Hello Photovoice supporters,
Fresh off our return from Liberia and the extremely productive week we spent with the girls at the THINK home, I wanted to reach out and provide you with a project update outlining some details and progress of the trip!
We entered the THINK home, a one-story building without electricity, rickety wooden school chairs and a couple of chalkboards and were immediately greeting in song by the 25 girls who reside there. This warm welcome provided a window into the gratitude, excitement and overall sense of achievement that would be communicated regularly by the students over the course of the week.
We spent some time presenting an introductory workshop, wherein we discussed the importance of photography on catalyzing change and made sure that necessary communication barriers were tackled immediately. For example, the word “gender” and its meaning as an indication not just of sex, but of cultural norms and practices in Liberian society was explored to make sure that the girls had clarity over the overarching theme that would guide that week’s photography: “What does it mean to be a woman in Liberia?” Initial responses to the question included, “You are forced into marriage.” “You are beaten by men.” “You are denied care if you don’t provide sex.” We tackled this conversation as a group before handing out cameras, and the utter joy of opening and assembling the 25 digital cameras quickly lead into a frenzy of practice photos, giggles, hugs and thank you’s.
The Photovoice work progressed throughout the week with small group, focused discussions that allowed each and every girl to choose six photos that represented her experiences as a woman in Liberia in the past, present, and future. As the girls became more comfortable with the format of these discussions, they began to open up and share extremely wrenching personal experiences that, alongside their photographs, provide an emotional illustration of the hardships experienced by young women before and after Liberia’s civil war.
One student shared her thoughts about a picture of Daniel and I, the Photovoice trainers, “When you came I was happy because this was the first and only camera in my life. It’s important because I want to work like you two. When I was out in the community I cried because I was young and they raped me. I put these things out of my mind because when I think about the past I cry.”
Despite the gravity of numerous stories being told by these girls about gender based violence and sexual violence by men, boys, and family members of both sexes, the sense of hopefulness about the future was palpable. This generation of women, ranging in age from 13 to 24, straddles a time in Liberian history that is incredibly significant. They can look back into their pasts and clearly remember the atrocities of the civil war and its reverberations throughout society but remain focused on the opportunities that the THINK home and Liberia’s slow and steady recovery gives them to provide a different future for themselves and their children. In the words of one 19-year-old student referring to a picture of herself: “I see myself learning how women are special in society. My father beat me and his woman abused me, but now I see myself with my life changing. If I go out there again I will be a good girl. I will advise my friends not to have a baby at a young age. If you say no to boys and they still come to you, you go to the police.”
The students finished off the week with a gallery walk including presentation of their favorite photos and discussion of the aspects of others’ photos that had particular meaning. Print outs of their favorite photographs seemed a small gift, but for this group it was generally the first and only printed photo they have owned and they received it as if it were a treasure. Group leaders have been identified to ensure that the use of photography to represent women’s voices in Liberia continues.
The students are heavily focused on their education, amongst them are 19 year-olds reading at a 4th grade level, or 23 year-olds planning to apply to high school when they leave the THINK home. They thanked us and our donors profusely for giving them the gift of knowledge, and responded to the question, “How can telling your story through photos help others?” with thoughts like, “It helps to tell my friends out there that they should feel courage to go to school, because education is the key to success.”
The stories told this week and into the future will be displayed on a variety of platforms, online, in print, and in gallery showings so that the world has access to the unbiased truths of gender based sexual violence in Liberia, told straight from the sources that experienced it so directly.
We thank you deeply for your contribution and continued support of this important work,
PCI-Media Impact, Program Officer