Holding her toddler in her arms, the young woman spoke at first timidly into the camera : “My name is Rehana, and I am 14. I never had access to school. Now I have children, but they have no school either.”
Her voice grew in confidence and strength as she imagined herself speaking to a wider audience. “I want my son to learn English, Burmese and Bangla, because I’m certain that if he is educated, he won’t have to work in any odd job. He’ll be self-dependent!”
We are in Leda, a makeshift settlement in Cox’s Bazar, one of Bangladesh’s most remote and impoverished districts – more than four hours travel by air and land from Dhaka - where an extremely vulnerable community of 15,000 live isolated and uncertain lives. To give communities a much-needed voice in problem solving, IOM has started a Participatory Video initiative in the makeshift settlements.
The video camera was then passed to another participant to film the next speaker in the participatory video workshop. “We have no possibility to study anywhere,” said 16-year old Shofika, who looked directly at the camera, as she went on to describe the difficult reality of social exclusion.
The workshop participants were both nervous and excited as they inspected the unfamiliar video equipment – picking it up with great care, turning it on for the first time, putting on the headphones and looking through the lens. This group of 12 youth ages 13-17 had never seen a video camera before, though they had all seen many videos, as smartphones are widely available in their community.
None had ever been outside of Leda where they were born, only a few kilometers from the Myanmar-Bangladeshi border. Their settlement was established when their parents and families arrived in this Bangladeshi district. They had moved there because there was nowhere else for them to go. Stateless, they have lived for years with little access to basic needs such as food, health, clean water and sanitation facilities, and education.
Over the last decade, IOM and partner organizations have had many challenges providing assistance to these isolated, vulnerable populations. Cultural differences and language barriers, as well as a lack of resources and basic infrastructure, make it difficult for these communities to find sustainable solutions.
It turns out that asking the youth for their own ideas on how to address different issues is key to finding appropriate ways to meet the basic needs of this community. In that way they become comfortable and ready to participate in the proposed solutions.
But communication with marginalized communities is challenging and the potential for misunderstandings is considerable. In Leda, moreover, where a local dialect is predominant and no formal education system exists, the majority of the population, particularly youth, do not have a voice in how to respond to short and long term needs. To address these challenges, IOM launched its Participatory Video initiative.
Our makeshift studio in Leda is a large unfurnished room of a new clinic, yet to be inaugurated. We conduct the first Participatory Video workshop with a group of young volunteers from the community. The workshop focused on giving these youth the tools to express their views by creating their own short videos. The idea behind this concept is that making a video is easy and can be an effective way of bringing people together to discuss issues, voice concerns or simply tell their stories.
The Participatory Video process includes:
• Workshop participants receive guidance on how to use video equipment through games and exercises.
• Facilitators help the group identify important issues in their community and then select one topic to focus on.
• Participants direct and film short videos and messages on the chosen topic.
• Completed videos are shared with the community and wider audiences to disseminate the group's messages.
With the assistance of local IOM staff, we began the workshop with short games and exercises, guiding the participants on how to use basic video and audio equipment, and discussing important issues in their community. Once comfortable, the youth agreed on creating a video message on the need for education and schools in their settlement.
Over the course of the workshop, the discourse began shifting from emotional anecdotes to assertive statements and solution proposals. It was a reflection of how empowering the participatory video process had been, enabling the group to take their own action to find a solution to their own problems, and to communicate their needs and ideas to an audience including influencers and decision-makers far beyond the reaches of their makeshift settlement in rural Bangladesh.
Read more on Participatory video:
Eyes see; ears hear By Memorial University, Newfoundland, Snowden, D. Canada here.
The Potential of Participatory Video. Pratricia Okahashi. Rehabilitation Review Vol. 11, No. 1, January 2000 here
Participatory Video: Rural People Document their Knowledge and Innovations. Chris Lunch. World Bank IK Notes. No.71 August here
Insights into Participatory Video: A Handbook for the field. Nick and Chris Lunch. 2006 here