NPR: John Burnett

As a roving NPR correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett's beat stretches across the U.S., and, sometimes, around the world. Normally, he focuses on the issues and people of the Southwest United States, providing investigative reports and traveling the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. His special reporting projects have included New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and many reports on the Drug War in the Americas. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.

Beginning with NPR in 1986, Burnett has reported from 25 different countries. His 2008 four-part series "Dirty Money," which examined how law enforcement agencies have gotten hooked on and, in some cases, corrupted by seized drug money, won three national awards: a Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting, a Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting and an Edward R. Murrow Award for the accompanying website. His 2007 three-part series "The Forgotten War," which took a critical look at the nation's 30-year war on drugs, won a Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for Excellence in Reporting on Drug and Alcohol Problems.

In 2006, Burnett's Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as a 2006 Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. In 2003, he was an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. His work was singled out by judges for the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award honoring the network's overall coverage of the Iraq War. Also in 2003, Burnett won a first place National Headliner Award for investigative reporting about corruption among federal immigration agents on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the months following the attacks of Sept. 11, Burnett reported from New York City, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His reporting contributed to coverage that won the Overseas Press Club Award and an Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award.

In 2001, Burnett reported and produced a one-hour documentary, "The Oil Century," for KUT-FM in Austin, which won a silver prize at the New York Festivals. He was a visiting faculty member in broadcast journalism at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in 2002 and 1997. He received a Ford Foundation Grant in 1997 for a special series on sustainable development in Latin America.

Burnett's favorite stories are those that reveal a hidden reality. He recalls happening upon Carlos Garcia, a Mexico City street musician who plays a musical leaf, a chance encounter that brought a rare and beautiful art form to a national audience. In reporting his series "Fraud Down on the Farm," Burnett spent nine months investigating the abuse of the United States crop insurance system and shining light on surprising stories of criminality.

Abroad, his report on the accidental U.S. Air Force bombing of the Iraqi village of Al-Taniya, an event that claimed 31 lives, helped listeners understand the fog of war. His "Cocaine Republics" series detailed the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But listeners may say that one of his best remembered reports is an audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, about being at six-foot-seven the "tallest American at a Death to America" rally.

Prior to coming to NPR, Burnett was based in Guatemala City for United Press International covering the Central America civil wars. From 1979-1983, he was a general assignment reporter for various Texas newspapers.

Burnett graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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5:44pm

Thu June 27, 2013
Around the Nation

Texas Gov. Calls Special Session, Reigniting Abortion Debate

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

The battle over a new abortion bill in Texas will resume now that Governor Rick Perry has called a second special legislative session. It's scheduled to begin on Monday. This past Tuesday night, an audience far beyond Texas watched as a Democratic state senator filibustered an anti-abortion bill for 12 hours. When Republicans cut her off, spectators jeered and the chamber erupted in pandemonium.

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4:23pm

Wed June 26, 2013
NPR Story

Conservative Religious Leaders Condemn Same-Sex Marriage Rulings

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 5:34 am

Transcript

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: This is John Burnett.

America's religious communities reacted swiftly and strongly to the landmark Supreme Court decisions. There aren't a lot of clergy on the fence. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called today a tragic day for marriage and our nation. The Mormon Church said in a statement it remains committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children.

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8:17pm

Thu April 25, 2013
Around the Nation

Controversy Brews Over Church's Hallucinogenic Tea Ritual

Ayahuasca brew used in South and Central America.
Nha Flickr

A small church in Santa Fe, N.M., has grown up around a unique sacrament. Twice a month, the congregation meets in a ritualized setting to drink Brazilian huasca tea, which has psychoactive properties said to produce a trance-like state.

The Supreme Court confirmed the UDV church's right to exist in 2006. The church doesn't seek new members and prefers to keep a low profile. It did, however, agree for the first time to open up to a journalist.

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5:21am

Sat April 20, 2013
Around the Nation

Two Decades Later, Some Branch Davidians Still Believe

Originally published on Mon October 28, 2013 5:15 pm

Flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, on April 20, 1993. A 51-day standoff at the compound ended in a fire and the deaths of about 80 sect members, including two dozen children.
Susan Weems AP

Twenty years ago, federal agents clashed with David Koresh's Branch Davidian community near Waco, Texas. The standoff ended with a raid and fire that killed some 80 people. It's remembered as one of the darkest chapters in American law enforcement history.

Two decades later, some of the Branch Davidians who survived the raid are still believers, while a new church group has moved onto the land.

The Raid

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12:08pm

Thu April 18, 2013
U.S.

Search And Rescue Ongoing After Texas Plant Explosion

Originally published on Thu April 18, 2013 12:22 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're learning more about last night's fire in the Texas town of West. The fire started in a fertilizer plant, and a father in a vehicle nearby was taking video of the flames when the plant exploded.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you OK?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You OK?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah. I can't hear.

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5:42pm

Fri March 29, 2013
Religion

Thousands Trek To New Mexico Chapel On Good Friday

Originally published on Tue April 2, 2013 1:09 pm

Students playing the roles of Roman soldiers lead a man playing the role of Jesus during a re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross at the Sanctuary of Chimayo in New Mexico on Thursday.
Brian Snyder Reuters/Landov

Driving in northern New Mexico requires special caution on Good Friday. Tens of thousands of people — some walking all night — are converging on the village of Chimayo to pray inside a 200-year-old chapel before a carved wooden image of Jesus.

As it does every year, the highway department has put out portable toilets, orange barriers, and signs warning motorists of "Santuario walkers."

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4:51pm

Mon February 11, 2013
Religion

American Catholics Divided On Pope Benedict's Legacy

Originally published on Mon February 11, 2013 6:28 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

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3:29pm

Sun February 10, 2013
Religion

As Islam Grows, U.S. Imams In Short Supply

Originally published on Sun February 10, 2013 4:58 pm

Muslims pray during a special Eid ul-Fitr morning prayer at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Aug. 30, 2011, in Los Angeles.
Kevork Djansezian Getty Images

Islam in America is growing exponentially. From 2000 to 2010, the number of mosques in the United States jumped 74 percent.

Today, there are more than 2,100 American mosques but they have a challenge: There aren't enough imams, or spiritual leaders, to go around.

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2:46pm

Fri January 11, 2013
World

Juarez Priest Finds 'Hand Of God In The Midst Of Mayhem'

Originally published on Fri January 11, 2013 6:11 pm

Father Kevin Mullins' parish, the Comunidad Catolica de Corpus Christi near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, is located at the epicenter of the country's drug cartel war. After years of violence, murders are down and the city's shuttered shops and cafes are beginning to reopen.
Christ Chavez For NPR

Father Kevin Mullins steers his old Chevy pickup up a steep road to a hilltop dominated by a large statue of the virgin. She has a commanding view of this troubled corner of Christendom.

Here, the states of Texas, New Mexico and and Chihuahua, Mexico, intersect amid barren hills freckled with ocotillo plants and greasewood.

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6:03pm

Wed December 19, 2012
Shootings In Newtown, Conn.

In Faith, Finding Answers To 'The Mystery Of Evil'

Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 6:47 pm

People gather for a prayer vigil at St. Rose Church in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. In the aftermath of such tragedies, many people ask how a benevolent God and suffering can coexist.
Emmanuel Dunand Getty Images

When a human tragedy occurs on the scale of the Newtown shootings, clergy are invariably asked an ancient question: If God is all-knowing, all-powerful and benevolent, why does he allow such misfortunes?

There's even a word for reconciling this paradox: theodicy, or attempting to justify God's goodness despite the existence of evil and suffering.

A World Both Beautiful And Shattered

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12:16pm

Thu December 13, 2012
The Two-Way

From A Life Of Crime To Designing Jewelry, All In A Nairobi Slum

Zakale Creations is a jewelry-designing operation that employs 30 young people who were previously involved in crime. The Nairobi-based operation is the brainchild of John Mucheru, himself a former mugger.
John Burnett/NPR

After covering East Africa for five months, a profound problem I encountered in every country was what will happen to the continent's exploding cities.

The U.N. predicts that by 2040, six in 10 Africans will live in cities — an estimated 1 billion people. One of the pressing questions for African leaders is how to occupy all the idle young men who turn to crime because there are no jobs.

In Nairobi's Huruma slum, I came across a point of light — one man's attempt to take in thieves and prostitutes and give them honest work, of all things, making jewelry.

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3:39pm

Mon December 3, 2012
Africa

A Battle For The Stolen Childhoods Of Kenyan Girls

Originally published on Mon December 3, 2012 6:08 pm

A schoolgirl participates in a lesson in Kilifi, about 30 miles northeast of Mombasa on Kenya's Swahili Coast, in 2010.
Tony Karumba AFP/Getty Images

Life can be especially cruel for girls growing up on Kenya's Swahili Coast. Some families sell their daughters to earn the bride price, while others encourage them to become child prostitutes for tourists. The girls drop out of school and have babies, and their childhoods are stolen. Now, a coalition of educators, religious and traditional leaders is fighting back.

Thirteen teenage girls — all with babies on their laps — are gathered around a table in the town hall of Msabaha village, not far from the beach resort of Malindi.

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10:35am

Fri November 30, 2012
Africa

Tanzania's Albinos Face Constant Threat Of Attack

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 6:44 pm

Angel Salvatory, 17, buys cloth at a market in Kabanga village in Tanzania. Albinos living in a nearby protection center are allowed to go to the local market as long as they travel in a group for their own safety.
Jacquelyn Martin for NPR

Life is hard for albinos throughout Africa, but especially in the East African nation of Tanzania. At best, they face raw prejudice; at worst, they are hunted for their flesh, the results of superstitious beliefs.

Albino killings have been reported in a dozen African countries from South Africa to Kenya, but they are worse in Tanzania than anywhere else.

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4:50am

Mon November 26, 2012
The Salt

At His Own Risk, Somali Chef Creates Gourmet Haven In War-Weary Mogadishu

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 4:48 pm

Somali chef Ahmed Jama holds up freshly caught spiny lobsters he's about to cook in one of his restaurants in Mogadishu.
John Burnett NPR

Ahmed Jama was running a successful Somali cafe in southwest London when he decided it was time to go home. Against the urgent advice of friends, he returned to Mogadishu three years ago and started cooking.

Jama epitomizes the spirit of rebirth in the city that has been brutalized by 21 years of civil war. As expatriates return to take their homeland back from warlords, terrorists and looters, Jama is doing his part to revive Mogadishu one prawn at a time.

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6:02am

Sun November 25, 2012
Africa

Aid Workers Struggle To Provide Services In Congo

Originally published on Sun November 25, 2012 5:47 pm

Congolese flee the eastern town of Sake, just west of Goma, on Friday. Fighting between rebel and government forces in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has displaced at least 100,000 people.
Jerome Delay AP

The rebel movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo has set off another humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of displaced villagers who fled the fighting are on the march with their belongings, and someone has to take care of them.

Into this sea of need wades Tariq Riebl, a tall 34-year-old German with a shaved head. He is the humanitarian program coordinator for the international charity Oxfam in the rebel-held city of Goma.

"Basically, what we're going to do, we have two teams," Riebl says.

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5:03pm

Fri November 23, 2012
Africa

Rebel Advances In Congo Send Civilians Fleeing

Originally published on Fri November 23, 2012 7:29 pm

To escape fighting, thousands of civilians flee the town of Sake in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Thursday. Rebels captured Sake and made other advances in the area this week. Eastern Congo and the larger region have been the scene of frequent fighting over the past two decades.
Phil Moore AFP/Getty Images

It's a scene that's become wearily repetitive in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo: An uprising drives out poorly trained government troops, creating havoc and sending large numbers of refugees fleeing for their lives.

This time the rebel group is M23, or March 23. Their revolt began this spring, and earlier this week they took Goma, an important town on the country's eastern border, just across Lake Kivu from Rwanda. The rebels then proceeded to take the next town over, Sake.

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4:32pm

Thu November 8, 2012
World

Elated Kenyans Revel In Obama Win

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 6:02 pm

Kenyans dance at a watch party for the U.S. presidential election in Kogelo village, home to President Obama's step-grandmother. Kenyans were elated by the president's re-election.
Ben Curtis AP

As the news spread that the son of the late Barack Obama Sr. — a Kenyan government economist — had held on to the most powerful presidency in the world, the elation across this East African nation was contagious.

One Nairobi radio DJ could scarcely contain himself on Wednesday. "How are your feelings this morning, this Obama Day morning? Talk to me and share your feelings with me," he said.

High Hopes For A Long-Expected Visit

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2:03am

Sat November 3, 2012
Music News

Radio Tanzania: A Disappearing History On Tape

Originally published on Sat November 3, 2012 7:10 pm

Radio Tanzania archivist Bruno Nanguka stands with just a few of the 15,000 reel-to-reel tapes stored in the station's archives.
Jonathan Kalan

At the archives of Radio Tanzania, more than 15,000 reel-to-reel tapes are stacked in floor-to-ceiling shelves. Each band, musician and recording date is painstakingly notated. The tapes reside inside three musty rooms of the Tanzania Broadcasting Corp., which occupies the old brick-and-concrete BBC building in Dar es Salaam.

Radio Tanzania was the country's only station from its birth in 1951 until the mid-1990s, when competing stations came on the air and state-controlled radio became irrelevant.

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5:17pm

Wed October 24, 2012
World

As Somalia's War Ebbs, Mogadishu Dares To Rebuild

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 7:37 pm

Somalis chat at a beach-side restaurant earlier this month. After two decades of civil war, Somali's capital, Mogadishu, is beginning to recover.
Feisal Omar Reuters/Landov

There is a remarkable change going on in Mogadishu, Somalia — often dubbed the world's most dangerous city. For starters, it may not deserve that title anymore.

Last year, African Union forces drove the Islamist militant group al-Shabab out of Mogadishu. Now, Somalia has a new president and prime minister who have replaced the corrupt and unpopular transitional government.

Hope is edging aside despair, and Mogadishu is coming back to life.

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4:23am

Fri October 12, 2012
Africa

Forest People Return To Their Land ... As Tour Guides

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 11:55 pm

In 1991, the Batwa forest people of Uganda were evicted from their land when two national parks were created to protect the shrinking habitat of the endangered mountain gorilla. A new program is trying to help them earn money and reconnect with their roots.
Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for NPR

Like other hunter-gatherers of Central Africa who've been cast out of their jungle homes, when the Batwa forest people of southwest Uganda lost their forest, they lost their identity.

The Batwa were evicted from their rain forest kingdom in 1991, when two neighboring national parks, Mgahinga and Bwindi, were created to protect shrinking habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla.

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4:36pm

Mon October 8, 2012
Africa

Uganda's Leader: 26 Years In Power, No Plans To Quit

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 3:19 am

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled since 1986, speaks in January at Uganda's Makarere University in the capital Kampala. Uganda celebrates a half-century of independence next month, and Museveni has ruled for more than half of that time.
Ronald Kabuubi AFP/Getty Images

Rebel leader Joesphy Kony, head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, has achieved greater notoriety than any other Ugandan in the world today.

Idi Amin, who ruled the country through most of the 1970s, still stands as a symbol of African dictators who abused power and inflicted gross human rights abuses.

Yet as Uganda celebrated 50 years of independence on Tuesday, the man who has most shaped the country is far less known, at least in the West.

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1:29pm

Thu September 13, 2012
Africa

Gorillas And Guerrillas Share The Troubled Congo

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 11:19 pm

Patrick Karabaranga, a warden at the Virunga National Park, plays with an orphaned mountain gorilla at the park headquarters in Rumangabo, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on July 17. The Virunga park is home to about 200 mountain gorillas, approximately a quarter of the world's population.
Phil Moore AFP/Getty Images

When crossing from Uganda into Congo at the shabby border town of Bunagana, I encountered a broadly smiling man in a black leather jacket named Hamid Kashaisha.

He asked if I wanted to see the gorillas. I replied that it's guerrillas — with guns, that is — that I wanted to see: the M23 rebels who, for the past two months, had occupied a piece of real estate in eastern Congo larger than Delaware.

That was no deterrence to the pitchman.

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5:39am

Sun September 9, 2012
Africa

Yet Again, Congo Faces The Specter Of Civil War

Originally published on Sun September 9, 2012 1:43 pm

The eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been ravaged by rebel groups for years. A new faction, the March 23 Movement, or M23, already controls a large area, and there are fears this could ignite another war. Here M23 fighters go out on a patrol.
Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for NPR

For years, armed militias have been stalking the lush forests in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, committing all sorts of atrocities against villagers. And now one of the most war-ravaged countries in the world has another looming problem: an emerging rebel group.

"A notorious group of human rights violators" is how the U.N. human rights commissioner describes the group, known as the March 23 Movement, or M23.

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2:03am

Sat September 8, 2012
Music News

Sauti Sol: Native Sons Sing Straight To Kenya's Youth

Originally published on Sat September 8, 2012 9:40 pm

Sauti Sol has become the most popular band in Kenya.
Courtesy of the artist

The members of Sauti Sol rehearse in a cramped recording studio above a chapati restaurant off a noisy highway in Nairobi. Bien-Aime Baraza, Delvin Mudigi and Willis Chimano — the founding members, all 25 — have been friends since they sang together as part of a gospel ensemble in high school. When they graduated in 2005, they didn't want to stop singing, so they formed Sauti Sol. Sauti is Swahili for voice, while sol is Spanish for sun. "Voices of light."

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6:24am

Sun August 26, 2012
Africa

Ugandan Gold Medalist Returns To Fame And Fortune

Originally published on Sun August 26, 2012 6:02 pm

Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich wins the gold medal in the men's marathon at the 2012 London Olympics. As the impoverished country's second gold medalist in 40 years, Kiprotich became an instant national hero.
Kyodo/Landov

On the last day of the London Olympics, a Ugandan runner seemingly came from nowhere during the marathon to pass the favored Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes and win gold.

Stephen Kiprotich is the first gold medalist from Uganda since John Akii-Bua won the 400-meter hurdles at the 1972 Munich Olympics. In the last two weeks, Kiprotich has become an unlikely national hero in a struggling country that rarely has much to cheer about.

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3:27am

Thu August 16, 2012
Africa

In South Sudan, Cows Are Cash And Source Of Friction

Originally published on Tue August 21, 2012 4:53 pm

A man from the Mundari nomad tribe stands among cattle on Jan. 18, in Juba, South Sudan. Cattle raids, a common occurrence in the region, have grown increasingly violent in recent years.
Kyodo/Landov

For the rural people of South Sudan, cattle are at the center of their culture. They use them as currency, treat them as objects of beauty, and fight tribal battles over them.

In recent years, traditional cattle raids have turned deadly. Tribesmen aren't just stealing cattle; they are slaughtering rivals, burning villages and abducting women and children.

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8:33am

Sun August 12, 2012
The Salt

On The Road To Olympic Gold, Kenyan Marathoners Fuel Up On Carbs

Originally published on Mon October 22, 2012 11:38 am

Every day at 9 a.m. sharp in Iten, Kenya, 200 or so runners train on the dirt roads surrounding the town.
John Burnett NPR

For a couple of days last month, I ate the same foods as some of the fastest people on the planet — the Kenyans.

I stayed at the same hotel and ate in the same dining room as the Kenya Olympic Marathon team while working on a radio story about how this impoverished nation produces some of the best endurance runners in the world.

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5:55am

Sat August 4, 2012
Africa

Kenya's Youngest 'Outcasts' Emerge From Shadows

Originally published on Sat August 4, 2012 6:07 pm

Alice Njeri found work, and her 10-year-old son Mike — who is physically and mentally disabled — received therapy and other services at a community center in Maai Mahiu, outside Nairobi, Kenya.
John Burnett NPR

Kenyan Alice Njeri knew by the fourth month that something was terribly wrong with her infant son, Mike. When the baby boy was in the hospital recovering from a case of pneumonia, the doctors told Njeri that he was paralyzed on his left side and mentally disabled.

It appeared that Mike would grow up severely disabled in a country that shunned children with disabilities as curses from God.

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4:11pm

Thu August 2, 2012
Africa

At Age One, A Tattered Reputation For South Sudan

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 7:45 pm

Justice John Gatwech, chairman of the South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission, says his organization is doing its best to track stolen assets, but it lacks trained investigators and prosecutorial power.
John Burnett NPR

There were hopes that the new rulers of South Sudan might somehow break the African mold of big men lining their pockets with big money. But the trend in Juba, the capital, is alarming. The infant nation of South Sudan is barely a year old, and it's already engulfed in scandals over top officials allegedly looting the treasury.

Many South Sudanese citizens are outraged by the conduct of their new leaders, former guerrilla commanders who fought many years for independence.

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6:19am

Sat July 28, 2012
London 2012: The Summer Olympics

Kenyan Runners Dash To Olympic Gold, And Wealth

Originally published on Sat July 28, 2012 8:09 pm

Every day at 9 a.m. sharp in Iten, Kenya, 200 or so runners — most of them unknowns hoping to become champions — train on the dirt roads surrounding the town.
John Burnett NPR

The long- and middle-distance runners to watch during the London Olympics are from Kenya, a country with a rich tradition of producing elite track athletes. The country won 14 medals four years ago in the Beijing Olympics.

Many of the world's best marathoners have come from a highland region above the Great Rift Valley. There, the famed town of Iten produces some of the fastest humans on Earth.

'I Want To Be Rich'

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