Tuesday, November 27, 2007
From November 22-24, 2007 the Irma M. Parhad Programmes held its annual conference, this year entitled: Global Citizenship, Thinking Beyond Borders. Myself, and five other students had the opportunity to share their stories and learnings from their experience overseas. Here is my presentation...
My name is Brenna Atnikov, and this past summer I was living in a small village called Oyarifa – just north of Accra in Ghana, West Africa working on the knowledge creation piece of my thesis process. I was working with children – as my co-researchers – on a community development project which used photography as an advocacy tool, while also evaluating their individual experiences of growth and change as a result of their participation.
But before I get into more detail, allow me to begin by telling you a brief story – one I’ve told many times, and which I could not have predicted would serve as the underlying motivation for much of the work I do.
When I was in Junior High school – perhaps grade 8 or 9 – my mother went to my school’s Parent-Teacher interviews, an annual opportunity for parents to hear first hand what teachers had to say about their children. It is at this meeting where my French teacher asked my mom, “how did you manage to raise such confident, independent thinking children?”.
Now, keep in mind the context: I went to an extremely small school – 500 children from nursery to grade 9 (there were only 23 of us in my graduating class). A school where bullying, especially amongst the girls was rampant. Personally, I remember being kicked and told to “break a leg” just before going on stage to perform my new country line dance routine – a completely devastating moment – and I witnessed other girls being told not to talk to other girls, and on and on. We all know how devastating experiencing bullying can be – generally that it can contribute to a person’s low self-esteem and confidence in one’s self. And yet, I had a teacher asking how I remained so self confident.
And so, my mother’s response to my teacher’s question was, “I tell my children I love them everyday”. And she was right… At the end of the day, yes I was upset and hurt, but I also knew there were people that cared about me.
My mother recounted this interaction between herself and my teacher when she returned home, I put it aside, and never really gave it much thought.
And then, 5 years later, now 19 years old, I was attending the University of Victoria’s Child and Youth Care Program where I saw numerous examples of what life can be like for kids and teens who are not told – everyday – that they are loved by someone who matters to them.
And 8 years after that, at 27 years old, I am a Master’s of Social Work student, wondering what would OR will happen if an entire generation of children and youth are never told the they matter, that their opinion counts, that they are loved.
And so begins my inquiry and the work that brought me to Ghana this past summer.
Along the way, several other elements of social work have intrigued me, so much so, that their incorporation into my field work and thesis research with children was inevitable.
Firstly, I was introduced to the concepts of Adult Education and liberatory education. Essentially – that education does not have to be a banking process where a teacher passes on knowledge to a student. Rather, both facilitator and learner – notice the change of language – have something to learn from one another in a process of mutual and reciprocal learning. It is through this pedagogy – or style of instruction – where meaningful and collective knowledge creation for social change occurs.
In my work in Ghana I simply took the principles of Adult Education – namely critical pedagogy and critical consciousness – and applied them to working with children.
Second, the concept, and associated values and ethics of Community Development was introduced to me and immediately resonated. For me, it provided the ideal focal point for my work to revolve around. This as opposed to micro-level, counseling work – which I studied in depth at the University of Victoria – and which I came to believe was simply putting a band-aid on much larger, systemic problems. And on the other end of the continuum, my time in Development Studies overwhelmed me with a global system of policies, treaties, and conventions which do not appear to make significant change on the ground. Community development, or in other words, “building active and sustainable communities based on social justice and mutual respect”, with actual community members, fits much better with how I see myself being able to contribute to significant, lasting change.
Overtime however, I began to find the concept of Community Development over-shadowed the critical component of community which is so important to development, namely: individuals. And I wondered: “If communities are essentially comprised of individuals, how must individuals change in order for community transformation to happen?”
Piecing it all together then – along with my passion for the African continent and my interest in working with children and youth – I developed my field placement program and thesis research around individual and community development. More specifically, I wanted to learn about individual experiences of participation in an active community building program, and how that contributes to hope and building meaningful community change.
The actual program design was guided by the Photovoice approach – which seeks to contribute to social change through photography. This happens when cameras are entrusted to the hands of people to enable them to act as recorders, and potential catalysts for social action and change in their own communities.
So, once a week, for three and a half months, I met with 21 youth between 10 and 16 years old, where we would engage in critical thinking and learning activities, whose purpose was to begin to look at their individual struggles and challenges from a different perspective, initiate group solidarity, and to prompt and inspire the images they would eventually capture.
At the end of it all – 21 cameras, 46 pictures and stories, and countless rolls of film – the group hosted a photo exhibit on October 5 in Accra to showcase their pictures and accompanying stories to representatives of government ministries, child and rights based NGOs, arts groups, university professors, and concerned citizens. The photo exhibit – entitled Images for Development, had the theme of Health & Safety Issues in Our Community – served as the “action” component of the program – an advocacy tool – where children’s vivid photographs and stories provided evidence and initiated the dialogue to build healthful public policy.
The last piece of the program was to evaluate what the experience of participation was like for my co-researchers with the intention of uncovering the processes, structures, and styles which enable “community development learning” – a concept I found through the Federation for Community Development Learning” – and one which I like because it expands on the deficiencies of ‘community development’ by including individuals and their personal change and growth in the development process.
Based on the children’s evaluation and feedback, the successes of this program include:
The children said their skill sets have increased to include knowing how to: use a camera, speak in public, and express oneself clearly;
Learning how to think and observe critically;
They now view themselves as people who can be leaders in their community today, rather than waiting to be adults;
They think their opinion matters and they feel confident to share it; and
They assessed themselves to be more disciplined and better behaved.
If one has an understanding of Ghanaian culture, and children’s position in it, I consider these to be major milestones.
I also learned from the children and had many beliefs reinforced. For example:
Participatory approaches to research are a powerful development tool. In other words, research is not just an academic pursuit, but can and should be an educative experience for community members so that they can initiate change;
When you raise the bar and have high expectations – of anyone – they reach the bar, and often go far beyond;
Children and youth are wise, creative, and have an incredible amount of knowledge to contribute to the development process – adults need to acknowledge this fact and genuinely incorporate young people into their work;
And finally… hope is the most essential ingredient of all…
I wish I could have written it myself, but author Studs Terkel says it best, so I’ll just quote him:
“In all epochs, there were at first doubts and the fear of stepping forth and speaking out, but the attribute that spurred the warriors on was hope. And the act. Seldom was there despair or a sense of hopelessness. Some of those on the sidelines, the spectators, feeling helpless and impotent, had by the very nature of the passionate act of others become imbued with hope themselves”.
What I believe Studs Terkel is saying is that it takes one person – only one – with enough courage and hope to step forward. I saw this firsthand in Ghana, with a few courageous children in my project provide the strength for others to join. Afterwards, it’s a chain reaction of people coming on board. And so I leave you with the following questions… If all children are told they matter, that they are loved, that their opinion is valuable, if they know they count – what would our world look like then? Who would be “getting on board” to help us address our most difficult problems? What kind of hope would we have?
Many thanks to Dr. Clark and the Parhad team which significantly contributed to my thesis research in Ghana!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The photos, and accompanying captions, told the childrens' stories - their voices, their perspectives, their ideas as to what needs to change in their community in order to create a world fit for all its citizens. Several months of preparation went into this day: weekly meetings where the children participated in various critical thinking and learning activities, picture taking, journal writing, and not to mention endless hours of "pounding the pavement" in Accra in order to invite government ministries, and child friendly and rights based NGOs.
In the end, attendance was small, yet the presence of those who were there was meaningful (it is time to stop judging the success of an event based on the number of bodies in a room). The Deputy Minister of Women and Children's Affairs, Hon. Minister Dugan, spent important moments with each "photographer", asking them about the inspiration and/or motivation for their pictures and also inquired about ways to more genuniely engage youth in active community building.
Mrs. Susan Sabaa, the founder of the NGO Coalition on the Rights of the Child in Ghana was an excellent chairperson - who along with Marilyn Amponsah Annan of the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs - also spent a significant amoun t of time with the children in order to not only listen, but hear, their concerns and hopes.
In addition, several NGOs, a university professor, and an arts-based organizations attended the exhibit providing opportunities for networking and the exchange of information and ideas. Most importantly, people shared stories about their work and kept hope for change alive.
I am extremely proud of all the hard work and energy that each and everyone of the group members contributed in order to make this event a success. Afterwards, they told me that their favorite part of the day was having a moment where they were the center of attention, where adults asked them questions and then took the time to listen. They spoke with confidence and pride - and ware unquestionably young, strong, and talented leaders for today and tomorrow.
Some journalists were also in attendance. Check out this article from the Ghana News Agency:
Thursday, September 27, 2007
This morning I got a phone call from the Foundation for Contemporary Art Ghana, who kindly requested to post our event on their website! They also want me to write a review of the event so that it can be included in their next newsletter.
So, check us out online... www.fcaghana.org. Click on the link for What's Up - Upcoming Events and scroll down to Oct 5 (Images for Development).
Sunday, September 23, 2007
I’ve been back two months now, and am finally sitting down to write about my trip to
Trouble began almost instantaneously when my phone was stolen in the “no man’s land” between the countries – we had officially left
Back at the hotel, Alyssa and I began what would be one of many fascinating and eye-opening conversations. Just to provide context – Alyssa is a bi-racial woman, but from what I understand identifies much more with her Black identity. And I, obviously am a White woman where while I’ve spent a somewhat significant amount of time in
In Social Work we’ve heard about theories relating to “learned helplessness”, “internalized oppression”, and “outsider vs. insider” – but hearing one Black person’s experience of the world and putting that into context regarding the observations I’d had up to that point was really important for me to hear.
In the end, through all our conversations the same notion that kept coming to my mind was one of “the post-colonial psyche”. It’s now something that I am truly intrigued about. I find myself wondering: What is the personal and collective legacy of colonialism? How does this impact the national psyche? What does this do for the development of children – or in other words, what implicit and explicit messages do children receive about their worth, not only as an individual but as a Black person?
When I was in
So, needless to say, while I wasn’t expecting it,
Well, Alyssa and I only stayed in
The first hike we did was Mr. Kluto – and we did a botanical tour of the area. While the hike wasn’t particularly challenging – we stopped every few feet to learn about a new plant – it was a great lesson in learning how to listen and being in the moment. On the hike we learned what plants coke, glue, paint, velour, and chocolate come from – and of course practiced our French! It was really amazing because it’s so easy to walk by all the plants and think… well, nothing, really… there’s just a lot of green plants! But in fact, I was reminded of how at home so many of us take for granted all of our pre-packaged good. We are so far removed from where everything comes from and it was good to be reminded.
The second hike was
About five minutes into the hike we reached a junction – a type of ‘chose your own adventure’ moment. Most “Yovos” (Whites) choose the path to the left, which is the paved road leading up the mountain… or there is the other path to the right, a little less worn but looking much more interesting. So naturally we chose “the right” path, and that was such a good decision! We found ourselves hiking through villages perched on the side of the mountain, with extremely beautiful, warm people all tremendously curious as to just what we were doing. Turns out, many Yovos not only take the road but they go by car… never taking the opportunity to interact with local people.
So, after three hours up the mountain we were at the top of
After the Kpalime area Alyssa and I headed back to
Now, while all of this is going on the poor people on our bus all had to get off because we were taking so long and it as time for the Muslim people to pray. It was also the heat of the day and too hot to sit on the bus.
So, Alyssa pays the man what is essentially his bribe and we finally get on our way. As we explained to everyone on the bus what happened they all just rolled their eyes and said “what can you expect”… In fact, there’s no doubt in my mind that the immigration officer in Lome didn’t intentionally fill out Alyssa’s visa incorrectly so that a bribe would have to be paid somewhere… like some sort of agreement between all the border guards. In fact, he spelled my last name wrong and I just prayed that nobody noticed!
And so that was our final experience of
When you go to a country that literally means “Land of the Incorruptibles” it already has a different feeling about it!
First though – the journey there…
13 hours by bus from
10 hours of sleep
3 hours by trotro to Bolga
30 minute taxi ride to Paga and the border
2 great immigration officers
1 bad man and taxi ride
(And thus) 3 hours by bus to
The journey = priceless!
So, we made it to Burkina with no problems…and right from the start the country felt different – most notably at the border. First, I have to say I despise land borders in
We got into the capital city at night so Roanna and I decided to find a restaurant nearby for dinner and then called it a day…
…Our first priority the next day was to figure out transportation to Gorum-Gorum – where we would go in a day’s time. Like many other things during our trip, we accomplished the task with ease (even found a great place to stop and have a cold drink)… and then it was time to explore Ouaga!
Ouaga is a well organized city, fairly easy to navigate, with a small town feel. I don’t recall seeing any buildings more than 2 or 3 stories tall, and all the people were extremely friendly and helpful – even with my broken French. Roanna’s skill with language saved us lots of frustration!
We decided to go to the Musee de la Musique… and after a brief walk around, reading exhibits in French I didn’t understand, we were trying to decide what to do next when we were led into the music room. Next thing we know, all the guides were with us and they played a few songs on the drums and xylophone. Then, we were invited in to what would become a two and a half hour drumming lesson and jam session! Very cool and lots of fun… All the “music” – or noise, it’s all relative I guess – we were making attracted a lot of Burkina be people in off the streets and before we knew it we had an audience, people singing, and one other traveler join us. Eventually we got hungry and had to say our good-byes, but it was a great experience.
That evening, our music-filled day continued at a restaurant near our hotel – where we ate delicious food and listened to live music on stage.
The next day it was time to hit the road again – this time northeast to Gorum-Gorum and the edge of the
We returned to our hotel to find our beds – under the stars – waiting for us, and settled in for a peaceful night under the African sky. I remember waking up at one point during the night, looking up at the black and silver sky, and thinking… “oh yeah, I’m in
The next day, a Thursday, was market day! We went and visited what is still – apparently – one of the last remaining authentic markets in
When the heat of the day finally broke we began our journey – via camel – twelve kilometers into the desert to a small village within the desert’s dunes where we had hoped to sleep under the stars again. But, a massive thunder and lightening storm put the kibosh on that plan. Instead, our group plus another four “yovos” and their guides al crammed into the village’s one room school where we slept on the cement floor and tried not to get soaked – both from rain leaking in through the windows and roof.
The next morning it was up early to catch the sunrise, have breakfast, and then back on the camels. This day though my camel was an imbecile (mon chameau est un imbecile!) – he decided he was afraid of water, and there was a lot around because of the rain storm, and he led me through almost every thorn tree possible. So, my arms and hands were completely scratched up by the end of this journey!!!
Finally though we ended up back at our camp, where we had a long siesta – after not sleeping the night before – had a late lunch, and then went to watch a beautiful sunset with storm clouds in the distance. We had a great night that evening hanging out with our news friends Ibra and his cousin Younoussa… playing cards, drinking coffee and traditional tea, getting a fashion show of clothes worn to mosque for Ramadan, etc…
But then, the next morning we regrettably had to begin our journey back to Ouaga, and after that, back “home” to
It’s hard to believe, but we are now three months into the research/photovoice project (4 months total in
Some of the challenges were:
- The physical environment: Originally we met under one of the trees in the school compound, but quickly it was clear that this wasn’t conducive to getting any meaningful work done. Children playing in the yard, cars passing, the wind catching papers, etc… all got in the way and disturbed our conversations. So, we moved to one of the classrooms – which was a little better. Now at least we had tables to work on, and a bit more privacy, but still there were disruptions. Many of the kids I have in my group have younger siblings who wait at the school for us to finish… and in the meantime come in and out of the group to ask their brothers or sisters something. As the classrooms are not finished, and we are in many ways still essentially outside, the wind would often times be the source of many annoyances and frustrations. Who would have thought, but an important logistical issue to keep in mind! As a comfortable and favorable physical environment plays a critical role in helping to establish a conducive work environment and trusting relationships, this has been a constant struggle throughout the project.
- Language: While the official language, and the one taught in schools, is English there is still a definite language barrier between myself and the children. This was most apparent when teaching the kids how to use a camera, as it was a challenge to explain concepts like ‘exposure’, ‘lighting’, ‘flash’, etc in ways that were understandable.
- The cameras themselves presented several problems. I ended up buying Kodak ‘point-and-shoot’ cameras (thank you everyone at the fundraiser!) – Very simple ones that use film, have a flash, and are self wound and re-wound. Not all the cameras performed well however, with some of them failing to wind the film after the child had taken anywhere between five and 10 pictures. This resulted in a lot of spoiled film, and several frustrated children whose hard work was being thrown away. Not to mention that just going into town from where we live is not easy, and so it often took several days to get more film and get the child back on his or her way. But perhaps this is a reality of life here, and the group took to the set-backs well and continued to move forward.
- As I would learn, and probably should have expected, the cameras were a hot commodity, even amongst family members of the co-researchers. I had a few children approach me saying that various family members had taken their cameras – and with that there film – to take their own pictures. Based on a culture that adheres strongly to the notion of seniority, often times the children in my group were in no position to say, “no, that’s my camera and you can’t use it right now”. So, some kids went weeks without their camera, without telling me…
- Long Vacation: I was failed to be informed during the planning of my trip that the children would have a three week vacation between academic years. So, in the last three weeks of August our group only met once. What was particularly frustrating was that when I found out about the vacation – probably late June or early July – I spoke about it with the group and we all agreed to meet anyways. Turns out though, “yes” often means “no”, especially to someone in authority so as to avoid conflict in the moment. Perhaps similar to the philosophy of “its better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”. We were further hampered by the fact that not many students actually come to school the first week of classes, so that we have only really gotten going again in the last two or three weeks. So, this has caused a serious set back on my timing and is making my remaining time here hectic and a bit concerning. However, one learns to roll with the punches.
And the success…
1. Children are learning to express themselves, think critically, and even I dare say, are enjoying learning. Yes, I’ve actually seen smiles on their faces when they learn something new!
2. The children are speaking to others who are not in the group about what they are doing, and from what I can tell are using the attention to develop themselves as leaders.
3. The cameras have become an income generating tool for some families. While it served as a disturbance to one girl’s picture taking time, her father was hired because he had a camera to take pictures at a graduation ceremony. This particular family is extremely poor and the father’s work was a source of much needed income.
4. The pictures the kids are taking are stimulating important dialogue amongst themselves, including sharing health information. One boy the other day, was asking another, “Do you know where malaria comes from”?
5. The children are learning to be self-advocates and are realizing that “even at their age” they have something important to say.
Speaking of which, we are coming very close to the end of the first part of the photovoice experience – critical thinking/learning, picture taking, and analysis – and are preparing for the next stage – action and advocacy. Thus, we are hosting a photo exhibit at the British Council in
We will host an exhibit for the community as well on Sunday October 7, which will give parents, the Parent Teacher Association, and the local community an opportunity to see what their children have accomplished. At the moment, we are still putting the final touches together, with the children writing their stories and the captions for the pictures, and me pounding the pavement – the HOT pavement – in Accra to get the final logistics in place.
I am feeling hopeful and believe the exhibit will be successful. I have been told October is Black History Month, and this in itself should bring a lot of the general public to the British Council, and I hope that due to the placement of our exhibit people will take the time to browse through it. At the very least, I want it to be a great experience for the kids, as this will be their first time “doing” advocacy. I hope the experience encourages and motivates them to do even more!
I’ll take this moment to offer my sincerest thank you to everyone who contributed to Ghana Make You Move! It was an incredibly successful event and the generosity expressed by so many people is now paying off in leaps and bounds. For one, I was able to buy each participant their own camera – which they’ll keep of course – and as we’ve seen could serve as an important income earner for many poor families. Second, the venue we are having the exhibit at is not particular cheap, but it is well respected and programs there are held in high regard. So, I had my heart set on having the show there and am grateful we have the financial means to do so. In addition, here no program where ministers and the like are invited can be without food and a reception, and so another way the funds are helping. And finally, I can afford to have the pictures developed at a quality place and to have the selected exhibit photos enlarged so that everything looks professional and well put together.
None of this would have been possible without everyone’s support of this project and I wanted to remind everyone of my true and deep appreciation!