I moved to Uganda in the summer of 2006 for a fulltime job with Invisible Children as their Finance Manager. On moving there, my dream was to teach a photography class in my freetime. LTMP continued to heartily support my efforts. It ended up being 3 groups of students from 3 different community areas in Gulu – HEALS play therapy center, Charity for Peace night commuting center, and Youth Corps orphanage. I also enlisted the help of a local 20 year old, Otim Denis, a talented artist and energetic teacher.
We also had a terrific volunteer photographer, Sarah Shreves, who helped tremendously with the program in the summer of 2007 for three months. She was a huge part of the program, and really helped us in teaching, new lessons, creative breakouts, and safari trip and planning. She worked to develop the students’ “eyes” and doing more artistic photographs, and artistic projects. She deserves a lot of credit for her 3 months with us. (Sarah is currently a successful photographer in the San Diego area: www.sarahshreves.com). Our students were all at risk youth – child soldiers, orphans, child headed households. The number of students fluctuated, but average of 40+ students overall.
“Some of the students even went on to do rather well above and beyond. Olweny Richard is attending on scholarship an art school. He later wrote me to say his photography class was so easy because he had already mastered it in my class. Another student, Okello Stephen, went on to win a videography scholarship… to this day continues to do videography and photography as a business to help himself and his family through school and life.”
Since Ugandan children are very education and recognition motivated (as opposed to creativity motivated) it was important for them to feel they were learning a usable skill. We focused on the skill of photography and journalism. They took a lot of pride in writing their captions to go with their photos, and took pride in their photos really capturing the project for the week at hand.
In 2006 and 2007, we held local exhibitions of the childrens photographs at Kope Cafe in Gulu. These were grand events where the community and parents were invited, the children prepared songs, dramas, and DANCES for everyone. I also took them on numerous other field trips – to a local showing of an American woman’s photographs, to Bobi IDP camp, to local hospitals, and on two overnight safari trips to Murchison Falls park. Those were the most memorable, as most of the children had never been more than a few kilometeres outside of Gulu in their entire lives, and had never seen the Nile river or any of its amazing animals (lions, crocs, hippos, elephants). I know it is something they will remember the rest of their lives.
The program ended with most of the children receiving cameras (donated by a friend of mine) and all of their photographic prints in albums, as well as a certificate of achievement. Some of the students even went on to do rather well above and beyond. Olweny Richard is attending on scholarship an art school. He later wrote me to say his photography class was so easy because he had already mastered it in my class. Another student, Okello Stephen, went on to win a videography scholarship from a group that was familiar with the work he did in my class, and to this day continues to do videography and photography as a business to help himself and his family through school and life.
The children learned valuable skills and English practice, as well as in the meantime expressing and putting a face to some of their past abuse and other issues related to the war. Using photography was a more indirect way for them to express themselves without feeling they were making themselves vulnerable, which is not entirely culturally accepted.
I came back home in the summer of 2008. I’m currently working in the foster care system of Texas, another education of sorts of vulnerable children and how best to serve them. I am contemplating and preparing for potential grad school in the next year or two as well when I get my past student loans in order. I live in rural Comfort, TX and still continue photography, my constant passion, on a daily basis.”