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PhotoVoice Tells Story of New Roots' Impact

From January 22nd - January 30th 2019, the IRC New Roots program hosted an exhibit at the Charlottesville CitySpace venue of the PhotoVoice project conducted during the summer of 2019. The exhibit was the culmination of an evaluation project the IRC’s New Roots program, partly funded by a three year NoVo Foundation grant. The exhibit was sponsored by the NoVo Foundation and the UVA Humanitarian Collaborative. Forty community stakeholders were in attendance, including photographers, IRC staff, New Roots volunteers and partners.                    

African women stands in front of photos of food and livestock
Josephine Kanyamukunge, New Roots and PhotoVoice Participant talks about how she can grow the seeds and plants that connect to her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Ashton Erler

PhotoVoice is a participatory action research (PAR) method that involves individuals taking photographic images and participating in group dialogue as a means to deepen their understanding of a community project, issue or concern.  The gallery was an opportunity to broadly share the findings from this work.

The co-researchers spent two months answering the question “How has New Roots affected my life?” through their own photographs. From there, the co-researchers synthesized the images down to 5 most impactful themes and their associated stories. The top themes included Staying Healthy, Saving Money, Food for Health, Learning New Skills, and Community.  Presented with these ideas at the exhibit, community members, IRC staff and participants provided feedback on what the exhibit and working with New Roots and the PhotoVoice project meant to them. 

word cloud with "participant", "community", "see", "photo", "food" and "garden" being the largest words
Word cloud of community feedback from the January 26th Stakeholders Meeting

“I didn’t anticipate how useful and engaging the gathering around photos would be among the participants themselves," said Brooke Ray, Senior Manager, Food and Agricultural Programs at the IRC in Charlottesville. "Because we gathered people across gardens that have never met before, there was a lot of discussion and learning between participants. The photographs (and the food that the photographers made) became a vehicle for discussion that would not have occurred if we had simply been meeting and talking.”

What was revealed is a profound picture of refugee involvement with the community and how the New Roots program is not just about farming or gardening, but about facilitating the transition of refugees into a new country, helping provide the tools to establish a sense of independence, take control over their financial future and to nurture community and a sense of home.  Participating in the PhotoVoice project effectively enabled the New Roots growers to communicate across languages and cultures.

The PhotoVoice project and Gallery revealed how refugees both economically and culturally enrich our community and how New Roots is an important part of facilitating the transition of refugees into a new country, helping to unite cultures, build community and nurture a sense of home.

Women holds young child and stands with other child, all looking at photos
Community Members engaging with the PhotoVoice exhibit Photo: Ashton Erler

The feedback and learnings from the PhotoVoice project can help us understand the true value of programs such as New Roots and gives a voice to our clients to reach out and touch the broader community.

Media Coverage of the Exhibit

New Roots Program Changes The Way Charlottesville Looks at Food - NBC29

Exhibit Showcasing the Stories of Immigrant Farmers - CBS 19 News