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Columbia Alumna Curates Exhibition of 'Images of Struggle and Resilience'

By Joseph Kennedy

Exibition photo by Binti Pamoja student Mourine Akinyi

Columbia College and The Earth Institute recently hosted an exhibit of photographs, "Images of Struggle and Resilience," at Lerner Hall. Teenage girls attending the Binti Pamoja Center in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya produced the photos during the summer of 2002.

Students, administrators and faculty, as well as President and Mrs. Bollinger, attended the exhibition. Guest speakers included Nane Annan, lawyer, artist and wife of Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, and Maurice Muchene, director of Carolina for Kibera, Inc., a U.S. -- Kenyan youth organization that supports the Binti Pamoja Center.

In May 2002, Karen Austrian, CC'02, and Emily Verellen, American'02, created a reproductive health and women's rights program for girls aged 13-18 living under some of the harshest conditions in Africa. The 12 girls attending the program named it Binti Pamoja, which means "Daughters United."

To accompany their group discussions, the girls were given disposable cameras and were assigned to take photographs on such topics as "A Day in the Life of a Young Woman in Kibera," and "Reproductive Health Issues." As the photos were developed, the group used them as a tool, together with role-playing and drama, to discuss sensitive issues such as rape, prostitution, HIV/AIDS and violence against women.

For the exhibit, each girl also wrote an essay to accompany the photos she took. The photographs and essays forcefully communicate the daunting physical and social challenges facing the women of Kibera. Yet they also offer a message of hope and determination.

"What you are doing is giving the girls a voice. It is no longer a silent cry but a voice we have to listen to as they speak out about their experiences," Nane Annan noted. "You are helping to empower women at greatest risk from violence and HIV/AIDS so that they become the most important players in their own line of first defense, and [will be] able to stand up for themselves against all the threats and obstacles they face."

Published: Apr 17, 2003
Last modified: Apr 16, 2003


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