When graduate student Heather Bradley started a program in El Salvador that helped orphan children take photographs, she never imagined the United Nations would exhibit the children’s work.
Bradley, who got her undergraduate degree last May with a major in Latin American studies and women’s studies, first traveled to San Salvador two years ago with a United States Agency for International Development internship in San Salvador.
While working there, she created a unique program in her spare time – called La Union – where she taught photography to children whose parents had emigrated to the U.S.
At the end of her stay in San Salvador, she compiled a book of the photos called “Voces Ey Vistas,” or “Voices and Views.” The U.N. is going to be exhibiting the photos throughout El Salvador this October.
“It started when I was working with immigrants in the D.C. metropolitan area, and they were telling me stories of how they immigrated to the U.S. and had to leave their children behind,” she said.
Bradley got heavily involved with working with immigrants after taking a women’s studies course that required a lot of fieldwork.
“Parents and grandparents were telling me how they haven’t seen their children and grandchildren in seven years or more,” she said. “The USAID internship idea hit me in the middle of the dark, and I found myself working in El Salvador.”
So while interning in San Salvador, she created La Union to highlight the cause of these pseudo-orphans in the rural regions.
“I would work during the week and travel the countryside on the weekends,” she said, explaining how she was able to administer photography classes for the children on her own time, who were between the ages of eight and 13.
“We would give the children their own cameras to take home ,and they would take so many different pictures about what their life was like and how they were living,” Bradley said.
Bradley then compiled the pictures and captions into her book.
“In the end, we had over 300 pictures. Initially, I wanted to turn it into a popular education book, a sort of guide to distribute around the villages where people were experiencing this kind of immigration, to show how it would affect the children and what they felt,” she said.
Bradley turned the book into a 50-page description of the children and their thoughts about living without their families in San Salvador. She then sent the work to the U.N. to be reviewed and considered for publishing.
“The U.N. works on and comes out with a human development report every two years, and this year they were due for another one,” she said. “So my work just fit what they were doing, and I decided to send them the document and they accepted it.”
The UN will be displaying the pictures in a mobile exhibit that will travel many parts of El Salvador during the week of Oct. 11. It will then distribute copies to nearby villages and towns to spread awareness.
“The project itself is pretty intense, and lots of high profile people, like many politicians, are showing their support,” she said. “Hopefully, I will be able to bring copies to display here in D.C. and the metropolitan area.”
Back in D.C., Bradley is continuing to try to help the immigrants that first inspired her. She is currently working with Centro Nia, a center that aids Central American immigrants and children, where she helps conduct workshops for El Salvador.