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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Photography helps children in Sierra Leone realize their right to self-expression

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2009/Davies
Fatmata Shaw, 13, is one of the beneficiaries of the UNICEF-supported Children’s Forum Network photography workshop in Sierra Leone.

By Issa Davies

In the run-up to 20 November 2009, the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about this landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – including progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.

KABALA, Sierra Leone, 18 November 2009 – Until a few months ago, Fatmata Shaw, 13, had never used a camera or a computer. But after training with a professional photographer, she wants to use her newfound skills to help her peers in the community.

“With the level of illiteracy in our communities, pictures can tell the story much better than words,” Fatmata said. “With my camera, I hope to be able to better advocate on issues affecting children in my community, especially child labour.”

Fatmata is an active member of the Children’s Forum Network (CFN) a group that was established to advocate for children’s rights, protection and participation in Sierra Leone. Along with 70 other young members, Fatama received basic photography training from renowned Italian photographer Luca Babini.

“I joined the CFN so that I can also contribute to the efforts of my colleagues to change the negative attitudes and behaviour of our communities towards children,” she said.

© UNICEF/2009/ Davies
Children pose during the photography workshop in Sierra Leone.

A right of all children

Through the Italian National Committee for UNICEF, Mr. Babini donated 15 digital cameras to CFN last year. He later travelled to Sierra Leone and offered training in basic photography skills to children in the network. Mr. Babini also facilitated the donation of 10 laptop computers to the CFN from a philanthropist in the United Kingdom.

The training workshops fulfilled a basic right enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child: the right to expression.

“Before now, I have neither touched a camera nor operated a computer,” Fatmata said. “But with this training, I have not only learned how to take good photographs but also how to upload them in the computer and do basic editing.”

And Fatmata wants to affect change by passing on her knowledge to other children – in the hope that they, in turn, will do the same.

‘This training has changed my life’

In Sierra Leone, cameras and computers are luxury for children, especially those living in rural areas. Access to the Internet is limited to the capital and provincial towns.

As a result of these trainings, UNICEF – in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs – is producing a photography booklet consisting of pictures taken by CFN members. The booklet will express the views of children on an array of social issues, such as education, child labour and early marriage.

UNICEF is also supporting a children’s radio project called ‘The Voice of Children’ and a children’s newspaper called ‘Pikin News’, or ‘Children’s News’, written exclusively by children on issues that affect their lives.

“Given the opportunity, we can also make a difference, as our skills and potentials will be further realized,” Fatmata said. “This training has changed my life.”



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