In 2018, I, a doctoral student at UIW traveled to Chimbote, Peru and collaborated with my professor and advisor Alfredo Ortiz on a series of workshops using Photovoice to better understand the women of Pushaq Warmi. Photovoice is a tool using images to document people’s realities while drawing attention to issues and concerns within their community. I leaned towards this method for its ability to tell a story through images and capture the voice of those whom are often marginalized.
To explore more ways of knowing the group, we conducted a series of interviews, encounters, and social interactions. During the first day-long workshop, Professor Ortiz along with his colleague, Juan Carlos Macedo, led a series of activities to strengthen the communication between the Pushaq Warmi members. Then I carried out a two-hour workshop introducing the women to Photovoice and showing them how it can help them better voice their concerns in their community on a number of topics pertinent to their organization. These topics include: self-esteem, women’s empowerment, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship. Then the group was given the task of successfully executing Photovoice under my guidance.
As mentioned earlier, Photovoice is a participatory action research method designed to allow participants to document their realities, create a narrative, and heighten public awareness on a social concern. For the purpose of my research, I also used this method to understand the dynamics, structure, and mission of Pushaq Warmi. The women of the group are currently undergoing a project raising education and awareness of sexualized violence of children in Peru. They lead a series of workshops in surrounding schools and communities where the women through a series of lectures, group discussions, and activities and performances teach women and their families how to respond to and prevent such abuse in their homes.
Returning for a third time this summer to Chimbote, my objective was to execute a community exhibit with the group and carry out interviews with the women thereafter to get their impressions and feedback of the Photovoice method and resulting exhibit. The exhibit was held in the gallery of the Centenario, a community center for the residents of Chimbote. Pushaq Warmi also used the opportunity to sell their crafts, the way they supplement the funding for their projects and secure the cost for transportation, supplies, and refreshments. The gallery was rather large, but we were granted limited use of the space for the public display of photos. This was not of such consequence for the photos were small as a result of being taken with camera phones, the only camera equipment that the women had access to. The women in their ingenuity creatively displayed the photos and corresponding captions on two large standing whiteboards in such a way that a story was created of young children in impoverished communities having to face the threat of sexual abuse, alone and misunderstood.
Children often do not have a voice and the problem becomes even more unsurmountable when their mothers are subjected to the same amount of oppression and mistreatment. Many countries are patriarchal with machismo being a long-standing part of their culture and Peru is no different. This was quite apparent when observing the number of female guests in attendance at the exhibit in relation to men although many of high-status were invited. But I also witnessed something great: female bonding and a shared sisterhood. Women embracing women. A safe space where women could support and lean on one another. The exhibit had a good turnout of women in mass. And this is a very good thing. It depicts the growing shift of women who demand to be heard and seek social justice for those who are not.
This may have not been the entire audience we wanted, but this was the audience we needed. Engaging in dialogue and calling attention to social issues is at the forefront of the Photovoice method and in that respect the exhibit was a success. Pushaq Warmi would like to continue using this technique to draw attention to the many topics and societal problems they face living in a developing country: women’s inequality, waste pollution, limited access to clean water, and inadequate education. And with each narrative they create, their stories are recorded and preserved to educate the next generation of young men and women how to be socially responsible and full of humanity and compassion towards one another.
By: Monica D. Hernandez, PhD student and part-time English faculty, University of Incarnate Word