Last fall, when I took a trip to India, visited with SANGRAM in Sangli district and shot a lot of video, I got to see the beginnings of a video project that was giving people in the community the skills to produce their own films. The Community Video Unit (CVU) is a project run by Video Volunteers over the course of eighteen months, and 10 people in Sangli were just starting to learn how to operate a camera, see a good shot, and edit their own footage.
SANGRAM is a nationally and internationally rights-based organization in India’s Maharashtra State working towards halting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in India through assisting sex workers, rural women and girls, and other marginalized groups to mobilize and secure their rights and access to health services. They do this not only through advocacy at the local, national and international levels, but by empowering local communities to make change for themselves. One of the ways they are making this change is by documenting the experiences of people in their communities.
The above video, “The Reason I Left School,” is the group’s first effort. The video focuses on the struggles of the children of sex workers in Sangli to get an education and stay in school when faced with ridicule and discrimination. It’s especially interesting to hear the perspectives of adult children of sex workers as they talk about their experiences and how their thoughts on school, and their mothers, have changed as they have become adults. The plight of the children of sex workers in India has gotten plenty of attention over the years, but there are frequently overtones of moral judgment in the pieces. It’s refreshing to hear directly from the children themselves, in a piece of media that is self-produced. Seeing the difficult challenges they have faced through their eyes is important in and of itself, and essential to gaining a better understanding of the economic and social circumstances their communities face.