Thanks to the support of 191 contributors like you, we successfully reached our crowd funding goal on Indiegogo.
The EPIC team (from left to right): Executive Director Erik Gustafson, Board Member Andrew Morton, Board President Nathaniel Hurd, Fall interns Daniel Young and Joanna Fisher (and her flying scarf), and our chief project advisor Kristien Zenkov. Off camera: EPIC fall intern Christian Chung and 191 contributors who took us across the finish line!
If you shared our project with your friends or donated, thank you for being a part of this amazing achievement.
Here at EPIC, Picturing Change represents another important step toward our long-term goal of establishing a summer youth institute to serve young people and educators from across the region.
The young Iraqis picturing change will help EPIC better understand the needs and aspirations of Iraq’s youth, supporting the development of programs that best serve them. We will also gain valuable knowledge and experience about how to advance innovative ideas in the field of education.
We’ll keep you posted with regular updates here and on EPIC’s Facebook page as we implement this exciting project.
Thank you for being a part of our growing EPIC community.
We are over 75% of the way there! Haven’t donated yet? Want to tell a friend but are not sure what to say?
Here are our Top Ten Reasons you should help us reach our goal by midnight tonight!
Top Ten Reasons to Donate to Photovoice:
#10: The photos from PICTURING CHANGE will help us understand the needs of young people in Iraq.
#9: Everytime you donate, the EPIC HQ wildly rejoices!
#8: Because 60% of Iraqis are under the age of 25 and will be impacted tremendously, with your help.
#7: Supporting this project will help EPIC reach its long term goal of bringing a summer youth leadership institution to Iraq.
#6: Because “The answer is in the asking”– Photovoice expert and education professor Kristien Zenkhov
#5: Because this is an EPIC project, pun intended.
#4: Today is the International Day of Peace! Support youth and peacebuilding programs. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon “”I urge everyone, between now and 21 September, to think about how they can contribute.”
#3: After we reach our goal EPIC’s exhausted director Erik Gustafson will finally be able to sleep for the first time in a week.
#2: Over 170 people have already donated. It’s the hip thing to do.
#1: Your donations go directly towards helping young people in Iraq find their voices through photography and writing. You will be part of picturing change in Iraq.
Last night we had the opportunity to bring together some of EPIC’s friends and supporters for a reception kicking off the last 48 hours of fundraising for PHOTOVOICE IRAQ:Picturing Change. The event brought together educators, scholars, advocates, and practitioners to support EPIC’s mission.
The same sentiments were repeated throughout the night: student-centered projects like this are what the youth of Iraq need now, small-scale development can have the greatest impact, and that photovoice has the power to teach a range of much-needed skills. Over twenty passionate support were in attendance at this intimate spontaneous reception to rally support for PHOTOVOICE IRAQ:Picturing Change. People at the event were excited and engaged about the project, and conversation went late into the night.
Some highlights from the evening:
Kristien Zenkov, professor of literacy education and a member of EPIC’s board of advisors, touched on the power of photovoice. “The answer is in the asking”, he explained in reference to what can be learned through students’ photographs.
Phebe Marr, a prominent modern Iraq historian, touched on the importance of investing in Iraq’s current youth because of the lose of past generations due to war and conflict.
Michael Albin, former chief of Anglo-American acquisitions at the Library of Congress and Iraq expert, was also in attendance to show his support for the project.
It is impossible to underscore the importance of donating to PHOTOVOICE IRAQ: Picturing Change today. We have less than 48 hours to meet our fundraising goal, and we only receive the funds if our goal is met by Friday evening. For those of you who have already donated, we cannot thank you enough. Show your continued support for the project by passing on the link to friends and families. We need you to make PHOTOVOICE IRAQ: Picturing Change a reality!
The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” remains as true as ever, even in a globalized world characterized by the power of technology. Frozen in time, however, is the powerful impact that a simple picture can have on perceptions of a state, religion, or people. At EPIC, we view this simple fact as an incredible opportunity to build understanding and craft the foundation for a peaceful and fruitful future Iraq.
So we’ve teamed up with the best photojournalists in the business at The Tiziano Project, working together to wield the power of photography and technology towards the task of building a durable piece for all Iraqis.
Founded in 2007 by Jon Vidar and Andrew McGregor, graduate students at the time at the University of Southern California, The Tiziano Project focuses on training, equipping, and partnering with community members in conflict, post-conflict, and underreported regions in order to shed light on personal stories which might otherwise not get out.
One of the amazing achievements of Tiziano is their pioneering use of the “StoriesFrom” platform, a program that brilliantly lays out videos, Tweets, and other story mediums in an interactive online set-up. Each story is represented as a dot of light on a map of world, showing how each and every personal story sheds light on an otherwise neglected region.
Tiziano rolled out their revolutionary “StoriesFrom” platform following their groundbreaking project in the Kurdistan region of Iraq called “360 Kurdistan.” I had the chance to talk with one of the co-founders, Jon Vidar, about 360 Kurdistan, the “Stories From” platform, and Tiziano’s goal more broadly. Here are a few of our questions:
EPIC: What do you see photography offering that other mediums can’t, and how is this relevant to peacebuilding in particular?
JON: “With photographed storytelling, you can bring two parts of the world and two audiences that would have never have connected otherwise. That’s kind of how we’ve been modeling Tiziano; we’re very much about using storytelling, using photography, using video to help connect parts of the world that would never otherwise interact and never otherwise get personal stories, to help shape perceptions of these communities. I think it’s a really powerful tool.”
EPIC: How did this lead to founding Tiziano with Andrew McGregor?
JON: In grad school, I met Andrew McGregor who came up with the idea. After we graduated, we decided to fly over to Rwanda and started teaching journalism at orphanage in 2007.
It was at a time when ‘community journalism’ were kind of buzz words in the industry. A lot of organizations were doing it, but weren’t doing it very well. They were just bringing cameras and equipment and just leaving it there, and not really bringing trained journalist or anything else.
Our model is that we bring professional journalists and professional documentary filmmakers to actually work with and collaborate with community members, to produce quality content. And that model seemed to have worked really well for us.
After we launched the 360 Kurdistan project, that’s when we really started to get some recognition for the power of our model. And 360 Kurdistan went on to win South by Southwest Interactive, beat CNN and NPR for a journalism award, and we built that website for 500 dollars at the time.
EPIC: How did the name Tiziano come about?
JON: Tiziano is named after Tiziano Terzani, who was an Italian journalist known for going to where he shouldn’t, and helping local communities report on their own stories. He was the last Western journalist to stay after the fall of Saigon.
EPIC: What brought Tiziano to Iraqi Kurdistan?
JON: I knew, having worked in the region for so long, that the Kurdish region of Iraq and the Kurdish people were definitely a group that would be hungry for a project like this. They had so many stories to be told, and have been so under-represented for so long, that we knew that a project like ours would really thrive there. And back in 2009, to raise the money to do that project, we participated in the Chase community-giving program on Facebook.
To win that funding, we actually recruited the Kurdish community to actually be our spokespeople and go out and get votes and make the contest about a win for the Kurdish people. We ended up mobilizing thousands of people to vote for us, and that’s how we raised the money to go back to Iraqi Kurdistan.
The 360 Kurdistan project was our first real foray into collaborative storytelling and documentary work. That exhibit [in DC] was a real eye opener because we focused the exhibit around the students much more so than the work they produced. [After video conferencing in a Iraqi student]…people were just coming up to me after the event being like, “Oh I had no idea that girl existed, a 20 year old girl who speaks perfect English and goes to school, I just didn’t know that existed in Iraq.”
It’s really powerful when you start to get that kind of media in front of people who generally only get what they hear from mainstream news, that’s really all they get about Iraq. And so to put cultural stories produced by community members really can help people connect and bridge that gap.
EPIC: Could you talk a little bit about the “Stories From” presentation? Both the points-on-the-globe and wall-of-pictures effects are powerful; how did you arrive at that?
JON: “StoriesFrom” is all about doing collaborative, community documentaries that allow people to really go around and explore the world in a different way. We built it with a grant from the Knight Foundation and Google to take the 360 Kurdistan project and scale it up into an open, global platform for community based storytelling.
So we knew that the fundamental walls, the interactive walls of stories, was going to follow and very similar approach to the original 360 Kurdistan. We knew that if we were going to make this global, we needed a way to present that in an interactive map, and so we wanted to give the map the feel of shedding light on the darkness.
We wanted to show that it’s not just us, that people are talking and voices are being heard around the world. So we integrated both our own projects and a curated list of Tweets in real time.
EPIC: What lessons have you learned in carrying out you on-the-ground projects?
JON: One of the lessons we’ve definitely learned is that the community that you’re working with, as well as the audience that you’re targeting, neither one really wants to produce content on up-to-the-minute, daily news on society where it’s basically the equivalent of the facts that Western mainstream media covers on a daily basis. What the communities that we work with want to produce nine times out of ten ends up being cultural pieces, with the idea that they want to show their community to the rest of the world. They want to show their culture and other things that might be misunderstood about them to outside audiences. And what we realized in 2010 when we launched the 360 Kurdistan project and also redesigned our community news portal, was that the audiences that we were targeting just gravitated towards the 360 model. They gravitated towards real, personal accounts of local culture and community, as opposed to just cold-hard facts reporting. That was a real interesting lesson for us, and that’s where we took Stories From.
The real goal of Tiziano is to help local community members shape global perceptions of their culture and society. And I think that’s really proven successful for us, and photography and video especially are really good mediums to help shape perceptions because they are so personal.
Today in the office we decided to try an activity. We practiced photovoice for ourselves to see what impact it can have on both the photographer and an audience. Photovoice, when done correctly, is a multi-step process involving discussions, skills training in photography technique, practice writing captions, and debriefing at the end of the exercise. The method takes at least eight weeks and leaves students with skills in photography, writing, and communication.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go through this entire process so we are practicing an abbreviated mini-photovoice exercise.
Everyone in the office was asked this question: What makes you feel empowered? Here was how we responded:
While visiting the National Aquarium in Baltimore, I snapped this photo of my son’s first encounter with jellies. When I am with my son, I often feel an exhilarating sense of purpose and connectedness to the universe. For a moment, I forget my mortality and live in the moment. His youthful exuberance seems to say: “Is there any other way to live?” For me and for all who are close to him, my toddler rekindles a sense of wonder about the beauty and magic of the natural world. Through his eyes, we rediscover a world of incredible diversity and endless possibilities. Like this snapshot of time standing still, my son empowers me to live more fully, to touch the world, and to hear the universe sing.
When I’m reading a good book, there are moments when it feels as though doorways are opening in my mind. Doors that open up to broader horizons, new information, and revelatory ideas. There are moments when I find myself connecting ideas from different readings, or between the interior life of the mind and human experience. With reading, the world not only opens up, but becomes infinitely more interesting when its unveiled by good writing, studious research, and keen insights. Whether I’m on a darkly comic hunt for an inscrutable, unknowable whale or drifting through the great reed forests of Iraq’s southern marshes with Wilfred and the Maʻdān people, what makes me feel empowered is reading a good book and acquiring new knowledge.
This is a photograph of my bicycle. According to its computer this bike and I have traveled over 5,200 miles. My bike has made me feel empowered for a variety of reasons, and those reasons continue to evolve. I rode this bike across the United States to raise money and awareness for affordable housing. I rode it up and down the mountains of New Hampshire with students. Today I ride this bike around the streets of Washington, DC between EPIC’s offices and American University. I will admit, the breaks are lose, the tires are low, and the chain is dirty. I can’t imagine a more empowering way to travel, though.
Each day on the way to work when I exit the Metro at Union Station and look to my right, I see the Capitol above the trees. I came to Washington to join EPIC and make a difference in the lives of Iraqi youths. Each morning, when I see this symbol of my country’s government, I am personally empowered. I know I am in the right place to make change happen.
Studying at Georgetown opens doors to the world in an unparalleled way.
Our responses demonstrated the range of ways people feel empowered. After seeing the photos and thoughts this exercise generated I wondered what amazing thoughts could be generated from a full-scale photovoice project. In the coming months we’ll have the chance to see that done in Iraq, and I can’t wait to see the responses.
We still need your help to make sure these young people have the chance to share their photos and thoughts. We are nearing the final 48 hours of fundraising, and now is the time to donate more than ever. Think about what makes you feel empowered, and help give that same sense to another person.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”
This quote has been adopted and shared by organizations of nearly every kind. I once lived in a house where it was scrawled on a napkin and taped above the sink as a plea to do the dishes. When I was teaching high school history I kept it written on the board for weeks, egging on my students to ask for examples of when a small group of people had actually changed the world. (For the record I had no trouble answering this question, but more importantly, nor did my students after a few weeks). It is a somewhat overused quote because it is true.
At EPIC we are a “small group of thoughtful committed citizens”. We are optimists who truly believe we can change the world, and we know other thoughtful committed people will want to share in this goal. That is why we are using Crowdfunding for our project PHOTOVOICE IRAQ: Picturing Change.
More than 140 people have already contributed to the project; over 100 people have already demonstrated their commitment to peace and empowerment for young people in Iraq. We know that another 100 of you will help us reach our goal in the next four days.
The surprising thing about this quote when it was taped above the sink in my old house is that it actually made me do the dishes. When I wrote it on my classroom’s whiteboard it made my students ask more questions about when people had changed the world. This quote changed behaviors because it appeals to something in our consciences. We want to make the world a better place, and we know we have the power to do so.
I’ll pose the same question I asked my students: when have you seen a small group of people change the world? At EPIC I see it happen everyday, and with your donation to PHOTOVOICE IRAQ: Picturing Change you can be part of that process.
Demonstrate your commitment to promoting peace in Iraq today. We have only four more days to meet our goal, but we know we can do it with your help.
Growing up in the New York metro area the events of 9/11 certainly shaped my generation. Less than two years after 9/11 I was finishing high school and preparing to start college unsure of what to study. In the middle of all these events, the United States began the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
My name is Daniel Young, a fall EPIC intern. Starting college just as the war began, combined with a heated presidential election, hooked me on politics. My studies have continued into graduate school with coursework focused on development, conflict, and democratization during the Arab Spring. It was in these classes that I began to fully appreciate the need for an organization like EPIC and the great work it does for Iraqis.
Like many developing countries, Iraq has a large youth population. Young Iraqis carry with them both the burden of growing up in war and the future of their country. It is well known fact that a strong educational foundation for young people can lead to a robust economic growth in the future. EPIC is working hard to bring educational opportunities to the future leaders of Iraq.
When young Iraqis think of their country, what comes to mind? Is it the violence? Is it military convoys and checkpoints? The destroyed remnants of an old regime? Or is it something else? What do the young people of Iraq see as their future?
I had the pleasure of joining the EPIC team during a new project called PHOTOVOICE IRAQ: Picturing Change. This project empowers a group of young people ages 10-25 to craft a narrative for their own communities through photography and social action. Photographs will be tied to questions about what change they hope to see in their local communities. This photography can turn into social action, so they can be part of that positive change.
I was excited to join the EPIC team during this project because it reminded me of the work I did during my service with Americorps in my hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. Paterson was once a major industrial center for early America. Silk looms and locomotive factories, powered by the Great Falls, created a vibrant city. Over the decades, the city’s industry left and Paterson faded. I was able to work with an organization called YouthBuild that focused on education and self-empowerment for young people. YouthBuild not only focuses on helping students graduate high school and find jobs, they teach these young people to take pride in Paterson again through community action and historical perspective.
Picturing Changewill be helping the young people of Iraq also see their communities in a better light. I remember seeing the faces of students in YouthBuild light up when they saw the Great Falls for the first time. Many did not know this national landmark was in the heart of their city. I am intrigued to learn how Iraqis see their country with its fascinating history and beautiful natural wonders. Through their photographic journey, young people will be able to see how their actions can truly make a change. By strengthening their communities, and with the power of education, they can become the foundations for a bright Iraqi future.
What does it mean to empower youth? What effect can great teaching have on a young person? How are communities improved when young people feel as though they are making an impact?
These are questions that go to the heard of EPIC’s mission, andin recent years an important part of my life. As a high school history teacher I constantly questioned how my classes could help my students understand their communities, but more importantly, how my students could help improve their communities. I developed and implemented student-centered curriculum focused on current events, sustainability, and the actions young people could take to improve their worlds.
EPIC shares these same goals for education. Through programs such as the Iraqi Youth Hike and PHOTOVOICE IRAQ:Picturing Change EPIC is working to implement creative, innovative, student-centered programs where the young people of Iraq feel empowered.
I’m Joanna Fisher the newest member of the EPIC team. Feel free to find out more about me here. I’m thrilled to be working with anorganization that combines my two passions of education and development. I look forward to applying my experience as an educator, while supplementing my graduate studies focus on youth and development.
Having the space to be creative is an incredibly important part of any young person’s development. Practicing the arts and being creative help young people learn how to problem solve, express themselves, and can be immensely therapeutic. For the huge youth population of Iraq there is little space for creativity in education. PHOTOVOICE IRAQ:Picturing Change will bring a creative grassroots program to this population through which they can express themselves and hopes for their communities. These photos will eventually raise public awareness about the issues facing this huge youth population.
The PHOTOVOICE IRAQ:Picturing Change project is one of the things that drew me to EPIC. I had heard about Photovoice’s successes in the United States and China. In my own teaching career I have used similar projects that foster students’ creativity and help them find their own voices. When a young person must answer specific questions about their hopes and concerns for the future it forces them to reflect on how they imagine their futures playing out. This reflection is imperative in a young person’s growth as it allows them to not only realize how they want their future to look, but also to acknowledge the barriers to this future. By imagining these barriers young people can actively work to overcome them. The overcoming of barriers leaves students empowered and confident.
I have seen these same outcomes with my students, and am excited to see the positive impacts Photovoice can have on the youth of Iraq. As a huge youth population in a rapidly changing country, young Iraqis need a project like Photovoice now more than ever.
It’s one thing to talk about peace in Iraq, but achieving any kind of meaningful and tangible on-the-ground impact can be difficult to organize and execute (and even harder to fund). Yet since joining the EPIC team in August, I’ve had the privilege of joining an effort that aims to showcase the true peacebuilding power of Iraq’s youth as the country goes through a fragile transition in the post-American withdrawal period.
My name is Christian Chung, and I’m proud to serve as the Conflict Resolution Intern, and newest member of EPIC, for the fall semester! I’m excited to be a part of this dynamic organization as we go forward in achieving our vision of empowering young people across Iraq to build peace and a stronger future for their country. If you’d like to find out more about me, feel free to check out my bio here.
Though much of the American public consciousness regarding Iraq has all but faded since the final deployed soldier came home last December, there is a vital story about this often misunderstood country that is going unnoticed. It’s the story of millions of Iraq’s youth who are bridging the gap between ethnicities, religions, sects, tribes, and political parties, in order to realize the full potential of peaceful social and economic development that is well within Iraq’s grasp.
I saw this play out in a real fashion this past summer, when I lived in northern Iraq and worked as a reporter, giving me a rare look at a variety of challenges that Iraqi civil society faces. But more importantly, I saw the determination with which most every young person I met and talked with approached their future, with many vowing to go abroad and get the highest education they could obtain in order to better serve their fellow Iraqis.
I spent most of my time in the northern city of Erbil, the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdistan Region, as well as in Kirkuk, the ancient and still deeply divided oil-rich city in the country’s northeast. Both experiences transformed both my understanding of Iraq’s people as well as the complexity of the social and political issues the country faces. My job as a reporter left me chasing after answers to questions all over Iraq, and I was fortunate enough to be able to travel widely and interact with many Iraqis, from Yazidis, Muslims, Christians, and Kurds, Turkmen, and Sunni and Shia Arabs alike. Some of the fondest memories I have of my short two-and-a-half months in Iraq include visiting places that one here in America might find counterintuitive from the common perception of what Iraq is and isn’t; places like the ancient Yazidi temple in Lalish, or the ruins of the Saint Hormiz Monastery in Alqosh, home to one of the oldest Christian settlements in the Middle East.
Amazingly, and sadly, Iraq’s rich diversity is too often hidden from public view, and the narrative that so many young Iraqis try to get out to the world is trumped by horrific stories of the challenges the state still faces in combating terror and civil conflict. That’s why projects like Photovoice: Iraq, Picturing Change are so critical in both broadening the image of Iraq and its people, as well as helping the youth (which form more than half of Iraq’s population) seize the future to establish a stable and lasting peace free from the horrors of the past. And it’s why I’m so motivated to join EPIC in making this project come to fruition.
Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of young Iraqis and, by extension, for the future prosperity of Iraq; let’s get started!