By Linda Germanis                                                                                                               UNV Volunteer with UNESCO in Thailand

A volunteer project should respond to community needs. This has been the assumption I tried to keep in mind in identifying how could I have the best impact on my host community. 

To create a volunteer project both the needs of the volunteers and the needs of the community have to be matched. In fact the volunteer’s life needs to have a meaningful experience while the community needs to ‘buy in’ which, is part of the on going development process.

The first need, starting from my UNV Volunteer experience at UNESCO Bangkok, was to identify the different actors that were present in my community. My colleagues became part of my project and the wider Bangkok community became the target of my project.

I tried to understand what needs could also add to the work of my colleagues at UNESCO. I noticed that they were missing the addition of the grass root experience which illustrates the commitment of the community in working on development issues and practices. They needed an emotional reminder of the values that they were rationally developing.

Then I needed to select a community to work with and this occurred spontaneously: between my place and UNESCO office there is a slum community I was driving through every morning in a Bangkok moto-taxy. 

Before I could get to work I had to try to overcome the language barrier in explaining what I wanted to do to the community what I wanted to do, how they could get involved and how our collective work could benefit the entire community. I needed the community to work with me so I could see how development issues were affecting their lives by looking at things through their eyes. At that point it was clear that the best way to impact the issues that mattered to them and to me was through photography.

Putting together volunteers from UNESCO Bangkok, the International Movement ATD Fourth World and the Friends of ATD Foundation I started to develop a Community Photography project: “At first sight”.

The project was developed in cooperation with volunteers from these three organizations aiming to promote volunteerism and building a network of different actors already active and committed with the development of the Saphan Phut Community. “At first sight”, through Community Photography, presents a series of photos taken both by International volunteers and members of the local slum community of Saphan Phut that show the lives, relationships and issues affecting the community.

“At first sight” gives a platform to the local people to open a dialogue, whether between themselves or with others. The aim of “At first sight” is to be a medium to give a better understanding of the diversities that exist in every aspect of the community’s life and culture.

The project is also supported by an on-line social network, http://atfirstsight.ning.com/ that gives an opportunity for communication between the International volunteers and the Saphan Phut community. Through “At first sight,” international volunteers and the Saphan Phut community gain a better understanding of life in a slum community and can share their experiences of the different projects that they are working on to address the development issues that plague the area.

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