Award to AP bureau chief for ‘rich content’ on the crises in West Africa

Krista Larson chats with orphans she interviewed at a Catholic church sheltering more than 800 Muslims in Carnot, Central African Republic who had fled sectarian violence. (AP Photo/Steve Niko)

Krista Larson chats with orphans she interviewed at a Catholic church sheltering more than 800 Muslims in Carnot, Central African Republic who had fled sectarian violence. (AP Photo/Steve Niko)

Krista Larson, West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press, has won the Deborah Howell Award for Nondeadline Writing from the American Society of News Editors, which announced its annual honors for distinguished reporting and photography today.

Larson, who put herself at risk to chronicle the lives of abandoned orphans, left on their own after family members died of Ebola, also covered the ethnic war in the Central African Republic.

In a first-person report from the Ebola zone in Liberia, Larson wrote about her own fear of the disease and the challenges of covering the health crisis: “The world needs to know what’s happening here: Ebola is obliterating entire neighborhoods, leaving orphaned children with no one to lean on but a tree.”

“These stories had a high degree of difficulty and personal risk, were beautifully written and delivered rich content and context on the depth of the crises in West Africa,” the ASNE judges said. “These types of stories can often seem distant to readers, but the writer made the stories compelling with her depth of reporting and the humanity she brought to her storytelling.”

John Daniszewski, senior managing editor for international news at AP, said: “Krista has a passion to tell stories from West Africa that bring alive to a wider audience the threads of success, sadness and humanity running through the lives of the people of the region, always showing empathy and respect for the dignity of those she covers. We are very pleased that her wonderful work has been recognized in this way.”

Larson, 36, began her AP career as an intern in the Paris bureau in 2001, and worked as a reporter for the news cooperative in Vermont and New Jersey. She was also an editor on the AP’s national and international desks in New York. She has been working in Africa since 2008, first as a supervisory editor at the AP’s Africa regional desk in Johannesburg. In 2012, she became a correspondent based in Dakar, Senegal, and was named bureau chief in 2014.

A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she graduated from Northwestern University and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern.

See the full list of winners

Piecing together the story of a girl, 10, left in an African forest

Her name is Hamamatou Harouna. She is 10 years old and unable to walk because she has polio.

Amid the sectarian violence in Central African Republic, she managed to survive a rampage by Christian fighters on her Muslim village by fleeing on the back of her 12-year-old brother.

In this April 16, 2014 photo, 10-year-old Hamamatou Harouna smiles as she sits in a tent with other Muslim refugees on the grounds of the Catholic Church in Carnot, Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

In this April 16, 2014 photo, 10-year-old Hamamatou Harouna smiles as she sits in a tent with other Muslim refugees on the grounds of the Catholic Church in Carnot, Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Her story – one of heartache and resilience — was pieced together by AP West Africa correspondent Krista Larson, who notes in her report that hundreds of thousands of children have been displaced by violence in the country and hundreds have become separated from their families..

Larson told The Definitive Source blog that she researched Hamamatou’s story with the help of a Sango translator over a two-week period.

“I was in Carnot, Central African Republic, to do a follow-up story about the Catholic church that was sheltering 900 Muslims,” she said. “AP Chief Africa Photographer Jerome Delay spotted Hamamatou crawling through the mud on her way back from the communal toilets and snapped her photo. She stole our hearts with her determination and bright eyes.”

Larson continued: “I went to her tent with my Sango translator and we did a first interview. I contacted my editor, Mary Rajkumar, who gave me more suggestions for questions to ask and people to talk to. We then interviewed her several times over the next day or so, and then we went to her home village of Guen, where we learned more about the attack her family had fled.

“It’s been touching to see how many people have reached out to help Hamamatou despite a lack of international interest in the conflict ravaging her country.”

Efforts to provide for her long-term needs are ongoing.