A young woman stands alone on a train platform.

With love, Manuela

Back in 2017, Manuela joined the Canon Young People Programme (YPP) and was one of 14 youngsters who received training in photography and the art of visual storytelling from the internationally renowned photographer, Bieke de Poorter and Canon Ambassador Mashid Mohadjerin. Together, they worked with Plan International Belgium and used their new skills to raise awareness of a problem in their local community.

Manuela and her contemporaries chose to use their images to raise concerns about girls’ safety in the city, and capture and share the experiences of sexual harassment women face every day. What she and her fellow participants went on to achieve was exceptional. Today, for United Nations International Youth Day, she writes to future YPP participants and shares two important and powerful messages.

A group of eleven smiling young people, wearing jeans and sweaters, sit at a skate park, posing for the camera.
Manuela and her fellow YPP participants used photography to highlight the problems faced by women and girls in their city.
A young woman and two young men look at the display on the back of a Canon camera. © Plan International | Greetje Van Buggenhout
Since completing the Canon Young People Programme, Manuela has taken part in the 2018 Girls Summit and spent time teaching young leaders from Ecuador how to use a camera. © Plan International | Greetje Van Buggenhout

Dear reader,

Before I begin my story, I would like to share the following quote:

“Difficult doesn’t mean impossible.”

My name is Manuela. I was a participant of the BruxELLES project, a collaboration between Plan International Belgium and Canon to fight against sexual intimidation in public places. Thanks to these two organisations, I have had the privilege of experiencing some magical moments that I could never have imagined!

The most amazing thing is that our voices were heard in the Brussels Parliament! We were able to achieve the goal we wanted so badly – having politicians make the promise to end sexual intimidation in public places in Brussels. I recommend you visit the website of Plan International Belgium and read the things we have been able to achieve with this project. By participating in this project, I too have had the chance to discover who Plan International is. It’s an NGO that fights for children’s rights and girl’s rights. It strives to create a world with more gender equality for all and is a great group of people who wants everyone’s voices to be heard.

If I had to describe my experience in one word, I would choose the word ‘UNIQUE’. Family, friends and teachers told me that photography couldn’t ever become my job and I started to believe that my love for photography could only be a hobby. This project gave the opportunity to follow my dream and passion for photography. I was motivated over and over again to believe in my abilities and skills. And they didn’t believe only in me but also in my co-participants in the project.

And what did Canon teach me? I learned about techniques to make beautiful pictures that translate my thoughts and beliefs about the world. My goal and greatest dream are to be able to work with Canon in the future and/or attend events to take wonderful pictures. For me, photography is a way to express myself – to show others how I feel, but especially, to get a message across.

I hope that with this letter I motivate you to join projects like the BruxELLES project and experience what I experienced.

Never forget: “Don’t dream your life. Live your dreams.”

With love, Manuela

A young woman stands on a train platform as two young men approach her. A train speeds past.
The teenagers chose the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality as their inspiration.
A young woman in a brown leather jacket, carrying a shopping bag, walks down a dark street at night. A short distance behind her, she is followed by a man, whose features are obscured by the dark.
Images like these were pivotal in driving change and raising awareness of the issued faced by women and girls in the city.

Written by Manuela

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