"Through my eyes, my voice" was a photo documentary empowerment project that involved 30 youth between 10-19 in Wharf Jeremie (Cite Soleil), Port-au-Prince Haiti - a collaborative project with Italian NGO Cesvi. A narrative or storytelling research process aspired to capture the stories that people share about their lives as a meaningful approach for understanding the significance behind their lived experiences.
"Through my eyes, my voice" was a photo documentary empowerment project that involved 30 youth between the ages of 10-19 years of age attending the House of Smiles in Wharf Jeremie (Cite Soleil), Port-au-Prince Haiti. The project resulted in a feasibility study and 20 three-hour sessions. I was hired to photograph the community focused work being sponsored by Cesvi, an Italian NGO working in Haiti since 2009, and facilitate workshops leading thirty Haitian youth living within Port-au-Prince in a region called Wharf Jeremie to participate within 10 workshop sessions. The participants were taught basic concepts and principles of design of photography. Digital cameras were lent to the participants with instructions to take photos of whatever they like as long as the images were visually in response to answering the following questions:
- What are the main challenges you are facing in your community? What are the positive aspects or strengths of your community?
- What is Cesvi doing/has done to improve or address these challenges? What could Cesvi do to improve and better meet the needs?
- How do you plan to use your life to make a positive impact within your community and on other people?
The participants then reviewed their photographs and explained how their images were visual reflections that answered the questions. These reflections were then used as the captions for the images within the self-selected exhibit.
The participants are living within a community that largerly was uneffected by the 2010 earthquakes. Living conditions, access to potable water, working circumstances, health care facilities, waste management, and other aspects of community were scarce and within very challenging circumstances. Some of the largest challenges post-earthquake is simply that the limited supplies of resources are being channeled to other parts of the country resulting in the limited supplies becoming even more limited.
This community based approach allowed the participants to tell their own stories of the significance behind their lived experiences depicted in the photographs. They had the opportunity to express themselves and were given the means to have a visual voice to shed light on their daily realities as they saw them – not by what others project onto them. Their reflections compliment the photos and help to bring each participant’s voice to the surface, which assists their intended message to be more clearly and explicitly known. Their work can be viewed at http://www.moreasteinhauer.com/2011/03/haiti-youth-through-my-eyes-my-voice/. They shared of their hopeful vision for positive changes to their living conditions, education, impacts on the environment, and other powerful truths connected to community.
This innovative process is a method to effectively and creatively reveal what is meaningful for the youth participating and helping provide an inventive tool (photography – a visual representation of their voice that can be understand beyond the boundaries of language) to help ‘hear’ their voice, opinions, and perspectives. What has been able to transpire within these types of projects and body of work is the empowerment of others to be their own researcher and advocate for others to understand their perspective. Photography has the power to communicate compelling representations of realties that touch us more deeply and more directly then other media – and has the potential to transcend beyond the boundaries of language.
This type of photo project could be compared to or is similar to narrative approaches to inquiry. Narrative or story telling research processes aspire to capture the stories that people share about their lives because the stories are considered to be a meaningful approach for understanding the significance behind lived experience (Johnston, 2005). The process does not attempt to capture a full narrative about community life; rather, to provide a glimpse into social realities. This project’s aim was to help give those that are voiceless, or often less heard, a voice. Additionally, to also examine how the experience of participating in the creation of a photo documentary impacted them as individuals. It is not to tell people what to think, but teaching and enabling people to have a visual voice to help guide others on what to think about.
The images within these selected body of work are images that were taken while I facilitated the workshop with the Haitian youth of their community and worked with the NGO (Cesvi) to document how they were working with the community by hiring local staff, trying to provide support and resource - especially for efforts connected to child protection, and aid with medical and malnutrition programs.
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Additional credits acknowledged to the collaborative efforts on the project with the Italian NGO Cesvi.
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