Monday, September 19, 2011

Seeds of Change: A Postcard to the World

This post marks the eight entry for the current Roots of Hope blog theme: Seeds of Change. To read some of the previous entries, see What comes next: study abroad and youth-led change in Cuba, How Cell Phones Can Shake a Nation, Begin from the Beginning: the need for open dialogue, and From New Orleans to Havana.
As an introduction, 100cameras identifies children who are victims of injustice based on their surrounding circumstances and gives them cameras to document their lives. Upon completion of a project, 100cameras has the unique position to carry these photographs across borders to bridge communities together. You see, through their own photography, the children become self-advocators. Their pictures are the voices that speak awareness, and when you purchase one of the children’s photos, 100% of your money is given back to their community to empower sustainable growth. We've completed three projects to date in South Sudan, NYC, and Cuba.

A Postcard to the World

By Angela Francine Bullock

This past June, our team taught the 100cameras photography curriculum to a group of Cuban children that has never been given the chance to share their perspectives with the world outside their borders. Through our relationship with Global Baseball – a program that utilizes baseball to engage youth and teach them valuable life skills – 100cameras partnered with Campo Amor to best serve the particular children’s community.

During the first few days of my Cuba experience, I was not sure what I thought about socialism. I'd heard about this country for years, having grown up in northern Florida with this island only 90 miles south of our coast…close enough to hear first-hand stories from the older generation about wearing dog tags to school in Jacksonville during the missile crisis, but not close enough to have experienced the sweet, loving and family oriented warmth of the exiles that had moved to the south or to comprehend the Cuban government's effect on their own people. My basic opinions on Cuba were solely based on the culture of my surroundings and how it affected me.

The 100cameras team prepared for this project for over a year. Our Field Coordinator – Susanna Kohly – is a Cuban-American and equipped us with a solid understanding of the nation's history, current political environment, and all the possibilities of its future. And I felt mentally ready to digest “Cuban Socialism” through my own personal experience in the field.

But when I first arrived, my mind began to question everything. On a surface level, it just didn’t seem too bad to live like you were stuck in 1962. There were vintage cars, high-waisted skirts, and Rock n’ Roll oldies playing from old speakers, without the media and celebrity mania I was accustomed to back home. This is largely because internet is scarce, and when it is available, it’s a dialup modem from 1999 that cannot work well enough to consume very much of a person’s time. And furthermore, things like our complex media mayhem and reality TV aren’t even allowed into a family’s home. It felt like the society flowed in seemingly simple days. With free education & healthcare. And among people with beautiful souls.

And after stepping off the plane from the busyness of New York City, this all felt a bit refreshing.

Alright, yes. I admit it. I was drinking the Koolaid.

As our team began to work closely with our group of tweens for the 100cameras photography project, I experienced firsthand how people are deprived of many rights, expressions, and opinions. Their opportunities are extremely limited. And regardless of the seemingly simple days without television and the access to free education and health care, we witnessed how these bigger picture limitations have created a climate of fear. It was apparent that the underlying trigger factors of this climate were greatly prohibiting growth, and not just in my American definition of growth – but rather the right to grow as individuals who are allowed to decide what to speak, how to work or create, and ultimately, to contribute to a global society.

Although this climate of fear hinders the exercise of basic human rights such as freedom of speech and expression, our team strongly believed that photography could help. In fact, not only could we provide these children with the opportunity to document their perspectives, but we could also bring those impressions beyond the limits of their everyday life.

During this time of significant political tension between Cuba and other parts of the world, we have had the privilege of providing others with an opportunity to see Cuba through the eyes of a child, which is possibly the closest reflection of reality in its most untainted, unmotivated form. As we spent time with our photographers, we saw hope and excitement in their eyes when they held a camera. They ran through their neighborhood streets to camera class (Literally! We saw them!), listened to the photography lessons and eagerly completed their portfolio assignments. They recognized that through this new voice, they had the opportunity to tell their story.

Our team believes that through the voice of photography, we can empower Cuban youth to take ownership of both their current and future stories, truly empowering the grassroots efforts for positive change within their communities. Perhaps, even the entire island. Because we believe that whatever shape their future takes is the fateful shape of the island.

Angela Francine Bullock
100cameras Public Relations Director

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