The Lens Project Exhibit Opens on Campus

The Green School of International and Public Affairs and Kimberly Green Center Latin American and Caribbean Center will be showcasing the hardships of heroin addicts in the Dominican Republic through photos.

The Lens Project, spearheaded by Mark Padilla and Armando Matiz Reyes, was a two-year long project that placed cameras in the hands of addicts and taught them to be social analysts in an effort to educate and inform the community and policy makers about addiction.

Padilla, a global and sociocultural studies associate professor, said the project began after a group of the community approached researchers in Santo Domingo requesting help to be heard.

“We were doing research on HIV and drug abuse in the Dominican Republic on a larger project, and we met a small group of heroin users in this neighborhood that we visited as a part of our research,” Padilla said. “They began to tell us their stories and how they felt essentially abandoned by society. They said ‘We are ready to tell our stories, and we don’t want to be invisible anymore.’”

Padilla said that the participants were, at the time, homeless and current drug users, and also lived in horrific conditions, but the fact that they suggested and were dedicated to the project made it easier to complete.

He and and Matiz Reyes began to brainstorm ways to adapt the photovoice methodology to the group.

“The point is to basically allow the photographs to speak for themselves, so the visuals can say something the participants can’t say because they don’t have access to the policymakers or the audience they are trying to reach,” Matiz Reyes said. “Photovoice is a great methodology for those that do not have any kind of education yet still want to make some changes.”

Padilla said the participants learned social analysis and photography skills, to allow the photos to spark discussion and debate about the surroundings of the participants.

The FIU exhibit of these photos, which opens Thursday, Sept. 22 at 5 p.m., is part of efforts by Padilla and Matiz Reyes to show the correlation between heroin addiction and pandemics in the Dominican Republic and the U.S.

“What we’ve been doing recently is talking to teachers to sort of talk about the U.S. based heroin epidemic and show that it’s all connected. The Dominican Republic is not isolated from the U.S. and a lot of the heroin that enters through the U.S. enters through the Dominican Republic,” Padilla said.

The duo hopes to hold workshops and further exhibits to help educate the community to help bring about changes in drug policy and health access.

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