Winner of the Australian Young Journalist of the Year Award and United Nations Media Peace Prize, Yalda Hakim’s three part series on Iraq will go on air soon
She may have fled from war-torn Afghanistan as a child, but it hasn’t stopped her from going back to other conflict prone zones including Afghanistan, South Sudan and Libya, unearthing and relating the stories of the people who live there. But Yalda Hakim, chooses to court danger over and over again, because she knows the importance of witnessing “tragedies as they happened and history as it was unfolding”. This young woman, one of Australia’s brightest young journalists and winner of the Australian Young Journalist of the Year Award and United Nations Media Peace Prize for Best Australian Television News, will soon be making her on-screen debut on BBC World News presenting a special three-part series titled, Iraq: Ten Years On.
In an e-mail interview she talks about her life, her dreams and the experiences that have made her what she is today.
I heard that your father smuggled you out of Kabul during the Russian invasion Tell me a little about your early years.
My family fled the Russian invasion on horseback to Pakistan when I was six months old. I was too young to remember anything of our lives prior to settling in Australia. Before I was born, my father travelled to Prague in the former Czechoslovakia to study architecture. When he returned to Kabul, he was conscripted into the army. He could see the country was heading to war. Once I was born, he decided to flee the country with his young family.
Have you always wanted to be a journalist? What drives you to keep doing what you?
I was about seven when I watched my first current affairs story and decided that I wanted to do whatever it was that they were doing on the TV. Of course global politics and issues of social justice were always discussed and fiercely debated in my family home when I was growing up. This definitely played a huge role in my desire to travel the world and tell untold stories, especially in places where people are either forgotten or to cover issues that are no longer making headlines. I’ve had an extraordinary journey so far. I wake up everyday feeling grateful and privileged that I do what I love. It has never been just a job for me.
Describe some of the highlights of your career
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet incredible people around the world and gain insight into their lives, whether it’s a gangster in Chicago’s southside, a world leader or a celebrity. In March 2012, I became the first western journalist to visit one of the villages in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, where US soldier Staff Sgt Robert Bales is alleged to have shot and killed Afghan civilians. My report ‘Anatomy of a Massacre’ traced the steps of the rogue soldier to help shed new light on the events of that night. It made headlines around the world, particularly in the United States, with extensive coverage across the major news networks.
One of the most memorable interviews I did was in India’s southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. I was investigating a story about female infanticide in Madurai. There I met a woman who had been forced by her husband’s family to kill two of her newborn children because they were girls. She took me to the well where one of her daughters was dumped. I’ll never forget the anguish and suffering she felt as she told me her story. It’s the ordinary people you meet that leave the biggest impact.
What are the challenges you face in your work?
Reporting on sensitive issues is always challenging. I’ve found the key to it is to try and create a safe and comfortable environment for the people you are interviewing and meeting - especially the most vulnerable members of these societies, women and children.
What are your other interests and hobbies? Throw a little light on them.
In the last few years, my career and work life has dominated my life. But I absolutely love Bollywood films – I find them a great way to escape from the pressures of daily life. Also I love going to markets and second hand bookstores in search of books. I’m still a traditionalist at heart and love the smell of books, so I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read a newspaper on a tablet or ever own a kindle.
Who are your role models/inspirational figures?
There are many journalists I admire especially those who work in difficult environments, desperately trying to get the stories out. I was a great admirer of Marie Colvin who worked for the Sunday Times and was killed last year in Syria. Her courage and determination meant we as viewers were able to witness tragedies as they happened and history as it was unfolding.
You’ve have had your fair share of challenges on your journey. Who has been your greatest support system all through it?
My greatest support is of course is my family, especially my mum. Whenever I have had set backs, she has given me the strength to fight on and told me it’s not about how I handle my success but how I deal with failure. I’ve also been fortunate to have a lot of people who have supported and encouraged me in my journey. Mentors who have wanted to see me succeed.