Meet the 2015 fellows

The 2015 Bringing Home the World International Reporting Fellows:

Beenish Ahmed
Media organization: ThinkProgress
Destination country: Kenya

Beenish Ahmed is a world reporter at ThinkProgress. She recently founded THE ALIGNIST, a media project that considers current events through the lens of literature. She's a former Pulitzer Center on Crises Reporting grantee to Pakistan, Kroc Fellow in NPR's Washington, D.C. headquarters, and Fulbright Scholar to the United Kingdom. Beenish holds an MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies from the University of Cambridge and graduated with highest honors from the University of Michigan.

Project Description: Ahmed will report on gender and sexuality in Kenya -- from novel approaches to safeguard women and girls from sexual violence including FGM to the impact of recent legislation curbing women's rights to efforts to combat the criminalization of homosexuality.

Christine Armario
Media organization: The Associated Press
Destination country: Cuba

Christine Armario is a staff writer with The Associated Press in Los Angeles. Based in Miami for the last five years, she contributed to the AP’s coverage of: the Cuban exile community, including stories on rafters, defected ballet dancers, and the recent decision by U.S. and Cuban leaders to begin normalizing relations with Cuba; the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; and a prison fire in Honduras that killed 362 inmates in 2012. Throughout her time at the AP, she has been a reporter on the education beat, covering the impact of state and federal policies on students and efforts to reform the nation’s lowest performing schools.

Armario began her career as a crime reporter at Newsday, where her work was recognized by the New York Press Club with its Nellie Bly award for young journalists. She was born in Miami to Cuban parents and grew up throughout the U.S., Europe and South America. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and comparative literature from New York University and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Project Description: Armario will report stories on life in Cuba as the island moves closer to normalizing relations with the U.S.

Mariano Castillo
Media organization: CNN Digital
Destination country: Dominican Republic/Haiti

Mariano Castillo is a writer and weekend supervising editor for CNN Digital, alternating roles that see him covering national and international news or overseeing the day's assignments.

Based in Atlanta, Castillo has covered the 2009 coup in Honduras, the rescue of the Chilean miners, and the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

Prior to CNN, he was a correspondent for the San Antonio Express-News based along the U.S.-Mexico border, first in the Rio Grande Valley and later Laredo.

Castillo studied at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, but you're more likely to see him wearing the colors of his other alma mater, Texas A&M.

Project Description: Castillo will conduct an investigation into how Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian immigrants are discriminated against by society and state alike, as well as the deep roots of racism in Hispaniola.

Kenya Downs
Media Organization: Freelance
Destination country: Caribbean
Kenya Downs is a freelance reporter and digital producer, currently with National Public Radio. She also reports for the network’s blog, Code Switch - analyzing race, identity and culture. Kenya has a television background, including production roles with CBS News, Al Jazeera and NewsOne.

Her career has focused on underrepresented people in media, including African-American, Afro-Latino and Caribbean-American communities. She has reported on pro-statehood protests in Puerto Rico, immigration policies toward Haitian descendants in the Dominican Republic and broke news of leaked revisions to U.S. Army grooming standards that were later ruled discriminatory against women of color by the U.S. Department of Defense.

A native of Milwaukee, Downs holds a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from Howard University and a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from American University. She has interned with NBC News, ABC News and Al Jazeera. In her spare time, she is a professional samba dancer, plays soccer and runs.

Project Description: Downs will travel to the Caribbean to analyze the impact of U.S. drug policies, primarily in Trinidad, St. Lucia and The Bahamas.

Raymond Downs
Media Organization: Broward/Palm Beach New Times
Destination country: Nicaragua

Ray Downs is a staff writer at the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, a Miami-based alt-weekly where he works on investigative pieces about the strange world of South Florida. Before that, he was a staff writer at the Riverfront Times in St. Louis where he covered a wide range of stories, including the Ferguson protests, and won a Missouri Press award for breaking the story of Jeff Mizanskey, who has served more than 20 years of a life without parole for marijuana-only convictions under a unique state law. His online work has appeared in VICE, The Atlantic, and other news websites. He studied Philosophy at Brooklyn College and is originally from Buffalo, NY.

Project Description: Downs plans to investigate effects of economic and ecological changes on indigenous peoples.

Akiko Fujita
Media organization: Freelance
Destination country: Indonesia

Akiko Fujita is a freelance multimedia correspondent with more than a decade of experience. Her passion for storytelling has taken her all over the U.S. and Asia, where she's covered some of the biggest stories of the last several years, including the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster. She currently works as a Los-Angeles based freelance reporter, filing stories for digital, radio and TV outlets. Prior to her move stateside, Fujita worked as a Tokyo-based correspondent for ABC News. Prior to that, she worked in Seattle, as a general assignment reporter for ABC-affiliate, KOMO-TV. Her work has also been featured on ESPN, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and PRI's The World. She is a proud graduate of the University of Southern California, where she majored in Journalism and International Relations.

Project Description: The global appetite for tech gadgets is fueling a dangerous tin mining boom on Bangka Island, Indonesia, leaving behind an environmental disaster unlikely to recover for decades. Fujita’s project will examine how the American demand for smartphones and laptops has transformed the lives of Bangka residents, and attempt to find concrete solutions to end the destructive cycle there.

Michelle Kanaar
Media organization: Freelance, working with The Miami Herald
Destination country: The Dominican Republic
Michelle Kanaar is a freelance photojournalist and teaching artist based in Chicago, covering topics such as education, immigration and housing. Her current long-term project is on youth homelessness. She employs investigative reporting and documentary storytelling techniques to spread awareness, understanding, unity and change.

Project Description: Ten percent of U.S. Major League Baseball players are Dominican, however they represent only a minuscule fraction of the Dominican boys who spend their youth training for the big leagues, most of whom do not end up signing and are left with nothing. Kanaar will document the social and economic impact of this lost generation of Dominican youth.

Timothy Mak
Media organization: The Daily Beast
Destination country: Liberia and Djibouti

Tim Mak is the senior congressional correspondent for The Daily Beast, covering national security, the role of race in politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. He previously worked at The Washington Examiner and Politico, and has seven years of reporting experience. Mak is a graduate of McGill University, and grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. He's reported abroad from Hong Kong and the West Bank.

Project Description: Mak’s project will be to assess the U.S. military operation in West Africa -- was it a good use of taxpayer money, was it conducted in a logical manner, and what effects did it have on the local population?

Jenni Monet
Media organization: Al Jazeera English
Destination Country: Peru
Jenni Monet is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. Her career has spanned various roles in commercial and public radio and television, print and digital media with such outlets as CBS News, CNN, Public Radio International and Al Jazeera. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press, the National Broadcasters Association, The Association for Women in Communication and others.

Monet holds an MA in International Politics from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and is a board member of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. She hails from the Laguna Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico.

Project Description: A chronic history of racism in Peru is explored through a popular television show, La Paisana Jacinta, a controversial comedy series criticized for portraying indigenous women as dumb, dirty and ugly. Monet reports for Al Jazeera English.

Laura Rena Murray
Media Organization: Freelance
Destination country: India

Laura Rena Murray is an investigative journalist who tackles public interest and accountability stories that highlight corruption, mismanagement or human rights violations across the world. She has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, Al Jazeera America, San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, 100Reporters and the Center for Public Integrity. Her work has been recognized by the Overseas Press Club, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Initiative, Nation Institute, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ragdale Foundation, Lambda Literary Foundation and National Lesbian and Gay Journalism Association.

Project Description: Murray will look at the work of a New York-based nurse practitioner who started a program to deliver nonjudgmental health care to transgender patients in India via Skype and intermittent visits.

Alyssa Perry
Media Organization: Freelance
Destination country: South Korea

Alyssa Jeong Perry is a Bay-Area-based freelance journalist who has been published in The Guardian, Eloquence Magazine, and many other publications. Her focus has been on analyzing social policy including immigration and women and children's rights. From 2010-2014, she lived in Seoul, South Korea where she traveled through Asia extensively and worked as a journalist and copy editor. Currently, she is a graduate student at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism where she is working under the mentorship of Lowell Bergman and the Investigative Reporting Program.

Project Description: Due to US policy loopholes, many foreign-born adult adoptees are susceptible to deportation by Homeland Security--because they were never naturalized. Perry will be exploring what happened in US immigration policy that caused this error using the narratives of Korean-born adoptees who were affected.

Mythili Rao
Media organization: The Takeaway, WNYC
Destination country: South Korea

Mythili Rao covers books for WNYC, where she is a producer for The Takeaway, a daily news program from Public Radio International. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Daily Beast, Newsweek, and other publications. She previously worked on CNN’s New York Bureau, where she contributed to the network’s Peabody-winning political coverage in 2008. She was a Jefferson Scholar at the University of Virginia and holds a Master’s degree in Literature from New York University. She currently serves on the board of the South Asian Journalists Association.

Project Description: In recent years, Korean pop culture has exploded into an economic asset the South Korean government estimates is worth more than $80 billion. But the country has yet to produce a world-famous writer. Rao reports on how a new wave of translation-- much of it funded or subsidized by the Korean government’s Ministry of Culture-- could change that, perhaps opening the door for the country to finally win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Paula Rogo
Media organization: The Christian Science Monitor
Destination country: Ethiopia

Paula Rogo is a staff writer and the Africa Editor at The Christian Science Monitor, where she writes and edits content on Sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to working at CSM, she was a Web Producer at PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and an Online Producer at PBS Newshour in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Project Description: Rogo will report on the surge in foreign adoptions from Ethiopia and how the lack of national oversight of the industry has left room for fraud and deception.

Nadia Tamez-Robledo
Media organization: Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Destination country: Mexico

Nadia Tamez-Robledo is a South Texas border native who reports on education, immigration and the intersection of the two for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. She has garnered awards for reporting on the impact of and response to migrant deaths in Brooks County as well as growth in the Coastal Bend. Tamez-Robledo is also a 2014 ICFJ-United Nations Foundation Climate Change Journalism fellow. Originally from San Benito, she earned her journalism degree from the University of Texas-Pan American before moving to Corpus Christi.

Project Description: Tamez-Robledo will travel to Mexico to learn about the daily lives and long term plans of people who grew up undocumented in the United States and recently were deported, potentially with little to no family, resources or language skills. She also will examine the evolving strategy of attorneys representing Latin American citizens applying for political asylum.

Jorge Valencia
Media organization: North Carolina Public Radio
Project destination: Turkey

Jorge Valencia is a political reporter at North Carolina Public Radio. He grew up in Bogotá, Colombia, and the suburbs of Washington, D.C. He began interviewing bands and performing artists while he was a student at the University of Maryland, and interned for four newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal. After graduating, he reported mostly on crime over four years at The Roanoke Times in Southwest Virginia. While his current focus at North Carolina Public Radio is on issues of state policy and politics, his reporting interests also include the perception of Islam among non-Muslim Americans.

Project Description: Valencia will be doing reporting on the medical and dental crisis facing refugees of the Syrian Civil War, and the efforts of Syrian-Americans to help them.