Ever since she was a teenager, Anita Verna Crofts, Associate Director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media (MCDM) program, has been a lover of photography. “I found that it always complemented anything I would write, so the camera was a way for me to curate, in a visual way, stories I encountered as I walk through the world,” she said. Beginning March 13, Crofts will be sharing her passion and lessons on photographic storytelling with humanitarian leaders in Khartoum, Sudan.
For three days, she will be presenting training on behalf of GOAL, an international humanitarian agency that, according to the group’s website, is “dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the poorest of the poor.” With about two dozen provincial GOAL program managers as her students, Crofts will be heading up a digital photography boot camp, paired with lessons on how photographs can be powerful vehicles for storytelling. GOAL’s leaders intend to use the skills they learn as effective communication tools that will help them share the organization’s successes in the Sudanese field with their donor base.
GOAL, a nonprofit based in Dublin, Ireland, has country offices all around the world. They have been operating in Sudan since the mid 1980’s. GOAL funds projects that address primary healthcare and nutrition; water and sanitation; livelihoods and literacy for conflict-affected people, and those living in poverty. This will be the first time Crofts has worked with the organization, but it will be her seventh visit to Sudan.
“I will be working heavily off the trainings that I conducted in ’08, ’09, ’10, and packaging them specifically for Sudan.” In 2008, a partnership bloomed between the Sudanese Ministry of Health and the UW Department of Global Health that brought Crofts to the country. While there, she conducted leadership and management and policy trainings for managers at the Ministry of Health, further solidifying that partnership.
“In my original visits I wasn’t able to conduct digital storytelling workshops using Sudanese photographs, so one of my goals is going to Sudan with a training curriculum that relies heavily on visual artifacts from Sudan,” she said. “I now have a rich collection of photographs from Sudan and it’s important to me as a trainer, when I go into these environments, to try to inspire people by using imagery that they recognize.”
When she arrives, Crofts’ students will have already completed a photography assignment, and will be ready for peer reviews. Composition of a photograph along with understanding what makes a compelling story are lessons that will be presented, “but at the end of the day they need to be able to tell not only the story of GOAL, but the story of their particular outpost,” said Crofts. “It’s an opportunity to rekindle a sense of belonging, investment and ownership in the overarching mission of GOAL as part of the training.”
Ethics will also be a key lesson during the training. It is commonplace for GOAL’s leaders to be helping people who have been affected by traumatic events. Knowing where the line is in terms of appropriateness of photography is something that has to be learned and respected. “There have been very spirited conversations over the years around what is considered an invasion of somebody’s autonomy and their privacy in what can be very compromising positions,” said Crofts. “How can GOAL think about the ethics of this documenting and be true to the reality but, at the same time, not cross the line in terms of an individual’s dignity?”
Crofts says she is happy to be able to share her passions with GOAL humanitarians in a way that not only will ultimately help the people of Sudan, but further strengthen the relationship between the UW and Sudan. “It’s rewarding to be part of a network of globally-minded professionals who continue to work together on projects where our unique areas of expertise complement each other.”
On her return to Sudan, she will be meeting with many old friends from her prior visits and from her time here on campus, one of whom being Vicki Aken, the Sudan Country Director at GOAL who is also a graduate of the UW Evans School of Public Affairs. “The level of camaraderie over the course of the six visits I made before and the incredible hospitality is something that is unparalleled,” she recalls. “I’ve never experienced the kind of welcome I got in Sudan; the opening of homes, the sharing of meals. The chance to actually step off a plane and be back on Sudanese soil – I’m just looking forward to it.”
-By Amanda Weber