• Janine di Giovanni is the Newsweek Middle East editor lives in Paris with her son and recently visited Australia. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Award-winning foreign correspondent and The Newsweek Middle East editor Janine di Giovanni travels to warzones for a living, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of cities like Aleppo, but a key lesson from her mother helps her every day.
Michaela Morgan

4 Apr 2017 - 1:42 PM  UPDATED 4 Apr 2017 - 5:13 PM

Janine di Giovanni knows better than most how swiftly a city can be enveloped by conflict, something she describes as “the velocity of war”.

The veteran foreign correspondent from America has covered nearly every major atrocity of the last 30 years from the Rwandan genocide to the fall of Grozny in Chechnya and most recently, the war in Syria.

Her latest book—The Morning They Came For Us—details the lives of ordinary people who have been swept up in the violence of a civil war entering its seventh year.

She gives a visceral account of the sights, sounds and smells of cities like Aleppo – providing her readers with a compelling immediacy of both the horror and banality of war.

“My mother says ‘I can’t read your books or articles, they make me too sad.’ But that’s the reaction I want.”

“I don’t want people to look away from this, I want them to face it,” di Giovanni told an audience in Sydney recently.

“My mother says ‘I can’t read your books or articles, they make me too sad.’ But that’s the reaction I want.”

di Giovanni was born into a protective Italian-American family in New Jersey, and counts her mother as a figure from whom she learned some of the most important skills in her toolkit.

“She raised seven children and lost three of them and still has—in her 90s—tremendous curiosity, compassion and just the kind of knack for always being interested in other people,” di Giovanni tells SBS.

“She’s always been a great listener and so she really taught me how you should listen to people, which I think is a hugely important skill—that many of us don’t do enough.”

Seven times female journalists have publicly faced sexism
Journalism, like most professional arenas, can be a boys' club. These seven female journalists have faced sexist slurs on and off-air.

di Giovanni has spent decades listening to people— and learning from them.

She says her time living in the besieged city of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war taught her “how to be a human being”.

“It’s where I learned about life and death, good and bad. About integrity and principles, about people that held their families together and people that were determined to stay alive.

“I mean it basically, for me… it was a kind of map, showing me the rest of the world and my life.”

Nearly 30 years later, and di Giovanni has reported from over a dozen more wars but her commitment to civilians in these countries goes beyond bearing witness.

The Morning They Came For Us begins in Belgrade in 2011 where di Giovanni worked on a project tracing war criminals who had escaped justice, despite committing crimes against humanity during the Bosnian war.

...her time living in the besieged city of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war taught her “how to be a human being”.

More recently, she conducted a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) multi-country study of Syrian refugee women who had lost their husbands during the war and were living in Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

“We found that they were extremely vulnerable, even in their host communities,” says di Giovanni.

She and her team documented the living conditions of these refugees and the difficulties they encountered in enrolling their children in school, accessing medical care and earning a living.

It’s clear that di Giovanni doesn’t do anything by halves, her painstaking research driven by the need to inform people whose lives are so far removed from these humanitarian crises.

“Australia is far, that’s why you have a wonderful country, you're geographically protected but you’re part of the world.

“You are part of the international community and it’s all of our responsibilities.” 

Working in a war zone: How one doctor is changing the lives of refugees
The Sydney-based Dr Chatu Yapa is not just a physician. She's a medical coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres: a role that requires her to be on the ground, in Lebanon, taking care of locals and Syrian refugees. Dr Yapa shares her stories of international healing with SBS.
Feminine power: 6 times female-led protests changed the world
Since the suffragettes, women have used their collective power to protest against inequality.
Toys in war zones – no child’s play
Brian McCarty is in the business of toy photography. When he's not doing projects for major brands, he's off to conflict zones with his camera and imagination, where he works with children undergoing therapy. Earlier this year, he met with Syrian children in Lebanon.