Having a Voice :: 2010.10.01 20:56

Powerlessness and Voicelessness:

Dimensions of poverty which people living in the developed world find difficult to sympathise with. 

Especially for the most disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and communities - i.e. the landless, the disabled, members of the certain ethnic/tribal groups or lower caste (e.g. dalits, or untouchables), women, youth, the elderly, people living with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses - powerlessness and voicelessness epitomise their lives. 

"The battle against HIV / AIDS is our solemn duty." © Youjin Brigitte Chung 2009


The ethos of 'participatory development' or people-centred principles of development is that all stakeholders should have a say in decisions about policies and actions that could affect their lives. In the narrow sense of definition, it can also mean the incorporation of local knowledge (or indigenous knowledge/ indigenous technical knowledge/ traditional knowledge, etc) to all aspects of the project cycle - from planning to evaluation. 

 Often times, however, the disadvantaged groups mentioned above are not always "invited" to become participants. This is because of a number of reasons, such as geographical inaccessibility, political inequality as well as project practicality (i.e. some groups are easy to identify than others, budget and time constraints..). Even if they participate, the outcome of 'participatory development' is not always positive and equal, as there are always the problem of internal politics and representativeness.

I do have my doubts on the values and effectiveness of participatory development, but this is not to say I reject the notion completely. The outcomes of a participatory development project, I believe, is contingent on the nature of the project, ethics and attitudes of project staff/facilitators, the way people are recruited among many other factors. For projects of a larger scale (i.e. regional/country-level programmes), there are more complex problems to consider, most importantly politics and conflicts that may arise among stakeholders. 

These cautionary thoughts aside, I wanted to get my toes wet in the area. To learn more, to observe, to be critical and to understand. 

Since 2007, I've been closely following an organisation, called PhotoVoice (www.photovoice.org). It seemed to be a perfect combination of my two passions: development and photography. Though not a professional at all, I've been an avid photographer and I understand how the medium of photography (whether analog or digital) can be a powerful tool not only for the users/audience of images but also the producers. 

In short, PhotoVoice supports disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and communities (in the UK and overseas) with photographic/photoadvocacy training, so that they have a voice through which to represent themselves and to speak out about issues that matter the most to them. 

"It's really hard when you don't know how to explain things and you don't have a voice.
In order to make something of ourselves, we need a little bit of help
- that help from PhotoVoice has meant a lot to me.
That help makes a huge difference between being an outsider
or being like everyone else."

-Tatiana, New Londoners Project 

This is where I'm working at the moment, and am very inspired by PhotoVoice's past and current projects. One of several projects I'm working on at the moment is called 'Visible Rights' (working on the dissemination stage of the project). The project is mainly about raising awareness and encouraging action for the protection of child rights in Afghanistan, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The photo-advocacy workshops were delivered in May 2010 to young people in Kabul and they documented the realities of Afghani children and the situations in which their rights are being withheld (See Gallery). The images and captions from this project are so impactful - overall, it made me realise how little we know about the rights of the child and the mechanisms through which to report the violations of these rights. 

Everything has a moral, if only you can find it.