The young women at the Aarti Home in India each had their own story of hope. What they didn’t have was a way to share that hope with the rest of the world.
Then Kent Becker, an associate professor of counselor education at the University of Wyoming, visited and changed that.
Known nationally as an advocate for child and family mental health issues, Becker has used Photovoice to create a bold and telling presentation of the Aarti Home, which provides support and education to residents who have suffered physical and emotional trauma.
“Helping give a voice to the residents of the Aarti Home empowers them,” Becker says.
Photovoice is a community-based approach that combines equal parts photography, research, group process, storytelling, social action and development of awareness of personal and community issues. Photovoice materials are used for the creation of displays, publications and websites. Posting on the web allows stories to be told worldwide.
Becker learned about the Aarti Home from Bonnie Zare, a UW associate professor of gender and women's studies who, in 2009, worked with a group of her students to form the Keep Girls in School Project to raise awareness about Aarti Home. The group has since raised $27,000, thanks to the generosity of Wyoming donors, to fund construction of a new school at the home. During a one-week stay in the summer of 2011, Becker provided the home with cameras and worked with volunteers to help guide the participating residents in technical aspects of creating their narratives for public presentations and publishing to http://www.aartiforgirls.org.
By removing himself from the narrative, Becker says he is able to provide a more personal and meaningful experience for those telling their stories and for those learning of them.
“The stories you see in displays or on the website are their stories,” says Becker, who commends the bravery of the women at Aarti Home for coming forward with their stories. “The photographs are their photographs.”
Aarti Home began in the early 1990s as a shelter for abandoned girls and eventually grew to include women. For abandoned girls, the shelter is a place to earn an education and learn the skills for success in life. For women, it offers training, livelihood and awareness programs to help them gain the economic and emotional independence to make their own choices.
As a result of Photovoice, Becker says Aarti Home residents, staff and volunteers have increased awareness of the shelter and its ability to gain needed financial support through donations from around the world.
Becker also uses Photovoice to raise awareness of children’s mental health needs closer to home.
In 2008, Becker received an award from UPLIFT Wyoming, a division of the National Federation of Families, for his work establishing the Wyoming SAGE Photovoice Project at photovoicewyoming.com. His Photovoice exhibits have been displayed in coffee houses, art galleries and at the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne.
In working with individuals and communities struggling with mental health challenges, Becker says Photovoice projects provide him with insight and experience that he is able to pass on to students in the classroom and in the field. He also strives to involve students in projects.
“It’s important that students hear the voices directly of the people they will be working with in their careers,” Becker says.