The International Rescue Committee’s Vision not Victim Project is a creative initiative that empowers adolescent girls to design visions for their future, use their visions to challenge social norms, and build skills they need to make strategic life choices towards their aspirations.
Yvette, Age 13, Future Photographer
“I was born into a small family in South Kivu, raised by my mother and grandmother while my father was working in a different part of the country. I am smart and inquisitive, and I want nothing more than to travel and explore. I hope to be a photographer. In this picture, I am photographing a model for a fashion campaign. I love showing people their image – I love taking pictures of my friends and family and giving them a glimpse of how they appear, how others see them, how beautiful they may be.”
Here Yvette’s mother reacts to seeing her daughter’s vision captured in a photograph. What followed were conversations about what it would take to support her daughter to achieve her dreams. The girls were each given copies of their photographs to share with family, friends, and their community, which challenged perceived norms about the potential, vision, and power of adolescent girls.
Rosine, Age 13, Future Surgeon
“I am calm. I don’t like lying. I am generous towards others and don’t like being provoked or teased. I am proud. In the future I want to be a doctor. A while ago, there was a woman in my neighborhood that had to have a C-section. I wanted to be able to help her and other women like her. That was when I decided I was going to become a surgeon.”
Joviale, Age 16, Future Architect
“I am intelligent, cool, courageous, and I am driven. “In the future I want to be an architect. I am passionate about constructing new things and introducing new design. I want to build and I want the opportunity to construct all types of buildings. In this photograph I am already a popular woman known across the continent for having designed amazing monuments and buildings. Here I am explaining my plan to a construction worker. I research, I innovate with my work, and I am dedicated to being the best in my field.”
Alliance, Age 16, Future Professor of Architecture
“I am happy, motivated, and courageous – and if I have something, I share with all those around me. In the future, I want to be a university professor of architecture. This woman in the photo is an internationally renowned professor teaching an architecture course. When she was little she wanted to help others, but didn’t know how. Now she touches the world with her designs and through her students. She is creating a future world. When she was younger, this woman had to face many medical problems herself and later had to cope with the death of her dear mother. With great strength she persevered and is now a model for others.”
Sifa, Age 15, Future Journalist
“I love to travel and discover new things. And I write; I want to become a great writer. I love writing novels and historical books. Right now, I’m in the process of writing a novel based on my life. It is about the difficulties I faced being the youngest and one of the smallest in my class and how I adapted. In the future, I want to be a celebrated journalist and writer, coverings stories about the Congo for international news outlets. This would allow me to develop and shape my country and present my own thoughts and views to the world. Everyday I will get to share news, facts, information with the people I meet and will get to share the stories of those people I meet with the world. I want to change the issues we talk about.”
Ziraje, Age 15, Future Musician
“In the future, I want to be a famous guitarist, known across the world – a real superstar. I am intelligent, ambitious, I fight for liberty and I defend development. I am kind toward the world and give back to people through my music, which gives me great joy. I have begun to think about how I can use my fame and fortune to lead younger people. “
Charmante, Age 12, Future Teacher
“In my image, I see a woman who is teaching students – someone who shows great love towards her students and is concerned with each individual pupil. It is me, and when I see students that are afraid I approach them – this student here, I am patiently teaching how to write. I worry that students won’t progress through school. Many of them start but few continue onto secondary school. I want to help and encourage children to succeed.”
Asifiwe, Age 11, Future Gynecologist
“I am passionate about helping mothers and children – it brings me joy. In this image I am helping a pregnant woman who has a problem with her stomach. I’m trying to diagnose what is making her suffer. Here, in the future, I am married and have children. Every day I work hard at the hospital and every evening I come home to my family – even my mother who lives with us. My life has been difficult. Struggling when I was younger without my father, I had to make a lot of sacrifices to support my studies. But now I have found relief and joy.”
Jeanine, Age 16, Future Minister of Defense and Human Rights
“I want to work for my country and I want to help people realize their rights. My goal is to become Minister of Defense and Human Rights and lead the country in easing the pain of its citizens. Here I am in a meeting I have convened in my role as Minister of Defense and Human Rights with the entire Cabinet. I am explaining a budget and a plan I have drafted to help victims of violence. I am well known as a leader that works tirelessly for the country – to create a nation that is peaceful and developed. This woman in the image – me, she has already helped many people and she is the hope of the Congo.”
The Vision Not Victim Project worked with groups of adolescent girls in eastern Congo, eliciting their own ideas about what they each wanted to achieve with their lives through group discussions, mentorships, and creative activities. The girls drew images that encapsulated their ambition. These photographs are based on those images, with each girl describing and posing as her future self, achieving her goal. The images provide a visual reminder that progress in the DRC is dependent on investing in the growth of leaders, like the remarkable young women profiled in this project, who have ideas and can create change.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
For many of us, it’s the first question we remember hearing. Yet in many parts of the world, girls reach adulthood without ever being asked about their wants and aspirations. During adolescence, as boys’ worlds start to expand, the sphere of girls’ starts to shrink. Discriminatory social policies de-prioritize the education of daughters; young girls face the risks of early marriage, and their expected position in households and communities forces them to labor long hours, often the last to have access to healthcare and in some communities, the last to have access to food. These barriers prevent girls from accessing their basic human rights, prevent their voice from being heard, and limit the sphere of possibility for their future.
The Vision Not Victim Project (VNVP)
Engaging adolescent girls is critical – not only to reduce their exposure to harm, but to expand the vital role they can play in actively shaping their own lives and their communities. The Vision Not Victim Project is a unique programming component that uses media, as part of IRC’s integrated programming package, to spark transformative change within adolescent girls and their communities.
In early 2013, the Vision Not Victim Project began in eastern Congo. We invited groups of girls to come together, to explore their possibilities and cultivate essential skills through creative activities and discussions. With the help of mentors, each girl developed a vision for herself and a strategic plan for achieving her ambitions. She then designed and directed a photo shoot, posing as her future self, having achieved her goal. We later shared the photographs with members of the local community. This spurred discussions about how parents and leaders can support the realization of these visions, and create safe and supportive environments that allow girls to pursue their potential.
Building on the learning and positive impacts from this pilot, the IRC is scaling up to new countries to reach more girls and their communities through this girl-driven process. Vision Not Victim is most effective and impactful where IRC has established relationships and programming, which enables continued support to the girls and their communities after the conclusion of this project. As IRC continues to work with girls in various contexts and countries, the guidance for this project will be finalized and shared widely as an adaptable project that can be implemented in full, or customized as necessary.
- Self-awareness and Building Life Skills
- Mentorships with Women Leaders and Professionals
- Visioning, Imagining, Possibility
- Future Planning and Strategic Life Choices
- Creative Media as Social Change Tools
- Communication, Leadership, Becoming Mentors for other Girls
- Engaging Parents
- Social Change with Communities: Building Skills & Options for Safer, Supportive Environments
- Local, National, and International Advocacy with Girls and Communities
This project is not about telling people why girls’ rights are important; it is about using images created by girls and creating space for their voices that allows them to show how they are capable, talented, and can be equally valued members of societies. This project is a catalyst, giving communities a glimpse of a possible transformative future that arrives only by investing in girls. Through this project, adolescent girls are redefining what their community and they themselves thought possible.