In San Diego, The AjA Project runs Journey, an after-school program that utilizes participatory photography methods to address the behavioral health, linguistic ability and social capacity of middle and high school refugee youth. Each year the program serves approximately 100 youth from over 27 countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Central America and East Africa.
Journey empowers youth to
• Reflect and Share Experiences of War, Migration and Resettlement
• Build Cultural Identity
• Develop Leadership and Communication Skills
• Educate and Engage with the Community
Students in Journey participate in three years of sequential, thematic programming, Journey I, Journey II, and Journey III. During Journey I, students learn black and white film photography skills and use the medium to reflect upon their migration experiences with regards to the themes Old Home, Leaving, and Arriving. Journey II students transition into using digital photography and explore how traditions, family elders, peers and pop-culture influence their multi-cultural identities through the themes My Community and Inter-Generations. Journey III introduces students to SLR film photography as they develop in-depth photo essays on a social issue of their choice.
In addition to photography fundamentals and themes directed at positive identity development, Journey’s curriculum contains the following components:
1. Behavioral Health Activities: small and large-group discussions, reflective writing assignments, editing and photo-elicitation techniques.
2. English Language Acquisition: language acquisition teaching methods are embedded to help students feel more confident with their language skills and social interactions.
3. Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS): VTS uses art to teach critical thinking, communication and visual literacy skills.
The program culminates with community exhibitions, which bring the creative expression of AjA students into the public, using their narratives and photographs as tools for fostering mutual understanding and cross-cultural dialogue.
From 2006 to 2008, The AjA Project underwent a two-year qualitative and quantitative Journey program evaluation to examine the immediate effects of Journey on participants. The evaluation indicated that Journey has positively affected AjA students’ success in the following ways:
• Increased participation in school as evidenced by teachers
• 80 percent of the students who advance to AjA’s intensive leadership program go on to pursue a college education
• Increased the ability among 50 percent of youth to engage in civic dialogue and believe in themselves to be capable of affecting change
Recognizing the informative value of the two-year evaluation, AjA incorporated five, small-scale evaluation tools into the Journey curriculum to monitor the students’ progress in the following areas: photographic technique, English language acquisition, behavioral health, self-efficacy and emotional well-being, and ethnic identity. Journey students complete 19 evaluations, in the form of worksheets, activities and slideshow surveys.