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Teaching storytelling in Bekoji, Ethiopia

Cameras empowering girl athletes

Nestled at about 2800m altitude, in the rolling green hills and flat plains of the Oromo region, is the small town of Bekoji, Ethiopia. But as you travel into the town’s centre, you start to notice that Bekoji is a little different from other places. In Bekoji, the air is very thin, and many people wear sports clothes and trainers.

This is because Bekoji, and its surrounding towns, are the home of athletics in Ethiopia. Gabre Haileselassie, the renowned middle distance and marathon runner, hails from here. So do do at least 8 other Olympic gold medal winners.

Many aspiring young athletes in Bekoji lead a unique life, balancing training, attending school, and working in farms to assist their family. This is the story of our shutter sisters of Bekoji. 

Bashedu, Burtucan, Deretu, Desta, Fatuma, Lome, Meskeram, Nuria, Tarikwa and Zebaney, all in their early to mid teens, have a single minded devotion to running. They all aspire to one day represent Ethiopia internationally. Since 2006, the Girls Gotta Run Foundation has worked with girls like them to promote creative expression as an essential activity to navigate adolescence. By creating a a safe space for girls, Girls Gotta Run strives to provide them with a well rounded upbringing, balancing the demands of their unique lifestyle.

In 2017, we partnered with Girls Gotta Run Foundation to run a visual storytelling workshop for the group of girls. While the girls continue to train physically to meet the challenging demands of long distance running, training their eye was equally crucial to us, to help them navigate the world around them.

 
Only when they critically observe, can the girls start to understand the issues around them, and those affecting them, and work towards bettering their community. A camera, in this respect, is not just a tool to make some pictures, but a powerful weapon, which can help see objectively, and contribute towards bringing a positive change.

 
 
The importance of regaining agency

From subject to storyteller

There have been many articles written and films being made about Bekoji and the amazing legacy of its long distance runners. But people of Bekoji remain the subject of the story, never the story tellers.

It was very important for Lensational that the girls regain this agency. That they get behind the camera, capture their lives, and interrogate the community they live in.

The storytelling workshop, led by Sandeep Dhopate, did just that. It taught the girls that holding a camera is like holding a pen: we learn to observe much, before we are able to create visuals, and express our thoughts and ideas.
Apart from understanding the fundamentals of image making and using the camera, the workshop consisted of simple assignments to help develop essential life skills.
Making portraits, for example, was one. And there is more to it than just holding up a camera and shooting a picture.
Editing was another. The act of editing through several images to select just 10 odd images in order to tell the whole story in an exercise in critical thinking.
There were also group activities, involving drafting a story together, with everyone contributing, which fostered problem solving, teamwork and conflict resolution.

Project impact

The girls responded to the workshop with great enthusiasm. A break from their otherwise intense routine was a welcome change, which they enjoyed immensely. There was laughter and learning happening all at the same time. An activity, which is not only informative, but also a ton of fun can not go wrong. Photography is an excellent example of an education medium that encourages inclusion, confidence, and 100% participation.

The girls’ many photographs, which give a rare glimpse of life in Bekoji as experienced by locals, are available for sale on our photography platform, earning the girls a revenue.

Motherhood. c. Zebaney Bose, Bekoji, Ethiopia. 2017.





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