Chat Chay taking pictures at Al-kout
Chat Chay taking pictures at Al-kout

Project 189 is an organization that aims to protect and improve the rights of domestic workers in the Middle East, founded in Kuwait by Ekaterina Porras and Lamma Ghannam. “Our vision is for all domestic workers to be equal and free from all forms of exploitation, discrimination and abuse, and that all states recognize in law and practice domestic work under international labor and human rights laws. Our mission is to strengthen labor and human rights laws in the Middle East through advocacy, awareness, empowerment and the promotion of Convention 189,” said Ekaterina, referring to the International Labor Organization’s convention concerning decent work for domestic workers.

As part of their work to empower domestic workers, Project 189 launched a photography workshop to help domestic workers in Kuwait learn new skills. Project 189 was inspired by the story of Xyza Cruz Bacani, a Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong who has now became an ambassador for Fujifilm, and received special merit at the 2015 human rights press awards, along with a fellowship from the Magnum Foundation for human rights. Her eye-opening documentary on the brutality faced by domestic workers was discussed by media all around the world.

Project 189 believes in the importance of photography and how it can change the life of an individual. “The photography workshop gave domestic workers a feeling of hope, they were able to do something new outside from their everyday jobs and learn a new skill. They told us they were happy to be able to prove to themselves that they are capable of learning and implementing a new skill.

The workshop provided them a platform to learn photography. We hope that all participants will be excited to take pictures and be able to speak through their pictures. We also hope that they will be able to, through this workshop and project, to find interest in photography as a form of art that is accessible and which allows them to express themselves,” said Lamma. Lamma said they started off with 11 domestic workers who signed up for the course.

Their employers were completely supportive over their participation in the project and were very excited for them. Some workers also signed up on their own. After the first workshop, around seven more people wanted to sign up for the second workshop. The tutors were from FQ8, a group of motivated and well-experienced photographers who have taken a pledge to foster interest in photography in the society and provide a common platform to launch newbies into the world of advanced areas of photography under the leadership of internationally renowned experts.

The group considers this workshop a chance to give back to the community. They started the workshop by discussing the theoretical topics of photography. Then, they moved to the technical part. After that, all participants were provided with digital cameras which they took with them at the end of the workshop. They practiced their first shots during the workshop and were given additional weeks to apply the learned lessons.

Lamma also spoke about the obstacles they encounter. “We faced two challenges. Although we had positive support from the employers of the domestic workers to participate in the workshop, it has been a challenge to gather the total numbers that we need to complete the project. This may be due to various reasons, because this is the first-of-its-kind project here in Kuwait, or because information about it has not reached wide enough within the society. The second challenge was that most domestic workers, despite the law that stipulates one day off a week, only have a day or two off in a month. This limits our ability to reach out to them and it does not give them enough time to be able to enroll in the workshop and have time to take pictures,” she explained.

Ekaterina said both the domestic workers and their employers will be acknowledged. The workers will have to be take photographs of the surroundings outside their employers’ houses on their days off. The best photographs will be collected in a publication with briefs of those who participated, in addition to an exhibition where their photographic works will go on sale. Last week, Kuwait Times met Chat Chay, 31-year-old woman from the Philippines. She has been a domestic worker in Kuwait for almost five years and a mother of two.

Chay agreed to take us with her on her “free day” to practice her newfound photography skills. “My employers earlier allowed me to study at the ICSA training centre and I’m now certified in computer, secretarial and office management. I found out about this workshop through Facebook, and decided to join although I wasn’t sure what it was about,” she said. She met Ekaterina who explained to her the objectives of the workshop. Chay didn’t have any experience in photography or had ever purchased a camera before. “I don’t have any other hobby besides working in the house. Photography will add color to my life,” she enthused.

By Athoob Al-Shuaibi