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Project Istwa is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of self-empowerment, awareness and self-expression of Haitian youth through photography.
Founded in 2011, Project Istwa is a volunteer-run nonprofit organization that conducts a series of seven day photography workshops and youth development programs for youth throughout Haiti. While the global media coverage of Haiti is significant, particularly after the January 2010 earthquake, opportunities for Haitians to portray their views and direct perspectives of their country are limited. The purpose of Project Istwa is to allow participants to use photography to communicate what is important to them and how they see their world. The roots of Project Istwa lie in the original photovoice approach that uses photography and narrative as both a tool of self-expression and advocacy within marginalized communities. Through the world of photography they have the opportunity to tell their story, their way, through their own eyes. Project Istwa also incorporates youth and community development components.
During each workshop, participants are given a digital camera so they can take pictures that show what a day in their life looks like from their perspective. Working with facilitators, participants learn about their cameras and photography and photograph their surroundings. The workshop week includes group work and individual work. Among other activities, after practicing a variety of shots participants go on a community walk with facilitators for further practice. Participants view and discuss each other’s photographs. These sessions open up a dialogue within the group about what each individual is seeing and wanting to communicate through their photographs. In addition, all participants meet one-on-one with facilitators for a more in-depth conversation about the photographs they took and their significance. Each participant captions a particular group of his or her photographs through these individual sessions. At the end of the week they show their captioned photographs to family, friends and community members in a public exhibit in their neighborhood.
Throughout the week music, dance, icebreakers, drawing and writing exercises are employed as youth and community development tools. Every participant keeps their matted and captioned photographs put on display in the community exhibit as well as a photo album of photographs of them working throughout the week and photographs not included in the community exhibit. In addition to members of each community, local officials and leaders are also invited to each community exhibit so that the participants’ perspectives can be communicated to political decision makers.
Project Istwa has completed nine workshops in Cite Soleil, Petion-Ville, Hinche, Port-Salut, Jacmel, Miragoâne, Jeremie, Fort-Liberte and Cap Haitien.
Project Istwa plans to conduct at least one workshop in each of the ten departments of Haiti, as well as the bateys (impoverished areas where Haitian migrant workers reside) in the Dominican Republic, with the goal of giving Haitian youth all across the island an opportunity to express themselves in a new way.
There are several goals Project Istwa seeks to accomplish. First and foremost, the hope is that the participants simply have fun and that they find the workshop fulfilling. While that is the main priority, Project Istwa is also designed both as a community building activity and as an empowering exercise that will hopefully leave the children with a feeling that their perspectives and ideas matter.
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