A photography research project to raise public awareness about issues in Iraq
Thanks to crowdfunding from our supporters via Indiegogo and other funders, PHOTOVOICE IRAQ: Picturing Change is working towards its third round!
A majority of young Iraqis have experienced disruptions in their education as a result of their unstable environment, contributing to alarmingly high dropout rates. For those who remain in school, the education sector is hampered by poor infrastructure and outdated curricula. With young people under 30 years of age comprising 65% of Iraq’s population, these trends are growing increasingly dangerous as militant groups recruit young people into their ranks.
EPIC has partnered with the American University of Iraq: Sulaimani (AUIS) on an initiative to empower young Iraqis. Working with an instructor from the university’s faculty, PHOTOVOICE: IRAQ seeks to change those dynamics by showcasing the talents of young, professionally developing photographers who will document a human rights or social justice issue to capture the problems they see in Iraq, and offer a viable solution. As catalysts of social change, they will then develop their work into powerful pblic exhibits that will engage community leaders and public officials in their local area. PhotoVoice: Iraq will help these 15 photographers ealize how their photography and voices can create social change and become an effective tool of advocacy both by reaching decision makers directly and by encouraging audiences to create that change. Students are able to witness their work create a tangible impact on their society. Find out more about our Photovoice Partners. Primarily used in community development, public health and education, Photovoice has transformed lives and empowered youth in the United States, China, Brazil and a dozen other countries around the world.
For 10 weeks, a diverse group of Iraqi youth will use digital SLR cameras and personal narratives to explore how Iraq has changed, and how that change is affecting their lives and future aspirations. Then, they will photograph and write about the positive change that they hope to see within their lifetimes, and how they see themselves being a part of that change.
Who do we select for the program?
EPIC believes that youth have the power to change the destructive situations in Iraq and become future leaders of their communities with the help of a better education system. PhotoVoice: Iraq targets Iraqi students who have aspirations for their community but lack the proper mentors and leadership tools to make their voices heard. EPIC selects 15 students attending AUIS each spring semester who have the determination to carry out PhotoVoice’s overall mission for social change.
During the last session, students enrolled in the Introduction to Photography Art 102 class participated in the project, incorporating the assignments into their course curriculum.
PhotoVoice: Iraq not only impacts the participating students in Iraq, but also political officials, decision makers, and international diplomats who attend PhotoVoice’s gallery showcases in both Sulaimani and the United States. Traditional and social media efforts to publicize and promote the PhotoVoice events will also create a multiplier effect distributing our students’ stories to a wide range of audiences outside of the immediately involved communities.
What is the plan for PHOTOVOICE IRAQ?
The goals of EPIC’s Photovoice program are twofold: to empower Iraqi youth through education and to help marginalized and vulnerable communities create awareness about undermined human rights. PhotoVoice is a participatory research and advocacy method that combines photography and writing with social action. EPIC will continue to utilize PhotoVoice with a diverse group of Iraqi students and allow participants to explore and document – in rich images and reflections – how they see Iraq changing. Working in partnership with an assigned mentor, students will be asked to photograph and write about issues pertaining to Iraqi youth today. EPIC will present a collection of these images and writings at exhibitions, inviting officials and the media to consider the unique perspectives of young people and the importance of integrating youth voices into decision-making processes. They will use photography and written reflections to answer the following questions:
1. What do you see as an important social justice or human rights issue affects you or people you care about?
2. What would you hope to see done to address this issue?
3. How do you see yourself being a part of that positive change?
For the span of a semester, participants meet weekly with their mentors to create their photographic portfolio and personal narratives. Through discussion and writing, students will develop English speaking skills to bridge the language gap between Arabic and Kurdish populations.
Participants have fostered cross-ethnic relationships, and have brought awareness to issues that most affect their daily lives and encouraged audience engagement in social reform. The program enables participatory research on current social justice issues, consequently helping to advance country’s peace and development.
Displaying the photography:
At the end of the semester, we will present the youths’findings at a public exhibition in Iraq and will invite top policy-makers, education officials, youth organizations and local and regional media.
There will also be a gallery display in Washington, D.C., in coordination with the Iraqi Cultural Center. The gallery will be available to the public, where community members can see the student’s best photos and accompanying narratives. As a social grass-roots organization, we are deeply familiar with the many ways that individuals of the general public can help participate in civil advancement. The PhotoVoice galleries and showcase events will connect audiences with opportunities to petition public officials, volunteer, and other social actions.
How is the impact documented?
Students will complete intake applications and surveys before beginning the program in order to define their overall goals for the project and their initial reactions to issues in the community. At the project’s conclusion, students will also write an exit survey that summarizes their accomplishments and thoughts on their progress. Responses will be compared to look for changes in attitude, opinion, and outlook. EPIC’s goal is to find more intergroup consideration in these responses as a result of the time spent discussing the research questions each week.
During the term, students will meet weekly with a PhotoVoice mentor provided by EPIC in order to discuss their work and any specific research findings or personal developments. These mentoring sessions are recorded and shared with our partners and EPIC staff members to be used in co-authoring research pieces about PhotoVoice: Iraq’s data findings.
Photovoice Iraq had an incredibly successful session during the spring of 2014, creating strong relationships between EPIC, AUIS and the participating students. EPIC plans to begin the next session of Photovoice next spring!
The results will be EPIC.
EPIC believes PHOTOVOICE is a powerful tool that will have a real impact on Iraq and the lives of young Iraqis. EPIC’s PHOTOVOICE IRAQ is ongoing, but we need your help! We want to expand this amazing tool to several areas of Iraq to include Baghdad and Erbil. Donate to PHOTOVOICE IRAQ and become an EPIC supporter!