“When people see the headscarf,” Zahra Aziz explains, “they are thinking, ‘what’s a conservative Muslim girl doing with sex and family planning? I’m out there to break that mold.”
This week at the International Conference on Family Planning in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, Zahra is breaking the mold by standing inside of a large white booth with a high-tech digital camera. As a consultant working for FPVoices, she’s greeting person after person, excitedly explaining that they can pose next to one of the four large wall prompts. The prompts, shaped like conversation bubbles, ask questions leading to why people are involved in family planning. Zahra snaps a picture of the posing participants and then prints two copies. Below their picture, the participants handwrite their personal response. One copy goes on the wall of the booth and the participants keep the other.
Zahra is one of about half of a dozen young people helping others tell their stories. “My parents have no idea what I do,” she explained. “We always talk about the clients. Now it’s time for the activists to tell their stories.”
In the thirty minutes I spent with members of the team, dozens of people came forward to pose and share their story. “It’s an interactive space for people to come and really get excited about family planning voices,” says Jeremy Tsai, the young designer of this booth. “There is a huge appeal for young people,” Jeremy explains, “because there is a social media component.” Several iPads line the outside of the booth so participants can instantly post their pictures to Facebook or Twitter. “They love it,” he says as two young Indonesians hover over one of the IPads.
“It’s not all young people,” O’Mara Taylor clarifies. “Here I learned that older people love Facebook as much as younger people. This is a way for all ages to come together.” O’Mara is a Luce Scholar working with the Indonesian Planned Parenthood, PKBI. Every year, 15-18 US Americans under the age of 30 travel to Asia as Luce Scholars. But O’Mara’s work at the Conference isn’t part of her fellowship. “When I found out the ICFP was here, I went through my network to find a way to volunteer. And here I am taking pictures.”
This booth is part of the larger initiative called FPVoices. FPVoices is a year-long project inspired by the hugely popular photography project, Humans of New York. Zahara, who previously worked as Director of Communications for FPVoices, explains that it’s a story bank. “Storytelling can be so powerful in affecting change. We can’t reduce the activists to numbers.” The International Conference on Family Planning reminds me that while we are powerful in numbers, behind every number is an individual with a deep, personal commitment to change.
While I was posting my picture next to hundreds of others, a young man from Pakistan looked over my shoulder. “We’ll end child marriage,” he responded to my photo story. “We’re a new generation.”
Thanks to Zahra, Jeremy, O’Mara and their colleagues for giving this new generation a space to raise its voice. With such passionate and dedicated people working on these issues, there’s no doubt we can reach a world where access to family planning becomes a reality for everyone.
To join the movement and share your story, visit the FPVoices Tumblr page.