7. Graduation Day

Day: Thursday, December 11, 2014


All the hard work we and the vendors have done over the past two months comes to a conclusion today. We had planned for our mentors to go over PhotoVoice with the vendors and then have a final debrief with everyone to see how they thought the project went. We also had a few surprises in store for the vendors, and some other people we worked with.

Cast of Characters

  • Xolani– Big Issue Vendor Mentor
  • Fikiswa– Big Issue Vendor Mentor
  • Lavista– Big Issue Vendor Mentor
  • Themba– Big Issue Vendor Mentor
  • Nosiphiwo– Big Issue Vendors
  • Zuliwe– Big Issue Vendors
  • Zukiswa– Big Issue Vendors
  • Nolusapho– Big Issue Vendors
  • No-Senior– Big Issue Vendors
  • Leslie– Big Issue Vendors
  • Jakoef– Big Issue Vendors
  • Nicky– Big Issue Social Worker
  • Trudy– Our liaison, Managing Director of The Big Issue South Africa
  • Chelsea– American co-researcher with background in street papers, film, and production


Big Issue South Africa offices conference room


Today was an emotional day for all. We began the day early by trying to put the finishing touches on the surprises we had planned for the vendors, which was a great way to keep our minds off having to say goodbye later. As the vendors started trickling in, they all sat together and were happily talking. This was great to see. Back at the first few meetings we had with the vendors, they would come into a meeting and not really talk to each other. Now, we have to quiet them all down to start the meetings. Everything has really come a long way.

Coffee Before The Day Begins

Coffee Before The Day Begins

The vendors were consistent and kept to the now expected “African Time,” coming in at very staggered times. Some were early, others were late. But we had planned to start fifteen minutes passed the start time so we enjoyed having conversations with the vendors who had come early. Everyone eventually came and we were very happy to have full attendance. We were especially happy to have Lavista and Themba. Themba was extremely apologetic for missing the past two meetings. He was not feeling well. He did mention that he had tried to contact us, but we had not received the messages. He showed us that he had texted us, but for some reason it did not go through. We felt bad that he was sick, but it was good to know that he was not just skipping the meetings because he didn’t want to go.

We started the meeting by having Fikiswa and Xolani explain what PhotoVoice was. Fikiswa was excited to show off her PhotoVoice example from last time and she said that it would be helpful to have the example so she could more easily explain the product to the vendors. We had broken the process of PhotoVoice into steps to make it as easy to understand as possible. First, we had each vendor pick a picture that they liked the best from their house visits. This was a great exercise. All the vendors were laughing and reminiscing about that day. This was the first time they saw all the pictures and videos from that day. They had a really difficult time only choosing one picture. Jakoef named every person in every photo we went through and Themba tried to pick every picture of him telling us that they were all important. The excitement in the room was contagious and we were so happy the activity was going so well.

Looking At Pictures From The Home Visits

Looking At Pictures From The Home Visits

The next step was to caption the photo. It was really helpful to have gone through the photo analysis activity last meeting because the captioning went more smoothly than we thought it would. The vendors wrote down on pieces of paper what they wanted to say in their voice over as their captions. The captions were a little long, but they were definitely on the right track and they described what the picture was and why it was important to them very well. The vendors wrote their photo descriptions in Xhosa, and the mentors started writing down English translations of them to us. The mentors started doing this on their own, under the guidance of Fikiswa and Xolani. We had not asked them to write translations. They are definitely natural leaders.

Themba Analyzing His Photo

Themba Analyzing His Photo

One by one, the vendors recorded their voice over with our help. Xolani was there to act as a facilitator for the activity while we did the recording. It really helped to have taken the time to write down what they were going to say. When we tried to do this activity a few weeks ago with the mentors, we did not have them write anything down. They ended up speaking for six to eight minutes. Because they had written down what they were going to say, the recordings were much shorter. Lavista was the only exception; he spoke for about three minutes.

The following is an example of a translated caption one of the women, Zukiswa Mqukelena, wrote.

“This is the day we were traveling to different places and here you see me with my son and with my brother’s son. We stand in front of my house and I love my family. My brother’s son was getting sick, so we stay together so I like this picture. It is very important to me.”

Simultaneously to doing the PhotoVoice activity, we asked each of the vendors to sit in front of the camera and reflect on their experiences participating in this project. Fikiswa acted as the facilitator for this activity. She asked the questions and translated the responses onto paper. The reflections were extremely touching. Xolani, in his long reflection, said that he hopes that more students will come back to the Big Issue next year. Zukiswa said, “I think that this project will continue when they are gone. They are good girls, they sent such good people to us. Thanks.” Zoliwe reflected, “They helped us to learn so much about being entrepreneurs. They never got bored with us and always came into meetings with happy faces.” It was very nice to hear that they liked being part of the project.

Finally once everyone was finished with their PhotoVoice and reflection, we brought everyone together for one final discussion. We went over as a group what they liked from this project, what they didn’t like, and what they would like to continue. Fikiswa mentioned that although she loved doing the house visits, continuing to do them with the other vendors would be impractical. It would be better, she said, to have vendors take their own pictures of their houses and bring them in. Themba mentioned that he hopes there will be more training sessions on cameras and computers. He is interested in continuing to learn how to type and use computers. The vendors expressed interest in teaching the other vendors everything that we taught them (photo analysis, PhotoVoice, cameras, etc.). They also said that they like the worksheets as a way for them to provide their own content for the website. Leslie wrapped up the discussion by saying, “It will be hard to improve on what has been done. You guys did wonderful.”

Nolusapho’s Reflection

Nolusapho’s Reflection

Now it was time to have some fun with the vendors. We surprised them with a KFC lunch, complete with cake, sandwich bread, and of course Coke. We came in with plates of food and yelled, “Surprise.” Everyone’s face lit up and they all started to cheer. As we passed around the plates and cups, everyone was saying thank you and that they really appreciated everything we had done for them. More cheers were heard when we came around with seconds. Themba called taking home the leftover cake.

More surprises were in store for the vendors after we cleaned up lunch. Our “Graduation Ceremony” was to begin. As all good graduation ceremonies start, we showed off their hard work. Ari spent all morning putting together their PhotoVoice video so they could see it. Trudy, our liaison, joined in the fun. Everyone watched the video intently. Each vendor reacted differently to hearing their voice on video. Zukiswa was teary-eyed, No-Senior smiled, and Lavista covered his face on the table. Trudy became teary eyed and praised the vendors and us for our work.

Next, Chelsea showed the video she created that will be used to market the online profile once it is up and running. The video used a lot of the content that we gathered over the two months being here. It explained that the vendors are the ones who post content online. This is exciting because it shows that The Big Issue is excited about this vendor-involved online platform and that it will continue in the future.

No graduation ceremony would be complete without an emotional memory video. We made a slideshow of pictures and videos that we then showed the vendors. Everyone became very emotional while watching it, especially Nicky, Trudy, Fikiswa and Jakoef. It was a really nice conclusion to our two months together.

The surprises kept coming for the vendors. We then came to the graduation ceremony. We had certificates for all the vendors that said they completed the WPI program. We also made little magazines to give to each of the vendors that included their personal bios, pictures, and a thank you from us. These little magazines are also going to be given to the Big Issue so the personal bios and pictures can go on their online profiles. This moment was extremely emotional. Trudy was in tears as we called each vendor up to accept their certificates and gifts. We also made magazine thank-you’s for Chelsea, Nicky, and Trudy. Trudy thanked us for our work. After more hugs, lots of pictures, and a promise from the vendors to come to our final presentation, we wrapped up our meeting. And now we know we can accomplish great things when we work together.

Zukiswa Happily Accepting Her Certificates

Zukiswa Happily Accepting Her Certificates


Ari:  I am so unbelievably sad that our project has ended. The attachment and connections that have built with the vendors is incredible! I cried through most of the end thank-you’s and could not get over the fact that I will never see many of them again. We have been through so much together and the amount that they have learned and tried is amazing. The mentors have really been with us through so much and it feels so good to see them succeed, and also so sad that we won’t be able to see the actual program in motion. However, I am happy to leave the program in the hands of the mentors. I think that Fikiswa and Xolani will be able to successfully help The Big Issue staff.

Gianna: Today was a very emotional day. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such amazing people. I learned so much from this experience. I remember at the beginning that I was unsure if this project would work and I had a difficult time seeing how we could gather the content that The Big Issue needed, while working and brainstorming with the vendors like our advisors recommended. I am so happy we stuck with it and continued to work with the vendors. We really were able to create a program that allow the vendors to be very involved in the process of creating their profiles. I am so happy that the vendors enjoyed the project and that they kept coming back for more. I really feel like we were able to create a space for vendors to be able to open up to each other and learn. Seeing the progression and learning from the first day to the last is amazing. I see now that with a lot of work and dedication, something great can be made. I am happy with the relationships I made with the vendors and I really am going to miss them.

Nadjia: Today was an emotional day for pretty much everyone. It was such an amazing opportunity to be able to work with this group of vendors. Connecting was one of hardest tasks but once we did I really felt as if I was part of their family. Seeing it all come to an end was one of the toughest things I’ve had to face in this project. When we asked the vendors if they wanted to do a final reflection on film they were all receptive to it. I interviewed Leslie and Jakoef and they had some of the nicest things to say. I was unaware of the impact our team had made on these vendors but from hearing what the vendors had to say we really connected with them in more ways than I could have hoped. The vendors were not used to having people show so much interest in them and actually taking the time to get to know them and want to help them advance their lives. This was a special moment and one I will not forget. When we showed them the final video we had created that highlighted our entire experience, seeing some of them tear up was the sweetest thing; I did not expect that kind of reaction. When we invited the vendors to our final presentation I did not expect a lot of them to want to attend; however 10 of the vendors raised their hands and said that they would be there. Zuliwe, one of the vendors who showed the most attitude throughout this process, turned to us and said “we will be there to support you.” That was the biggest surprise of the day; it really proved how much we had bonded as a group and I will miss every one of them. I can’t wait for The Big Issue marketplace to be online so that I can support each of them.

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