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World Globe reporter wins fifth Amnesty International Media Award

A one-year-old from El Salvador clings to his mother as she speaks with Border Patrol agents near Rio Grande City, Texas, after they illegally crossed the border.

John Moore/Getty Images

Globe and Mail correspondent Stephanie Nolen has won a record fifth Amnesty International Media Award for her harrowing account of a mother's repeated efforts to help her teenage boy escape El Salvador's gang violence.

Ms. Nolen won in the national print category for a feature story published by The Globe in August. No other journalist has won the award, given by Amnesty International Canada, more than three times. This year's winning article follows Irma Avila's attempts to help her son escape El Salvador using human smugglers – only to have him deported back to his home country twice. Each clandestine voyage invites almost unimaginable dangers and speaks to the desperation felt by families caught in the carnage of a bloody gang war.

"Nolen takes the reader along on that journey, a brutal trip necessitated by the fact El Salvador's law-enforcement authorities simply cannot control gang activity and cannot protect boys like Fernando," said Jeff Sallot, one of three judges for the awards, in a statement.

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The Amnesty Media Awards were first given out in 1995, and have since expanded to include four categories. This year's fellow winners were:

  • In the video/audio category, John Chipman and Joan Webber from CBC Radio’s The Current for “To No Man’s Land: The Story of Saeed Jama’s Deportation To Somalia”
  • In the local/alternative print category, Roberta Staley for her feature “Cola Kids Need A Fix,” published in Corporate Knights magazine.
  • And in the online category, Josie Glausiusz for “Land Divided, Coast United,” published at hakaimagazine.com.

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Ms. Nolen is The Globe's bureau chief for Latin America. She has worked and reported from bureaus in Johannesburg and New Delhi, telling stories across Africa and South Asia. Her previous Amnesty Awards came in 2011, 2006, 2004 and 2003.

"As the judges note, the sensitive portrayal of loss, risk and love, could only be delivered by an artist such as Stephanie," said David Walmsley, The Globe's editor-in-chief. "El Salvador is an underreported country and the issue of gang violence has a profound consequence on the fabric of that society. Being the eye and the heart of the story is something Stephanie excels at and we share the pride that comes with this deserved recognition."

Yet Ms. Nolen's story highlights the ongoing threats that many in El Saldavor still face – including the Avilas.

"The Amnesty Award means a great deal to me given that I often see first-hand the kind of work that Amnesty does in difficult places on behalf of voiceless people, but I have mixed feelings about winning for this particular story, which was profoundly painful to report," Ms. Nolen said in an e-mail from Rio.

"Cristina, one of the children that I wrote about, made another attempt at the journey with a coyote and against huge odds made it to safety in the United States. But Fernando remains in huge danger and I am in regular contact with his terrified parents, who have no way to get him out of El Salvador, and so it doesn't feel like there's much to celebrate."

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