Not only do children see the world differently than adults do, their abilities to share their observations differ with age. Where words and phrases might come relatively easily for adults or older children (who, after all, have had years of practice), cameras or crayons are often the most expressive media for younger children. As explained by 17-year-old Nguyen Chau Thuy Trang from Viet Nam, “There are some things we cannot say with words, some emotions are better expressed through pictures.”
In Rwanda, for example, where nearly 1 million people were murdered during the 1994 genocide, the 13 children in the photograph below —Frederick, Gasore, Bakunzi, Dusingizimana, Uwamahoro, Imanizabayo, Ingabire, Elizabeth, Twagira, Jacqueline, Umuhoza, Gadi and Musa— learn the art of chronicling their daily lives in a series of workshops that are conducted as part of ‘Through the Eyes of Children’/The Rwanda Project. Photos like the one at left are all part of their growing portfolio as they tell us about the country they see.
Drawing provides younger children the opportunity to ‘speak’, and in programmes throughout the world children are asked to tell what the world looks like to them. At the UN Special Session on Children, the voices of nearly 34,000 children from more than 125 countries were heard through their paintings. Prominently displayed just inside the doorways of the visitors’ entrance at the UN Secretariat, the ‘Amazed World’ exhibit is a project sponsored by the Government of the Republic of Korea, UNICEF, the Korea Foundation and the Korean Committee for UNICEF, which encouraged children to express their dreams and views through painting.
Through the process of learning photography, young people can develop and broaden their confidence and self-esteem as they acquire vocational skills and a new perspective on their lives. “When I take photographs I hope to have happiness…when I pass through the city I have hope that maybe one day my country will look like this,” says 15-year-old Onesmus, a refugee living in London.
In various projects around the world, the voices of children and young people are being heard through their photos. More than 500 children and young people from 45 countries, for example, captured images of their lives on camera as part of ‘Imagine – your photos will open my eyes’, a joint youth photography project of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and Philipp Abresch, a journalist in Berlin. Transcending language barriers, ‘Imagine’ builds bridges between children and adolescents and between generations and cultures. ‘Imagine’ also creates opportunities for children to communicate about the photographs and the issues they represent via worldwide Internet chat rooms, a catalogue, postcards and online exhibitions.
Similarly, PhotoVoice, based in London, gives voice to marginalized groups within society, such as refugee children and children living on the streets. The organization raises awareness of their lives while helping the children generate an income through their newfound skills. In Mound Bayou, a predominantly African-American town, and in the surrounding areas of the Mississippi Delta in the United States, photography is part of the Kemetic Institute’s mission to help prepare children to become productive citizens. It does so by creating an environment that challenges, guides and motivates young people to explore their talents. And in ‘Right to Know’, a joint initiative of the UN, UNICEF and NGOs designed to enable adolescents make informed decisions and take positive action for a healthy life, teenagers take pictures to communicate what is important in their lives to their peers and adults. The photos will be used in a global communications strategy to provide information about HIV/AIDS to adolescents in 13 pilot countries.
Palestinian children have a unique opportunity to express themselves creatively and share their work with their peers around the world through Save the Children UK’s ‘Eye to Eye’ project. The children’s photos are shared online. Inspired by the photographs, 14-year-old Kim and 15-year-old Daventry from the United Kingdom wrote in an online message board, “We would like to say how touched we felt by looking at pictures of people our own age in totally different situations to us…but you still are able to be happy and positive and optimistic about your way of life. You have made us understand how lucky we really are. Keep busy by playing sport... FOOTBALL...WE LOVE FOOTBALL! Carry on smiling.”