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Photography skills empower women volunteers in Syria
08 December 2005
by Bisan Al-Bunni and Brooke Carr

Life in Syria, as in many other developing countries, is full of images that catch ideas and express moments so well, and they haven’t been noticed or captured yet…and images can send such a powerful message….

That simple idea is what inspired the UNV (UNV) programme in Syria to come up with the unique idea of celebrating the International Volunteer Day 2005 by organizing a photography workshop for women volunteers. The workshop aims to give the volunteers the capacity to support their work by creating special images that will strengthen the communications capacity of local organizations, as well as provide a pictorial archive of development work in Syria.

The photographic workshop, being conducted over four weeks, is organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), through UNV, and the Syrian Environment Association (SEA). Twenty-two women volunteers from organizations such as UNDP, UNV, SEA, FIRDOS, Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Rainbow, SOS and Zahret Al-Madaen were invited to learn to use their cameras to help them communicate about their volunteer work.

Kais Zakaria, a prominent Syrian photographer and photography teacher, is leading the workshop. He is well aware of the power of image and now it is his turn to pass some of his professional experiences to others.  

The workshop opened in a simple ceremony on 5 December in the beautiful surrounds of the Damascus Environmental Garden. All volunteer participants were excited about the opportunity which had been offered to them. Rajaa Almulaiji, a volunteer from Zahret Al- Madaen, was extremely enthusiastic. “Most of the photographers in our society are men. Photography is my passion, but I didn’t have a chance to practice it before,” she said. “This workshop will be so helpful for me as a woman and it will enable us to use a new skill in delivering the message of our work.”

Nineteen-year-old Dina from the Syrian Red Crescent agreed. “This is a great chance for me to learn more,” she said. “It will benefit me as a member of the Media Committee in the Red Crescent.”

Dr. Warka Barmada, President of the Syrian Environment Association, stressed that it was important that volunteers not only learn how to use their cameras effectively, but that they learn how to use them to promote gender equality and the role of volunteers in development. “We really need a complete strategy for advertising volunteering,” she said. “We need to raise awareness about the importance of volunteers through the civil society perspective. This workshop should be considered a magnificent start.”

To encourage and reward the participants, who will be attending the classes in their own time, the best pictures will appear in an exhibition and a booklet to be published later.

International Volunteer Day… it’s not just another Day!

“If we are to make significant progress on meeting the MDGs and stay true to the promise to make the world a better, fairer place for all, there is no time to lose in putting in place the necessary policies and resources needed to achieve these aims,” Stefano Cordella, UNV Programme Officer in Syria, stressed in his opening speech. He stressed that the International Volunteer Day is not an ordinary day, so it should not be celebrated in an ordinary way.

“UN Volunteers play an essential role in promoting volunteering in the community… they are working with a good strategy. In spite of all the difficulties you may face in a growing country like Syria, the UNV programme can achieve a lot,” said Samira Jbreel, president of Zahret Al-Madaen. “Volunteering should be the main concept of our work; we should rely on volunteers for our development projects. I think that this workshop is an unusual but effective step towards promoting volunteering.”

“I really believe in the important role of women, they have a different point of view, and they should have the chance to make their opinions clear,” added Cordella. “I’m sure they will promote the impact of volunteering through the use of creative images and I hope this workshop will be a solid contribution to the process of empowering Syrian women.”

The workshop is not just about learning a new skill or celebrating an event. It is a real chance for women in a developing country to have a say, to use a world language, to prove the fact that they as volunteers are putting their heart and soul into their work to make a better future. When the sound of words disappears, the voice of the image will remain.

(Bisan Al-Bunni and Brooke Carr are UNV Associates/Human Development Advocates in Syria.)