PhotoVoice: the community through its children’s eyes

Since 2006, Sonke has been working with learners in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to help children convey their experiences, needs and aspirations and to mobilize adults – and especially men – to meet their needs.

In 2008, twenty learners from Mphathesitha High School in Nkandla in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal participated in the project.

Each learner produced a photo-journal to talk about her or his experiences, hopes and dreams. One learner commented, “Before I enter the photovoice project I was not able to share ideas with others but now I can because in photovoice project we work in groups.”

Sonke staff kicked off the project by engaging learners in discussions on issues in their communities, including gender, HIV, safety and role models. The children then learnt how to use disposable cameras and were trained in writing and story development. The process was marked by new ideas and challenges, from learning the ins and outs of taking a Nkandla Exhibitiongood photo to grappling with previously unheard of concepts like gender inequality. Progress on all fronts was remarkable!

At the end of the project, learners selected their most powerful photos and created posters from them, which were exhibited in the community. Posters covered diverse topics from the impact that lack of infrastructure has on children’s lives to the importance of positive role models. Those attending the exhibition were asked questions relating to the posters and were requested to leave written comments. The comments were then submitted to the local council.

A similar project has been run in Mtlontlo in the Eastern Cape with twenty younger learners (9 to 11 years old), and funds have been secured from the Open Society Foundation to continue this initiative in 2009, especially in terms of monitoring and evaluation.

This project is an example of how Sonke uses work with individuals to mobilise communities and leadership structures and influence institutions. Our work with the children in these two communities not only increased those children’s skills, but gave the youngsters a voice, prompted discussions in the community, and led to changes at local government level.

In both Nkandla and Mhlontlo, Sonke has used the PhotoVoice process as both a research tool and as a way of generating educational materials to support and reinforce its work with men in these areas. A review and analysis of the children’s photographs and writings from both communities reveal that child safety, gender, and poor service delivery (especially issues related to litter, sanitation and running water) are common themes.

>> Find out more about the PhotoVoice project here.