Peacebuilding Through Photography

Photo credit: UNHCR/B.Ahmed

 

Photography preserves pieces of our lived experience and allows us a window into the unknown. It is one of the most powerful mediums for connecting humanity, both through shared experiences and the emotional connection that visual representations can evoke. In that light, photography can be an excellent opportunity for individuals to reclaim control over their lives and share their stories with a global community.

 

UNHCR and National Geographic, in partnership with Internews, have each run photography workshops in conflict regions for youth to explore through photography themselves, the world, and their place within the world. UNHCR held workshops at the Za’atari refugee settlement in Jordan, whereas National Geographic and Internews worked with twenty communications students at the University of Juba in South Sudan, each program with the goal of inspiring expression via visual storytelling.

 

After reading accounts of the photographers involved in the project, amateur and professional, there appears to be two main results: first, providing an opportunity for the youth to express their past and recreate memories; and second, instilling the confidence to reclaim power over their lives and understanding the influence they can have within the global community.

 

Bathoul Ahmed, author of “Picture This,” explained how most of us living in a digital-centric world tend to take photography for granted but emphasized how important pictures can be to people who have lost everything. Many of the photographs students took either recreated past memories or captured their family members, highlighting the high value placed on family and home. Jean Luc Dushime, a multimedia trainer with Internews who worked at the camp in Juba claimed, “A country without photography has holes in its history. You can’t see what happened.” Consequently, the aspects of history that are shared tend to have a singular nature to them. Thus, photography not only fills in the holes of history, but also allows for a multifaceted story that offers otherwise unseen perspectives.

 

One student in Juba explained that by using different angles and perspectives she documented a version of the city that her friends didn’t recognize. Imagine the potential effects of photography on peacebuilding, accomplished not by altering a state or community’s history but by allowing multiple sides of a story to come to light. It would certainly allow for a more nuanced understanding of the situation, a better-informed global community, and, arguably, more creative and sustainable post-conflict transformation.

 

Israa, a Syrian student at the workshop at Za’atari, claimed that the classes have extended beyond the mere act of shooting photographs. “This course gives you the curiosity to go out, seek and explore. It makes you think creatively and look beyond the obvious.” Another student, Fatima, echoed this sentiment saying that “the most important thing this course has taught [her] is courage, courage to put [herself] out there and approach people.” Ultimately, these workshops have not only taught students the art and influence of visual storytelling but also helped nurture confident young leaders. Perhaps inadvertently, these workshops are creating tomorrow’s peacebuilders – and that is something to celebrate.

6 Interesting Articles You May Have Missed This Week

1. Life After Death

"The world is beginning to forget about Ebola.  The village of Barkedu can't."

 

2. Feed the World 2015: Four Themes to Frame an Important Year for Food Security

"2015 feels like the closing chapter in a book that is still unfinished.  We have the ability to give it a happy ending, but not quite worked out how."

 

3. Why Tell Stories - Or Rather, Why I Tell Stories

"The beauty of stories is that they bring in the complexity and the mess of lived experience."

 

4. FP's Guide to the Oscars' Foreign Film Nominees

"Among the pomp and glitz of the annual Academy Awards...nominees for the best foreign film provide a reality check of how life abroad may veer into the dismal, occasionally absurd, and also heart-wrenchingly beautiful."

 

5. Sharp Rise in Occupational Therapy Cases at New York's Schools

"They're capable...we just have to figure out what kinds of support they need to get there."

 

6. The Future of Agriculture? Smart Farming

"I would like to highlight the fact...that the aim should not be 'industrializing' agriculture, but make agriculture more efficient, sustainable and of high quality."

Hiking the Great Wall

For some reason, seeing the Great Wall was never on my bucket list. I always appreciated it but never felt a strong desire to see it in person. If you’re at all like me, change your mind and put it on your bucket list. Right now.

I was already in China visiting my friend who works at NYU Shanghai and so, being that close, visiting the Great Wall was a must-do. I took a bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing and spent two nights at the Beijing Downtown Backpackers Accommodation. I’m often skeptical about tours as I’m usually stubborn about being independent and blending in as much as possible. However, given my subpar navigational skills and difficulties with the language barrier, as well as the great deal offered through my hostel, I opted to join a group of about 30 people on a trip to the Wall.

We were told we were going to a less-touristy section (three hours outside of the city), but given China’s population and the popularity of the Great Wall for locals and tourists alike, I figured “less touristy” meant “crowded, but not packed in like sardines.” Instead, our bus and one mini-van were the only vehicles in the parking lot, allowing us to essentially have the Wall to ourselves. Although we all started off together, we had the opportunity to go at our own pace and so as people started taking breaks at different times I quickly had the span of a tower or two on either side of me entirely to myself.

Coming from Colorado, this stretch of the Wall was particularly spectacular as it reminded me of standing on top of a 14er, gazing out at endless layers of mountains fading into the horizon. Sitting at the tallest tower and taking in the beautiful scenery is absolutely unparalleled and something that everyone should experience in their lifetime.

My pictures don’t do the trip justice, but hopefully they will provide a glimpse of the magic of the Wall and inspire a few of you to see it for yourselves. You won’t regret it.

5 Must-See TEDTalks

On a cold winter day, nothing beats curling up under a blanket with a hot cup of tea and watching TEDTalks. Here are some of our favorites from over the years, ranging from inspiring to hilarious and everything in between.  Please share your favorite TEDTalks in the comments section below!

 

Teaching with the World Peace Game (John Hunter)

"John Hunter puts all the problems of the world on a 4'x5' plywood board - and lets his 4th-graders solve them. At TED2011, he explains how his World Peace Game engages schoolkids, and why the complex lesson it teaches - spontaneous, and always surprising - go further than classroom lectures can."

 

If I should have a daughter... (Sarah Kay)

"'If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she's gonna call me Point B...' began spoken word poet Sarah Kay, in a talk that inspired two standing ovations at TED2011.  She tells the story of her metamorphosis - from a wide-eyed teenager soaking in verse at New York's Bowery Poetry Club to a teacher connecting kids with the power of self-expression through Project V.O.I.C.E. - and gives two breathtaking performances of 'B' and 'Hiroshima.'"

The danger of a single story (Chimamanda Adichie)

"Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories.  Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice - and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding."

 

Tales of passion (Isabel Allende)

"Author and activist Isabel Allende discusses women, creativity, the definition of feminism - and, of course, passion - in this talk."

 

Everyday leadership (Drew Dudley)

"We have all changed someone's life - usually without even realizing it.  In this funny talk, Drew Dudley calls on all of us to celebrate leadership as the everyday act of improving each other's lives."

5 Ways to Start Your New Year Right

Happy New Year!  Looking for ways to stay healthy and happy in 2015?  Here are some of our suggestions.

1. Drink more green tea.

You can buy some here.

 

2. Try fitting in yoga into your daily routine.

Do you live in Princeton?  Check out Yoga Stream and find a class that fits you!

 

3. Help reduce waste.  #BYOMug or #BYOJar to infini-T Café and get 5% off your drink.

4. Help encourage more sustainable agriculture by adopting Meatless Mondays or stopping by infini-T Café for Sunday Vegan Brunches.  Vegan Brunches are Sundays from 9am - 4pm, beginning January 18th.

5. Support local businesses.  If you live in Princeton, we suggest Cool VinesGreen Design, or joining us at infini-T Café.



Gisenyi

Gisenyi was my final stop down memory lane and preceded our greatest adventure of the trip: our gorilla trek in Volcanoes National park. During my semester with SIT, we had the opportunity to design and conduct independent study projects anywhere in the country and on any topic relevant to our experiences throughout the semester. My friend and I decided to head west to Lake Kivu in search of a change of scenery and alternative perspectives to the stories we heard in Kigali. Through a series of fortuitous connections I met Emmanuel and he and his family graciously opened their home to me for however long I wished to stay. Their home is in Rugerero, a rural village about fifteen minutes outside the city of Gisenyi.

A year later, I felt a sense of comfort and ease as soon as we crossed the town border into Rugerero and then again into Gisenyi, which was surely helped by the combination of rolling hills, Lake Kivu, and the volcanoes in the not-so-distant backdrop. After settling into our hotel we wandered through the city, allowing me to take on the tour guide role one last time. We first detoured to the border crossing between Rwanda and the DRC before walking along the water’s edge back towards the main part of town. Although Gisenyi is clearly a vacation destination for Rwandans and foreigners alike, it was the glimpses of everyday life that caught our eyes: the beautiful Muslim wedding on the beach, a spirited back flip competition among young Rwandan boys on the dock, the end of a neighborhood soccer game at the school. We let the rhythm of the town sweep us up, wandering aimlessly and watching what seemed to be everything and nothing simultaneously.

Later that afternoon we visited Emmanuel and his wife, Hope, so that my mom could meet the incredible people who took me in and told me the most incredible stories. Hope and Emmanuel live at the end of a long, bumpy road and have a yard filled with gardens and animals from which they both feed their family and sell at the local market down the road. Emmanuel is a pastor in Gisenyi, but he and his family decided to live in Rugerero with the aim of bridging the disconnect between himself and the community he represents. We sat in their living room drinking African tea and sharing stories of the year we spent apart. Never failing to impress, Hope and Emmanuel told us of the women’s sewing cooperative they are spearheading in their community and we are excited to share more information as soon as the cooperative gets off the ground!

On our final morning, we woke up to music and sermons spilling out of the many, and varied, places of worship throughout town and walked to enjoy one more cup of tea along the lake before heading to Volcanoes National Park.

Attaching Faces to Numbers

National Geographic just finished an eight-month series, The Future of Food, which offers multiple perspectives on how to feed the projected global population of 9 billion people by 2050. One particularly important aspect of their series is the rehumanization of people who are frequently overlooked. We tend to have a massive disconnect between our food and where it comes from, often forgetting that our food is produced by real people just like us. We also tend to experience a disconnect from people struggling with hunger and/or food insecurity, generally characterizing these people as lazy or ignorant. We so often forget the plasticity of life and that we could easily find ourselves under the same circumstances.

National Geographic photographers set out to bridge both of these gaps, attaching faces and stories to people who are otherwise overlooked as mere statistics. Jim Richardson, the author and photographer behind “Finding the Faces of Farming: A Peruvian Potato Harvest,” explained how his picture editor, Dennis Dimick, set the tone for the project: “Show us the people who feed the planet. Face to face. Let us look into their eyes and see who they are. Meet them, know them as real people, not just visual ciphers for agricultural jargon.” Richardson then traveled the world to capture farmers in the midst of their work, highlighting the understated yet common characteristics that connect us all. The twinkle in one’s eye, the weary-yet-proud smile, the gentle hands: the forgotten features that remind us of our humanity. Richardson’s project pushes us to relate with the people who grow our food and encourages us to see their lives through a more nuanced lens. Via this process, we begin to decrease the gap between production and consumption. We begin to understand where our food comes from and whom is affected during the process.

A three-part series also sought to understand what hunger in America looks like, consequently defying popular preconceived notions of hunger. The series, called “The New Face of Hunger,” examined food insecurity in three different environments: Iowa’s breadbasketBrooklyn neighborhoods, and Texan suburbs, photographed by Amy Toensing, Stephanie Sinclair, and Kitra Cahana, respectively.

Each photographer found that the families they photographed diverted from the common narrative of hunger, showing that food security is a complex issue and is often experienced by people whom, on the surface, one would never expect. For instance, many of the families photographed have cars or smart phones and yet still struggle with consistently putting food on the table. The average person tends to look at such a family and question their priorities, but simultaneously forgets the necessity of a car to get to their job(s) or the possibility that a smart phone is their sole source of internet. We often jump to the conclusion that people are lazy or ignorant rather than considering the systemic realities and restraints that shape people’s actions. In her interview, Cahana remarks that “1 in 6 Americans are food insecure, so I just don’t think you can point a finger at a sixth of the country and say ‘you’re just making bad choices; if you were making better choices, you wouldn’t be in this position.’” Rather, through each photographer’s project we see the need for larger systemic changes and we realize that we are all part of the problem and therefore are all part of the solution.

By connecting faces and stories to people we otherwise forget to consider, we become more aware of the needs of our peers and how their needs are inherently connected with our own. We become more aware of the dynamic nature of life, and the need to find solutions to problems even if those problems are not currently our own. Through this remembering of each other’s humanity, progress is certain and our influence potentially unprecedented.

Kibuye

Of all my travels, Kibuye is one of my favorite places I’ve encountered. Both of my experiences there have been pure bliss, as if Kibuye is a small pocket of the world that encourages happiness despite whatever exists outside of it. In my experience, Kibuye offers an environment that allows for serenity and nudges you to commit to the moment.

Kibuye came at a perfect leg of our trip, sandwiched along with Gisenyi between hiking in Nyungwe and going on the gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park. Meant primarily to relax and recharge, we checked into Home Saint Jean, picked chairs overlooking Lake Kivu and the layers of mountains that backdropped the lake and buried ourselves in reading (Kurt Vonnegut at the time) and writing. In between chapters, we often caught ourselves staring out at the lake, occasionally getting lost within our imaginations but more often sitting there with clear minds and simply soaking in the moment.

Our one adventure in Kibuye was our journey to bat island, a 20-30 minute boat ride across the lake. About halfway across, the skies darkened, a wind picked up, and the water became choppy, which provided a hauntingly beautiful view of the islands that I had not witnessed before. Moments after we docked on bat island, the clouds opened up and inundated us with a short but powerful rainstorm, a very common weather phenomenon in Rwanda. Partway up the island, we paused and began clapping to invite the bats out from their homes. In response, hundreds of bats circled above us, set against the background of the still ominous sky. It’s a strangely beautiful sight, even for those who are not particularly fond of bats, and I suspect that there are few other places, if any, that offer the same experience.

Once the bats settled back into the trees and the rain lightened, I climbed to the top of the island to get the 360 degree view. I had seen my friends’ pictures from the top of the island the previous year (I had explored a different island), but it was incredible to stand there and see it all for myself. I was also particularly blessed with a unique view, as the clouds were parting just enough to let the late afternoon sun peek through after the storm, illuminating the mountains below.

Kibuye offers an unparalleled calm, a venue where you can physically and emotionally feel on top of the world. Definitely a must-see when traveling through Rwanda!

Hiking Nyungwe

While in Nyungwe we went on two hikes through the rainforest: the canopy tour and the waterfall hike. We arrived the first morning for our canopy tour, also known as the Igishigishigi Trail, and were accompanied by our wonderful tour guide, Daniel, and two German tourists. I had been giddy with excitement all morning knowing that this hike included the suspension bridge featured in this short film of Rwanda, a video I watched on repeat in the days leading up to my initial arrival a year and a half ago. As we distanced ourselves from the trailhead and became completely enveloped in a world of green, it felt as if Fern Gully came to life and we were the only inhabitants. It’s both powerful and intimidating to be reminded of your smallness, standing silently among massive trees and plants and watching the abundant population of species go about their lives with little or no interest in your presence. It’s humbling to transition from a setting where you are constantly encouraged to expand your influence to an almost entirely different world where you are forced to contemplate your smallness in a massive world. Read, smallness does not equal insignificance. Rather, it offers a different perspective, one with a wider scope than we usually tend to work within.

Standing on a suspension bridge in the canopy of an expansive rainforest is an incredible experience, though I’m glad we saved the waterfall hike for last because it was, by far, the canopy tour’s superior. Joined by our tour guide, a Belgian MSF doctor in the DRC, an Italian conservationist, and two Swiss friends who met while conducting chimpanzee research in Cote d’Ivoire years ago – all of whom proved to be fascinating company – we began our descent deep into the rainforest. As we winded down along the switchbacks, our group shared stories of our travels, both of where we’ve been and where we’re going.

At last, the beauty of the waterfall struck us as we came up and around the last bend, making the impending ascent absolutely worth it. We stood there silently, allowing the sound of the waterfall to fill our ears and the beauty of our surroundings to make a lasting impression. Our ascent was similar to our descent, slowly getting to know each other through the stories of our lives, which, admittedly, was also a nice distraction from the more strenuous half of our trip. Back at the trailhead, we smiled with satisfaction and made our way back to Gisakura Guest House to relax and recharge over hot cups of ginger tea.

Rosemary

My love of rosemary began in the family garden, a passion of my mother and mine. Growing up in a large family, and being the youngest daughter, I had the luxury of tending the garden and learning to cook and bake.  During the growing season we used as many fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden as possible, and rosemary was always one of my favoritesIts aroma would instantly awaken my senses, and even almost entice me to eat the roasted chicken it was being rubbed on (a self-proclaimed vegetarian since age 8). Rosemary would go into our stuffing, eggs, and family-favorite rosemary-lemon muffins.

This love of growing and cooking with this remarkable herb has extended into my love of tea. Rosemary wakes me up naturally in the morning, and gives me the lift needed in the afternoon. Try steeping it by itself or blending it into a Rwandan black tea (smooth and medium body) or a Chinese White Tea, two blends that allow for caffeine in addition to rosemary’s health benefits.

Benefits

Rosemary is said to:

  • Be an antioxidant that is healthy for the brain in the prevention of Alzheimer’s
  • Prevent blood clots and strokes
  • Be high in Calcium and B6
  • Act as an anti-inflammatory (good for those aching muscles, joint pains, and menstrual cramps)
  • Help prevent asthma
  • Improve the function of the liver
  • Ease headaches
  • Stimulate and aid in concentration and focus

Lemon and Rosemary Muffins

Baking these growing up was always a special treat. It meant going into my garden with the aroma of the fresh herbs, and if I picked just after a light rain the soil smelled so fresh that I couldn’t help but linger longer than necessary.

Reconsidering Happiness for us is also reconsidering ways of eating that are healthier yet have the same enjoyment of eating. Our original recipe had the usual suspects of white flour, eggs, milk, and sugar, but we’ve adapted it to be tasty gluten-free and vegan treat. Additionally, the muffins have the nutty flavor of the flours we chose. We also choose to go local for our ingredients. What we do not grow ourselves, we pick up from the local farm markets, or directly from the farms, and we try to make as much as possible from scratch. Where we live – Colorado, Michigan, and New Jersey – has an abundance of farms to support.

Admittedly these muffins taste completely different than those I made with my mom, yet the memory is still alive as I now bake these with my daughter. Using the same base recipe, we also chose to make muffins made with vegan chocolate chips and fresh picked blueberries.

Let sit and cool completely so they do not crumble, best baked the night before to be eaten for breakfast. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cornmeal (ground fine)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 tbsp flax meal (golden)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
  • ¾ cup homemade almond milk (or store bought)
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ plus 1 tbsp cup canola oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Rind of one lemon

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together dry ingredients.
  3. By hand, blend the wet ingredients into the dry.
  4. Scoop ¾ full into muffin tray.
  5. Bake 18-20 minutes.

Sharing Local Produce

Looking for fresh, local produce? Australian natives Alistair Martin and Helena Martin created the app Ripe Near Me in an attempt to reduce food waste, increase the quantity of urban and sustainably grown foods, and provide better access to local, home grown, and in season food, among other goals. Ripe Near Me is a free resource for finding and sharing local produce in communities across the globe… however, they’re just getting started so help contribute to the movement by adding your produce and supporting neighborhood vendors!

Find more information at www.ripenear.me.

Nyungwe

Although Kigali is built on hills, the complete envelopment by the landscape doesn’t occur until emerging from the city limits. Winding up and around a continuous sea of terraced green hills, one finally gets a view of Rwanda that expands upon the immaculately clean and seemingly perfect capital. In my experience, long drives through Rwanda tend to be silent, allowing each of our senses full potential to spot glimpses of magic in the beautiful rhythm of rural Rwandan life. Baby goats line the roads, often guarded by a young boy nearby. Men work together to push bicycles carrying massive bundles of goods on their way to and from the markets. Women deftly navigate the paths with large, seemingly off centered, baskets on their heads with such ease that the baskets appear to be mere extensions of themselves. Sweet sounds of Rwandan music fill the air as you drive by with the windows down, letting the crisp country air rush across your face.


After spending our first few days in Kigali, we were headed southwest to Nyungwe Forest National Park, which we quickly learned is the one completely distinct area from the rest of Rwanda. In a country where every inch of land has a purpose, the entirely protected and untouched rainforest of Nyungwe is a rarity. At altitudes ranging from 5600-9700 feet, Nyungwe is a beautiful rainforest and home to one of the largest population of endemic species on the continent, features that attract tourists from across the globe.

We were disappointed that the Gisakura Guest House was full during our visit, but we tried to make up for our lack of lodging by spending every meal there. Gisakura is a wonderful guest house with a cozy communal eating area where guests can meet their fellow counterparts. Its homey feel attracts the most fascinating and friendly visitors, in our experience, often leading to stories shared over cups of tea. We will definitely be staying there when we return!

Stay tuned for the next two posts about our hikes and visit to the tea plantation in Nyungwe!

Kigali

Over the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to share a piece of my world with my mom.  Studying abroad in Rwanda restructured how I think about the world and how I view my role within the global community. The minds I was so fortunate to be surrounded by led me to consider situations in a more holistic and critical manner and dared me to imagine creative solutions to local and global issues.  As the semester approached its end, the fact that my experience would be frozen in time was impossible to grasp.

When I returned home, my mom patiently sat and listened to my stories.  She heard my tales of triumph and sadness, embarrassment and pure happiness, and everything in between.  She let me show her hundreds of photos, most of which only differed slightly from their antecedent and subsequent ones.  She watched me walk away in frustration when my words weren't doing my experiences justice.  Thus it was incredibly special for her to come see my Rwandan home for herself.  We decided to design a trip that would cater to new and old experiences, allowing me to share memories of Kigali, Kibuye, and Gisenyi, while also getting to explore Nyungwe Forest National Park and Volcanoes National Park together for the first time.

In the midst of a whirlwind of a week we flew to Kigali, reentering the beautiful city that was my home for four months.  Identical to my arrival a year and a half ago we were greeted by the tease of nightfall, masking Rwanda's perpetual rolling hills except where outlined by the pattern of city lights.  Throughout our time in Kigali, my mom was gradually able to attach images to my stories.  I excitedly showed her all of our favorite spots: the Kenyan bar in Kimironko, where the soccer fans of the group would anxiously watch our teams compete against each other; the best place to get brochettes (which we aptly nicknamed "Brochette Bar"), the second home of post-semester stragglers; and Moucecore, our trusty guest house, home to both life-changing conversations and shenanigans alike.  As we travelled around the city, I was the unnecessarily detailed tour guide.  ("This is where we ate after we watched the Rwanda vs. Uganda game in the stadium.  This is where I almost got hit by a moto.")  In some circumstances my mom knows the memories associated with each place.  In others, it's simply comforting to know that our moto ride brought us past the bar where my most meaningful interaction took place or that we drove across the stretch of road where Kigali finally felt like home.

 

It's impossible to explain the immense significance of each trip to the market, each moto ride, and each long conversation in a hole-in-the-wall bar.  It's equally impossible to condense our experience together into a measly blog post.  But I will always remember the smile on my mom's face when my four-year-old host sister, Alfa, dubbed her "Mama Aly" and the unspoken connection between mom and host mama, women who have loved and worried about me finally meeting their counterparts.  I will always remember my mom's increased sureness on the back of a moto taxi, zipping around the city as if it were nothing.  And I will always remember and appreciate her willingness to see Kigali through my eyes - cold showers, Mutzigs, long walks, and all.

To the infini-T community, thank you for letting me have my mom to myself over the past few weeks.  In return, we are excited to share Rwandan tea and coffee, as well as stories of our adventures.  We get the privilege of exploring the world and bringing back pieces of our travels because of wonderful people like you.

Stay tuned for more snippets of our trip!