Reinventing Child Participation Through PhotoVoice


Neeti Sharma, Media and Communications Coordinator at Save The Children writes about her experiences in designing a PhotoVoice project. 

As the sound of the mosquitos incited the four mosquito catchers — who were required to close their eyes to click photos of mosquitos by following their sounds — my understanding regarding the usefulness of the capacity building PhotoVoice workshop for 15-odd master trainers swung sharply into focus.

The mosquito activity was one of the many ice-breaker fun activities built into the 5-day training intended to express the power of the camera. We aim to put cameras in the hands of the children residing in 9 rural and urban locations in India, part of the Stop Diarrhoea Initiative, to reduce Under-5 diarrhoeal deaths. This is a unique programme that intends to reduce under-5 diarrhoeal deaths by implementing the WHO and UNICEF’s 7 Point Plan for diarrhoea control.

The PhotoVoice training was weaved into the project to gain newer insights into how children’s voices can be heard through photography and furthermore how we might garner the confidence in children to speak up. The master trainers were a mix of district staff of Save the Children and representatives of local NGOs that are implementing the Stop Diarrhoea Initiative at the grassroots.

Through the PhotoVoice training we found that truly a photo is worth more than a 1000 words, and that a photo can speak and be heard very effectively. The training took each one of us on a journey of learning — from simple photography to learning to interpret all that a photograph can say. A process of visual literacy, interpretation, segregation and captioning along with ethics and importance of informed consent was precious learning and a world-class experience.

As Thomas Elkins, PhotoVoice CEO and our trainer, repeatedly drilled, “So what? Then what? Why this?” We reflected on the objectives and the approach that we were planning to roll out with children. How should we design our project in a manner so that the voice of the most marginalised child is heard loud and clear? This resonated with every new exercise delivered in the training.

PhotoVoice and participatory photography has the amazing capacity to relate to decision makers what they may have misunderstood and therefore can prove to be a powerful tool for advocacy regarding inaccessible services. It is an innovative and interactive activity that will enthuse children and will be utilized as a confidence building skill. But most of all, it redefines the approach to participation in the developmental process. By giving the children and the community the power of the visual and analysis, PhotoVoice makes them active participants in setting their own community objectives and relating pictures to progress, achievement, desires and ideal settings. And to us, as social workers, better insights into their goals and objectives which we could help them achieve.

As the communications coordinator for this project I am thrilled with what we gained through the 5 day training and I am very excited at the prospect of sharing this tool with the children of the intervention areas, to be able to better hear and understand their expectations of us, of the community and the society. I am now bracing myself for the responsibility that will come with better understanding the children and we hope to come up to their expectations – as they learn to communicate more effectively with us and the world.