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Ventures Africa journalist and writer, Ishioma Emi, was last month named one of the winners of the online category of Merck Foundation’s Stay at Home Media Recognition Awards, which was set up to encourage media in African countries to raise awareness about the coronavirus pandemic and how to stay safe and healthy amid the lockdown and movement restrictions. Emi came 1st position for the online category in Nigeria alongside Ebere Agozie of GFH News.

Ishioma Emi

The philanthropic arm of Germany-based healthcare giant Merck KGaA in April announced a call for applications for the awards, open to all African countries, in partnership with First Ladies of Africa spanning 13 nations across the region.

“Taking good care of your mental and physical health is important during this period. So, we decided to initiate these awards in order to reward the journalists who are raising awareness in the most effective and creative ways on how to keep safe and keep physically & mentally healthy,” Merck Foundation chief executive Dr Rasha Kelej said at the time.

Themed Raising Awareness on how to Stay Safe and keep Physically and Mentally Healthy during Coronavirus Lockdown, journalists from print, online, radio, and multimedia platforms from English, French, Arabic, and Portuguese speaking African countries were invited to send their entries for the special awards. 

According to Merck Foundation, the “most creative and influential media work aiming to raise awareness and sensitizing communities about this alarming topic on a regular basis” were eligible to win the awards, with up to $500 prize money for each media category.

Being selected as one of the winners in the online category from the West Africa region, Emi notes that the feat has made a significant impact on her. “It feels great,” she said on winning the award. “Really. I feel like I have grown to a better version of me within the shortest time frame. This win has created a deep winning mentality in me that now fires me up to chase whatever I set out to do.”

As well as getting the prize money, Emi will become a Merck Foundation Alumnus and get one-year access to an online educational training program called MasterClass. It is an immersive online experience and self-paced learning course meant to “motivate passionate journalists to continue writing and advocating for social, economic and health issues across their countries,” according to Kelej.

Following her emergence as one of the winners of the online category of Merck Foundation’s Stay at Home Media Recognition Awards from the West Africa region, we speak to our very own Ishioma Emi about her journey as a writer, what winning the award means, as well as her outlook on the Masterclass program and expectations on being a Merck Alumnus.

Ventures Africa: How would you describe your journey as a writer?

Ishioma Emi: It has been really interesting for me. I love the fact that writing takes me to places I have never been before, gives me the chance to engage great minds, enjoy the richness of other people’s culture and lifestyles while sharing in their joys and pains.

VA: Where does your interest in writing come from?

IE: My interest comes from the concept of art. I love the creativity that art allows you to explore. So, I try to bring something beautiful out of writing.

VA: What kind of writing are you most drawn to?

IE: A blend of narrative and descriptive styles of writing. That’s because both explore the use of imageries. It’s like a painting but words become my medium of expression (oil and brush) while the reader’s mind the canvas.

VA: What’s strangest about your writing process?

IE: When you can’t find your muse and you’re just stuck at a point. It usually feels like a dead end.

VA: Why did you enter the Merck Foundation contest?

IE: Well, there were two reasons. The first was ‘obedience’. My boss at the office had posted the contest and encouraged us to participate. The second was the need for a wider audience to get the right information about the pandemic. 

VA: Why did you choose the article you submitted? 

Interestingly, I had passionately written that article the week before the contest was announced. So when I opened the mail to see the title of the competition, a couple of works I did in the period aligned. I simply submitted one or two of them. 

VA: How does it feel that the organization chose your work as a winner for the online category? 

IE: It feels great. Really. I feel like I have grown to a better version of myself. This win created a deep winning mentality in me that now fires me up to chase whatever I set out to do.

VA: What do you expect from the Merck Foundation one-year Masterclass program and being an alumnus?

IE: I look forward to an insightful learning process that would equip me with more intellectual tools and help me deliver excellent stories here on. I also look forward to collaborating with other alumni with a goal to tell Africa’s narratives accurately.

VA: Any particular person you’d like to thank for the feat?

IE: Sure. My Managing Director at Ventures Africa, Edore Nakpodia, who shared the contest with us, and my Online Editor, Omari Ochelle who helped cross-check my writings. Also, my mom who during the lockdown ensured I did nothing but write, and my friend who followed me up for 3 days to ensure that I submitted my entries.

VA: If you could share one piece of advice with your fellow writers, what would it be?

IE: They should have faith in their works.

Merck Foundation was set up in 2017 and aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people as well as advance their lives through science and technology. Its efforts are primarily focused on improving access to quality & equitable healthcare solutions in underserved communities, building healthcare and scientific research capacity, and empowering people in STEM, with a special focus on women and youth.

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