What does it mean to be a girl in your country?
What about in Kenya? India? Ecuador? What curious differences and surprising similarities would play out across narratives if girls told their own stories from each place?
This year, WE is celebrating International Day of the Girl with a special project. Instead of conducting interviews and shooting portraits of girls as we see them, the girls took over their own stories. We put the camera in the hands of the subjects to see a day in their lives through their eyes—to give the girls the power to choose what story they want told. Globally, 15 million school-age girls will never see the inside of the classroom. These are the tales of the girls who face that risk, up against early marriage, a son’s education prioritized over a daughter’s or a girl’s duty to her family eclipsing her studies. Still, all of them are in the classroom.
Given a camera and free reign to create a shot list, how would girls decide to showcase their everyday?
Across three countries, our team ran individual workshops with students from WE Villages in Kenya, India and Ecuador. Each school selected 10 participants ranging from Grade 6 to the last year of high school. The theme of girls’ empowerment threaded its way through conversations about role models, confidence building and support from the sisterhood. After some technical training on camera use (many of the girls had never used a camera before), each group crafted their own shot list.
The girls kept the cameras from 24 to 72 hours, depending on the country.
The result is three separate slideshows, depicting slices of life for girls around the world.
The library at Esinoni Primary School in Narok County, Kenya, quickly became a playground for a game of photo tag. Students chased each other to snap candid portraits of their classmates. But the girls weren’t so outgoing at first.
When the Grade 6 and Grade 7 students walked in a couple hours earlier, they spoke in hushed voices. We wrote “GIRL POWER” in multicoloured letters on white chart paper, taped to the board. Each student received a piece of paper and was asked to write down one word—the support she needed from her classmates in order to create the best learning environment. After a moment of silence, markers began to move in English, practicing the language they learn in school.
Respect Peace Commitment Teamwork To be joyful
After each girl taped their word to the collective chart paper, they individually signed their names, agreeing that this “contract” wasn’t just for today, but how they will continue to support each other throughout their school careers.
These support systems showed up in their photographs. Networks of friends and family who are the backbone, insisting this sisterhood stay in school.
Workshop facilitator/ translator: Zeddy Kosgei & Wanda O’Brien
At Verdara Primary School in Rajasthan, India, the Grade 8 girls gather in a small classroom beside the school kitchen. Smoke is wafting in. Younger students linger in the doorway, and the boys wonder aloud what the girls are up to.
Girls here face great challenges—cultural barriers like child marriage and the physical burden of poverty keep them from school. Sons are an asset; daughters a liability. Few teachers in the region are women.
The girls talk about role models: Indira Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Kalpana Chawla, the first female Indian astronaut. Vasundhara Raje is the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, admired by the girls for implementing a program that provides free milk in schools throughout the state one day per week.
We talk about how strong girls grow into strong women like these, and how much harder they must have fought for their wins.
One by one, the girls stand up and talk about the women in their lives who they admire. Most choose their mothers.
“My mother cares for me and my siblings and takes us to the doctor when we are sick.”
“My mother makes me tea in the morning.”
“My mother gave me life.”
Most of the group had never used a digital camera before WE Stories asked them to tell their stories with images. What would we see through their eyes? The girls in India focused on home and family.
Ten girls took shots of their chores—“This is the well where I collect water,” or “My sister cleaning the dishes.” There were candles lit in offering at shrines, uncles making tea, a baby buffalo, called “the newest member of my family,” and portraits of little brothers.
Workshop facilitators/ translators: Hiranshi Bhatnagar, Katie Hewitt & Ricky Ranawat
A canoe carrying 10 high school students rips its way across the Napo River. The girls, on a special assignment, are photographing a day in their life in the Amazon basin in Ecuador.
Here in Ecuador, the WE Villages program includes a Girls’ Clubs, a response to early drop-out rates for girls in the region, and the poor ratio of girls to boys in high school. The reason for this discrepancy was largely economics. Families were simply unable to afford to send all their children to school, and needed to make some tough choices. This often meant boys’ education became the priority. The Girls’ Clubs are a solution for this.
The clubs focus on two things—the main aim is to build confidence and leadership skills, while also providing a part-time work opportunity to ensure that girls can stay in the classroom. For the photography workshop in Ecuador, the Kanambu Girls’ Club took control of the cameras.
The “Club de Chicas” immediately filled the workspace with laughter. Each girl wrote down one thing she was proud of accomplishing at school this year—then she taped that piece of paper to her back, unable to see it. With the timer set (just five minutes!), every girl received three pieces of praise, accolades from her friends, written on her back. The girls quickly set up a train of compliments, a line-up of admiration from one to the next.
Sharing their own accomplishments while expressing support for their friends was the perfect lead-in for self-expression through photography.
Workshop facilitators/ translators: Ana Raquel Estrella, Karloso Fiallos & Wanda O’Brien