Valentina Baú
Publication Date
May 16, 2017

University of New South Wales

"This study shows how the collaborative forms of art and media used by the programme are avenues for the inclusion of adolescents in the post-emergency response, as they offer them a channel to both communicate with one another and to express their views and feelings."

Within a framework of communication for development (C4D) in peacebuilding, this article explores the use of art forms such as puppetry and photography as communication channels among youth affected by conflict and displacement in the Philippines. The study presented here evaluates the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Art for Development programme, which was carried out with adolescents living in transitory sites in the city of Zamboanga in 2015. Rather than focusing on the therapeutic effect of the activities, this investigation looks at their ability to provide adolescents living in the context of community-based conflict - such as that of a displaced people's camp - with a safe space to participate and collaborate in art and media production to express themselves and communicate with one another. Conclusions are drawn on the efficacy of the activities in enabling and enhancing a creative collaboration process between youth from different backgrounds, and in allowing participants to share their views on the issues and conflicts affecting their communities.

Valentina Baú explains that, in conflict-affected Mindanao, the situation for youth is particularly critical because of the recurring, unpredictable, and highly localised violence. Zamboanga, the main urban centre in western Mindanao, is a city that has experienced infrequent but unanticipated violent attacks from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). They perpetrated the September 9 2013 Zamboanga Siege, which left 10,000 houses burned and rendered more than 100,000 residents homeless. Displaced people living in the camps that were set up are a very diverse group; in Masepla transitory site, where this research has taken place, the discrimination stemming from preconceived biases between the Tausugs, Badjaos, Chavacano, Yakan, and Sama tribes is especially evident amongst the youth. UNICEF has therefore identified them as a priority group to participate in activities that offer them a safe space and the means to understand one another, which are important components of peace.

Designed and facilitated by the Centre for Culture and the Arts' team of Ateneo of Zamboanga University in 2015/2016, the Art for Development programme focused specifically on Pillar 1 and Pillar 3 of the Adolescent Development and Participation (ADAP) approach developed by UNICEF, based, respectively, on creating "safe spaces" and facilitating "youth participation and networks". One of the aims was to work towards the creation of more lasting connections, understanding, and friendships amongst the youth of Masepla transitory site. Beneficiaries included at-risk youth, with specific focus on out-of-school adolescents between the age of 12 and 17, who took part in three 5-day workshops: participatory photography was repeated in two batches with 30 participants per batch; puppetry had one batch with 25 participants. The workshops were led by practicing artists specialised in each field, with the assistance of local facilitators. The art component of the programme consisted of a series of activities that allowed participants to work in small groups towards the creation of their output. With photography, kids were divided in groups of three and encouraged to take photos that represented (i) their dreams for the future and (ii) everyday life in the community of Masepla. With puppetry, the groups consisted of five people who worked individually (at first) in creating their own puppet, and together in developing a story and script for their short performance. Groups were provided with a story template that enabled them to identify characters, plot and final solution. The stories chosen focused on issues related to water management, sanitation, health, and education.

A SUGPAT module was integrated into each workshop. SUGPAT is a local term that carries the general meaning of "connecting", "joining", and "merging". The module was divided in three sections containing a series of programme activities, which were interwoven with the art and media activities and offered a space for discussion within the wider group in each workshop. The activities focused on the following themes:

  • Section 1. Towards an Understanding of Diversity | Developing cultural knowledge and awareness, and defining diversity
  • Section 2. Dismantling Biases and Discrimination | Reflections on diversity-related issues such as inclusion, cultural appreciation, prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping
  • Section 3. Creating a Sense of Community across Cultures | Developing and expanding knowledge, sensitivity, and respect for cultural diversity

Research was conducted as a follow-up activity at the end of both participatory photography and puppetry modules. This involved 15 semi-structured interviews with programme participants. The foundations of the data analysis lie on two elements: the first is the strengths-based model proposed by Cahill et al. (2010), which defines a set of protective factors for adolescents that should be addressed by organisations in their programming efforts; the second is UNICEF' ADAP approach. Participants' interviews were initially coded under the broad themes of social connection and self-efficacy. Once the evidence for these key protective factors was isolated, a subsequent coding process of these selections brought to the surface specific programme outcomes related to C4D in Peacebuilding and linked to creativity and participation, cooperation and exchange (see Table 1 on page 954 for an explanation of these terms.).

Selected findings:

  • From almost all of the interviews, Baú gleaned that one of the most convincing elements of the programme was providing the adolescent participants with the opportunity to learn new skills, both in reference to photography and puppet making. Quotations from the interviewees demonstrate that the participatory approach adopted in the activities strengthened participants' involvement with the media and their sense of ownership. Particularly for the photography batch, participants welcomed the autonomy that was offered to them in choosing what to capture and in deciding the subject of their images. This shows the importance that is placed on creativity and on the freedom of producing one's own content.
  • Participants expressed their happiness towards the experience of working together in groups. New friendships were formed, which transposed into life outside the workshops and after the programme. The opportunity to support one another regardless of the ethnolinguistic background and to create something together was also emphasised.
  • Participants engaged with the art and media outputs as a form of meaningful exchange. They were able to express their thoughts, something they felt, or a personal experience about their community in the camp through these channels. Similarly, looking at other people's photographs and puppets' stories created a sense of connection. The interviewees emphasised the power of each medium even as a means of communication that had given them the chance to be heard.

"From the interview analysis, it emerges with clarity that UNICEF Art for Development programme has been effective at reinforcing the commonalities, rather than the differences, of adolescents living in Masepla transitory site, developing a sense of social connection....By reflecting on the challenges faced in the realities of emergencies and displacement, innovative approaches that recognise adolescents as a specific target group and promote their participation through activities that are tailored to their needs can be helpful in designing a more effective response."


Journal of International Development 29, 948–960 (2017) - sent via email from Valentina Baú to The Communication Initiative on November 7 2017. Image credit: ©Ateneo Center for Culture and the Arts/2016/A.M. Abdusali