Photo project helps refugees know ‘their voice matters’

A photo taken by a participant in Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson's PhotoVoice exhibit with refugees in Syracuse, NY.

A photo taken by a participant in Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson’s PhotoVoice project with refugees in Syracuse, NY.

Thanks to a research project conducted by a public health graduate student, eight refugees living in Syracuse, NY, will show off their photography skills at an exhibition next month.

But Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson’s project is about much more than photography.

Rozlynn is following the PhotoVoice project model, designed to build skills and empower people in disadvantaged and marginalized populations and to influence policy makers to address the needs of those communities.

Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson, who conducted a PhotoVoice research project with refugees in Syracuse.

Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson, who conducted a PhotoVoice research project with refugees in Syracuse.

“Their perception matters. Their voice matters,” she said. “Not just to me, but to the larger community.”

Rozlynn, a student in the Master of Public Health program housed at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, has taught English as a Second Language to adults since 2009. The participants in the PhotoVoice project are her students, and represent six different countries and native languages.

Of the eight refugees, or “New Americans,” only one had used a camera before.

The PhotoVoice project is an extension of the bonds created in the classroom, Rozlynn said. Her students, ranging from their 20s to their 50s, worked with each other, and spoke in English because they don’t know each other’s native languages. They come from Nepal, Ethiopia, Iraq, Central African Republic, Rwanda and Bhutan.

This fall, Rozlynn purchased point-and-shoot digital cameras online and met twice a week with the students to discuss the project and give them a crash course in photography.

The students spent a week taking photos, with the idea of capturing representations of three elements of social cohesion – Community, Connection and Belonging. The students were told not to photograph faces, but to look for representative images.

The students then had to choose five of their photos and assign each image to either Community, Connection or Belonging. Rozlynn then tape-recorded the students explaining each photo. She transcribed their responses for the text accompanying the photos when they are on display Jan. 8.

“I’m humbled and grateful,” Rozlynn said. “I’m in a different capacity, almost like a role reversal of teacher and student. It’s wonderful to be part of a creative endeavor like this. … It’s gratifying to know what I’m providing to them gives them an opportunity to shine. They’re so excited, and I’m so excited for them.”

Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson’s PhotoVoice Project

PhotoVoice exhibit featuring photography by Syracuse refugees from Nepal, Ethiopia, Iraq, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Bhutan.

Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015

6 to 7:30 p.m.

Northside CYO, 527 N. Salina St., Syracuse

The event is free, open to the public and will feature refreshments and music.

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About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in art, communication, Irish Investigations, language, photography, refugees, war and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Photo project helps refugees know ‘their voice matters’

  1. This sounds really interesting Jim, wish I could see it!
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. markbialczak says:

    Worthy, wonderful, intriguing. What a chance to see others express a worldly point of view focused on our neighborhood’s sights. Thanks, Jim.

    Liked by 2 people

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