From Messenger of War to Peace Messenger — Participatory Video

By: Chris Lunch, InsightShare co-director & Anicet OBOUE local trainee and General Secretary of Réseau Action Justice et Paix (RAJP)

Chris Lunch will be giving a short talk at this year’s Build Peace conference, Sunday September 11th at 9:45. For more conference programming, visit our website.

At a busy intersection in the city of Douékué, Cote D’Ivoire, a crowd of more than 2500 people has gathered, the atmosphere is electric, people are talking on a microphone, a makeshift screen and projector have been set up and there is dancing and theatre in the street. This vibrant scene is a far cry from the terror witnessed in these same streets in 2011 when 800 Douékué citizens were massacred as part of the post election violence that swept across Cote D’Ivoire. Today the message is peace and the messengers are youth.

One youth, in particular, stands outs: 20-year old Stephane Taha (see picture). Like many of his peers, Stephane had once served in a gang and in a militia group as a child soldier, even contributing to the country’s post-election crisis of 2011. But, unlike his peers, Stephane has managed to transform his violent past into something positive. In fact, it was through his school’s Peace messenger club, set up by Search for Common Ground and UNICEF’s Learning for Peace initiative, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, that Stephane first learned how to love. “That club changed something in me. I was no longer the violent kid of yesterday, I was now a peace envoy, a promoter of peace.”

Last year, Stephane found the words to tell his story during InsightShare’s participatory video evaluation, an approach that enables beneficiaries and stakeholders to create their own films to convey their respective stories. Several stories were collected, from which 5 were selected by the communities involved as having demonstrated the most significant changes (MSC). Stephane’s story was among those featured. UNICEF C4D has seen much success from and enthusiasm for this process in Cote D’Ivoire, Uganda, Burundi, Philippines and Sierra Leone so much so that it has recently collaborated with InsightShare to develop an open source Participatory Video & the Most Significant Change (PVMSC) toolkit to guide those interested in using this technique to evaluate their peacebuilding projects.

As one student observed of Stephane’s experience; “it was as if (Stephane) was at a crossroads and this evaluation project became the catalyst for him to launch the next phase of his journey. In his story he talked about his violent past, his transformation and also about his future intention to set up a youth led peace movement and retrace his footsteps, so that he could visit all those places where he had fought as a child soldier or gang leader, this time to speak about peace with other local youths”. His video was first watched by a small group of peers and then, with Stephane’s consent, it was shown to other students, parents, UNICEF and Search for Common Ground staff and even representatives from the Ministry of Education (watch it below).

With each showing Stephane’s confidence and resolve grew and he and his friends have now put his words into action, setting up a youth-led organisation called “Entr’nous” and screening the participatory video stories of change they filmed during that evaluation workshop last year to youth across the country.

During these screening events, audience members have also shared their stories, as well as discussed what they think should happen next and how to get started. In using this format, Stephane and his team have enabled people to tell their stories and to learn to forgive, all while building on the skills they gained from the Peace messenger programme. Especially inspiring is how an initial 3-week participatory video and most significant change evaluation (PVMSC) has evolved into an ongoing platform for a message of peace and forgiveness for thousands of youth across Cote D’Ivoire!

In March this year Stephane took part in a second PVMSC evaluation with InsightShare, this time as part of the local facilitator team. Together they collected more than 150 stories from their peers all taking part in Unicef and SFCG programmes in Daloa and after 2 days of analysis they made a video report with their recommendations for peacebuilding youth programming.

With last November’s peaceful elections, Cote D’Ivoire is ready for a new chapter of peacebuilding initiatives in schools and among the youth, and for its new youth messengers of peace. At that busy intersection in the city of Douékué, onlookers see more than a vibrant scene; they see an optimistic future of peace.