Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Photography project puts alternative education students on a “Natural Buzz”

Agape Trust Alternative Education students and tutors pose outside their
classroom at the start of the PhotoVoice Otautahi "Natural Buzz" programme.
Pic: John Maillard

“We view this project as a good opportunity to showcase the great outcomes that are happening in the lives of these young people.”
Agape Trust Manager, Steve Reid

A group of alternative education students in Aranui are using photographs to tell the community about the positive things in their lives that develop character and build resilience.

PhotoVoice Otautahi is a joint project of Agape Trust’s alternative education programme and community action team CAYAD Otautahi.

The project has seen 12 young people gathering images from their lives and environments that represent the theme “Natural Buzz”.

Steve Reid, Manager Agape Trust, says he views the project as a good opportunity to showcase the “great outcomes” that are happening in the lives of these young people.

“We want to show our youth in a positive light. Yes, they do have bad moments in life but that does not define who they are. The positive things they do need also to be taken into account,” Reid says.

“For most of the kids who come into alternative education, their social and behavioural issues are so big they just can’t concentrate in class. We try to be an extension of their whanau by providing the affirmation they just can’t get at mainstream schools.”

CAYAD (Community Action – Youth and Drugs) coordinator Leanne McTear says the project focuses on the alternatives to drug use, those things that give a “natural buzz”.

“By focusing on the positive activities that give young people a ‘natural buzz’, we are more likely to increase their involvement in these positive activities, thereby decreasing drug/alcohol use, while increasing their sense of self worth and pride.

“The actual exhibition is fantastic, and it is amazing to see the pride on the faces of the young people. People who have seen the exhibition so far have been incredibly impressed, with the quality and content of the photographs. Many have requested that the exhibition travel throughout the communities of Christchurch.”

Reid says an important part of the programme is exposing students to healthy, positive interests – activities that capture their attention, imagination, and passion.

“Ultimately, we’re after attitude change and delivering an education based on the kids attaining greater insight and understanding of life and the options and choices they have. With each kid, we look for the open door in their life and once we find it, we put something that can grow in there,” Reid says.

Students who were struggling to make progress in mainstream schooling often advance to NCEA papers after joining Agape, a change Reid attributes to the “aroha, support, belief, and guidelines” provided by the programme’s tutors.

Reid: “Often this is part of what they need to help them settle down and get on with the job of learning.”

CAYAD project worker Michael Herman says the strong support the project has attracted exemplifies the spirit of community action.

“Community action would be impossible without the generosity of companies like H.E. Perry Ltd, Photo & Video International, VFL Finance Limited, and Barron Surfboards. Their support has given voice to a group of young people who are trying to overcome the challenges of economic and social exclusion,” Herman says.

“PhotoVoice is both a development opportunity for them and an opportunity for members of the public to question popular stereotypes.”

The PhotoVoice process has been shown to increase participation, build capability, and orient young people and communities, he says.

“After taking the photos, the young people meet and talk about what the images represent in their lives. These discussions help consolidate their thinking and provide the narrative for the exhibition,” Herman says.

“The process and the visual outputs themselves are a proven way to broaden and deepen conversation on pressing issues like illicit drug use. And when communities start talking about their problems, they’ve already taken the first step to sorting them out.”