Jean Jacques Rousseau said “Childhood is the sleep of reason.” There can be no doubt as to the veracity of his statement. Indeed, children are immediate and live within the moment. They see with a clarity that startles, a clarity we shed along with our innocence when we cross the threshold into adulthood.
Because of this lack of insight there is a loss of contact with the understanding of our place in the universe. It is vital for children to be given the tools to express these divine and basic truths that they carry within so naturally, for they are the keepers of our compassion and humanity. Nowhere is this more evident than in environments of poverty and need, where the hopefulness of a child is even more noticeable and potent, the contrast sharp and striking. It was while doing research for a completely unrelated matter that I discovered a group of children who were being given the tools of self expression to create art with a camera through the work of World Vision.
I spoke with David Munoz Ambriz and Heidi Isaza of World Vision about their experiences working with the poor, the photography project and its emergence as a liberating experience for children to express the truth of the world around them.
In addition to this interview, the children from Mexico are our featured photographers for April and it is our sincerest hope after viewing the photographs, that you are inspired by the child within to visit the links provided below, perhaps helping those who help children to secure a future for a child who is in desperate need.
Interview with David Munoz Ambriz, communications director World Vision Mexico
TM: Hi David, I appreciate you taking time from the important work you are doing with World Vision in Mexicoto share your experiences with the children whose photographs grace our pages this month. My understanding is that the project itself is a photography workshop that involved seventy children who were given cameras and the freedom to record their world as they experienced it. When I first discovered the photo blog I was immediately impressed with the notion that an art form such as photography could be used to empower and liberate children from the difficult living conditions that dictate their formative years. Where did the idea originate and is this now an ongoing program with perhaps opportunities for those children who show talent with a lens to continue on in their education?
DMA: Hello and thanks for considering this story for your magazine.
Where did the idea originate? Well, children in rural communities have very little options as they grow: they can work in the fields as farmers or taking care of their livestock. The other option is to become a teacher or a doctor as the other two activities they are familiar with. Unfortunately the third option is migration to US or other cities in Mexico, but mainly trying to reach the Mexican border and then cross to US.
World Vision focuses its ministry in the children and their possibilities of changing their communities and their lives for good. “Abilities for life” is one program where we literally tell the children they can be anything they dream. Not that being a farmer is wrong, but empowering their lives with new opportunities.
The Photo Project was one of the several workshops given to the children with two objectives: to develop their artistic abilities and to develop other abilities for life.
Before the workshop we ask the children, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Most of them answer, “I do not know. Maybe a teacher, I want to be a farmer…”
Once the workshop is finished we ask the same questions and we get completely different answers: “I want to be a community reporter, I want to be a movie director, I want to study in Mexico City to become photographer.”
The workshop also awarded three of the best youth photographers who came to Mexico City to visit a Magazine editorial: Grupo Expansión,http://grupoexpansion.mx/. While there they learned how to design a magazine, how to take studio photos and all of the processes involved.
The most important part of this workshop was that the children’s lives were changed, becoming more creative and seeing themselves as active actors that can change their communities.
TM: When I first saw the photographs, strictly as a viewer with no connection to the children at all, I was struck by the honesty inherent in each image. Despite the struggles they face, their choice of subjects is revelatory in that it exposes a joy and hope that is at the heart of each photo. Were you surprised by what you saw when you looked at the results and how many photos did you take in total at the completion of the program?
DMA: Absolutely! I was a little skeptical of this project (don’t tell anyone!) but I thought that it was going to be harder for us to communicate with the children so that they could use the cameras, find an objective, etc. Surprisingly, they fell in love with the project. We asked them one question before, “What do you want to share with other people about you or your community?” You have seen the result on the images. Also, we underestimated them and their capacities. We gave them one camera with a 500 mb memory included for three days. The first day, most of the memories were full!
Therefore we had to download all of the images so they can have their memories free for the next day. At the end we had more than 15,000 photos.
Besides me, we had other two professional photographers with each group of children. We had literally no free time since every minute a different kid would approach us with questions or to show us their images. It also changed my life to see how easy we can empower a child, alter their lives for good and how open they are to share with others their lives, communities, etc.
TM: One thought kept occurring to me when looking at the photographs: this would make an outstanding collection if compiled in a volume and published. Is this something that you have considered as an opportunity to raise funds and awareness?
DMA: Yes. We did it already in Mexico City. Grupo Expansion, our sponsor selected the best 20 pictures and we had an exposition in Mexico Cityat one of the most popular Malls in town: Antara http://antara.com.mx/home/antara/), October 2011. We had major media coverage, including CNN México.
This was not a fundraising event, but mostly an awareness event with good reaction from the assistants. The photos were exhibited for a month. Other than this we have not yet done other exhibits but the large prints are here in the office and ready to ship to you!
TM: How did you originally become involved in World Vision and do you now feel that it has changed the way you view the world and the ways in which we human beings relate to each other?
DMA: I have been working for World Vision for 15 years. Certainly it has changed the way I see the world and how I interact with it. Working with rural communities, people that have suffered a lot, writing about their struggles and life changing stories have changed my life. Every time I take a photo or write a story I think, “How can this affect other’s people minds so they can respond positively and improve this situation? Any life altering stories such as these inspires me to remember “we are changing lives for good and it feels good to empower a child and to know that migration is not an option anymore in their young lives”.
TM: David, would you do something special for Tuck and show our magazine to the children so they can see that we have proudly shared their work with the arts community?
DMA: Consider it done! Children love to see that their photos are being shared with other people.
Interview with Heidi Isaza, communications director for World Vision
TM: I appreciate you taking the time Heidi from a frenzied and intense schedule. You are a communications specialist for World Vision and that sounds like a very broad area of expertise. Could you expand on your title and tell us the bare bones of what you do on a daily basis?
HI: Val, I would also like to thank you for your interest in this project and your determination to share these children’s perspectives with the readers of Tuck magazine.
I work in the communications department for World Vision in our office in the United States. I am based out of our Federal Way,Washington office. My job, on a daily basis, is to work with our national staff around the world where we work to ensure we have the stories, photos, videos and information we need for our fundraising, reporting, advocating and mobilizing activities to continue.
TM: Before your involvement with the children in Mexico, you spent a significant amount of time in Chile in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010 that left approximately 1.5 million people displaced and homeless. When I think of you and the others who bravely venture into what are for all intents and purposes danger zones of one sort or another, I am struck by your commitment and single minded focus on the task at hand. What is it that dives you to do this work which is certainly heart breaking and I would surmise despairing at times? How do you cope with the overwhelming demands of the job that you are faced with on a daily basis and does it ever get any easier? Wow, this is a big question.
HI: First, let me make one clarifying remark: I was not actually on the ground or physically involved with the training of the children in Mexico. I found out that this project was being done and had had significant success and a positive reception in Mexico through my regular my monitoring activities and communication with our field staff. I was impressed with the initiative and outcomes and wanted to be sure their voices were heard by our donors and supporters in the U.S. and beyond. That is what motivated me to write the blog.
Now to your questions: What drives me to do this work? Personally, I am motivated by my faith in God and my relationship with Jesus Christ. He tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves to seek justice and to defend the cause of the widow and the fatherless. I have been abundantly blessed in my life. I was born in theU.S.to a loving middle-class family with parents that supported me and cared about my education.
I first saw true poverty in Peruat the age of 18. At that time, I chose to dedicate my life to serving the Lord through helping others. Since then, I have witnessed poverty and injustice around the world, including the in theU.S.
I am motivated to continue to use everything within my means (my education, my abilities, my talents) to make a difference because I know God could just have easily have chosen for me to have been born in very different circumstances. I could have been the child whose parents died, who was sold into slavery, who was forced to work in a factory instead of going to school, who goes to sleep hungry every night, or any number of other scenarios. But, I wasn’t. God chose different circumstances for me. I believe he did that for a reason. I have been given opportunities and abilities to be able to love my neighbors and to stand up for others. I am a privileged person in a privileged position. If the tables were turned, I would hope there were other people who would be driven to help me as well.
How do I cope with the demands of the job? As a resident of Seattleand the spouse of a Colombian, I should say ‘coffee’ which is at least partly true. In all seriousness however, I deal with the demands of the job through the support of my friends, family and co-workers at World Vision—who are like a second family—and through leaning on and trusting in the promises of the Lord
I think it also helps to not lose sight of the needs and the urgency of our work. Everything we as an organization or I as an individual choose to do or not to do, does have an significant impact in the lives of real people just like myself around the world.
Does it get any easier? Yes and no. One of the biggest risks for people in this line of work is to become calloused and to see the problems and the people they affect in an abstract and disconnected way—as numbers or issues, rather than individuals. In some ways, I am not as shocked as I once was in the contrast that exists between the circumstances some people live in when compared to the circumstances of others. But, on the other hand, I am equally enraged by the injustices that continue to occur. The day I can hear about someone’s suffering without tears in my eyes will be the day that I need to pray, as the founder of World Vision did more than 60 years ago, “May my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
TM: Many of us only see the images of the disaster and relief efforts through the narrow and finite filter of newspapers, television media outlets or online news sources with sound bites shaping our perspective on the horror many live with daily. Because of this we are not privy to the important details of the daily behind the scenes activity that organizations like World Vision have to perform to save lives and increase awareness. What are the first few days like when you arrive in a country to give aid to those in need?
HI: World Vision is primarily a community development organization, which means that we are committed to the long-run, sustainable development of communities. We normally work in areas for 15-20 years, or more. Although we do relief work such as supporting individuals after natural disasters, it is usually in the context of the larger picture of our work. I mention that because it is important to remember that we often have a presence in affected communities even before disaster strikes and we are committed to staying long after the news and attention have left. This was the case in Chile.
When I was inChileright after the earthquake in 2010, I was initially overwhelmed by the power of nature and the fragility of life. Entire communities and neighbourhoods had been washed away. Light poles had tumbled like toothpicks and commercial fishing boats were tossed like rubber ducks. The needs were immense and basic: food, water, hygiene supplies, shelter and clothes. No one cares about style or brands when survival is at stake.
At the same time, I was inspired by the strength and tenacity of the human spirit, the people’s willingness to come together and support one another and their will to overcome, move on, and start again.
TM: I would assume the cultural differences and language barriers can be a challenge for you and the other aid workers when attempting to provide relief and assistance. Do you find that being a mother helps you cross this divide when you meet other mothers and does this bond transcend the artificial borders society has constructed? Do you find that the traumatic situations themselves diminish these differences so that you can just go in and do your job to keep people alive?
HI: Being a mother or a parent is certainly a neutralizing element in my interactions with the people we serve around the world. We may have different cultures, customs, dresses and languages but, at the end of the day, as parents we all want the same thing for our children; the best that we can provide and hope for a bright future.
TM: When you went to Mexico on the trek that ultimately resulted in the wonderful photographs we have up in this issue of Tuck, all taken by the children living there, what was your reaction as a photographer to the images their young eyes deemed important enough to record and share? Do you and David Munoz Ambriz the communications manager for World Vision Mexico see this as a viable and important project that will continue as a way to liberate the children emotionally through the creativity of the lens?
HI: Again, I was not with David and the team from World Vision Mexico during this activity, I can only answer from when I saw the photos.
When I saw the photos that were taken by the children in Mexico I was impressed and inspired. While this is not the first time I have seen photographs by children or individuals in our programs, these photos seemed to be particularly well thought out and well produced.
As World Vision, we are planning on expanding activities and opportunities such as this one. In the past there has been a lot of emphasis put on our organization being the voice for the voiceless. Today, we have the technology and the tools to give the metaphoric megaphone to those we serve and empower them to tell their own stories and share what is most exciting or problematic from their perspective and raise their own voices.
The photographs from Mexico are but one expression of how this seed of community voice is taking root in our programs around the world and even being incorporated into our program materials. Many countries have photo clubs where, much like they did in Mexico, children learn to take photos as a way of expression or advocacy. There are also children’s groups with regular radio programs, children creating short films and other group that produce newspapers. These are but a few examples of how children and adults living in poverty around the world are making themselves heard.