Teaching Photography in Kenya
About a year ago, Dorothy and Roger of Rafiki Africa Foundation invited me to have a rather serious but exciting discussion with them. The conversation wasn’t new, but it was now formal: “What would it take to start a photography program for students in Alendu, Kenya, and can you help us?”
It’s ambitious for sure, as it needs to be, teaching digital photography in a community without electricity, internet, and barren of computers. Grasping that scenario alone is difficult. In the U.S., we’re inundated with technology. How many old iPods, iPads, cameras, and computers are lying around your house right now, or in a drawer or box because they are a few years old? We rely on our tech devices heavily, an aspect of life unknown to this community. To make this program manageable and to begin overcoming challenges, we plan to start with two or three students with an eventual goal to offer a certificate program to many others. The students will be given opportunities to learn photography basics and photograph for Rafiki’s academy before offering paid services to the community.
Creating Opportunities and Jobs for Students
Kenya’s education system includes 8 years of primary schooling, 4 years of secondary high school, and 4 years of college (none of which are free, if even available). Rafiki’s LightHouse Academy is a private school offering K-8th grade programs on site, making education available to students through child sponsorship and the proceeds of Rafiki’s Deli at Lancaster Central Market. Families who can afford a very nominal fee for their children are charged simply to place value on education.
A significant challenge in this system is that, after completing 8th grade, the majority of students can’t afford to go to high school, let alone college. That’s also assuming their academic path has overcome of preventable social disparities such poverty, HIV/AIDS, family loss, malaria, malnutrition, teen pregnancy… A technical program can teach them real world skills to provide a living. Skills such as tailoring, jewelry making, sewing together washable women’s sanitary pads (CVS isn’t a thing), and soon photography, will open up doors to help keep these children off the streets. Many young girls and women in the surrounding areas have little options beyond marriage in a historically polygamist culture, while many turn to prostitution. Education is truly life changing.
Immediate Needs to Source (as many as possible) by April 1, 2015
-Portable White Erase Board and markers
-Relevant Photo Textbooks
-Digital Cameras (anything working is great, DSLR bodies, trying to maintain a single brand for simplicity is wise but probably unrealistic)
-Memory Cards + Reader
-Apple Notebook Computers, Potentially iPads
-Apple MagSafe Charger(s)
-USB Powered Hard Drives
-Help developing the foundational curriculum, from objectives to pace and cultural considerations.
How You Can Help
I’ve had a couple of donations of older technology that is in great shape but simply laying around unused because they are “outdated.” One MacBook has been donated, I picked up a new battery for it but no MagSafe charger, and another MacBook is the way. I have robbed my bookshelf to start a photography collection at the school, while adding a few culturally sensitive magazines to help illustrate visuals in place of projectors & screens. The Academy has a solar panel used for one computer in their administrative office, largely for accounting. I’ll have my Goal Zero solar panels, Nikon photography equipment, and MacBook Air for temporary use on the trip.
I don’t expect to get everything together immediately, especially to scale, but if anyone has any connections at schools, with an author, tech company, grant opportunities that may be of aid, or old devices laying around, anything would be appreciated. Logistically, desktop computers are too big, and the machines need to be in good working order for them to be worth the weight in shipping them 8,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean and two continents. But resources will be needed to help the students continue learning and for facilitators on the ground to continue developing their skills.
Thank you all for your support and interest in this opportunity to empower those who can truly benefit from this work. Part two of this conversation will be posted on Tuesday, discussing what photography in Kenya looks like, more about my role, and I dish on my personal thoughts. Feel free to ask in the comments below or contact me directly.
If you’re interested in learning more about the individuals of Alendu, Kenya, and Rafiki’s work there, check out my feature article from Fine Living Lancaster here.
As the photography project has come to life in Kenya, check out Building a Photography Program in Kenya – Part Two.
Part Nine – Visiting Benta’s Home with the Photography Students in Kenya – Coming Soon!