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close this bookOral Rehydration Therapy and the Control of Diarrheal Diseases (Peace Corps, 1985, 566 pages)
close this folderModule Six: Community health education
close this folderSession 17 - Selecting and using visual aids to promote CDD
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentHandout 17A: Ways visual aids help people learn and remember
View the documentHandout 17B: Why pictures fail to convey ideas
View the documentHandout 17C: Design considerations
View the documentHandout 17D: Using pictures to communicate effectively
View the documentTrainer Attachment 17A: Why use visual aids?
View the documentTrainer Attachment 17B: Villagers teaching us to teach them
View the documentTrainer Attachment 17C: Examples of a teaching situations

Trainer Attachment 17B: Villagers teaching us to teach them


Handing the camera over to non-literate village women to photograph familiar village activities yielded interesting discoveries about the way rural people see things, and how they learn. By JOHN SICELOFF.

John Siceloff has worked in communications and development in Afghanistan, Peru and Tanzania, and is working on a book on the subject.

The photographer squints through the viewfinder, then motions to the woman holding the baby to dunk it in the bath. The baby shrieks. "Click!"

The scene might evoke familiar memories. But here in this Tanzanian village, there is a difference: the subject is a village woman, and so is the photographer. But even more novel than the scene was the assignment the photographer had undertaken: she was taking pictures of a familiar village activity of her own choosing in order to use the result to teach others how that activity could most easily and economically be performed.

The use of graphic illustrations in communicating ideas about development has been extensively researched. The central purpose of much of this research has been to understand how non-literate rural people respond to visual aids such as drawings, photographs. slide sets, and posters. My goal was similarly to enhance that understanding but to do so in a manner that gave the people themselves virtual control of the material that had to be produced and assessed. So I decided to hand over the tool - the camera to the villagers so that they could film their own activity. Their choice of perspective, 'editing' and the subject "frame" would, I felt, yield significant indications of the way they perceived things visually.

Over a two-year period in Peru and then Tanzania, two hundred delegated villagers cooperated enthusiastically in the exercise. Each learned how to use an instant picture camera, then took and explained their picture series on how to hoe, to harvest. to cook, to feed the baby, and many other everyday activities. And it became apparent very quickly how invaluable a tool in village education pictures can be. Again and again I saw photographs spark the interest of villagers and provide them with detailed images of both familiar and unfamiliar things and places.

In the process I learnt a great deal about the effective use of picture series amongst villagers, especially women, and as well about why villagers were sometimes left confused about the overall story or message of the pictures and films made by "experts". Particularly confusing have been "how-to" films designed to communicate new skills in essential activities. So putting the camera in the hands of villagers was a move hack to the basics, to find out how villagers related to their own productive work on the visual plane.

The picture series taken by the villagers could be roughly grouped into two categories. In the first group, the emphasis was on the action; each step was shown in a separate picture. The photographers in this grouping were mostly men. And they were men who lived in villages near major roads or in shanty-towns near urban centres.

Pictures taken by women, and by men in more isolated villages, were very different. Their pictures emphasized people doing the work, not each step of how the work was performed. Large blocks of activity were often shown in a single picture.

These photographers conceived of a "how-to" picture series in a very broad sense. They showed people travelling to work, working, resting, and often drinking. The emphasis was on "how we work", not a step-by-step presentation of an activity. It was a style of communicating with pictures that was descriptive, personal and "whole, reflecting how villagers taught and learned from one another in their daily lives.

"Why-to" and not just "How-to"

This provided insight into what kind of picture series would be needed to introduce new ideas into village areas. For men in the first grouping, conventional "how-to" pictures, with each step shown in a separate picture, were likely to work. But for nearly all village women, and for men in isolated villages, picture series would need to follow certain guidelines:

- The narration, or written description, that accompanied the pictures would be very important. Pictures in themselves would convey lime without highlighting what was seen in the image and why it was important.

- A picture series could not be expected to teach villagers how to perform a specific activity. This could only be done by someone on the spot. "How-to" picture series were unlikely to work.

- Picture series could be very successful in encouraging villagers to adopt new ideas, ranging from improved cropping techniques to better diets for babies. Instead of a "howto" series, these would be "why-to" pictures.

- A "why-to" picture series would need to be presented in a descriptive, person-to-person, style

- The picture series would need to present experience, not merely information. This would mean showing something which actually happened in a village and worked.

I struggled with different ways to carry out these guidelines. I found it was difficult to script a picture series that would speak on a person-to-person basis to villagers. The problem was the enormous gap between the actual situation of villagers and my own situation-or indeed that of any highly-trained communications worker living in an urban centre.

Eventually, I found the best way was to involve villagers directly in the planning and production of picture series.

My method was to choose a village where a development idea had been successfully applied, and then to select a group of villagers and ask them to tell with pictures why they had adopted the idea. They planned the story-line and composed the pictures; I shot them. The narration was written jointly and recorded by the villagers. The final product became a testimonial from one village group to other village groups on why they adopted a particular idea, ranging from ox-ploughs to sanitary latrines.

The final step was to create an effective method of using picture series in villages. I settled on a slide series with a recorded narration as a format. I then designed a means of distribution which depended on the villagers themselves. This was an audio-visual kit which can be carried on the back of a bicycle and includes a 12-volt projector and a cassette recorder, both powered by generators fined to the bicycle. It requires no petrol and no batteries. The advantage of this small kit is that it can be left in the village for weeks at a time. A village worker, paid on a part-time basis, can show the picture and answer questions. Many small showings can be scheduled at times which are convenient for the people in the village.

Reporting on concrete results

As a result of producing these picture series with villagers, I found that I also developed a new attitude toward the role of communication workers in development. I began to see specialists in development communications primarily as journalists, not producers. The first requirement of a successful picture series, I found, was a successful village project on which to base it.

This would mean, for instance, that to educate village women about a balanced diet, the first step would be to find a village where this has actually happened. This might be a village where a co-operatives had started to raise chickens and a group of women had planted beans. Should a setback have occurred, such as the treasurer running off with the money, this would also be portrayed in the picture series, along with the remedial action taken. The essential characteristic of the village selected for the series would be that the results of the project were visible. Picture series for villagers are effective only if they are based on actual occurrences, not merely on advocacy or promotion.

What this means is that communications workers must be effective journalists if they are to be effective educators. Before snapping the first picture or drawing the first storyboard, they must be able le. see how a project is operating in the field. Only then will they be able to make audio-visual or other aids which present concrete, realistic options likely to motivate villagers to reassess their own practices in favour of more productive alternatives.

(From: UNICEF News, Issue 14 Number 4. pp.18-19)