A collective of journalists based in Asia

A Year in Review 2017 – Ruom

26 Dec 2017

Another year has gone past, and it’s time to do an overview of what has happened for Ruom members over the past year.


Denise Hruby and Thomas Cristofoletti started the year with a story that looked at how China’s Taoist monks have become champions of conservation and environmental protection. The story was published on Sixth Tone, an English-language online magazine covering China, where Denise works as Head of Features, and on China Dialogue.

Nicolas Axelrod started his year in Singapore, where he is documenting the lives of two Indonesian domestic workers – Anandha and Tutik. The work is part of a long-term project on Indonesian domestic workers in Singapore – Dreaming Singapore

Abby Seiff started working as an editor for Devex, focusing on their Asia-Pacific coverage.

In February

After returning to Cambodia, Thomas, working with Erin Hale, filmed a drone video for The Atlantic’s Citylab looking at the infamous ‘shit canal’, an open sewer that runs through Cambodia’s capital.

Thomas also worked for Vinci – the society that manages the three Cambodian airports, where he photographed the airports of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Back in Thailand, Nicolas went on to document elephant sanctuaries in the North of Thailand for World Animal Protection, an English animal welfare organisation.

In March

Nicolas worked with Four Paws alongside Amanda Mustard where he filmed animals receiving operations by a team of international veterinarians at a Thai government run animal rescue centre.

Denise and Thomas worked in China, producing several multimedia stories for Sixth Tone.

China’s Drug Addicts Call for Divine Intervention

Drug use is increasing in China, especially on the southern border, where the vast majority of heroin, opium and meth are trafficked from Myanmar. The state’s compulsory rehab centers, however, are run like labor camps, and so addicts in southern Yunnan are now turning to voluntary, faith-based rehab centers.

Bloodlines and Borderlines: War-Torn Kachin Find Refuge in China

They then travelled to the China-Myanmar border to report on the Kachin refugees who’ve walked across the border into Yunnan, hoping that they’d find some peace and stability.

On Shaky Ground

They finally hiked through the mountains of a remote area of Yunnan for six hours to see how mining has impacted a tiny community. Over the course of many interviews, they got a picture of how terrified the villagers are that their houses will one day collapse or be swallowed by a landslide – all because a mine has been digging for ever more coal in the mountain they live on.


Thanks to a Thomson Reuters Foundation grant, Abby spent a week on the Tonle Sap looking at how the lake is changing, part of an ongoing project with Nicolas and Areeya Tiva – Vanishing Lake – Canary in the Coal Mine

In April

Nicolas worked in Cambodia for Marie Stopes International who is working with women and families on birth control and family planning.

In May

Thomas worked in Ratanakiri in the North of Cambodia and in Laos – where he covered several stories for Anthony Bourdain’s Explore Parts Unknown,  The Southern China Morning Post Magazine, Marie Claire US, The Southeast Asia Globe and Destinasian.

Nicolas started a personal project documenting coastal ecosystems and coral bleaching, the first leg of the project took him to Bali

In June

Denise travelled to the US, where she took part in an environmental science reporting fellowship at the renowned Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachussetts. Wading through salt marshes and other wetlands, she traced the nitrogen cycle that destroys coastal systems that protect people against natural disasters. She was one of two international journalists who were awarded the Logan fellowship.

Thomas flew to the Dominican Republic for USAID to document the efforts of USAID and its local partners to eradicate the Zika virus and help the families who were victim of this terrible disease.

Nicolas followed a safety training course organised by ACOS Alliance, IWMF and FFR.

Marta’s production company Turren Films, which she co-founded with filmmaker Jeremiah Overman, began working on a 13-part series of behavioral change videos on maternal and child health for the Cambodian arm of the international non-profit People in Need. This was her first time working as a producer on such a big project, filmed in a studio, with an awesome crew and actors, including three very well-behaved babies. This project was completed in October 2017 and the videos will be published in early 2018.

In July

Thomas and Nicolas organized a multimedia exhibition called “Mekong – the giant in chains” at the MUSE (Museum of Science) in Trento (Italy). The exhibition included photos and videos shot together with maps, infographics and texts prepared by the team of the Water Grabbing project Emanuele Bompan, Marirosa Iannelli, Federica Frangipane and Riccardo Pravettoni.

Denise’s work as a journalist was rewarded with two prestigious, international awards by the Society of Publishers in Southeast Asia (SOPA).

In the category “Excellence in Features Writing, her account of villagers who dug a tunnel to connect their lives to the outside world won an honorable mention. From the judges: “A very unusual and well-told story that says so much, from the ground, about China’s development. Engaging writing elevates what could have been an ordinary story.” – Tunnel Vision: Villagers Dig Their Way Out of Isolation

In the category “Excellence in Environmental Reporting” Denise’s two-part series on the threats posed by desertificiation in China’s Xinjiang and Ningxia regions won an honorable mention. The stories were “well-written, well-reported frontline accounts of the desertification of China stood out as one of the two best.” – Adversaries to Allies: A Contentious History of Conservation

Marta Kasztelan together with American photographer Tara Todras-Whitehill and Cambodian journalist Khan Sokummono received a grant from the European Journalism Centre (ECJ) via its Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme to work on stories about sexual and reproductive health of teenagers and garment workers in Cambodia. The theme of the grant work drew on Marta’s earlier reporting on women’s issues in Cambodia, including the lack of access to safe abortion services among garment workers. Marta traveled to the northern province of Preah Vihear and Stung Treng to investigate child marriage and the recent uptick in teen pregnancies in some parts of Cambodia. She also further researched access to safe abortion services and family planning among Phnom Penh’s garment workers. 

Abby published a photo essay with Al Jazeera on how families cope with migration in Nepal – Economic migrants spark unlikely shifts in power

Nicolas worked with CNN’s Great Big Story documenting various projects in Singapore and Thailand. Check out Ruom’s vimeo page to see more – https://vimeo.com/ruom

Nicolas also worked in Bangladesh for Global Health Initiatives, where his video work was used for an overview of the organisation.

In August

Abby wrote and shot a feature for Devex on indigenous minorities’ brave battle against a $816 million dam inundating their sacred lands in Cambodia. – In Cambodia, holdouts fight a rising tide

Abby also made Pacific Standard Magazine‘s Field Notes section with a piece on toxic air pollution in Kathmandu – The Omnipresence of Dust in Kathmandu

Marta began working as the Cambodia Correspondent for the English arm of the Deutsche-Presse Agentur (German Press Agency). She has been mainly reporting on the countrywide crackdown by the government on opposition, non-governmental organizations and media in the lead up to 2018 elections.

Nicolas worked with Indochina Productions on an advertising campaign in Bangkok, documenting the daily life of Thai families and their relationship with ‘Home’. More details will be available once the campaign is publish.

Antoine worked for the Foundation Luma, taking pictures of Maartje Dros and Eric Klarenbeek in their bio-laboratory as they recreate ancient Roman era objects through 3D printing.

Nicolas also worked with The New York Times on a 360 video of the Tiffany’s Universe beauty pageant.

In September

Abby covered the mass closure of independent radio in Cambodia for Al Jazeera. – Switching off independent radio stations

Nicolas filmed an episode of National Geographic Explorer in Cambodia – the details of which will come out when the episode goes live next year.

Nicolas started a multi-country video for UNDP on Tsunami awareness which saw him travel to the Maldives, Samoa and Tonga over a two month period.

The Guardian published Marta’s article about the fearless Cambodian youtuber Catherine V. Harry, who continues to stir controversy by talking about periods, masturbation and asking whether women’s worth should be valued by their hymen. This was the first article about Catherine to appear in international media. 

In October

Thomas travelled to Uttarakhand – north east of India – where he spent 10 days trekking and shooting a feature for Travel & Leisure Asia. During the trip he documented the efforts of Village Ways, an organization that works directly with locals to conduct village-to-village walking holidays in the Kumaon region

Nicolas was in Thailand for the Funeral of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Marta travelled to Tokyo, Japan, together with Ruom’s videographer Thomas to interview a key subject in her long-term documentary film project, which explores the responsibility of non-state actors for rights violations committed away from their home state. That same month, she decided to put her human rights lawyering skills to work and began teaching International Human Rights Law at the Royal University of Law and Economics.

In November

Al Jazeera shorts published Marta’s documentary about a Polish filmmaker with Asperger’s syndrome, who is on a mission to change stereotypes about people with Autisms. Marta also worked as the assistant director on Adda Angel’s music video, which was produced by Turren Films and by A/3 Productions. The same month, Elle UK published a photo essay by Tara Todras-Whitehill with Marta’s text, exploring the different experiences of Cambodian teenagers living in very rural areas as compared to their counterparts in the capital city of Phnom Penh – From Shacks To Skateboarding: Cambodia’s Teens, A Contrast Of Extremes

When Donald Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping this year, Denise took a look at the high expectations of the new US president’s first state visit to China for Al Jazeera – Donald Trump to talk trade and N Korea on China visit

Nicolas travelled to the UAE where he filmed a short advertising video for Marriott Rewards for the launch of a newly opened hotel in Dubai

Antoine and Nicolas worked for Transform Aid – an Australian based organisation that works in poverty reduction through training and education. 

In December

Nicolas is continuing his street photography series on Bangkok, you can see an updated slideshow on Ruom’s Photoshelter.

Thomas started a new project in Cambodia – here’s a little sneak preview

Amid worsening repression in Cambodia, Abby investigated the limits of donor country response for Devex – As Cambodian repression worsens, donors fret over their responses.

Marta produced an animated video for the fundraising campaign of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre – a London-based organization working on corporate accountability for human rights abuses.

Antoine worked in Ratanakiri province for UNICEF Cambodia documenting their work in the remote communities of Northern Cambodia.

The Ruom team wishes you a Happy New Year and a wonderful 2018

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