• Libre Expresión

     

    Libre Expresión

    Amor a la Vida ‘Without imagination there is no future’

    Introduction

    Libre Expresión is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that aims to provide the Honduran community with complimentary education in the field of culture and expression through photography. The people of Libre Expresión initiate and carry out projects for children, young people, women or ethnic minorities who come from a background of extreme poverty or suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In each project, a select group is taught the basics of photography. Participants are provided with a camera of their own so they can photograph their lives and everything that touches them. The pictures are then shared and discussed in the group. Through these activities and discussions, the participants develop a sense of awareness and empowerment, and they are encouraged to express their emotions, feelings, dreams and needs. These courses are combined with education in the area of human rights and on topics such as HIV/AIDS or micro-credit for those who want to start up a small business.At the end of each project, an exposition is organised to inform the public about the lives of these Honduran people (for example to address the taboos surrounding HIV/AIDS).

                ‘Photography is both an art form and a vehicle for educating people. We believe that art and culture are forms of communication that, through their eminence, can contribute to the emancipation and democratisation of society. They help create a climate in which ideas can be expressed and exchanged freely. Without imagination there is no future!’

                Officially founded in 2005, Libre Expresión was initiated by Mijke Bos, a Dutch woman with a degree in ‘Politics, Communication and Organisation’ (Social and Cultural Sciences) from Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit. Overwhelmed by the stress of Amsterdam and her consulting work, Mijke decided to invest her energy and share her hobby, photography, with children in developing countries. She had fruitful discussions with Kodak Benelux and set about working. In October 2003, Mijke arrived in Honduras carrying more disposable cameras in her backpack than personal belongings. She was empowered by her wish to learn Spanish and to work with children, offering them a distraction and a creative education—while at the same time learning from them—through a photography project. Initially planned for four months, the project turned into something more long term.

                With the support of Kodak Honduras, United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and local NGOs like Compartir and Arte-Acción, Mijke set up three photography projects with children and young people from marginalised neighbourhoods. At the request of the local organisations and with her experiences from the first projects, she then developed an innovative method that uses photography and visual communication to stimulate children to express their emotions, feelings, dreams and needs. It was then that Libre Expresión was born.

     

    What does Libre Expresiónoffer its participants?

    The photography projects for children turned out to have an enormous impact. For the young photographers, their photos have become a chronicle of their development that has strengthened their self-esteem. As the saying goes: ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. Indeed, the initiative has been therapeutic in terms of developing skills in things like making decisions and obtaining a positive view of one’s future. The therapeutic strategies that these innovative workshops provide should be implemented more often. Since its start, Libre Expresión has successfully completed 14 projects that have benefited a total of some 3500 children and 250 teachers within public primary schools.

    One child’s experience:

    Franklin is a young person who belongs to a Garifuna community (of people of African descent) on the north coast of Honduras. He participated in a project that used photography to break the silence around HIV/AIDS. Children who are infected or otherwise affected by the virus received training in human rights, HIV/AIDS prevention and how to start a small business. One of the results of that project is that the young people are now running their own business of taking pictures at graduations, anniversaries parties, church functions and the like. Franklin had wanted to leave his family and find a job in the capital city, but now, since he is part of the small business, he no longer wants to move. Rather, he intends to remain with his family, be proud of his culture and participate in creating economic stability within his community. His hopes and dreams are not limited to running a small business in that community, however. He wants to develop it further in another village and later in the capital.

     

    A fairly recent development within Libre Expresión has been to create and hold workshops on how to start a small photography business. Together with the World Health Organisation and the Honduran Committee for HIV-AIDS Orphans, Libre Expresión has organised workshops for 40 children in the area of human rights, HIV/AIDS prevention and how to start a business of their own. Three small photography businesses are currently being run by young people between the ages of 15 and 18 years old.

    In one of the most recent projects, photographs taken by Honduran children from both the countryside and the capital city became part of a travelling exposition that included daily workshops for children and teachers. Held in six cities and six villages throughout Honduras, the photo exhibition gave the Honduran population a chance to get to know parts of their own country they might otherwise never manage to see, viewed through the eyes of Honduran children. The pictures were used as an instrument for giving interactive workshops, and a book containing all the photos of the exhibition was published. This project benefited 2000 children and 150 teachers in Honduras.

                Several of the projects have included the publications of postcards and/or books of photography. In addition, two videos have been produced that show the process of a particular project and provide more participants with a chance to give testimonials about their experiences.

    What does this mean for the people who work at Libre Expresión?

    The main aim of Libre Expresión is to create a climate in which ideas can be expressed and exchanged freely. Three values are especially important in their work (3xC):

    1. Compartir (Share: among participants)

    Libre Expresión’s projects have shown photography to be a powerful tool for the visual expression of emotions, opinions and feelings. Expressing these reinforces the participants’ self-esteem, giving them the strength to make better decisions that will have a positive effect on their future.

    2.Confrontar (Confront: society)

    Libre Expresión strives to reach all levels of Honduran and international society by creating young leaders, showing their work, providing various media for expressing their voices (e.g. exhibitions, books, Internet, discussion platforms, events such as Xpres), giving inspiration and bringing positive messages from the children and young people to the wider community in order to raise their social awareness and to increase their involvement.

    3.Conectar (Connect)

    Libre Expresión works from an integral perspective: connecting government agencies, the private sector and the civil society in order to help achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals as agreed upon by the UN.

    Libre Expresión in Honduras has a staff of about six people, some of whom are volunteers. In addition to these national members, Libre Expresiónalso has international representatives and a foundation in the Netherlands that aims to support the organisation through funding and partnerships. One of the international representatives, a former employee from Italy, is currently organising expositions in her country to involve the Italian people in the lives of people in Honduras who suffer from HIV/AIDS. Likewise, a former Dutch employee continues to share her experiences and the children’s photos with people in Holland, mainly to give the Dutch people an opportunity to learn more about Honduran culture through the eyes of children and to inform them about the Millennium Development Goals.

    What does it mean for the internal organisation and processes?

    Leveraging impact by co-creating meaningful experiences within networks.

    Libre Expresión functions as a platform without permanent-salaried staff. This means that the employees are expected to create their own projects and find funding to implement those projects. The employees must therefore be well capable of working independently and taking initiatives on their own.

    They see collaborations and integrative cooperation with all sectors (public, private and government) as the best way to meet the needs of the target group and to achieve the broader public-policy objectives on which the work is centred. Partnerships enable the collaborating organisations to share their knowledge and experiences with each other and help to create a resource economy when the different agencies pool their resources to undertake a project of mutual interest.

                Libre Expresión can be considered a ‘social entrepreneur’, tirelessly pursuing its mission within a collaborative network of volunteers and partner organisations to improve the lives of children and offer them hope for the future. In that sense, the people working at Libre Expresión are leveraging the impact of experience co-creation far beyond the means and scope of an ordinary small organisation. Libre Expresión has been involved in partnerships with a variety of organisations, including NGOs: Plan Honduras, Medicos San Frontier[E.P.1] (MSF), Alliance Française Honduras, the United Nations (UNICEF, ONUSIDA, UNV), the World Health Organisation, CORDAID, and International Schools Honduras; government: the Royal Dutch Embassy in Honduras, the Honduran Ministry of Art, Culture and Sports, and the Honduran Ministry of Education; and the private sector: Kodak Benelux and Honduras, the Dutch Railways (NS), and Alas Travel Agency Honduras.

    The methodology of experience co-creation

    Libre Expresión brings about co-creation by means of three concepts: Focus, Fotomovile and Xpres. As explained in the introduction, the Focus projects involve providing cameras to a select group of people, teaching them how to use them and asking them to photograph anything that affects their lives. The participants gain a sense of awareness and empowerment through discussing each other’s pictures, and they are stimulated to express their emotions, feelings, dreams and needs. The method also involves having participants write a small text to accompany each picture. The photographer thinks up a title, adding a message, thought or feeling along with his or her name. These testimonials with the images are of great value, as they offer another way of reflecting about what is going on in their lives. In addition to the broader educational benefits included in the Focus workshops, photo exhibitions are organised by the same beneficiaries who represent the real protagonists and witnesses of their special experience of being photographers of their lives. The exhibitions are set up in public spaces like shopping centres, universities, bars, squares and streets that are strategically accessible to all types of people and social classes. These exhibitions play the role of advocacy platforms focused on human rights for children in order to create social impact, generate positive change in the surroundings and create alliances with key actors.

                Xpres involves exhibitions organised with the kids and previously published material (e.g. photos, DVDs and books) as a platform to generate public awareness and inspire both the participants and the general public in terms of several important themes like human rights, HIV/AIDS, ethnic and cultural diversity, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, violence, etc. These conference-like events are organised either in conjunction with certain meetings or separately.

                With Fotomovile, Libre Expresión literally travels with their exhibitions to villages and cities within Honduras or other countries in order to reach local communities and hold workshops with children and teachers about themes like the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, cultural diversity and others mentioned earlier. Sometimes, the photographers themselves will accompany the tour to describe their experiences and share their thoughts.

    What is the effect on the business model? Where is money being made?

    The business model is that of a social entrepreneurial organisation. Libre Expresión’s mission is to co-create meaningful experiences for children in a network organisation with resources acquired through donations, contributions from partner organisations and government funding and, above all, with the efforts of local workers and organisations. Each year, projects are defined that will help the organisation reach its objectives. The effects of those projects can be measured in terms of the number of children with a smile on their face, the number of teachers who are inspired and the number of partnerships that have been created. Exhibitions and publications raise awareness among a broader audience in Honduras and in other countries.

    Besides these contributions, Libre Expresión also organises a fundraising event, ‘SENTIDOS’ (‘senses’), twice a year in Honduras and occasionally in the Netherlands as well. The event combines art exhibitions (photo, poetry, etc), various kinds of music and local food for people of all ages. The target group includes entrepreneurs, people with resources, and expats. At the same time, the beneficiaries of the projects of Libre Expresión are present at the event to share what they have learned and to sell their products (books, postcards, etc). These events have a steep entrance fee in order to raise money.

                The fact that Libre Expresión has been officially recognised as an NGO highlights the general need for education combined with artistic creativity as a way of providing longer-term support to vulnerable members of the community. The start of an ‘Institute of Image’—offering a select group of participants a two-year leadership training programme in communication and social entrepreneuring (combined with scholarships), a gallery for showing work, as well as courses in things like photography and videography for those who can afford to pay a fee—will further strengthen the activities and the position of Libre Expresión in the co-creation of meaningful experiences.


     [E.P.1]‘Médicos Sin Fronteras’ (Spanish) or ‘Médecins Sans Frontières’ (French)