Froese: Pioneer and mentor of The Standard

(File photo)

On  May 7 this year, The Standard will mark 10 years of existence. As a way of celebrating that success, untill then every issue, we shall run a story of one of the persons who have worked here since  the launch. This week, we start with TOM FROESE, the journalist who founded the newspaper. He shares his  story with Agatha Muhaise and Elizabeth Amongin

Dawn of the Standard

In March 2006, Prof Stephen Noll, the   then vice-chancellor of UCU, called Froese to   his  offic e and told him that he wanted to start a community newspaper for the university.

He thought Froese was the right fit for the job.

“I remember telling him that I am only  a writer and I have no  experience in starting and managing a publication,” he recalls.

This was after there had been two failed attempts to start a newspaper at UCU. But the failure of the earlier attempts never stopped Froese. He rolled up his sleeves and started co-ordinating and lobbying   people he believed would get the job done.

“The first person I called was Wanyama Wangah who had previously worked for some years at The New Vision. He was key to the success of The Standard,” Froese said.                    

“Wanyama later turned out to be the first managing editor/supervisor  for the paper, and had that role for 78 issues.”

Wanyama and Benbella Illakut, the then head of UCU’s  Department of Mass Communication joined Froese in recruiting four graduating students from Mass Communication who would write stories and take pictures.

“We held the interviews for those first intern writers in my home office. That pioneering team included Brian Semujju on the News Desk, John    Semakula as the Campus Life Writer/Editor, Emma Wafula on Lifesytle,     and Frank Obonyo on Sports. As Managing Editor/ Supervisor, Wanyama Wangah gave a lot of technical  know-how in those early days of production, and Benballa was  the fatherly figurehead.”

Defying the odds

Just like building a house, The Standard went through a lot of challenges before it became the only regularly published university newspaper in Uganda. Froese told us that before the known luxurious newsroom, some university voices had initially suggested that The Standard offices be located in what was the boys’ quarters of a residence that was eventually made into the current offices of what is  now the Foundation Studies Department.

“The office used to be a residence of a staff member. It had these small boys quarters on the side and this was the space they were offering,” Froese said.

“But there was no way we were going to create a successful newspaper in that space. So I requested for the main house since the residing staff member was leaving anyway. When we managed to scoop the main house and renovations were underway to make it into office space, the current Standard office space, in the glass room, was also available, but also in need of renovation.”

Froese offered the now-renovated house to Foundation Studies for its new office, if The Standard   could have the glass room for its newsroom. “It was such a dump. The glasses were broken, the ceiling was falling down, the floors were laughable but I could see potential in the place.”

Before being a law lecture room, the glass room had decades earlier been used for broadcasting. So the process of renovating begun in 2006. Froese said they had to buy everything from scratch, and the funding didn’t come in smoothly at first. He recalls a lot of postponing and delays in the    financing of the project.  “But after 14 months of doubts and delays, we finally produced our first issue on May 7, 2007,” he adds with a fond smile.

The paper was launched by Prof Noll with the presence of top university officials and academic heads. At the function, Prof Noll said, The Standard was to be an important   tool for UCU’s Guild and the university at large, an avenue for students to air their views.

Ten  years on

Dr Florence Bakibinga Sajjabi, the Deputy VC Finance and admnistration then,  told  those   gathered  that UCU now had something to make other institutions “green with envy.” And The Standard has not disappointed in its    performance,  10 years later and still counting. “Without doing anything dramatically special, it has managed to change the lives of many young journalists,” Froese said.

Froese  recalls the one thing that makes him proud of being part of this milestone.

“Ten years down the road, one   of my joys has been watching  people move on to greater places. It makes  my heart jump when I see the   people we have trained later hold high positions in the Ugandan media houses like New Vision, Observer and the likes.”

Until today, Froese continues to encourage the writers as a mentor at The Standard.

Who is Tom Froese?

As a youth, Froese had wanted to study theology, but God’s plans had destined him for journalism. He has been a working journalist since 1987. Since living overseas from his Canadian home, he has written more than 300 columns for various newpapers including The Hamilton Spectator in Hamilton, Canada and The Yemen Times. He’s also had hundreds of photos published from the various places through which he’s travelled.

Tom Froese has written a book entitled Ninety-nine Window out of over 300 columns. He has been rewarded with several awards including a peace award. He has a replete love for photography. All this does not cover half of his achievements. Thomas  Froese, 54,

He and his wife Dr Jean Chamberlain Froese, an obstetrician, came to UCU in 2005. Dr Chamberlain is the Founding Executive Director of Save the Mothers, based at UCU, to train East African professionals to reduce maternal mortality.

Tom and Jean live on campus with their three children, Liz, 13, Jon, 11, and Hannah, 11. Froese also teaches American Literature at UCU.

“Back in 2003, we had come to Uganda to scout a favourable university to set up Save the Mothers, and UCU was one of the universities we were considering,” Froese narrates.

As  luck  would have it, with a little  encouragement from Prof Florence   Mirembe, and then the invitation    of Prof   Noll, UCU turned out to be the family’s    new    home in  2005.

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