"... Active listening takes time. But I was reminded this summer while working with aboriginal youth in the Northwest Territories of how it is time well spent. The challenges facing Canada's aboriginal peoples are well documented. I would like to share a story of what happens when you stop focusing on problems and start focusing on creative solutions.
It all starts with listening. When you listen to these youth talk about their lives, the first thing that strikes you is the pain. Whether the cause is physical, mental or sexual abuse, alcoholism, addictions, family violence, poverty or a combination, the impact on the youth is the same -- pain. They carry it around every day like a mantle, often suffering in silence, without the words to explain it, the skills to cope or the opportunities to express themselves.
Couple that with peer pressure. These youths are immersed in a world where how you look is more important than how you think, where your net worth is more relevant than your self worth and success is measured by what you have instead of what you have to give.
Fortunately there are ways we can make a difference. One effective method for giving marginalized youth a voice is through digital photography, known as Photovoice. It invites youth to explore personal and social issues from behind the lens of a camera. It's about empowerment and engagement, using new technologies and computer software they are already familiar with. It doesn't involve adults creating and delivering a program hoping to fix the problem. That's not engagement -- engagement is listening to thoughts, feelings and ideas, then getting them involved in the process of what the final project will look like.
My role is giving topic ideas or themes they can explore, then engaging them in the process by choosing their own topics they are passionate about. The process is as important as the final project. It's not just what the youth create, but the skill building, increased self-esteem and opportunity for self-expression that happen along the way. As a grand finale, we have booked the theatre in Yellowknife for a free screening to premiere their projects. It's our hope that family, friends and people from across the community will celebrate their accomplishments and support their hard work...."
Photovoice is a participatory action research strategy using photography as a tool of social change. The process turns the camera lens toward the eyes and experiences of vulnerable populations and gives people the opportunity to record, reflect and critique personal and community issues in creative ways.
"These places that I've photographed, they actually do exist in our community. It's not all just, like, clean pretty on the outside. Some of the things are really beautiful and some of the things aren't so beautiful. But, they all exist and you all got to be aware of them, because the ugly things are what make the others things beautiful."
Photovoice Youth Participant
"... At PhotoVoice we encourage the use of documentary photography by enabling those that have traditionally been the subject of such work to become its creator - to have control over how they are perceived by the rest of the world, while simultaneously learning a new skill which can enhance their lives.
To see a short PhotoVoice film please click here
"'Power to the People' was the oft-heard clarion call of the 1960's. Now, at last, thanks to PhotoVoice, the disenfranchised and marginalised, the voiceless Other, have the tools to speak in the universal language that is photography. Long may their eloquence enlighten and delight us."
Philip Jones Griffiths,
President of Magnum Photos 1980-1985
Patron of PhotoVoice..."