Stowaway’s Father Talks to VOA Somali Service: Leading U.S. News Organizations Turn to VOA for Exclusive Material

People make their way into Terminal A at Mineta San Jose International Airport near the Hawaiian Airlines gates, April 21, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. Photo Credit: AP

People make their way into Terminal A at Mineta San Jose International Airport near the Hawaiian Airlines gates, April 21, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. Photo Credit: AP

Voice of America has long been delivering news – and also long been breaking news. The most recent example is an exclusive VOA’s Somali Service got with the father of the young stowaway who survived a flight from California to Hawaii hidden in a jetliner’s wheel well. Soon after the news broke, journalists from many media outlets tracked down the boy’s father and tried to get him to talk.  But the father, Abdilahi Yusuf Abdi, refused, with one exception, to speak with any of them. The exception was a reporter for VOA’s Somali Service: Mohamed Olad. But the story didn’t come easily.

Even though Olad was able to talk to the father in his native Somali, and even though Olad could remind him that their two families knew one another in Mogadishu,  the father was at first still reluctant to talk. However, the Somali Service reporter gained the father’s trust. He told Olad he first received the news about his son in a phone call from a police department in Hawaii. “They told me that they were holding my son,” he said. “I was shocked. I wondered how my son went there.  They tried to explain to me about the stowaway and the plane story.”  But most of all, the father wanted to express his great relief and joy that his son was safe, that “Allah had saved him,” that he somehow survived the five-and-a-half hour flight tucked inside the wheel well of the jet. “I thanked God and I was very happy.”

Immediately after the interview, the Somali Service translated excerpts into English and gave them to VOA’s Central News and English divisions, which funneled a report on the interview out to U.S. and international broadcast outlets via social media. And then the deluge began.  Calls came in from news outlets across the country.  Reporters from the major networks and news agencies were eager to learn how VOA was able to get the news that had eluded them.   Some of them can be seen here: CNN, NBC, Washington Post, AP, Los Angeles Times, ABC, and New York Magazine, among others.

That VOA’s Somali Service was able to get the story would be no surprise to members of the media in Somalia, who have dubbed VOA Somali staffers “the news breakers.” That Mohamed Olad was able to get the story is also no surprise. Before joining VOA’s Somali Service in 2010, he was a Mogadishu-based correspondent for, among others, the Associated Press and the BBC World Service. He has received the Speaker Abbot Award given by the British House of Commons and here in the United States has received the  Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism from Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation.

VOA Somali broadcasts three radio programs daily: a 30-minute breakfast show from 0330-0400 UTC (6:30-7:00 am in Somalia); a one-hour afternoon program from 1300-1400 UTC (4:00-5:00 pm in Somalia); and a one hour evening program from 1600-1700 UTC (7:00-8:00 pm), that is repeated at 8:00 pm for affiliates. Programs are heard on AM, FM, shortwave radio and the Internet, where it has a weekly webcast TV show that features a variety of programs, including stories about Somalis and Americans. News is also accessible on mobile devices.

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