Monday, August 22, 2011

Project WITNESS launches in Guyana

On Thursday August 11th, 2011 the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security in partnership with THE MARGARET CLEMONS FOUNDATION (MCF) hosted a photography workshop for 15 children and two artists under the project theme name WITNESS. Attending this breakfast buffet workshop at the Cara Lodge were fifteen children ages 11 to 17, two adult artists and one country coordinator selected from Child Protective Services, Help & Shelter, Varqa Foundation and the greater Georgetown community. Also in attendance as observers were Karla Daniels, Vice Consul U.S. Embassy, Dhanmattie Sohai, USAID, Margaret Kertzious, Director, Help & Shelter and Shirley Ferguson, Child Protective Services. MCF’s programming includes a train the trainer component.

The program’s primary objective is to draw attention to and spark conversation about the effects of adult human behavior, particularly gender based and child directed violence on society’s most vulnerable and impressionable witnesses, our children. The project is part of the global photography project by the French artist JR called “Inside Out”. MCF provided each of the 18 participants with point and shoot cameras, memory cards, journals and photography books. The workshop included basic photography instruction by Alysia Christiani the New York based Guyanese American and Studio Manager at Sesame Workshop. Christiani volunteered her time to travel to Guyana on behalf of MCF to deliver the workshop and is the WITNESS Project Manager.

The 15 children were broken into small groups of three and presented with various logistical and mechanical obstacles to overcome. With only two weeks to take a number of very specific photographs, obtain signed releases from the model’s parent or guardian, and deliver the photographs to the Guyana based coordinator for delivery to MCF in New York, each group had to develop an efficient system which was presented to the larger group for discussion. Additionally, all participants were required to answer a questionnaire about the program and to make suggestions on what can be improved upon.

The two participating artists chronicled the workshop by photographing the participants as they worked through the process. They will continue to chronicle the program as it unfolds over the next two weeks and again at the final roll out in late October when representatives of MCF return to Guyana to post the children’s photographs, which will have been converted into huge sized posters, in heavily trafficked areas of Georgetown. After the posters have been placed in and around Georgetown they will be added to JR’s Inside Out site and viewed by people from across the globe. The 15 children, 2 artists and country coordinator are required to participate in this final aspect of the program. MCF’s commitment to the participants includes providing transportation to anyone who may have moved out of town at the time of the roll out.

In addressing the WITNESS Project participants Minister Manickchand expressed the importance of utilizing all available resources including arts based programming to change the culture of violence directed against women and children. She said that by participating in programs such as Project WITNESS young people could finally begin to find their voices to speak out loudly against the violence that has infected Guyanese society.

We were deeply moved by the opportunity to work with these delightful children and artists and to be able to give these remarkable young children a loud voice through photography to speak out about violence. Our roll out in November promises to be highly visible and to create lasting conversation and then change. Moreover, we are delighted to work with all of the participants including the adult artists who are tasked with documenting the program's progress through photography. Additionally, all of the participants are required to fill out questionnaires throughout the program's 4 stages. The information garnered from the questionnaires will help us to determine the effectiveness of the program.

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