Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Meaningful Story Behind the Photo

What would you make of this picture at first glance? Be frank – a bird’s nest, a tool to shoo pigeons away in a farm field, or rather a locally made toy for a tot? If you guessed any of the above, you’re dead wrong. Perhaps, those of us who have seen the indigenous t’əla betoch /local drink houses/ in some parts of Addis Ababa and the regions, might assume it’s rather an outdoor placard that notifies the presence of the t’əla drink somewhere indoors. Again your surmise is wrong, unfortunately. Well, I totally agree with a known journalistic adage that says “every picture tells a story,” although I have seen many which have very little, if at all, that communicate meaning. Similarly, however, we do find quite many snapshots that have the most enduring effect on people that can be included among the pictorial record for they show the impact of a certain period of time and place, like those which reveal the hard times of a nation. The beauty of a good snapshot is that unlike similar symbols rendered in paint or prose, it seems to convey reality without the mediation of an artist or interpreter. There’s an Amharic verse that says something relevant to photographs: yaləfutΪn gizeyat fit ləfit amt’Ϊto ləmΪn aynagər yΪnagəral foto Simply translated as: 'Bringing the past times vividly to the fore Yes indeed, the photo tells a tale' While this is a testimony that the photo brings the past into the present, it really illustrates the truth that a photo really tells a story. Today’s piece is the success story behind this compelling image by Jane Strachan, the USAID-OFDA Program Officer while she was in a monitoring visit to a program site. But first, let me give you a background: The USAID/OFDA-funded Hygiene Promotion Awareness Training encompasses a wide range of activities aimed at altering attitudes and behaviors so that they would break the succession of disease transmission associated with inadequate water supply and sanitation. In disaster-affected areas, USAID funds water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions such as the construction of wells and latrines and the promotion of hand washing, safe water usage, and healthy sanitation. Through WASH programming, USAID helps reduce morbidity and mortality associated with water and sanitation-related diseases and poor environmental conditions. Indeed, changes seem to be on the move in these communities. This can be proved by their responsiveness to keep well – hygienically. This is really one of the success stories of USAID/Ethiopia. It is so because breaking the chains of the long-held practices and changing people’s attitudes and behaviors could not come swiftly and easily. It is possible only with an arduous endeavor on the part of those who exercise great work to bring about it. In the context of rural and even some urbanities of Ethiopia, where the provision of “safe” piped water to every household cannot be achieved (at least, in a foreseeable short period of time), the necessity of keeping healthy - hygienic - assumes great importance. Nonetheless, as is true of most developing communities elsewhere, most of these people rely on the government to make sure that their wellbeing is sustainably kept, for they’re without resources to do it all by themselves. However, it is necessary for the community to at least contribute by upholding benefits of trainings, such as this, through developing some form of appropriate individual hygiene care. Real decisions on hygiene awareness should be made at individual as well as at the community level in order to have the biggest impact. This is all what this captivating picture depicts– a tribute to the responsible individual’s responsiveness to this life-changing hygiene training and his creative effort to keep healthy with meager resources. The photo you’re seeing above, in its directness and simplicity records the conditions of poverty while also celebrating the persistent human spirit of staying hygienic in even the most difficult of circumstances. The location is in Bale region, Harawa 7 district, in close proximity to Ginnir, which is roughly 650 kilometers south-east from Addis. It is a hand-washing tool a community member created after receiving OFDA-funded hygiene promotion training. Jane admiringly explains that he, (unfortunately the person’s name is anonymous) has built a rudimentary latrine and installed this tool next to it so that his family won’t forget to wash their hands the minute after they use the restroom. Isn’t it something that deserves appreciation? Yes, it is. The individual utilized his creativity to put into practice what he learned theoretically. Creativity is not the ability to create out of nothing (only God can do that), but the ability to generate new ideas from what has been learned by combining, changing, or reapplying existing ideas. And most importantly, it also comprises of the ability to accept change and newness, a willingness to play with ideas and possibilities, and a flexibility of outlook. According to The International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State University, "Creativity is an effective resource that resides in all people and within all organizations." Therefore, often all that's needed to be creative is to make a commitment to the task we want to accomplish ahead of us and to take the time for it. What earns commendation here is the ability of the anonymous person to define the existing problem, believe in what he learned to address the difficulty, generate creative solution for it, and then transform this solution into action through the use of locally available materials at his disposal. We seem to see the reality itself, people, rocks, fences, clouds, etc. in good photos as this one. No teller is required to tell or to write this story; it happens by itself. Isn’t it fun and useful to be creative as the anonymous person described above? And isn’t it valuable to have a profound impact on viewers by taking a telling snapshot? Məlkam samΪnt! → Have a good week!

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