OVEREXPOSED – should images of children be used in charity fundraising?

Chance for Childhood is a relatively small charity with an income of just less the £1million. The first time I heard of the charity was when they recently launched their #OverExposed campaign which “seeks to reframe thinking and create better practices and policies around child-centred imagery and storytelling.” As part the campaign they have taken the decision to remove identifiable features of children from imagery and video footage, including removing children’s faces from all fundraising campaigns.

The campaign was launched at the House of Lords (I’m not sure how this was achieved?) and is also supported by David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham and Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.

David is no stranger to debates around charity imagery and accused Comic Relief of White Saviourism when they sent Strictly Come Dancing winner and journalist Stacey Dooley to Uganda to document some of their programming work. Like David, I applaud the decision by Chance for Childhood to remove images of children from their fundraising appeals, but can you solve ethical storytelling by simply removing children’s faces? I suppose it’s a start.

The narrator in the launch video, who is anonymised, asks 4 questions:

  1. What is a segmented, multi-channel donation campaign?
  2. Why is my picture on social media profiles that aren’t mine?
  3. Why is it ok for my image to be published all over the internet, when most parents would not allow it?
  4. Is that ok? Is that ethical? Is that fair?

I like the video, and a great deal of effort has been put into this campaign. The House of Lords launch, support from a prominent MP and the establishment of a resource hub which includes an introductory webinar and five videos:

  1. How do we centre children’s rights and well-being in our stories?
  2. What is informed consent and what are the challenges we face?
  3. Using positive strength-based language in our work
  4. Reducing the risks of telling stories online
  5. How does power impact the collection and usage of stories and images of children?

I confess I haven’t watched the five videos but I did watch the hour long webinar which is chaired by Chance for Childhood staff member Lucy who leads a discussion with Grace and Felicien from Rwanda, and Bokey from Kenya. It’s worth watching and I won’t go into too much detail here but I will just raise a few questions and comments. Firstly, Lucy says that they launched the campaign as “no one is having a public conversation”. This is a bit odd as the Resource Hub Introduction document references “three key guides” – the Dignified Storytelling Handbook, Putting the People in the Picture First: Ethical Guidelines for Collection and Use of Content and DOCHAS Code of Conduct on Images and Messages. Considering that the DOCHAS Code of Conduct was written in 2014, I would say this discussion has been going on some time! I don’t deny the #OverExposed campaign comes from a good place, but the focus seems very much like an overt piece of PR for Chance for Childhood.

For me, one of the strongest statements in the webinar is from Grace, who is a former refugee in Rwanda who says “they take pictures of our pain”. Another statement that resonated with me was from Bokey who is the founder of Glad’s House Kenya. Bokey says that there are two problems trying to stop organisations using images of children: locally people believe negative imagery gives them priority to funding to alleviate the situation and secondly, international donors want to see the situation to justify the needs to send funds. Bokey has also written a blog post “Real change only comes if INGO or International donors don’t ask for photos”. In the blog Bokey says:

The world is smaller now. You can easily lose control of the image you share, and it can be used somewhere else…That image will haunt them forever. Children will be defined for the rest of their lives by a moment in time.

On the whole I think this campaign (like the others before) is an important addition to the discussions around protecting the dignity of “distant others”. Removing children’s faces is a start, but more needs to be done to improve agency and ensuring that children know their rights when people ask to take their pictures. In the webinar Grace says

We no longer say giving a voice to the voiceless because we all know there are no voiceless, there are people who are given the support to speak up.

INGOs must think about how they will give that support for people to speak up!

One small last criticism of this campaign – if your policy is to remove identifiable features of children you really should go back and delete old photos from social media too – there are still lots there….

Kibera Stories

Kibera Stories is a blog, Facebook page and Instagram account set up by Brian Otieno to document the everyday in Kibera, Nairobi. Brian is a freelance documentary and press photographer and grew up in Kibera. He is also part of the Everyday Africa network of photographers. I asked Brian a few questions about the fantastic Kibera Stories project.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQuqOj1jt2Y/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

When and why did you start the Kibera Stories project?

I started KiberaStories in 2013 just when I was about to start college. Every day I walked around my neighbourhood trying to discover new places and with me, I had my cellphone which I used always to capture casual moments of ordinary life during my daily encounters along the way. One day while I was sitting at a vantage point near the railway line that passes through Kibera, I started searching for images of Kibera on Google and I was frustrated by the images because they only depicted misery, and abject poverty, unlike the usual moments I was seeing every day. It was at the moment that I opened a Facebook page and started posting images of Kibera, according to the way I was seeingit. Images that were normal and ordinary and represented reality.

Tell us a bit about your background/education as a photographer

I am a freelance photographer, I studied journalism at Multimedia University of Kenya and in 2016 I was among the 12 selected visual storytellers for the World Press Photo East AfricaMasterclass which took place in Nairobi. It was at this masterclass that I started understanding the ways of being a professional photographer and met other artists from the global photography industry and this marked a new beginning in my photography career.

You say that the account helps to “understand the diversity, the dynamics and the disparity” of Kibera. Can you give us some examples…?

This is mostly to outside, the first images that people always have in mind when they come to Kibera are poverty, misery, hopeless, garbage. But this is not the case to a person born in Kibera. Despite poverty, there’s also prosperity, there is talent and potential, there are people trying to make their way out and through. There’s a side of the slum that is unseen, unknown that goes beyond the stereotypes of the slum as its always viewed. Through this project I try to show the many different faces of Kibera, I try to show the people and their positions in the community, and paint an honest picture of not just poverty and misery.

Please share your 4 favourite images and tell us a bit about each one

https://www.instagram.com/p/BlanFkkn07p/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Elsie Ayoo, a ballet dancer, trains on a busy street of Kibera. The first time she tried on a pair of pointe shoes, she fell in love with ballet and now she dreams of becoming a professional dancer. While I’m hoping she’s on the right track to make it in life, the dreams of kids growing up in Kibera are just the same as anywhere else in the world.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQyBjlyjDyQ/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Stephen Okoth, also is known as Ondivour, is a 25-year-old filmmaker, photographer and model known for his self-styled colourful and vintage fashion. He has made it his mission to stand out in bringing joy and happiness to the streets of his hometown. His signature bright clothes bought from the local second-hand markets have turned him into a local personality and a source of inspiration for the youths in the slum.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bt9O-ofAsFq/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Men hang out the door of a commuter train that passes through Kibera daily, carrying passengers to and from Nairobi’s city centre. The railway line built in the 1900s which passes through Kibera is an important landmark in the community. Most people who use the train work in the industrial areas of Nairobi and the train provides a cheap alternative to transportation to and from their places of work.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bcv-wRtnsaM/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Contestants at the annual Mr. and Miss Kibera fashion and beauty pageant. The event which started as a beauty pageant has grown to build dreams of the youthful population by promoting their talents and nurturing them to be responsible leaders in the community and beyond.

Kibera Stories has obviously benefited you, how has it benefited Kibera?

With KiberaStories, I have partnered with other organizations in Kibera, to offer photography training to the youths in Kibera, I have had exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles to fundraise for a school and an organization offering scholarships programs to students in Kibera. Recently I have also partnered with another organization to help bring books to a community library in Kibera. I think this is highly beneficial to the community and I am still aiming to do more than that.

What advice would you give to other African photojournalists wanting to document everyday life across the continent?

Follow your dream and your passion, without the passion I would have given up a long time ago. The best stories are right here at home. Keep shooting and shooting.

UNDP Kenya – Development Photography Project

I stumbled across the following tweet from UNDP Kenya back in March which alerted me to their fantastic new photography initiative.

Intrigued as to why they had commissioned three photographers to document their work I contacted Ngele Ali, their Head of Communications.

Why did you decide to document development in Kenya using photography? What informed the decision to commission this work was that, while we were telling our story and reporting about the impact of our work, the country office lacked compelling images of Kenya and Kenyans that could enrich our narrative. Our main aim was to document the breadth of development with authentic imagery that form part of our photography library. We deliberately went out to photograph and get stories informed by the SDGs, while exploring thematic areas aligned to UNDP work in Kenya such as: inclusivity, gender equality and youth empowerment, climate change, devolved governance, technology for development among others. We therefore went out in search of empowering stories and images of ordinary Kenyans at grassroots level who were doing remarkable work of transforming their lives and lifting themselves out of poverty; with the hope of giving the term development a face and to demystify the concept of leaving no one behind. We leveraged photography as a tool for storytelling taking inspiration from Andrew Defrancesco, to capture everyday lives of people, their personal perspective and achievements, that sometimes words don’t do justice. With images gathered from this mission we hope to build a library that is rich with a wide spectrum of powerful images encompassing of genuine human interest stories that may inform how we perceive and communicate on development matters and help shape our future interventions and interactions with Kenyan communities.

How long did the project take and how did you choose the locations?

This was a month-long mission where three Kenyan professional photographers were commission to work with the country team comprising of staff drawn from programme and communications departments. To capitalize on the time available, and to ensure we had images back in good time for various activities that were in the pipeline, the teams went out to the field simultaneously covering all the counties including those where UNDP has project on the ground. The idea of this project was to inclusively cover Kenya as wide as possible beyond our project areas as a forward-looking opportunity to scope for possible areas of future engagement and to ensure that we have a good collection of images that represent the face of Kenya in consideration to the fact that UNDP works with state and non-state institutions at national and sub-national levels.

Tell us why you chose the three photographers you commissioned?

The three were shortlisted from a competitive process that had invited photographers working in Kenya to submit their portfolios and proposed costs to undertake the assignment. The three were shortlisted from a pool of photographers following a rigorous review of portfolios based on experience of working on similar projects; demonstrated understanding of what was required of the assignment and knowledge of the terrain; and samples of work submitted.

How many photographs were taken?

Approximately 2000 final photos were submitted.

What is your favourite photograph and why?

Each photo has a unique story behind it but I particularly love photos from the marginalised communities as they are not the usual photos of abject poverty. The images that we got back paint a picture of hope, abundance and highlighting communities and people making a difference in a dignified and positive way. They are images that authentically celebrates Kenyan communities and their way of being.

What kind of supporting information did you capture for case study and caption material? Did this take a long time?

Information gathered was contextualised based on personal accounts and covered issues of livelihoods, family, future ambition, employment, state of being among others, which helped to frame each photograph in a unique way. This process was rigorous as it also included getting consent of the people we were photographing; The conversations were either written or recorded and later transcribed. Upon return to work it took at least another roughly four weeks for colleagues to complete captioning after the photographers made their final submissions. UNDP teams also submitted detailed back to work reports which is a standard requirement.

How will you be sharing the photographs with the people in the pictures?

We had release forms where we recorded details of the people being photographed. For those who expressed that they would like us to share with them the photos we will make necessary arrangements to do so – either directly or through our partner organisations working in those locations. Majority of those photographed were happy and satisfied to view their photos on screen after the sessions before we departed from location.

How do you plan to use the photographs?

The photos taken form part of the UNDP country office library; we intend to use these photos to support our conversations with regards to the development agenda in Kenya. This will be in our programmatic reports, annual report, factsheets, website, among others. None of the photos will be used for commercial purposes. The photos are also available for other UNDP/UN offices, development partners and donors upon request as long as they are credited accordingly.

Will you be using social media to share these images? If so, on what platforms?

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Exposure

What kind of problems did you encounter on the project?

Getting instant buy in to participate. Our teams spent a lot of time explaining what we were doing in some cases the people we encountered were not as friendly while others demanded payment for their participation. It took a while for members of the public to warm up to us and we only worked with people who were willing to participate freely. Working with local contacts helped in breaking the ice and gaining trust.

Language barrier – while Kiswahili is widely spoken across Kenya, in some remote areas, language was a hindrance and we heavily relied on local translators.  The distances between locations could be gruesome and exhausting especially in remote areas where the road network is not so good.

Are there any recommendations for other development organisations who might want to do something similar?

Logistics and planning is critical prior to the start of the project to ensure that your teams are well prepared and any concerns and questions are covered before departure to the field as helps in ensuring that all are working from the same perspective for desired results. We planned for this mission for at least 3 weeks before teams left the Nairobi office.

Always seek consent of the people you want to involve in your project. Taking a few minutes to explain the purpose of your mission and how you intend to use their images helps with members of the public feeling valued and the result is more enriching.
Work with professional photographers – professional photographers are a major asset for this type of assignment engage and work with them as part of your team. Let them understand your approach prior to the start of the project as this ensures that they understand what is expected of them and can deliver better results.

Give people an opportunity to tell and share their stories without influencing their thoughts. People feel appreciated and respected when allowed to tell their stories without the pressure to skew the narrative to suit your perspective.
Always take time to clarify any information provided and ensure it is as factual as possible. Request to use a voice recorder which you can play back when transcribing for clarity and ask the local fixer/contact for further clarification when in doubt.

Photography and Social Impact – An interview with Everyday Africa

I have been a big fan of Everyday Africa for 2-3 years now, so I was delighted when Peter DiCampo, one of the founders, kindly agreed to an interview. Published on Instagram, Everyday Africa is a collection of mobile phone photography which combats the clichés that depict Africa as a place of only poverty, disease, and war. The photographers who are native to Africa or have lived there for years at a time, find the extreme not nearly as prevalent as the familiar, the everyday. Here are Peter’s answers to my questions.

Please give me a bit of background information about yourself and what motivated you to start Everyday Africa

I began my career as a photojournalist just before moving to northern Ghana as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2006 – so, from the beginning, I questioned the narrative that I was helping to propagate by focusing mostly on stories of disease, poverty, and conflict in West Africa. My two years living in a village showed me that there was much more to rural Ghanaian life, and this extends of course to rural and urban life across the continent and beyond. But, there are few places to share these stories.

Everyday Africa began in Ivory Coast in March 2012. Austin Merrill and I were traveling as a writer / photographer team covering the continued strife a year after the country’s post-election violence and the cocoa trade that is the root of turmoil there. Austin is intimately familiar with the country, having lived there at a couple different points in his life (he was a Peace Corps Volunteer there in the mid nineties and then a journalist living there at various points), and I had been there before as a photojournalist, and of course had lived several years “next-door” in Ghana. During the March 2012 trip we began shooting photos on our phones, very casually, and it occurred to us that those images felt much more familiar to us than the ones I was “professionally” shooting for the story we were there to tell.

Having outlined that story above – as you can imagine, it was a bit preconceived. I think often about the process of photojournalism – going into a story, you often feel you “know” the images needed to tell it. If it’s a story with phrases like “continued ethnic violence,” you feel you need photos of refugees, burned down homes, survivors with horrific stories to tell, etc. These are the images that will make sense to the reader; that he or she will find palatable. But there’s an inherent contradiction here: if we’re giving the reader images he or she already expects, then the story reinforces preconceptions and doesn’t teach anything new. Along the way, we also see a lot of daily life moments, but we often pre-edit these out of our story by not even photographing them. Austin and I decided to photograph them.

A couple months later, we were both on the continent again, at the same time but in different locations – he in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, me in Uganda. We kept shooting on our phones, and this time around started a Tumblr blog so we could share the images with each other and a wider audience in real time, or close to it. In the months that followed, we found that a lot of our colleagues shared our frustrations with coverage of the continent and were excited to have an outlet for the day-to-day images. We migrated to Instagram (but kept the Tumblr too) to extend our reach, and things grew rather quickly.

How did you publicise the blog and Instagram sites? How did you get photographers to contribute?

We could never have imagined how big this would become. The first way of publicizing it was simply on our own – we started the Tumblr, we posted about it on our Facebook page. Other photographers we knew were drawn to it – at first, other foreign correspondents living on the continent who shared our frustrations, and then eventually more African photographers. (The bulk of the feed is now African photography).

Then it snowballed. The New York Times Lens blog wrote about us, and a few other mainstream publications. Instagram put it on their “suggested user” list, and that made our following grow exponentially.

Is it mainly Western or African photographers who contribute their imagery? What motivates photographers to to be part of Everyday Africa?

In total, it is an even split. However, it was a lot more Western photographers early on, and is now majority African. In the forthcoming book, the number of photographers is half and half, but the number of photographs are majority made by Africans. As far as motivations, I think they feel it builds on their profile and career (some have certainly received assignments via Everyday Africa, for example), but the main reason, I think, is more ideologic: they believe in the mission of showing a different side of the continent, regardless of their background. They enjoy seeing their photos used in the educational initiatives we have, and simply having a platform and an audience for this kind of imagery.

Do you have any examples of African photographers contributing to Everyday Africa that have received jobs/commissions as a result of the publicity?

Just a few days ago, a photo editor from Buzzfeed reached out to me to ask for Edward  Echwalu’s info. I’m not sure if the assignment panned out yet, but we get that kind of thing often. Nana Kofi Acquah, Andrew Esiebo, Tom Saater – these guys have all received assignments as a result of their increased social media presence, and I think it’s safe to say that Everyday Africa is a part of that.

We’ve also worked with World Press Photo to create the African Photojournalism Database, because we wanted to find a way to spread these opportunities beyond just our set contributors. See these two links:

signup here: http://apjd.org
database here: https://blink.la/organizations/apjd

How do you curate Everyday Africa? Do you ever censor images?

Actually, we really only curate the photographers, which I will get into. But as far as the images, we give our contributors the login information and set them loose. We don’t select the images. We instruct the photographers to interpret those words, Everyday Africa, however they see fit, and the only real rule is that they don’t post on top of each other. We have never deleted or edited an image. There have been a handful of times (maybe two?) that we have asked a photographer to edit their caption, always for the sake of clarity and not for the sake of content.

As far as selecting photographers, at first it was very organic. People would ask us, and if they seemed to have an intimate relationship with the continent (or a specific country), were thinking along the same lines as us in terms of broadening perceptions, and were skilled photographers, we generally said yes. Lately, it has been more organized, as we are drawing a few new contributors a year from the African Photojournalism Database, and looking more specifically on diversity as we try to find photographers in countries where we don’t currently have anyone based.

How powerful is photography in changing people’s perceptions about Africa?

I think it’s very powerful. We build these perceptions based on what we see – to put it simply, people do not realize that normal, daily-life moments occur because they do not usually see them. In paying attention to the commentary our photos elicit on Instagram, we’ve seen this happen in the most basic way, often with presumably young people: “I didn’t know they had cars”, “I didn’t know they had phones”, that kind of thing is very common in our feed. I think Everyday Africa has much deeper implications than that, broadening in many ways our understanding of the continent even for people who are more tuned in – but providing that very basic burst of those misconceptions for people at a young age is, I believe, very important.

There have been several campaigns to change narratives about Africa such as #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, #IfAfricaWasABar etc. How important is social media as a counter to stereotypical images of Africa?

Social media is hugely important. I believe very strongly in showing things from multiple perspectives. Traditional media has a role, but as it presents a specific story-based narrative (conflict in Ivory Coast, for example), it doesn’t often have space for these other views.

What are you 5 favourite photographs on Everyday Africa and why?

When I think about my favorite photos from the project, they tend to fall into two categories. The first is, simply, the daily life moments that often go undocumented. Nana Kofi Acquah’s photo of women greeting each other with a handshake by the roadside in Burkina Faso.

Glenna Gordon’s photo of a couple celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary in Lagos, Nigeria. Edward Echwalu’s photo of a midwife gently touching an expectant mother’s shoulder as she speaks to her in a health center in Uganda. The other category is, loosely, the type of photograph that speaks metaphorically to our project, the push and pull of the Africa we imagine versus the one that is more real, the old clashing with the new. Tom Saater’s photo of a woman named Ginika wearing a white wig as she heads to graduate from law school in Abuja, Nigeria.

 

Austin’s photo of a safari in Zimbabwe, in which we see smartphones and tablets but only the smallest glimpse of an animal.

Tourists photograph while on safari in Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe on May 24, 2012. Photo by Austin.

A photo posted by Everyday Africa (@everydayafrica) on

Of course, the list goes on and on!

I understand you are involved with educational work. Can you tell me more about it?

Since Everyday Africa’s first work in school classrooms, in December 2013, we have seen more than 2,500 students. A grant from the Open Society Foundations allowed us to build a pilot curriculum that we launched in March 2014 with a group of 16 middle and high school students in the Bronx, in New York City. That workshop, spanning eight classes over two months, taught students about stereotypes, photography, how journalism gets made, and truth in storytelling. Since then, thanks to funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, we have run similar workshops in Chicago, Washington DC, and Mombasa, Kenya. For the Mombasa program, we had the students collaborate with peers in a Chicago high school—the students discussed, via Skype, their stereotypes of each other, and then shared images of their school and home communities to tell the stories of their everyday lives. Students use Everyday Africa’s photography to learn about what life is really like in Africa, and then apply those lessons to their own lives, telling the stories of their own communities through photography. You can see our current curriculum here: https://pulitzercenter.atavist.com/everyday-africa-curriculum-

Why have you decided to publish a book now? What are the main objectives of publishing a book?

The answer to “why now” is because we wanted to do it while there is still a buzz surrounding the project – we hope there will be for a long time, but we can’t know for sure! Instagram is changing, new platforms coming up – it seemed a good idea to encapsulate this work now. The book comments on a very specific form of communication that is ever evolving, and it seemed best to set it in print before it is unrecognizable. The book, for me, is a very exciting object. It includes the strongest photography, as well as Instagram commentary. Creating it presented us with the unique challenge of translating a social media project to the printed page – including the commentary makes the book into a document not only of the Everyday Africa project, but also of the many perceptions that we cast onto a continent and of how we communicate today.

The comments range from paternalistic and racist to funny to the very familiar, people commenting that the photo is from their hometown, for example. It is a marker of increased connectivity, the need for us to dispel antiquated notions of Africa, and the need for more localized storytelling. Some of the conversations go on for quite a long time, and become fascinating discussions on how we read imagery. For example, an image of women carrying things on their heads (of course a common sight across the continent) prompts a heated debate on our understanding of poverty: some commenters, many of them African, argue that the photo shows heavy labor and serves only to perpetuate a poor view of the continent, while others argue that ignoring this sight would be an even greater disservice, as we would then be asserting that only “Western” can be synonymous with “normal”. The conversation raises many questions on empathy and visual literacy, to say the least. We’ll use the book in our educational programming as well. We’ve worked with a number of partners and supporters – Pulitzer Center, Open Society Foundations, PhotoWings – to create a curriculum on media creation, stereotypes, and photography. Studying the conversations from the Instagram feed adds another layer – it’s a direct lesson in cross-cultural communication, comparing how people see themselves to outside perceptions.

Are there any plans for an exhibitions, and if so where?

We’ve had a number of exhibitions in the past, see our full list of Everyday Africa exhibitions here At the moment, we have work showing in BredaPhoto and FotoIstanbul. The book launches with an exhibition at AddisFoto in December. In 2017, we’re hoping to have a number of exhibitions that coincide with book launches.

What advice would you give to other people wanting to use photography for social change?

Experiment, experiment, experiment. There is no recipe for this stuff. We, for example, never could have known the impact we would have. Look at what is out there already (in terms of subject matter, but also in terms of how it is displayed) and see what you think works for your project, your issue, your passion, the change you want to make, and the audience you want to reach, and then try it, and then try something else too. We’re on social media, but we’re also in classrooms, in galleries, in publications, making a book, and even experimenting with theater. Some of those will reach a broad number of people but only on the surface level; others will have a deeper impact but only reach a few people. It’s very difficult to know what method will reach which group of people, and how. For more specific campaigns, try targeting specific change-makers (government officials, etc). For stories that aren’t receiving enough attention, try very public displays, in the vein of what #Dysturb is doing. Be targeted but be creative.

EVERYDAY AFRICA BOOK

Featuring some of the best images project, the book Everyday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent, showcases photos of ordinary life that find beauty in stories rarely seen, shifting perception from the ensationalized extremes to a more textured, familiar reality. Photographs run alongside sections of Instagram commentary inspired by the images. Shocking, funny, and heart-felt, the comments are lighthearted one moment, caustic the next, speaking volumes about widely held perceptions of Africa while underscoring the continent’s increased connectivity in a globalized world. Together they justify the project’s very existence. To be one of the first owners of the book please support the Everyday Africa Kickstarter campaign.

 A huge thank you to Peter for this detailed and fascinating Q&A. I hope you learn as much from this post as I did.  I spent 3 thoroughly enjoyable hours on Sunday familiarising myself again with the Everyday Africa Instagram images.  To finish, here’s a couple of my personal favourites from the project. I can’t wait for the book….

Voices from the Field – WaterAid

madagascar2Whilst travelling to Madagascar to observe WaterAid’s Voices from the Field (VftF) project, I was reading an excellent book about photojournalism.

One of the chapters focuses on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and how many organisations have commissioned photojournalists in recent years, with reference to well-known campaigns.

The chapter critiques issues such as informed consent, representation, branding guidelines, negative vs positive imagery, authenticity, compassion fatigue and editing. It was ideal fodder for thinking about the week ahead.

Why do I feel uncomfortable about some of the debates? I think the main reason is because the majority of the photographers referenced in this particular chapter are of Western descent – but there are some highly talented photographers in the global south documenting the work of humanitarian organisations. Why are so few of them featured?

Maybe this is one of the reasons I was so intrigued by the VftF project when I first heard about it. I instantly wanted to learn more, hence my trip to Madagascar to spend three days in the field with Ernest Randriarimalala, WaterAid’s VftF officer there.

Making a film about Madagascar

During my time observing Ernest he was filming a video about Madagascar from his perspective with the help of the production company. After a few general shots of the capital, Tana, we set off towards Antsirabe, Madagascar’s second largest city.

madagascar

On the way we made a few stops to take some background shots and the first thing I noticed about Ernest was his natural communication skills. Whenever we asked to film, no one challenged us. Ernest explained that he was making a film about his country and not one single person objected.

Having worked myself in marketing and communications for over 20 years, I often encounter people who do not want to be filmed.

Perhaps the Malagasy people are just too polite to say no, maybe they like being photographed more than some other cultures, or most probably they are charmed by Ernest and his enchanting smile.

Building long-term relationships

In my opinion communication skills are absolutely fundamental for the VftF role. Ernest speaks Malagasy, French and English fluently which means he can genuinely inform people of his work.

He is also able to relate to the communities he visits, as he grew up in a village with no water or sanitation and was often sick as a result.

I visited both pre- and post- intervention sites during my trip and I was heart-warmingly touched by the difference between the two.

The VftF project is about building long-term relationships with communities, documenting progress and creating stories to inform donors that their fundraising efforts are making a big difference to people’s lives.

Helping people thousands of miles away

For three weeks in June, Ernest visited the UK for training and advocacy work.

During this time he spent five days in Northumbria visiting a number of WaterAid supporters, which included speaking at a fundraising ball organised by Northumbrian Water.

To me, the VftF programme has so many obvious benefits, such as language, relationship building, informed consent and effective use of funds, but what I hadn’t thought about was the two-way communication and advocacy work that Ernest carries out each year.

At the ball he showed images of the toilets and access to clean water that have been installed, and more importantly the people who benefit, as a result of their fundraising efforts.

When he returns to the field, he is also able to tell beneficiaries about meeting the many people who have organised balls, raffles, cake sales, sponsored runs, all to help communities they are unlikely to ever visit nearly 10,000 km away.

As Ernest said, “It was great meeting these people in a city in the north of England, who are doing all these fundraising activities to help people thousands of miles away. It is so amazing that they organise so many events to help the Malagasy people.”

A watchdog for WaterAid

The other thing I’d never really considered was the accountability side of this role. Ernest is truly passionate about his work and in many ways acts as a watchdog for WaterAid and its supporters as he documents the installation of new facilities.

As he puts it: “I really enjoy my job. I get to meet all these people whose lives have changed as a result of our work. I’m really glad that I get to see both the fundraising side in the UK as well as the end result.

“If I ever thought that money was not being spent well, then I’d quit my job. Simple as that. I’m lucky that I don’t feel that way at all. I absolutely love it.”

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