Tag Archives: National Geographic
In January, several members of the Too Young to Wed team had the privilege of conducting an Adolescent Girls Photography Workshop with some incredible young women in Kenya, all of whom had escaped child marriage. In honor of today’s International Women’s Day, we’d like to share the following piece about that experience, which was first published by National Geographic and reprinted with their permission.
“Every two seconds a girl is married,” says photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who’s going on her 14th year of documenting the issue of child marriage. The issue has gained traction in the global conversation, but Sinclair knows that the girls affected need help now. “We have to make sure we’re reaching them on the ground,” she says. “It’s really important to walk the talk.”
In an effort to do that, Sinclair started a nonprofit, Too Young to Wed, in 2012. Just a few weeks ago it partnered with Fuji Film and the Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF)—an organization that rescues vulnerable girls from harmful practices in rural Kenya—to put on a photography workshop for 10 girls between the ages of 11 and 14.
At the beginning of the workshop, as Sinclair was showing the students her photography, she asked about their familiarity with child marriage. A girl named Angela raised her hand. She had run away when she heard she was going to be married off. Sinclair then asked if any of them had heard of a situation like Angela’s. The other nine girls raised their hands—they had all escaped marriage.
“Girl empowerment is one of the strongest prevention techniques to end child marriage,” says Sinclair. By teaching basic photography skills, the workshop affirmed the value of their voices and their stories—stories that many of the girls had never told. That soon changed.
Their first assignment was to make a portrait of a partner. As Sinclair explains, “We paired them off into twos. To make a great portrait you have to know who you’re photographing; you have to share your story with your partner. Some girls had never shared their stories before. That was very powerful. We were a little taken aback when they had such an emotional reaction, but some of the girls who had shared their stories before said, ‘No, no. They need to do this.’ ”
A small, but dedicated operation, SGF has rescued almost 235 girls from traumatic situations. Its teams try their best to provide education for the girls, but they don’t have the resources to offer counseling. In its place, the photo workshop became a form of therapy, beginning the process of healing.
The vulnerability the girls exchanged is visible in the portraits they made.
“It was really unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” says Sinclair. “The portraits that came out were quite powerful for girls who had only picked up the camera the day before. I think they found photography [to be] a way to communicate what they’d been through.”
The finale of the workshop was an exhibition of the photos, when each girl who wanted to had an opportunity to present her work and share her story. To prepare them, the teachers coached the girls to amplify not only their visual voices but also their speaking voices. Sinclair describes first meeting the girls, when many of them spoke in a whisper.
“We were worried that their voices would be so soft the audience wouldn’t hear them,” she says. “The more confident they got, the louder they spoke.”
The afternoon of the exhibition, about 70 people came—chiefs of the girls’ villages, some of their parents.
“Each girl presented the photo they did of the other girl,” says Sinclair. “I left it up to them what they wanted to say about the photographs they did of their friends. Most of them shared their stories. All of them talked about what they wanted to be when they were older. And all of them talked about how they wanted to help the community and prevent girls from going through what they had gone through.
“They got up there and screamed into the microphone so much that it was cracking: ‘My name is Jane. I am 12 years old. I have been circumcised, and my parents tried to marry me off.’ The audience was crying, the girls were crying. We were all crying. It’s almost like they were taking their power back and expressing all these things that they wanted to say for the first time to the public, to their community.”
Funds raised during Too Young to Wed’s first print sale will support efforts to empower girls and women in Ethiopia, Kenya and earthquake-stricken Nepal.
Though the sale ended Tuesday—after a 48-hour extension due to high demand—donations from around the world continued to roll in. By Thursday, more than 400 individuals had donated time, money and expertise toward the nonprofit’s first major fundraiser.
“It was a huge success, and we are left humbled and deeply moved by your generosity and support for an issue that clearly means so much to us,” said Too Young to Wed founder Stephanie Sinclair, whose images of child brides have inspired advocates and policymakers to push for an end to child marriage. “We are so pleased that so many of you have chosen to take this journey with us.”
The print sale coincided with Too Young to Wed’s exhibit at Photoville 2015, a photo extravaganza in Brooklyn, N.Y., that attracted more than 76,000 visitors to workshops, panels and installations this year.
“Photoville was amazing. They really supported our work in a very generous and beautiful way,” said Sinclair, who shared the nonprofit’s mission with hundreds of visitors over the course of the week. “It was almost like a coming-out party for us. People didn’t know we were an organization.”
In addition to Photoville, Sinclair credited the event’s overwhelming success to publicity from a number of media outlets—including the New York Times, Time and National Geographic—as well as support from numerous humanitarian organizations, like the Ford Foundation, One and the Girl Effect. Facebook and Instagram promoted the effort, and Twitter users—among them Tony-nominated Broadway performer Stephanie Block and “Gotham” cast members Ben McKenzie, Morena Baccarin and Erin Richards—championed the cause. Even singer Ricky Martin trumpeted the event on his Instagram account.
“We got so much love,” said Sinclair. “We know that love and support is meant for the girls, and we promise we’re going to do everything in our power to support them and bring an end to child marriage.”
Too Young to Wed was launched on Oct. 11, 2012 – the first International Day of the Girl Child – as a multimedia partnership with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to raise awareness of child marriage, assist child brides and bring an end to the practice that affects one girl every two seconds. The organization officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in February 2015.
Its primary focus will always be to “provide powerful visual storytelling, then bring our girls’ stories to the world to help inspire an end to child marriage,” said Sinclair. The nonprofit will continue to raise awareness about child marriage and offer support to on-the-ground projects in the communities where the girls in the images live, to promote positive change.
The organization is still tallying contributions from its inaugural print sale, but intends to use the proceeds primarily to help three communities: the village of Gombat, outside Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, where an adolescent empowerment initiative aims to help girls in rural areas; The Samburu Girls Foundation in northern Kenya, which provides shelter and education to girls rescued from child marriage, female genital mutilation and other harmful practices; and Kagati village in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, where an earthquake this year flattened homes and the village school, leaving young girls that much more vulnerable to child marriage.
Too Young to Wed has begun conversations with partners in those communities to work out the details, and specifics will be forthcoming, said Sinclair.
“Meanwhile, we are now busy preparing the studio for this huge print run! Expect your prints to arrive in the coming weeks,” she said. “And from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
Tomorrow marks the second International Day of the Girl Child, an observance very dear to the Too Young to Wed team and lots of other amazing groups around the world working hard to make sure girls grow up safe and healthy, confident and educated.
The inaugural celebration last year coincided with a photo exhibit at the United Nations, a reception attended by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin among other luminaries, and the release of “Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage.”
The 76-page report from the UNFPA outlined the negative global consequences of child marriage and warned that, without action, 142 million girls could be subject to the practice over the next decade.
“Let this be a call to action,” Ki-moon said at the time. “Let us end child marriage in this generation.”
We’re pleased to note that much progress has been made over the last year—including the recent adoption of the UN resolution on child, early and forced marriage by the UN Human Rights Council.
Still, we have a long way to go. The Too Young to Wed exhibit, including photographs by Stephanie Sinclair and video by Jessica Dimmock, just wrapped up a six-week visit to Montreal. We hope that as it continues to travel the globe, it raises awareness of the importance of protecting girls from harmful practices like child marriage—a shameful institution that limits the potential not only of the girls, but of entire communities.
If you’d like to join us in bringing attention to the issue, here are a few suggestions:
- Share this new video by Girls Not Brides, which in less than three minutes explains how child marriage perpetuates poverty, health crises, violence and lack of opportunity in communities around the world.
- Visit 11daysofaction.org, an effort by Girl Up that shares inspiring stories of girls from around the world and offers several ways to join the effort via social media.
- Check out Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., or simply tune in to http://wovexhibition.org/live-stream at 7:30 p.m. tonight to watch a panel of 11 award-winning photographers—including our own Stephanie Sinclair—discuss their ground-breaking work with journalist Ann Curry.
The exhibit itself is not exclusively focused on child marriage. The stunning images on display through March 9, which are also included in a book available in the museum’s store, cover a myriad of topics, from 21st century slavery to the chemistry of the teenage brain. But they’re a shining example of the power of photography, an art Too Young to Wed relies heavily on to share its message.
More importantly, they represent the tremendous impact women can have when given the freedom and the opportunity to pursue their passion—a human right we’d like to see granted to every girl on earth.