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On 2 May, I presented findings from my participatory PhD research project with older migrants from Myanmar at King’s College London. The event was funded by the BSG Small Event Grant and showcased a photography exhibition that was developed and curated by older people living in Mae Sai, northern Thailand.

Over a course of 6 weeks, between January and March 2023, nine older people who were from Myanmar and felt lonely, according to the culturally adapted De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Short Scale, participated in weekly workshops where they learned about photography and shared their experiences with each other. The workshops were co-facilitated with Ben Lu, a 60-year-old migrant from Myanmar living in a neighbouring village and conducted in Burmese.

Participants decided to exhibit their photos and narratives in Mae Sai, which focused on the themes of care, religion, and nature. The exact same exhibition was then showcased in London and is now available online at Duke University. Students and colleagues from King’s College London and other organizations attended the event, where I also presented reflections and findings from the project.

The project had two central aims:

  1. To visualise and value unpaid care provided by older migrants from Myanmar.
  2. To test the feasibility of photovoice as an intervention for loneliness in older age.

Indeed, older people reported feeling respected and seen at the exhibition, not only by their family members, but also by Thai people who visited the exhibition. Moreover, participants showed reduced feelings of loneliness following the project, as reported in a qualitative group evaluation and a quantitative post-assessment of the loneliness scale. Here is a video with insights from Ben Lu, participants, and visitors at the exhibition.

As co-facilitator of this project, two central take-aways for me were that establishing trust with participants (e.g., by addressing security concerns in times of political conflict and speaking the same language) and remaining flexible throughout the process (e.g., by replacing broken camera equipment and adjusting the workshops to participants’ needs) were key components to a successful project.

At the event in London, people gained insights into older people’s daily lives in Mae Sai, what was important to them, and who they cared for and about. Moreover, the project suggests that photovoice could be used as intervention to reduce loneliness by addressing all six social relationship expectations. The photos from the exhibition can still be viewed at King’s College London’s David Goldberg Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience.