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Here Come the Girls - Ann Jones in Sierra Leone
March 24, 2008
By The IRC
|Members of the Global Crescendo girls’ group set out through the streets of Pendembu village to take their very first photos. That’s GBV’s Christiana Gbondo (in jeans) trying in vain to take the lead. Photo: Ann Jones|
|The International Rescue Committee is working with women’s advocate Ann Jones to help women in war zones — survivors of conflict, displacement and sexual and domestic violence — use photography to make their voices heard. Learn more and read Ann’s earlier posts here.
Part 5 - Kailahun, Sierra Leone In the Global Crescendo project, women often talk about the problems their daughters face and the great importance of keeping them in school. We thought it was about time we found out what girls themselves think about their lives. So in Sierra Leone, we’re working for the first time with girls.Here in Kailahun District, GBV supports Gender Clubs in a number of primary and secondary schools. Despite the raging HIV/AIDS epidemic, public schools in Sierra Leone dropped the courses they used to offer in Family Life Education, giving students basic information about sexuality and gender roles. Most students now get few facts. They learn about sexuality and “love” from pop songs, a situation that leaves young girls particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. IRC-sponsored Gender Clubs arm both girls and boys with information.To recruit girl photographers, we visited the Roman Catholic Girls’ Primary School in the village of Pendembu, and with the support of headmistress Mary Vandi, we explained our project to the all-girls Gender Club and called for volunteer photographers. Twelve girls jumped at the chance. The youngest is 10, the oldest 14. I’m not a parent myself, so that first day I didn’t know quite what to expect. But neither, I think, did my two co-directors on the project, both mothers—Christiana Massaquoi and Christiana Gbondo. (I call them Auntie Chris and Chris G.) One thing we all seriously underestimated was just how quick and smart these girls are. They’ve been way ahead of us the whole time.
The girls on this team—(left to right) Lilian Brima, age 14, Ruth Moijueh, age 12, and Jenifer Manso,age 10—are very pleased with their first photos. A friend peaks over their shoulders. Photo: Ann JonesThat first day I asked them to group themselves in teams of three—each team to share a camera. They did it by age, but their teacher and Gender Club adviser Mr. Shariff quickly shuffled them to put one older girl on every team. Camera instruction usually takes time and patient repetition with adult women nervous about merely holding a real camera. The girls got it right away, and their small, dexterous fingers easily manipulated tiny controls that sometimes confound adult women.Nevertheless, I made them practice sitting down together to extract one girl’s memory card from the camera and replace it with the next. I warned them not to run with a camera, for fear of stumbling. I mentioned over and over the danger of falling with a camera or dropping it. Auntie Chris and Chris G. went over the warnings again in Mende and Krio. The girls wiggled and fidgeted and yawned and stretched and put their heads in their hands, overcome with boredom.Soon we set off walking through the village to take their first photographs. I intended to have an adult accompany each team, but my colleagues had wandered off ahead, leading the way, deep in conversation. The girls seized the moment to scatter in all directions. I watched them run screaming over the rough ground, the fragile cameras dangling from waving arms. What could I do? I spotted the slowest runners and ran after them.When I finally caught up, they were strolling along the road, casually swapping memory cards as they walked along. Chris G. belatedly appeared and chastised them loudly in Mende for not following instructions. The scene drew a crowd of curious villagers. I nudged Chris G. “Please don’t yell at them. Just explain.” She did, while the girls squirmed and fidgeted, looking bored again. One of the older girls, Lilian, took the lead, saying in English, “We are sorry, Auntie. We will do good.” The others nodded somberly, but they were itching to get going.
All the girls took many photos of their friends and classmates in the place they like best—their school. Twelve-year-old Ruth Moijueh took this one. Photo: Ruth MoijuehSo we set off again, this time at a brisk walk. I accompanied Lilian and her younger partners Ruth and Jennifer. We walked miles and miles, through every neighborhood of the sprawling village, crossing vacant lots and fields, climbing through ruins. The girls snapped away. They sat down together in a shady porch to change memory cards, humoring me. I knew they felt a little sorry for me—a poor old woman who doesn’t even know it’s easy to change a memory card, one-handed, standing up. Three hours later they’d worn out the batteries meant to last a week.I climbed into the vehicle for the trip home—an hour over rough roads. Auntie Chris and Chris G. fell asleep in the back seat. We were all worn out. “What next?” I wondered. Could we cope? I’ll tell you next time.