by Former Underage Combatants and Community Members
The PhotoVoice method allows former underage combatants and community members to chronicle their own stories. Here, the narrators used photographs to express their hopes, problems and successes.
Through the narrative arc of photographs and their captions, we learned about the lives of former underage combatants before, during and after life in armed groups. These photographs illustrate how these individuals processed their own experiences, which issues were most important to them and their sources of vulnerability and resilience.
PhotoVoice is a methodology that uses photographs to show how a person experiences and understands social phenomena and disease.
Like body mapping, PhotoVoice essays can express emotions and memories, as well as physical and psychological experiences. This approach allows individuals to express themselves in a visual format that requires no previous experience with a camera or research. Each person serves as the documentarian of their own story, with the power to define the issues most important to them. Former underage combatants and community members who participated in this part of the project shared stories about the relationships and opportunities they lost when they joined an armed group, the trauma they experienced as combatants and the obstacles they continued to face as they sought to reintegrate into civilian life.
Participants featured a wide range of subjects in their photographs and used both literal and metaphorical representations of their experiences. Former underage combatants re-enacted memorable moments from their lives, demonstrating the traumas they survived in the forest and the struggles they met when returning home. They also captured images of significant people in their lives, including family members and teachers from reintegration programs. The photographs also illustrate how objects take on new meaning as participants used them as metaphors for their experiences. This was exemplified by one male former underage combatant’s caption:
This photograph shows the condition of this tree which is comparable to the lives of children who were associated with armed groups who are left without support, abandoned by their communities like this tree which is in the process of disappearing.43
When examined as a whole, each essay offers insight into how the individual who created it experienced combatant life and the transition back to civilian life. When analyzed collectively, these photographic essays speak to the common struggles of former underage combatants, while also examining gendered and geographic differences.