Courage is one of the essential qualities that we look for in our leaders, the courage to do the right thing even when the decisions we are faced with are tough. We all know how hard it is to operate courageously particularly when faced with vested interests or prejudicial views. There are so many levels in cultural hierarchies and in researching this series I have not always found courage where I expected. For example, maybe unsurprisingly, I have not found it in abundance in the Political class, or at Board level, but at the Grassroots level and the Executive level. I have, with your help, found 12 individuals from around the world who are profiled in this Courageous Operators Series. They have been working internationally in the cultural/creative field and have achieved something exceptional, innovative or inspirational. We want to celebrate their work and commend the fact that they have dared to be different.
The first individual we want to take our hat off to is Rex Broekman working out of Peru. Here is his story.....
Having eggs thrown at me; receiving unsettling anonymous phone calls; finding newspapers ripped to pieces on my doorstep; being yelled at in the street and receiving credit from people all over the world are just some examples of the price I am paying for being creative and innovative, but it's what I think of as being myself. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the editor of an English-language newspaper in Huaraz, Peru. Some consider the paper to be controversial; which brings to mind the question, is it all worth it? I believe so. I am from the Netherlands, living in a Spanish-speaking, narrow-minded community, and I am obviously doing something that upsets the locals. Additionally, I live in a country where statistics are often altered, and facts are simply invented to suit the needs of the few. I, on the other hand, endeavour only to speak the truth in the hope that this little Andean city I live in can prevail.
To give you an idea of what Huaraz is like, it is located at 3,100 metres above sea level, and surrounded by towering mountains, including the Huascarán which, at 6,768 metres, is the highest mountain in Peru. This outstanding natural beauty is contrasted by numerous stray dogs, a garbage problem, alcohol and crime problems and corruption. There is more than enough to write about, and one would think the people here in Huaraz would like to see someone speaking out on their behalf. On the contrary. People don't want to read about it; many don't even want to admit there are problems. I am frequently asked why, if this place is so bad, do I not go back to my own country? The answer is simple. Every city in the world has its pros and its cons, but when change is required it is down to us to speak out. Someone has to take a stand, and fight for what is right. I truly believe that Huaraz is a nice off-the-beaten-path place to visit, but living here is a different matter as there is not much to do. This is one of the reasons why, in 2011, I started developing The Huaraz Telegraph – it gave me something to do in my spare time. Another reason for starting the paper was because thirty years ago Huaraz was Peru's third most important tourist destination after Cuzco and Lima. Nowadays Huaraz sits in 85th place, falling further every year. So what happened? Of course there are those who do not want to believe this and that is their prerogative, but I believe if one wants to change things and climb up the rankings then you can no longer ignore the facts.
The Huaraz Telegraph has the format of a newspaper, but it does not report the daily news, rather it carries articles and investigative reports that are aimed at the tourist community. Although I had no experience in creating or maintaining a newspaper, I feel I have done a good job. Tourists travelling from the north of Colombia working their way south via Huaraz said they were impressed with the non-native-made English newspaper. They liked the design and found the articles useful and interesting, and championed the high level of journalism in the paper. And although The Huaraz Telegraph is not the only English paper in South America or Peru, it´s one of a kind, so I have been told.
Constructive criticism has made the paper better over time, and now it is even more interactive than before as we encourage readers and English students in the town to contribute by writing stories or translating a poem from Quechua (the regional language) into English. The Huaraz Telegraph has been criticized in the past, but I know my place; I am an amateur working outside the vested interests - and proud of it.
On a flight back with my parents and brother and sister on-board from Iquitos (Peru) to Lima I sketched out a few rough ideas about the layout and design of the paper. At home I watched hours and hours of video tutorials and trawled the internet researching the subject of forming and maintaining a newspaper. Next I needed someone to print my paper. Of the 20 printing companies in Huaraz only three were capable of producing my paper. Of the three one refused to take my business and the other two were either too expensive or would only print in black and white. Eight hours away in Lima I finally found what I was looking for. People from Huaraz however are always surprised we have the paper printed in Lima and not Huaraz.
In April 2012 The Huaraz Telegraph was launched. We were heavily criticized for the content as well as the spelling errors and grammatical mistakes but this made us stronger as we now had something to improve on. One of the first articles we published was about the famous Santa Cruz trek that was affected by a landslide. This rocked the tourist business in Huaraz, and due to ignorance and misinformation, I as the article's author was vilified as being responsible for the downfall of Huaraz. To this day no local tourism agency has asked to advertise in The Huaraz Telegraph, which is disappointing because they could reach a wider audience now the paper is available online.
What people need to understand is that it is the job of The Huaraz Telegraph to inform and entertain. Indeed it is in the best interests of the paper (and the town) to increase tourist numbers in Huaraz, we are not trying to turn people away, or discourage them from visiting. We need them and we need their money so we can improve the city.
Huaraz has had problems for decades, and I don't believe that The Huaraz Telegraph will influence those in power to make the changes we need. Nor do I think that the articles we publish have any bearing on whether or not people visit Huaraz. I do believe that the paper provides a clear picture of what is happening here. I believe that if we reach out to enough people, one day something will click and changes will be made.
I want to keep the newspaper free. But to do this we need local businesses to buy advertising space, they need to realise that advertising is not a waste of time and money. Instead it is an investment in the future of their business as it gets their name out and about to a wider audience. We can also take international sponsorship and grants but I have not yet explored this route, however, if anyone reading this wants to support us we would be happy to hear from you. One of the possibilities could be producing a bilingual The Huaraz Telegraph, something I am looking into but this will not be easy because finding the right qualified people in Huaraz is a mission impossible. Quality costs money and will most likely mean that I will need to bring in people from Lima. A bilingual newspaper can reach a much greater readership which would be ideal for every party involved.
Just recently, I have also been co-hosting a television program called No toque su televisor (Don´t Touch Your Television) on a local TV channel called Canal Tres - Cable Andino. We discuss social and political issues as well as talking about some of the articles that have been published in the paper. The programme is broadcasted live and lasts half an hour where my co-host and I share our differences with the viewers. The idea of the director of the channel was to have two distinctive people living in the same place (Huaraz), discussing everything that´s important in the city. There is a certain freedom as topics are chosen by us and like the newspaper, we are looking for interaction with the viewers as during the broadcast spectators can call to the programme and join the discussion live on TV. I have become good friends with the director of the channel and he has even asked me if I can look into his programmes, although I laughed maybe a little bit too hard when he admitted there were only 5 programmes produced at the moment but who knows what the future brings. The channel also runs a small magazine with some smaller articles and I got the impression that he wants me to do that as well, although I have postponed a decision until February.
On first coming to Peru as a tourist in 2005 I could never have imagined that eight years later I would be married, teaching at a university, editor of a newspaper, or co-hosting a television program. The Huaraz Telegraph has undoubtedly made me the most well-known and unpopular 'gringo' in town, but I am confident that there are people out there who respect my honesty and willingness to speak out, and believe that our investigations and articles will indeed bring about a change of attitude in Huaraz.
The Huarez Telegraph is available to read online at www.thehuaraztelegraph.com