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In Argentina, indigenous children explore their world through photographs

© UNICEF Argentina/2013/Pirozzi
Diego Eduardo Andrada,12, takes photos from a tractor on the way to school at the Fundación Valdacco, outside the village of Comandancia Frias, Chaco province, northern Argentina.

By Natalia L. Calisti

A photography workshop gives a group of indigenous children a chance to share a glimpse of their everyday lives in a remote region of Argentina. 

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, 27 August 2013 – “Have any of you have ever taken a photograph before?” the teacher asked the students on the first day of the workshop. None of them ever had.

By the end of the second day, the children were using their own cameras to try out what they had learned.

“This is awesome,” Nelson Aranda said in a low voice. The 11-year-old boy became one of the most enthusiastic young photographers of the workshop.

© Courtesy Cristián Román
A carob tree in the hills of Argentina's Impenetrable Chaqueño, chosen by the group as best photograph from the EYE SEE workshop. (Cristián Román, 18)

The Impenetrable Chaqueño, a forest region in the north of Argentina, was the setting for this EYE SEE photography workshop, the first conducted especially for indigenous children. Led by UNICEF photographer Giacomo Pirozzi, 17 children and adolescents from the Wichí people learned how to express themselves through images taken with digital cameras.

The goal of the EYE SEE workshops is to teach photography to children and provide them with a fun and compelling tool to capture images of their everyday lives, as well as to encourage visual literacy and increase children’s involvement in promoting positive social change.

Aged between 10 and 18, most of the Wichí children in the workshop study at Valdocco Foundation, a complex in the Impenetrable Chaqueño with bilingual Wichí-Spanish primary and secondary schools. Some live so far away that they stay at the foundation and go home every three weeks; others are picked up daily by the school tractor in the village of Comandancia Frías or in the nearby hills. 

© UNICEF Argentina/2013/Pirozzi
Children from the Wichí ethnic group participate in the EYE SEE photography workshop sponsored by Sony and facilitated by photographer Giacomo Pirozzi at the Fundación Valdocco.

Despite their initial shyness, the children became excited about taking pictures. On the third day, they chose some of their daily activities to photograph, such as the trip to school by tractor, breakfast before class, fellow students working in the garden and neighbours from the nearby village.

“They speak with their images,” explained Mr. Pirozzi, adding that Wichí children are very fond of nature. “They want to show all the trees and the wild animals that surround them deep in the forest.”

Eagerness to learn

Although the children’s enthusiasm in the workshop demonstrated a real eagerness to learn, more than half of Argentina’s Wichí population between ages 15 and 19 haven’t finished primary school, according to the official Complementary Survey of Indigenous Peoples.

© Courtesy Andrea Ciro
Goat behind a bicycle wheel, Comandancia Frías, Chaco, Argentina. (Andrea Ciro, 12)

“Through the photographs, children show how important the right to study is for them,” said Andrés Franco, UNICEF Representative in Argentina. “Schools should be prepared to receive Wichí students and teach them in their own language with a bilingual program. It’s tough for children to learn to read and write in Spanish if their teachers can’t communicate with them.”

Family was also an important theme for the young photographers, as shown by a group who went to their homes and took portraits. Delia Micsetan, age 15, visited her grandmother, who only speaks the Wichí language and had never seen a camera.

“She likes what we do with cameras,” said Delia of her grandmother. “I took some pictures of her making crafts with chaguar threads. Chaguar is a plant that grows in the hills, and our grandparents use it to make bags and sell them in the village.”

© Courtesy Fabiola Pérez
Woman and her children by a blue wall. Blue houses were given to families by the Government. Comandancia Frías, Chaco, Argentina. (Fabiola Pérez, 13)

Fabiola Perez, 13, also took some photos of her family and also a young neighbor, a girl two years older than her with her newborn baby in her arms.

At the end of the workshop’s fifth day, the children chose a picture of a local carob tree as the best picture and selected Diego Andrada as the best photographer in the group.

As part of the project, Mr. Pirozzi selected some of the images showing the Wichí children’s world to include in an exhibition travelling to various cities and countries. Sony also donated digital cameras to the Valdocco Foundation for the children to continue working and to replicate the workshop with other students.

The EYE SEE project originated in Pakistan after the October 2005 earthquake, initially focused on documenting children’s experiences in displacement camps. Since then, it has held workshops in many countries and inspired thousands of pictures by children who had never used a camera, among them children living with disabilities and survivors of disasters such as the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Sony has supported EYE SEE since 2006 by providing equipment and operating funds.



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