Participatory video as a tool to empower communities around the world

MSc Environmental Change and International Development student Tania Ocampo Garcia explores how participatory video allows marginalised groups to make their voices heard.

One-day training on participatory video by InsightShare at the University of Sheffield.
One-day training on participatory video by InsightShare at the University of Sheffield.

When I decided I wanted to study international development far away from home, one of the main reasons was that I wanted to learn how to enact meaningful change effectively. As months went by, I became more aware of the importance of involving local communities in the process, and was excited to learn about participatory approaches that empower marginalised groups to take action by themselves.

In March 2020, professors from my department at the University of Sheffield arranged a one-day training session on participatory video (PV) with InsightShare. It was the first time in my life that I heard about PV, but from the moment I started listening to their work, I knew I wanted to be part of it.

Like InsightShare, I share the idea that people should be able to enact change by themselves, instead of relying on foreign aid or development interventions that might not take their traditions and beliefs into consideration. 

Wanting to get involved with the project, I started volunteering with the communications team right after my training. Helping out with the YouTube channel, I started watching films from different communities and places around the world. I was extremely enthusiastic about working on this valuable content that raised so many people’s voices through participatory video.

This blog comprises my thoughts and reflections on some of my favourite participatory videos, which explore topics such as green grab, women’s rights, healthcare, livelihoods, environmental protection and social innovation.

Do we know where diamonds come from? 

Diamond mining in Africa: Land Corruption in Sierra Leone

Given the fact that several communities in Eastern Sierra Leone have been forced to leave their land due to the expansion of diamond mining companies, one of the main questions I had after watching this film was “do we really know where our goods come from?”. 

If seen and analysed from the sustainable consumption perspective, this video is particularly engaging as it validates the fact that economic progress tends to be accompanied by environmental degradation. It got me thinking and questioning not only whether we know where our products come from but if we are aware of the marginal social cost behind every purchase we make.

In this particular case, diamond mining has mostly benefited foreign investors rather than the community, leading to land corruption and mismanagement of resources over decades.

Land corruption in Sierra Leone: A diamond mine has gradually invaded property.

One of the highlights of this participatory video is that it gives an opportunity for local voices to be heard, highlighting the challenges and limitations they yet face to access and manage their land. In the video, women had the chance to speak up against land corruption and share the experiences they have to deal with when trying to buy land.

Unfortunately, due to traditional beliefs, thousands of African women are still restricted to acquire land in comparison to men. It was surprising to listen to experiences of women not being able to make use of land that was inherited by family members just because of such beliefs. 

Since awareness of the role played by corruption used to remain low among most people in the community, this participatory video training allowed them to understand the corruption issues involved in the mining and the land disputes.

In terms of impact, the participants developed a dissemination and advocacy plan which included organising further screenings with wider community members, local and national authorities; aiming to remind local chiefs (as the traditional land custodians) and government officials (as elected representatives) of their duty to protect communities from exploitation by unethical companies.

We don’t know how they feel

Supporting each other: Children dealing with cancer in the family

This participatory video caught my attention because of a personal experience. One of my closest friends lost his loving mom to cancer a couple of years ago and, as it was not an easy journey to share with people, I understood that I would never be able to know how he or his family felt. There are a lot of families going through the same situation out there.

I believe this participatory video provides a general insight into more comprehensive approaches we can take to truly support friends or families involved in the battle against cancer. 

This film is particularly special since it was devised and shot by a group of children that were directly affected, and had a parent who had died from or were seriously ill with cancer. The participants were introduced to participatory video for the first time, and learned how to use digital equipment and participatory methods to create the film themselves. It is one of those times where children can teach a valuable lesson to you, speaking from their perspective and experience. I believe that this film has the potential to reach wider audiences, from children to older people, as it explains in detail a day in the life of a child whose parents have cancer; sharing tips to support them along the way without being overwhelmed.

This film was widely used across the UK in order to increase awareness on the topic, and was part of some trainings for health workers who provide support for families in the same circumstances.

Moving forward... The importance of leaving HIV stigma and discrimination behind

Support groups fighting AIDS/HIV stigma and discrimination in Malawi

At a global scale, almost 38 million people were living with HIV by 2018, and over half of them (nearly 21 million people) are living with HIV in East and Southern Africa. This participatory video was filmed in Malawi, a country from the South Eastern African region that reported over one million people living with the virus at the end of 2016.

As of 2018, the rates of HIV infections in the country have remained the same. There is still a lot to be done to reduce the spread of HIV infection in this setting.

Even though there have been massive collective efforts towards ending the HIV pandemic around the world, one of the main challenges people living with HIV face, is to live without stigma and discrimination. This participatory video is interesting to me because it shows the life of a group of people living with HIV in an open and positive way; and it became an inspiration for new self-help groups in the region.

This support group is a great example of resilience, showing that even after testing positive, they can still live a normal life free of regrets or judgement coming from their families or the community.

Filming this participatory video provided the group the opportunity to promote awareness on the topic to the local community, highlighting the importance of being aware of their status to make better decisions for the long term.

Life is better in the forest

Threatened livelihoods in Uganda: The Voice of the Batwa tribe

Batwa people learn how to use and handle digital equipment during the training.

My fourth favourite video was shot and devised by people from the Batwa tribe in Uganda. For centuries, the Batwa people have made the forest their home, the place where they felt safe and sound. However, this situation came to an end in 1992, when the government evicted the Batwa tribe from their ancestral forest lands, promising a better “developed” life that they have yet to see today.

Basic human rights such as access to education and healthcare systems still remain a far-off reality for the Batwa tribe. Because of this, they decided to speak up against the poor conditions they were forced to live in after being evicted from the forest, demanding their rights to land and respect to their cultural heritage.

It was interesting to see how participatory video provided the Batwa tribe with an opportunity to share their views and raise their demands in a way that was never done before. Additionally, people from the community shared, in an exciting way, that the participatory video training allowed them to learn how to use and handle digital equipment for the first time in their lives.

Part of this film, shot and devised by the Batwa people, was aired on Ugandan television and it was screened to donors, NGOs, local and national politicians. The greatest impact though, of women and men from the Batwa community telling their story in their own words, was to finally gain the attention of the heads of local and regional government.

At a screening hastily arranged at the District Headquarters, 50 senior decision makers learned first-hand how the community was still suffering since eviction from their traditional lands. The Batwa cameramen then filmed the District Regional Commissioner pledge government support to address the ongoing discrimination they faced.

Participatory video has no single language

Video Participativo e Innovación Social en Colombia [Participatory Video and Social Innovation]

Last but not least, this participatory video caught my attention because it was produced after working with a Spanish-speaking community in Colombia. As Spanish is my native language, it was interesting to see that participatory video is an effective tool to promote capacity building and social innovation in different spheres and in any language.

This video unravels two steps of the participatory video process: the initial training and the practical experience in the field to go beyond theory. It was interesting to see the involvement of indigenous groups and oral communities that were motivated to join the projects without facing any obstacles even though they did not know how to read or write.

Participatory video is an empowering tool that offers a unique space for communities that have been deprived of the opportunity to share their traditional knowledge and expertise to finally tell their stories in their own ways.

Participants from Colombia sharing ideas during the participatory video training.

After centuries of oppression, the local indigenous groups of Colombia were very wary of working with government representatives. In this participatory video training mediated by InsightShare facilitators, government officials and indigenous representatives had fun learning the video skills together, and the indigenous participants identified the key topics and areas they wanted to change by themselves.

In terms of impact, this project marked the first steps of what has continued to be a creative relationship between the Pasto community of Nariño and this government department focused on supporting locally led innovations. Additionally, a number of collaborative projects were born from this intervention as well as some hard hitting articles in the global media.

Wrapping it up…

Overall, it has been really exciting to learn a new lesson after working with each video. Participatory media has given me the chance to see perspectives from a different angle in an engaging and visual way. For a full-time student who spends most of her time reading journals and books, participatory video provided a different approach to learning about development problems at a global scale just within reach of a click. Now more than ever, in times of a pandemic, it comes in handy to have access to these resources and knowledge remotely. 

As this was a selection of my 5 favourite videos, there are plenty more topics for viewers to explore. I invite you to search your topic of interest on the InsightShare YouTube channel and immerse yourself into these valuable stories told by communities around the world.

About the author

PhD student Tania Ocampo Garci

I’m Tania Ocampo Garcia, a Mexican full-time student based in the UK. I’m currently pursuing a MSc in Environmental Change and International Development at the University of Sheffield, and volunteering for InsightShare. My interests in the development field involve empowerment of marginalised communities and women. My current research is focused on coral reef preservation and impacts on livelihoods due to environmental change around the Mesoamerican Reef Barrier System.

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