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Sierra Leone: Fatmata, 13, discovers the advocacy power of photography

© UNICEF/Sierra Leone/ 2009/Davies
Fatmata Shaw, 13, is one of the beneficiaries of the UNICEF supported workshop in Sierra Leone.

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

Freetown, 10 November 2009 – Fatmata Shaw, 13, is an active member of the Children’s Forum Network (CFN) in Kabala, an agrarian community in northern Sierra Leone.

The CFN is an umbrella group of children in the country that was established in 2001 to advocate for children’s rights, protection and participation.

In many communities in Sierra Leone, children are not normally allowed to express themselves on any issue.

"I joined the CFN so that I can also contribute to the efforts of my colleagues to change the negative attitudes and behavior of our communities towards children", said Fatmata.
She is one of the 70 children of the CFN from all 13 districts in Sierra Leone who have benefited from basic photography training that was offered by Luca Babini, a renowned Italian photographer.

Giving children opportunities
Mr. Babini, through the Italian National Committee for UNICEF, donated 15 digital cameras to the CFN last year.

As a follow up to those donations, Mr. Babini traveled to Sierra Leone and offered trainings in basic photography and ethics to the network so that they will be equipped with the skills necessary to use the cameras.

Mr. Babini also facilitated the donation of 10 laptop computers to the CFN from a philanthropist in the UK.
"Before now, I have neither touched a camera, nor operated a computer", Fatmata expressed.

"But with this training, I have not only learnt how to take good photographs but also how to upload them in the computer and do basic editing".

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 city, Freetown and few provincial towns.

Over 80 per cent of the population cannot use the computer and about 75 per cent cannot read and write.

Only a limited number of children had either used the computer or the camera in the CFN before the training.

© UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2009/Davies
Happy children in Sierra Leone pose for Fatmata’s camera

As a result of these trainings, UNICEF in collaboration with the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs is producing a photography booklet consisting of pictures taken by CFN members.

Photography as an advocacy tool
The booklet will express the views of children on several social issues, like education, child labour and early marriage.

UNICEF, the Ministry and other organizations have been facilitating the activities of the CFN since its establishment in order to promote child
participation in Sierra Leone.

UNICEF is also supporting a children’s radio project, the Voice of Children and the production of a children’s newspaper, Pikin News (children’s news), that
is 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 as she excitedly
went around her community taking photos.

Fatmata hopes to teach other children in   her community the skills she had learnt so that they in turn will teach their counterparts in different communities.

"This training has changed my life! With the level of illiteracy in our communities pictures can tell the story much better than words. With my camera I hope to be able
to better advocate on issues affecting children in my community, especially child labour." Fatmata concludes.

By Issa Davies



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