Mario in Cuba.

Mario José Pentón in Guatemala.

Knowing too few words in English, but filled with excitement to learn and be of more help to my newsroom, I left Miami to go to Missouri for nearly three weeks of training. This was after I jumped in joy when I learned I had been selected to be part of the Alfred Friendly fellowship program. Everything in my life changed.

I didn’t know what to expect. My poor command of the English language could make the experience tricky. I was excited, but at the same time fearful. I had no idea of the great blessing that would come from sharing this experience with an excellent group of journalists from six different countries, and have the faculty at the world’s oldest journalism faculty on your side.

I got a bitter migraine on the first day of class, but realized I should focus all my energy on everything I was being taught. Many professors showed us unknown ways to get data and how to better tell a story.

The photography classes, the video editing classes and the audio editing classes were amazing. The classes also showed me how to use different software and free apps that would make my job quicker and more professional when reporting in the streets. Not to mention the classes that talked about the use of data in stories. That was the best of the entire course: learning to extract stories from data that often do not depend on what people say.

With high hopes, I started to work as a reporter for El Nuevo Herald, the New Herald, in Miami. A team that was able to help me grow received me in my new job. Since the first day, my editor, Nancy San Martin, mentored me on how to find stories that would create an impact in the Cuban American and Latino community in south Florida.

With the support of the 14yMedio team, the skills I learned in Missouri, and the dedication of my new group of colleagues, I wrote around 140 stories in the past six months. The stories cover a variety of different topics, from the economy to human interest stories like immigration and education.

My first story in El Nuevo Herald was about the replacement of the archbishop and cardinal of La Habana, Jaime Ortega. After making a few calls, I got the comments of many leaders of the church, from civilians, and from Catholics in the island. That was my first story, but also my first cover story in the printed edition.

One of the things that most surprised me from the skills I learned was working with maps to illustrate stories. In El Nuevo Herald, I had the opportunity to put those skills in action and featured those maps in my stories. I especially remember one story, because I managed to illustrate a very difficult episode. It was about the transfer of ownership of several important companies managed by the Office of the Historian of Havana to the hands of the Cuban military. It was a big blow to the civil management, which reinvested the profits from the company towards the preservation of the city. The Historian of Havana himself responded to my questions and the map I made with the properties that were transferred was a success.

The challenge for the future is to continue to grow as a journalist, to help give a voice to those that do not have a voice, and to always tell the truth. Giving a helping hand, like others have to me, is the next step towards continuing to expand our work as a serious and incisive alternative front against a totalitarian government that hinders the access of information to my fellow countrymen.

Thank you for giving me the tools to help my future. This program goes for the small, the simple, the singular. The multiplying effect of the program can only be valued throughout time. But I know that this carefully watered seed will bear many fruits.