The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone is born innately with dignity and equal rights, as well as the equal right for any opportunity no matter the individual's ethnicity, gender, sexuality, origin,or financial and economic status. These are words that pulse at the core of Jenifer White's organizational initiative, Project 1948, beginning in December 2013 in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In May, Mel Hattie traveled with Photographers Without Borders Founder Danielle Da Silva and videographer Jeffrey Garriock to Sarajevo to capture the efforts of White's most recent venture, Photo-Voice. Conceptually similar to PWB's philosophy on the healing nature of art and expression, the Photo-Voice project assigns young participants a specific theme or style to capture as a visual representation of a challenge they see that exists in their community. Once the assignments are finished, a dialogue is opened between the participants and the project runners on the topic of what can be done to change this aspect of their society in a peaceful and communicative manner.
Hattie was welcomed by the organization's leaders and Sarajevo's instant inherency toward connection and transparency. This attitude of generosity in discussion and interaction remained pervasive throughout her trip, between the moments of sharing dreams and hopes with Photo-Voice's participants and strangers she ran into during her travels. “People were always willing to stop and have a coffee with you," Hattie said. "It's the Bosnian way.”
Hattie says her most profound experiences was marching in Sarajevo's first unofficial pride parade. There, she met many of the LGBTQ community and heard of their struggles to simply exist as themselves in their country. Members of the LGBTQ community are not protected from hate speech under law. Public displays of affection, such as holding hands, are often met with harassment and horrific slurs. Hattie says she felt a desire to stand by the sides of those both in Sarajevo and all over the world who receive abuse due to their sexuality or gender identification. “Just learning how bad their situation was there and talking to members of the community made me realize how lucky we are in Canada," she said. "We're not perfect, but we're pretty good. It made me really want to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Sarajevo and to let them know they're not alone. Especially with the recent shooting in Orlando, it really puts into perspective the importance for governments to come out and support LGBTQ communities.”
As a trained journalist, Hattie approached the documentation of her trip in the style of a storyteller, relaying facts and measuring the essence of the Bosnian people with honest and open understanding of what the beauty and pain of living in their country means to them. She also discussed with them and the Photo-Voice participants what they wanted to change about their community. Hattie emphasizes that the size of their ambitions were as substantial and earnest as their capacity for kindness. “I hope Sarajevo someday deepens the relationships I started with people I met there. A lot of the participants with Project 1948's Photo-Voice project were young adults close to my age. They had amazing dreams, perspectives, and insights about their country. Thank goodness for them because they taught me so much.”