Food is essential for our everyday life and it reflects a local culture. I have lived in Japan, Germany (although I do not remember much), Canada, and Peru and it is quite amazing to see how plates served on a dining table vary among the countries. At the same time, food is a crucial determinant of a healthy life. Because malnutrition is a problem in Cuncani, it is important to continue our effort to gain a better understanding of what children in Cuncani eat every day. Thus, in 2017, Nexos Comunitarios, adopted the Photovoice (one of the methodologies of Participatory Action Research) to work with 8 children in Cuncani to answer this simple question.
Instead of applying a traditional research method, where researchers visit the families to conduct interviews/surveys in relation to their food consumption, the Photovoice methodology allows us to seek the same result by engaging student through the activity of capturing their daily meals using cameras. The outcome is much more meaningful as it exhibits physical images of the meals served in their homes (and as researchers, we are not simply give the answers gained through interviews which we then write down). In addition, the design of Photovoice constructs a horizontal relationship between the facilitator and the participants (the children) through the process. Furthermore, the methodology provides the freedom for the participants to take photos and enjoy the use of cameras.
Of 8 children in the school, 7 children have completed their food journals with the photos of their meals. Each journal illustrates a variety of photos showing the children’s daily food intake and their life in Cuncani. Let’s take a look at some of the pictures taken by them.
People in the community consume milk tea and potatoes with bread, canchas (known as Andean toasted chullpi corn) or fruits. Due to lack of access to the potable water in the community, the families boil the water and drink tea or milk tea every day.
In the afternoon, soups made with potatoes, rice, meats and some vegetables were most commonly prepared by the families. This is one of Andres’s favorite dishes served at his house. He explains: “this is a soup made of potatoes, rice meat, and vegetables. The potatoes are from our land. Also, the meat is from the sheep that we raise.”
Veronica helps her mother every day to prepare food for her family. In Cuncani it is very common for the girls to help their parents by cooking on a daily basis. “This is potatoes and fried pasta. I made this at home. It is easy to make but it tastes good.”
Potatoes are eaten the most as it is the predominant crops that community grows in their field (other vegetables, rice, and fruits are purchased from the market next town). Livestock is also very common in Cuncani. According to the children, although they like all type of meats, they prefer the Guinea pig the most (families also raise pigs, chicken, alpaca, llama, and sheep). Guinea pigs are reserved for special occasions such as birthday, wedding, or celebration.
In general, the photos taken by students demonstrate that potatoes and rice are the daily staples. A variety of vegetables is limited and less frequently on the dining table.
Children not only took photos of their food, they also captured scenery, friends, and animals in the community.
This is a photo of Francis with his father. He says, “I am helping my father cultivating the land. We are doing this to help grow potatoes. My little sister took the photo for me.” Every house in the community cultivates their land during October to November and harvest potatoes in the next season.
Throughout the process of Photovoice (see the previous article «[Work in Progress] Adjusting project design«), children have been excited about taking photos as well as creating their own food journals. As a facilitator, I would say it was not an easy methodology to adopt. It requires much time, resources, planning and commitment to carry out the project working hand in hand with the children. The plan needed some adjustments in its process. Two of our four cameras stopped working. Some of the children were so excited to use the cameras but forgot to take the pictures of their food on a regular basis, or even lost the photos they had taken. Also, the remoteness of the community and lack of access to communication tools (no internet or phone service) made it possible to coordinate with the class only once a week.
Despite these challenges, the accomplishment of the food journals, purely made by the hands of children, is significant for us as it reflects working with our values of freedom and reciprocity. Nexos Comunitarios values participation and horizontal relationship with the community as an indispensable element to promote responsible human development. We are not there to act as a mere researcher or helper for the community. We are there to promote development together with the community members every step of the way.
This is just a first step of our application of the Photovoice methodology. We now see a greater possibility for Nexos Comunitarios to further use this methodology in order to learn more about the community while empowering the children at the same time.