner city that now supports 800 occupiers who would have been displaced to the periphery.
Jared will use the fellowship to deepen his understanding of the financial system underpinning the housing crisis and the alternative models that are working. He wants to bring home new strategies and tactics that are disrupting business as usual and develop creative tools to educate fellow members and broaden campaigns to a wider audience. He plans to publish an illustrated guide to tell the story for activists in the city and beyond
Host Organization: Canada Without Poverty
Leilani, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, the world’s top watchdog on housing, has set out to reignite the idea that housing is a social good not an asset or commodity. In the role since 2014, Farha has presented reports to the UN on homelessness, the connection between housing and life itself, the treatment of housing as a commodity and its consequences for people who are poor as well as the middle class. She has traveled to Egypt, Chile, India, France and Portugal among other places to investigate whether governments are meeting their human rights obligations with respect to housing.
Leilani recently launched a new initiative called The Shift, a global movement which calls for everyone to approach housing as a human right, not a commodity. A lawyer by training, Leilani has worked to advance the rights of poor and marginalized groups throughout her career. She is the Executive Director of the NGO Canada Without Poverty and was instrumental in launching a historic constitutional challenge to government inaction in the face of rising homelessness in Canada. Most recently, her organization was successful in a Constitutional challenge to restrictions on the free expression of charitable organizations in Canada.
Leilani was awarded an honorary doctorate by Mount Saint Vincent University in 2015 in recognition of her work, the Barbra Schlifer Award for her commitment to advancing women’s rights and most recently the Jack Layton Social Progress Award for Leadership.
Host Organization: Landesa Rural Development Institute
Monica is the Country Program Director of Landesa Tanzania, which works to secure land rights for the poorest men and women, especially in rural areas. She has more than 25 years of experience leading women’s and children’s rights programs. She has led national, regional and international programs on advocacy, legal and human rights awareness on land rights, inheritance rights, the impact of child marriage and gender-based violence using collaborative and human rights-based approaches.
Significantly, Monica was UNIFEM’s contact person in Tanzania in the 1990s. In 1998, she initiated and was the first coordinator of the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Task Force, comprised of 37 NGOs. She is the first chairperson of Women in Law and Development in Africa –Tanzania, founder of the Children’s Dignity Forum and, in 2007, initiated Tanzania’s first national forum to end child marriage. She is also the founder of the Women’s Legal Aid Center (WLAC) and also facilitated the establishment of 18 paralegal centers to provide legal aid services to poor women and children. She is a 2003 recipient of the American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Award for significant contribution to human rights, rule of law and access to justice.
Host Organization: Center for Spatial Justice
Yaşar is an Istanbul-based urbanist, activist and researcher. He is one of the co-founders and the director of the Center for Spatial Justice, a non-profit working towards fairer, more democratic, ecological urban and rural spaces. His PhD research in Habitat Unit (TU Berlin) is on the right to land movements of informally developed neighborhoods in Istanbul. Yaşar previously worked as an action planner with urban communities in Dominican Republic struggling against evictions and on refugee camp improvement projects in the Middle East. Since 2010, he has been teaching participatory planning and co-housing courses at Darmstadt Technical University (Germany) as a visiting lecturer. Yaşar is a voluntary consultant for Düzce Hope Homes, the first participatory social housing project in Turkey and one of the World Habitat Awards 2017 finalists.
Host Organization: Periferia Policy and Research Center
Zsuzsanna is an organizer and politically engaged researcher from Budapest, Hungary. She has been working on issues related to housing for the past ten years from various perspectives. In terms of research, her focus has been to understand how the financialization of housing plays out in Eastern European countries and Hungary in particular.
In terms of organizing, Zsuzsanna was a member of a grassroots housing rights movement for many years and is currently involved in establishing collectively owned housing cooperatives in Hungary. She is also well connected to housing researchers and activists in various Eastern European countries. She believes work to translate between different spheres (namely those of academia, public policy, the market and political movements or households) is crucial – and this is what her host organization, Periféria Center is engaged to do.
Zsuzsanna views current housing policy as one of the key vehicles for increasing economic injustice in Hungary and is keen to find ways to stand up against this in spite of an essentially hostile political and institutional environment.
Location: Northern Ireland
Host Organization: The Detail, Below the Radar
Barry McCaffrey is a reporter with The Detail.tv investigative website in Northern Ireland. He has been a journalist for 20 years and has reported widely for national and international media outlets. Throughout his career he has worked with a wide range of human rights organizations.
In 2005, Barry traveled to South Africa to contrast the peace process’ initiatives in the north of Ireland and the post-apartheid era. In 2013, he visited Germany to investigate how the country dealt with the truth recovery process of allowing ordinary citizens access to files which the former Stasi secret police held on them for decades. In the same year, Barry was awarded the Northern Ireland Attorney General’s Justice Media Award for an investigation into the use of solitary confinement against young people in Northern Ireland’s prisons. He is a previous CIPR Digital Journalist of the Year winner. Barry worked on the award-winning documentary No Stone Unturned, which exposed police collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the murder of six unarmed civilians in June 1994.
Barry will be working with Bertha Fellow Elfie Seymour, an activist from the Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), on how the nexus between property, profit and politics contributes to land and housing injustice in Northern Ireland, and how this can be challenged.
Location: El Salvador
Host Organization: La Prensa Gráfica
Glenda is a Salvadoran journalist with 18 years of experience conducting in depth, long-form journalism. She specializes in public health, gender equity, environmental issues, education, migration, violence and citizen participation. She has been the editor of the Sunday magazine Séptimo Sentido and part of La Prensa Gráfica since 2009 and a distinguished member of the CONNECTAS Community.
Glenda worked as a professor of journalism specialising, together with a University Doctor, José Matías Delgado, training on data and investigative journalism at Internews. For the School of Communications Mónica Herrera, she developed a research project on the role of social networks in the electoral campaigns of 2019 in Guatemala and El Salvador. She was a finalist for the 2008 Every Human Has Rights Award, organized by the French agency Internews. She won the Central American Health Award 2008, organized by Merck Sharp & amp; Dohme. In April 2017, she was part of the first generation of the InternetLab School on Internet Policies and Journalism in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Location: United Kingdom
Host Organization: Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Maeve is an award-winning investigative journalist and founder of the critically-acclaimed podcast The Tip Off. Working at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism as part of the new Bureau Local project, Maeve has led nationwide, collaborative investigations on issues including cuts to domestic violence refuges, politicians’ use of Facebook “dark ads” and homeless deaths on the streets of London. Her latest investigation, a year-long project counting homeless deaths, prompted widespread debate, influenced national and local policy and caused the Office for National Statistics to start counting when and how people are dying homeless in the UK.
Maeve is now looking forward to investigating the UK housing market and the inequities impacting the most vulnerable in society. The Bureau Local is a network of more than 900 local journalists, civic technologists and members of the public around the country. Maeve is part of a team that helps coordinate and facilitate the network to tell revelatory, investigative stories at a local and national level. Maeve has previously produced investigations for BBC radio, the Guardian and Buzzfeed UK. She has won numerous awards for her journalism and has been nominated twice for the Orwell Prize.
Host Organization: The Smallholders Foundation
Nnaemeka is a farmer, community radio journalist and Executive Director of The Smallholders Foundation. He founded The Smallholders Foundation in 2003 as a rural development organization to inform, educate and improve the livelihood of rural small farmers, using educational radio programs and leading demonstrations in the Southern part of Nigeria. The organization uses its Smallholder Farmers Rural Radio Network to reach farmers in Imo State, South-Eastern Nigeria, with daily agriculture, environmental management and marketing messages. The educational radio programs enable small farmers to acquire contemporary agricultural and environmental management techniques, receive daily market information, advertise their farm products and learn business skills to increase their agricultural yield and household income.
As a social entrepreneur, Nnaemeka has received more than 30 local and international awards for his innovations that improve the yield and income of farmers. Nnaemeka is Nigeria’s most prominent young agriculturist.
As a Bertha Fellow, Nnaemeka’s work will focus on the right to secured land access for smallholder farmers in Imo State, investigating specifically the proposed massive exploration of mineral resources by multinational companies and the effect on farmers and their land.
Host Organization: Forum des Alternatives Maroc
After studying economics, Omar began his journalism career by joining Atlantic Radio, a Casablanca-based station focused on economic and financial issues. He then joined Le Journal Hebdomadaire, a weekly magazine critical of the Moroccan establishment. The publication was shut down by the Moroccan authorities after a series of trials. During the Arab Spring, he launched the French-speaking edition of Lakome.com, a news website that became a symbol for the movements struggling, and was a member of Mamfakinch, a collective website focused on social movements, activism and injustice. In 2013, he won the IMS-AMJI first prize of investigative journalism for their long-form series of articles about sand quarries exploitation in Morocco and the effect this hand on smaller land owners.
As a freelance journalist, Omar led an investigation about the “Servants of The State” case by revealing a list of high-ranked politicians, army leaders and personalities close to the Royal Palace who benefitted from large areas of public lands in the most expensive region in Rabat, for which they paid nothing. He is now working on land grabbing as an economic instrument. He is an alum of the Thomson Reuters Foundation Wealth Of Nations program 2014.
Host Organization: Standard Media Group
Protus is a Kenyan journalist based in Nairobi. He has 15 years of experience in journalism and works for the 115 year-old Standard Group PLC. He writes on politics, development, health, education, agriculture and environment with a specific interest in climate change. He is a green economy champion and his stories on socio-economic topics like land, water and housing have necessitated policy reviews.
Protus has won many international awards and trainings in investigative journalism. In 2013, he won an award by Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR) and the US based Oakland Institute to do an investigative story on land grabs in Africa. In 2014, he attended the cross examination course for investigative journalists by Kenya Media Programme and the University of Johannesburg. In 2017, Protus attended a six-month ‘Tell the Story – Investigative and Conflict Sensitive Reporting’ sponsored by Deutsche Welle (DW) Akademie. In 2017, he attended Thomson Reuters Foundation training for journalists to understand how their country could be losing money via illicit means. In 2018, he was awarded the 2018 Journalist Grant from Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) to attend the conference World Water Week in Stockholm. He studied Media and Ethnicity in Kenya at the United States International University, Africa and Journalism at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communications.
Host Organization: The Centre for Investigative Journalism, Nepal
An investigative and data journalist from Nepal, Rudra has worked for The Himalayan Times and Republica, the leading English dailies in the country. His journalism focuses on political economy, infrastructure, foreign investments, private sector and parliamentary affairs. He also regularly contributes investigative reports to The Centre for Investigative Journalism, Nepal. His latest investigative report uncovered collusion among civil contractors, bureaucrats and lawmakers to change the law to limit competition.
In 2016, he collaborated with six other local reporters to investigate post-earthquake reconstruction, the country’s first-ever collaborative data journalism initiative. He analyzed data to show how shortages of manpower caused delay in rebuilding and highlighting the fact that with the available manpower, it would take over a century to rebuild the devastation of the earthquake. He has also trained and mentored young reporters on data and investigative reporting.
For the Bertha Challenge, he will report on the causes behind the lack of housing rights for the urban poor as well as professionals in Nepal. He will also explore how poor households and farmers in rural areas have been victims of land-grabbers.
Host Organization: AthensLive
Sotiris is co-founder of AthensLive, the first English-language non-profit news outlet in Greece, and producer of The Undocumented, a podcast which aims to combat hate speech by developing a new and creative counter-narrative.
Since June 2018, he has been working at the NGO Network for Children’s Rights as the coordinator and editor-in-chief of Migratory Birds, the first newspaper in Greece made by refugee, migrant and Greek youth. He is also serving as a teaching assistant in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Previously, Sotiris was a producer and researcher for the national TV documentary series 28 Europe.
Sotiris holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies from the Panteion University of Athens and a Master’s degree in New Media and Digital Culture from the University of Amsterdam. In the summer of 2017, Sotiris was granted a scholarship from Stavros Niarchos Foundation to participate in Lede 12, a post-bac certification program on coding and data analysis from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and Department of Computer Science in New York. As someone who intends to make an impact in Greek media, Sotiris is committed to applying innovative journalism practices to help new voices emerge in public discourse.