In Their Voices: The Book



This story could go far back to the point I gave birth to my son because I have mentally tried to trace it back and that’s how far I got. However, I shall try to bring it closer, as close as last year, no, let’s say 2 years ago because that was the first time, I got to interact with APHRC. So about 2 years ago, we were running mum groups to offer them social support as they go through motherhood, we still do. I remember one of those days when the groups were busy talking and I wondered to myself; If these mothers who have access to google and WhatsApp and all these technologies have issues, what about teen girls in the slums, so I decided to register a trust and look for funding to work with teen mothers.

Part of me looking for funding, I sent a proposal to APHRC, and I remember Elizabeth Kimani responded to my email, actually, she passed me on to someone in her department to carry on the conversation. Estelle responded, we met and decided to look for funding together. Now I was in their database, I remember later being invited to a meeting and they wanted us to apply for a seed grant for the right to food project. (That is a very good summary short and succinct.

I remember our application was on using photography and getting captions, Humans of New York kind of public engagement, and because I work with mothers, my focus was going to be on the challenges mothers face in accessing good healthy and nutritious food. You cannot argue with someone’s story and so that idea felt perfect, bring to light the stories of food with real people behind them. We were called for a follow-up meeting and I was informed that our proposal had gone through, however, we were told that we would be taught a different participatory engagement called Photovoice.

In the months that followed, we had capacity building training, over and over, the most hands-on kind of research I had ever been a part of. We not only got training on photovoice but other forms of participatory engagement research methods, Digital storytelling, celphillming, PSAs, Focus Group Discussions, Fishbowl discussions, the whole 9 to make sure that when we went to the community, we were able to deliver. We had training on project management, reporting, you know those things that you are expected to do but don’t know how I am happy to have gone through that because now my CV is richer when it comes to skills.

So what happens in photovoice

I will try to capture that exciting, creative, involving, visual, participatory, method of research in words. Maybe I should take you through one of the engagements actually. We were going to carry out the research in several slums in Nairobi, 8 engagements in total. This meant we had to work with other community organized groups to bring this to life, because 1, our work is not originally among those slums and 2, what is a great vision without teamwork.

In Korogocho for example, we went for a site visit a week before we were to go do the engagement, we talked to our host organization, told them what we were looking for, the kind of space we wanted, the number of participants, their age, what kind of food we wanted to feed them etc. The next week we met with the participants who had volunteered to be part of the research, we took them through a consent form, then we talked about food and the challenges they already know exist in their community. We then took them through the techniques of taking a good photo that explains your situation, what to avoid when taking photos in the communities, how to ask for permission from people who might appear in the photos they want to take and also how to document the evidence that they are the ones who took the photo.

After that we sent them out in groups to go take photos, with only one prompt, WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN ACCESSING GOOD HEALTHY FOOD AND WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS YOU PROPOSE. Take a photo that is able to describe the above prompt. Off they went and we were left in the room preparing to run a focus group discussion later in the afternoon to capture their voices and recommendations from their findings. When they came back from the field, they printed their photos, stuck them on manila papers and captioned them in readiness for dissemination amongst themselves and also to drive the group discussion.

I thought this article would be 780 words, but we have just gone over that number, but please read on…

When research doesn’t involve the people whom it’s been carried on, there is an introduction of not only bias from the researcher, but also distrust from the community. Photovoice allowed us to convert community members into researchers and by the time we were done, they were able to realize that they are the only ones who know what they face and should be part of the solution.

During the focus group discussion, each photo was discussed in-depth and emerging themes were noted, the participants agreed, disagreed and in the end, they had a set of recommendations that they all agreed on.

So what did we get out of it?

A crazy amount of picture archives that the participants took, some were of their feet, some had no co-relation with food situations, some made sense, some made no sense and others were just a black space because they took with the cover on. We had about 100 photos that were captioned, we had issues highlighted clearly on the food situation. We also got an audio recording of their discussion around food (IN THEIR VOICES) See what I did there

What did we do with all that data

WE PUBLISHED A WHOOOOOOOOOLE BOOK! Cue happy dance here. A 250+ pages kinda book.

Being part of a publication is right up there on things I never thought I’d do this year, yet it’s one of the proudest things I have done. During the discussion of putting together a book, I was excited to be the one who did photovoice and the results were going to be put together in a book. Then a creative team was formed and I was part of it. And then in the creative team, they needed someone to do Design and Layout and I was that person.

Publishing a book takes a lot, I dreamt of the of the book, I saw it with my laptop off, I arranged and re-arranged those photos in my mind, I knew what photo was in what page, I knew every caption, I knew which photo was from which slum, I remembered faces of participants, I remembered quotes and comments about every photo. That is how deep I was into the book. Every person who’s name is on that book earned it.

I remember when I was in campus and Mrs. Ng’ang’a told us to write a reflection, the topic was: I just turned 80 years old. In my reflection, I said I had just launched a book, and she said, you need to write that book earlier, my response “It’s my 5th book.” That is what I remembered when I was asked to be part of the creative team that would produce the book, here I was thrown in the deep end in book publishing. I now know the whole process of publishing a book.

When the book was finally launched last week on the World Food Day, I felt like my baby had finally grown wings, fly baby, fly. Also, I was the event host or MC if you will… 1306 words later, I am done.


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