16 November 2008

East Timor - Transformational Arts for Peace

East Timor’s debut on 20 May, 2002 as the newest nation was the culmination of a long struggle for independence.

Four centuries of Portuguese colonization, Japanese occupation during World War II and 24 years of brutal Indonesian annexation resulted in sustained and systematic devastation.

Six years after independence, East Timor remains the poorest country in Asia and has been experiencing civil and political unrest since April 2006.

The history of violence has left East Timor with unprocessed trauma and a very young population – 25% of people are under 5 years of age; 50% are under 15 years of age, and around 80% are under 25.

Although many of these young people have grown up in an environment of violence and uncertainty, some are looking for ways to participate in developing a peaceful society.

The photography project aims to introduce children and youth of Timor Leste - afflicted by the cycle of violence and development challenges of their country - a cathartic medium for self-expression.

Words aren't always adequate or sufficient for young people to articulate their emotions especially those resulting from traumatic experiences. Giving them opportunity for an alternative and creative outlet - through the lens of a camera and visual narrative – enables them to process their negative feelings and possibly transform them into envisioning positive changes in their personal development and their environment.

Photographer and photo editor, Rose Magno, in partnership with local NGO - Ba Futuru, led the two-month workshop with 21 children and youth at-risk teaching basic photography and photo editing elements as well as engaging and inspiring them to see the world around them in a new light.

I told them the adage 'A picture is worth a thousand words'. They smiled. They understood.

Using only disposable cameras, these children and youth - most of whom have never taken a picture before - ventured out and brought back compelling interpretations on themes such as love, identity, community, peace, conflict transformation, and hopes and dreams for their future.

Engaging them in a dialogue, as they shared and reflected their visual narratives with their peers, encouraged them to slowly open up as well as listen to what the other has to say. Bringing together both children and youth in this workshop provided an opportunity for both groups to exchange views, to foster respect and inspire civic leadership.

Ba Futuru, meaning 'For the future' in the Timorese language, Tetum, is a non-profit development organization established in TImor-Leste in 2004.

Ba Futuru's mission is to contribute to peace-building and sustainable human development by facilitating the psychosocial recovery of conflict-affected, vulnerable and at-risk children and youth, and by developing the knowledge, skills and values of community leaders, young people in the areas of human rights, children's rights, child protection and non-violent conflict transformation.

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