Allyn Gaestel '09 Blazes her Own Trail as an International Journalist
The political science major is currently living in Lagos, Nigeria, as part of a two-year fellowship at the Institute of Current World Affairs.
Allyn Gaestel '09 graduated college in the aftermath of the financial crisis when job prospects in the country looked dismal. Yet, looking back at her journey now, she says, “[the crisis] turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to create my own path and cobble together my mosaic of a career as an international writer and reporter.”
Her first journalism assignment was working as an unpaid correspondent at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, covering international aid and development issues. In the meantime, she scrupulously saved money from a weekend job at a yoga studio to pay rent.
“The pressure on aspiring writers to work for free is something I resent and try to push back against now,” she says.
Fiercely independent, she left the UN to report from Haiti about the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. A political science major, she had learned about Haiti at Haverford, in her post-colonial studies classes with Professor of French Koffi Anyinefa and Associate Professor of Political Science Susanna Wing.
“I didn't trust the stories I was being told from afar,” says Gaestel. “I wanted to see it myself. So I moved to Haiti later that year with little more than a lunch date and loose interest for stories from a couple of small-time editors I had met in New York.”
That move to Haiti launched her career as a freelance reporter. She landed gigs for big media outlets such as CNN, Reuters, The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and The Los Angeles Times. After Haiti, she began a global project reporting on maternal mortality with Allison Shelley, a documentary photographer and multimedia journalist. This project took Gaestel and Shelly through India, Nepal, Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Mexico, reporting on why women continued to die in childbirth despite huge international efforts to improve maternal health. She has since? received grants to support her independent work from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, The International Reporting Project, and The International Women’s Media Foundation, among others.
The research and writing skills she learned at Haverford, under John Whitehead Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus) Aryeh Kosman, and T. Wistar Brown Professor of Philosophy Danielle Macbeth have helped throughout her writing career. And her study abroad experience in Senegal and her Center of Peace and Global Citizenship-sponsored internships in Mali and DRC gave her valuable field experience that she uses to this day in her travel-heavy profession.
Gaestel is currently living in Lagos, Nigeria, as part of a two-year fellowship at the Institute of Current World Affairs. Eventually, though, she thinks she'd like to move beyond journalism. “I'm interested in more creative writing and reportage, and I hope to write a book one of these days,” she says.
Her advice for current Fords? “Make friends with your professors,” says Gaestel, who still regularly corresponds with her mentor and friend Wing.
—Hina Fathima ‘15