Teaching Photography in Kenya, The First Week: The African Experience – Part Five

© Jordan Bush 2015
Jambo from Kisumu, Kenya! There is so much to tell and finding wifi this weekend here in the city was another unexpected joy. Kisumu is a major city about a two hour drive from the village of Alendu (above) where I’ve been teaching and once again photographing with Rafiki Africa Foundation. So far this week, we’ve been woken up at night to the echo of hyenas whooping, reaching out to move a chair at lunch to nearly grab a Battersby’s green snake wrapped around it (and I’m quite thankful it wasn’t a Green Mamba…). There have been heavy rains every evening, with one night finding it’s way through the roof of the mud hut (also thankful for waterproof Pelican cases to store my gear). Believe it or not, I’ve enjoyed all of it so far, minus the sun poisoning on my neck from maybe eight hours in the sun over two days.

© Jordan Bush 2015Today we drove to Kisumu to take care of some errands and connect with Calvince, a 22 year old who was one of the first to grow up attending primary school with LightHouse Academy. He will tell you he has come from nothing and is now a nursing student working diligently to finish his program. Jessica & I personally help sponsor Calvince along with Roger & Dorothy, but with all they have going on, finishing Calvince’s education will be a steep climb. His hope is to finish and specialize in pediatrics. In Kenya, nurses attend a four year program and when finished, can prescribe medication, so functionally they’re doctors. Each year as students finish LHA’s program, more students join, and the older students need a path to continue their education in high school and beyond. It’s always at a financial cost to parents (if alive) or to sponsors, and basic skills can go a long way here in making a career, which is where teaching photography comes in.

© Jordan Bush 2015

© Jordan Bush 2015It has been especially humbling spending every day working personally with Roger & Dorothy. My first trip with them to Kenya in 2012 was in conjunction with a large team of nursing students, and Roger was in the states at that time. This week I’ve spent a great deal of time with two students, Daisy and Violet, who both reached the end of their formal academic careers with no options to move forward. Violet has been paying for her own computer courses and working at the school assisting teachers, I believe at 250 kSh/month, right now a dollar is equal to about 92-96 kSh depending on the bank. Daisy on the other hand had never touched a computer, and neither had ever used a camera. A few days in they understand composition basics with the point & shoot cameras, zoom, and the girls have imported their photographs onto the MacBooks while also selecting their strongest images in Aperture. Teachers at the school are already trying to book photo sessions which is incredibly encouraging, and none of it would have been possible without the donations of books, older MacBook computers, and camera equipment from many of you to help get the program started.

© Jordan Bush 2015

There’s so much more to do, and I am 100% certain I will leave this trip with the feeling of abandon, wishing I could have taught them more. It plagues me hourly and I know there will be so much more work to do in the future. Return trips will require additional time beyond three weeks, permanent solar power for the school, Nikon DSLR cameras and lenses (since it would be compatible with other donations) for the students to develop better skills, financial support and for my business to be stable enough for me to leave for 1-2 months if I am the one who will help continue to teach these and other students. We doubt education like this is happening often in all of Africa, so as I put this out there into cyber space, if you wouldn’t mind sharing our challenges and successes, that would be deeply appreciated. Any questions, drop them in the comments below or shoot me an email via the contact page.

© Jordan Bush 2015

This is totally the short version of this week thus far. I have about 30 pages in a new journal scribbled with events, notes, challenges, lessons and questions, and the depth of the experience is what I expected it to be. I will post more in the coming weeks and hope to include a profile on Calvince. It’s hard for me to think of another young man I’ve been as humbled and impressed with as him. I know when he graduates he will return to his home of Alendu, to give back to his community and to Rafiki with his medical skill. It has been very rewarding getting to see the growth and progress of the students at LightHouse Academy first hand, and to bring back those images to show supporters and those interested in what is truly a beautiful country & community.

© Jordan Bush 2015

© Jordan Bush 2015

All images & MacBook Air use powered by Goal Zero.

© Jordan Bush 2015

The Journey Begins – Kenya 2015 – Part Four

We finally made it to Nairobi! After about a day and a half of travel, we’re almost at the village. There were considerable challenges getting everything out of Dulles due to delays at ticketing and our inability to safely check equipment, but thankfully we got on the plane with fifteen minutes to spare. Smooth fights and customs in Nairobi went relatively well, with only one attempt for a bribe on account of bringing multiple MacBook notebook computers in, but that thankfully was averted in the end. (Tech is often resold and taxes evaded, and any goods of considerable value are a challenge, even years old computers). One Pelican hard case had to be checked with two laptops in it, and while the lock was cut off by security in Nairobi, thankfully everything else was in tact. It took ten minutes longer for that case to make the luggage carousel compared to everything so we knew something was up. Roger met us at the airport in Nairobi and we had a nice stay at a guest house where food, showers, and rest awaited. This place is a new guest house to me but it feels comfortable and familiar to many from the past.

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With a four hour layover in Amsterdam yesterday, Dorothy and I discussed the next few weeks at length and she has a very well thought out plan. It is quickly becoming apparent that this won’t be just teaching photography but will span into social challenges. The students might be too close to some of issues they will end up interacting with. For example, spousal abuse being perceived as normal or even the right thing to do. It will probably get quite deep very quickly. We are going to cover a few home visits and interview students, work on reportage and basic composition skills while providing a detailed framework for bookings, pricing, scheduling staff, estimates and delivery that Dorothy formalized. I picked up a NYT International copy which has the latest on the shooting, and hope to use that to show the students how important images and written story can be.

This morning we are meeting Dorothy’s cousin for breakfast who is a local photographer in Nairobi, in the hopes of learning more about overcoming logistical challenges. After that, a seven hour (hopefully) drive to Alendu awaits us with a few errands along the way. While an added expense, we could have flown to cut some of that time but I’m so glad we are driving, especially after the security challenges. Plus I can photograph along the drive which is awesome. I slept a solid six hours under the mosquito net last night, five on the flight, and say goodbye to wifi, electricity and plumbing for the next few weeks. It might be a while until I can update from here on out, even this was unexpected. Stay tuned for more to follow!
Jordan

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Some of the many contributions you've provided for the photography program with Rafiki Africa Foundation's school in Kenya.

Staying the Course – Part Three

I was trying to not make this a thing, but when friends who work at your favorite coffee shop are even getting concerned and ask questions… Yes, I realize that 147 mostly Christian students were killed in Kenya yesterday. Yes, it breaks my heart. Yes, I am concerned, it will make travel more difficult, and yes I’m still going. No, the shooting is not that close to where I’ll be.

When you know you can help others in a way few are in a position to follow, there’s a sense of responsibility to go. I’ve heard many war photographers say the same even after near death experiences. That’s another level but the principle is the same. The camera is really incidental, though it is my contribution to go do work that can help others. If I were a farmer, I’d be doing a different kind of work to give back.

Rafiki Africa Education Program Jordan Bush Photography_1

Some of the many contributions you’ve provided for the photography program with Rafiki Africa Foundation’s school in Kenya.

When I started photographing full time, much of the reason was because I wanted to be able to use my work to help others without needing to ask permission from a boss or use vacation time. The goal, and it’s worked (ish) so far, was to use the day to day work from the business to support international and domestic photojournalism for advocacy. It’s been far more difficult than I ever imagined, especially in a watered down market. But I feel I’ve been given a gift, and while it is mine to grow and nurture, it is a gift none the less. I feel it would be selfish for me to not use that for good, and I have the liberty to make that choice. That principle is remains foundational as to why I am building JBP.

I generally knew it would be beyond difficult and paradoxically rewarding, both going on this trip and starting out on my own. But it also put the tools in my hand, as well as the time and flexibility, to use what I have regularly to intentionally to help people. It’s not about money, though that’s an important tool. It’s not about doing something that looks glamorous. The resources invested to do this type of work locally and beyond greatly outweighs the apparent (false) romanticism of going somewhere far away.

Many people have reached out in support to us as we start a photography program in with Rafiki Africa’s LightHouse Academy in Kenya. I never expect anyone to step up but many have, contributing computers to cameras, books to memory cards, funds for classroom supplies, a lot has come in. There are a few people in my life that I have known who have always been there in support, and one of whom was Daniel Mast. He was absolutely unfailing in that regard, it wasn’t even a question for him. He knew what it took. He always gave where he could. I haven’t talked about it much online but there’s still not a day that goes by when I don’t think of him. And it’s not really easier, just less crippling. Every hard day with a camera, or not, I still wish I could talk with him. He was dedicated to his family, but if he could, he’d be out here doing the same thing.

When Daniel passed away two years ago next month, a big question remained as to how to continue his legacy. In raising donations for the school program his wife, Rebecca Mast, called me without having settled on anything. As she talked, she decided one of the best ways to honor his legacy is to send one of his cameras along to Kenya to help build the program. I initially protested but soon realized it wasn’t up to me, though it also has to be challenging for her in ways I can’t understand. His camera alone will be like having a super car in a village that needs a moped, but it lays an incredible foundation for this program to grow, for these students to have a real shot. I am humbled that I get to carry his personal camera to an area where so many have never even held a phone. It won’t hit me until we’re there, until I see a student using it hopefully one day to report on issues in Kenya as a photojournalist. That camera earned a living for the Mast family, and now it can continue that now in a place with very few options for work. He is still making a difference. The need is still there. Evil will always continue, so must we to fight it incessantly with transparency and love.

I leave for Kenya on Sunday. Today is Friday, April 3rd. To all those who have contributed to this ambitious but amazing journey, I can’t thank you enough and look forward to bringing back stories of how those contributions have planted a seed in Kenya. Thank you.

-Jordan

Building a Photography Curriculum in Kenya with Rafiki Africa – Part Two

Check out part one of this conversation here.

What Do Your Photographs Mean to You?

Did you grow up looking through family photo albums and sending film out to be developed? What about Facebook: do you post photographs there? How often do you reach for your camera or phone to snap a photo at a meal or on a trip with friends? Can you imagine a life without those those memories? Many families in the community of Alendu, and well beyond throughout Kenya, do not have an archive of personal photographs. They are big on family, on heritage, but visually, there’s usually no visual memory to hold onto.

I have thought often of Benta, a woman whose family I visited in 2012, and how desperately she wanted her printed photograph. She told everyone how big of a deal it was to her, and the message came back to me stateside through multiple people at different times. Her story was so powerful, living in real fear of HIV/AIDS because of her husband’s actions, taking care of her children’s children, living amongst her husband’s other wives and their children. She is first women empowered through Rafiki to become independent and realize her worth. The value she places on her family photographs is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. One of her daughters could potentially be included in the initial photography program, and I look forward to visiting her family again.

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Photography in Kenya
Western standards of technology and data transmission won’t be applicable in Kenya. Cell phones are the sole device for storing images (and not everyone has one) until memory fills up (or the device dies), then space must be made for the new by deleting treasured images. If printed photographs are available, they are typically printed with an ink jet printer on standard paper. For many, that’s a huge deal. Select few can pay significant sums of money for a photographer to show up at an event such as a birthday party or funeral. The latter are truly non-stop, weekend long affairs, where thousands upon thousands gather to attend and hope for a photo with the deceased. I remember how empowering it was to have my first cell phone, which also included a built in .3 megapixel camera. It opened the door to document everything: my friends, food, events at school, my car, you name it. It was a huge deal, and that empowerment is one opportunity I hope to create for these students.

My Thoughts on the Project
Overall, this concept has been in the back of my mind for the last three years; that it’s beginning is difficult for me to fully grasp. My first priority will be in teaching students (photography), a full time role I enjoyed with Apple teaching computer and photography skills before photographing full time. There will be cultural challenges, but these students are also a clean slate. I’ll always have a camera on me and I do hope to be able to connect with some of those whose lives I visited in 2012. The Rafiki Africa Foundation will be able to use those images to communicate with supporters, corporations, and grants, but that’s a secondary objective. Photographers are good at taking, and with my life I believe in it’s power to advocate for good. This is taking it to another level.

I don’t know what the day to day pace looks like but I know where I want to start. Beyond basic photography and computer basics, I hope to introduce students to the power and many different forms of photography to help them communicate, to help them discern what makes a good photograph, to learn how it can be combined with text for a powerful impact or narrative, to gain confidence interacting with others, giving direction, understanding light, and maintaining gear. For these children, the power to photograph will be enormous. What will they want to photograph? What issues are important? What people and places? The stories they tell, how will they be different from the stories a westerner would focus on?

I’ve had to pause more often than not at the thought of it all. The start is just three weeks away, so project, my business, client, and personal needs must be satisfied, and there’s no vacation time to pad it. That this work can immediately and directly impact these students by providing them with a basic skill is incredibly humbling, exciting and at times, overwhelming. Educators know full well the challenges of teaching amidst budget cuts. In this case, there is no budget to cut, only to build. If you have any ideas on how to procure the following, or have any old, unused tech laying around that you can contribute, not only I but a community of students will be immeasurably thankful for a chance at a new career path:

-Guidance developing the day to day, foundational curriculum, from objectives to pace and cultural considerations.
-USB Thumb Drives
-USB Powered Hard Drives
-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)
-Solar Panels

Rafiki Africa Foundation Jordan Bush Photography_3

Once again, I thank you all for your support and interest in this opportunity to empower those who can truly benefit from this work. Again if you have any old technology laying around that might be of use, you would be surprised how much our “outdated” technology could provide to these students. You are certainly welcome to ask in the comments below or contact me directly.

Building a Photography Curriculum in Kenya with Rafiki Africa – Part One

Rafiki Africa Foundation Jordan Bush Photography_5

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.

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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
-Solar Panels

-Help developing the foundational curriculum, from objectives to pace and cultural considerations.

Rafiki Africa Foundation Jordan Bush Photography_2

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.

Rafiki Africa Foundation Jordan Bush Photography_4If 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.

Being a Friend to Kenya Jordan Bush

As the photography project has come to life in Kenya, check out Building a Photography Program in Kenya – Part Two.

Part Three – Staying the Course.

Part Four – The Journey Begins.

Part Five – Teaching Photography in Kenya, The First Week: The African Experience

Part Six – Teaching Photography in Kenya – Meet Violet

Part Seven – Living a Legacy: Daniel Mast & the Rafiki Africa Photography Program

Part Eight – A New Instructor Goes to Kenya! Meet Elina!

Part Nine – Visiting Benta’s Home with the Photography Students in Kenya – Coming Soon!

Stuart Scott – Stronger than Cancer

“When you die, that does not mean that you lose by cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” – Stuart Scott

It’s so hard to fathom, but at 49 years young, Stuart Scott passed away this morning. My immediate reaction is somewhere between disbelief and heartache for his two daughters, who he made clear were his pride, joy, and source of strength. Then I pause to reflect on his impact on the cancer fighting community.

I photographed Stuart Scott a couple of times a few years back for Livestrong and Liz Kreutz. The opportunity came after I finished a job at Ocean City, Maryland, prematurely ending a vacation with a 3 AM drive to Philadelphia. I only knew of Scott what I had seen of him as an anchor on ESPN SportsCenter covering sports news. He interviewed Michael Jordan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Lolo Jones, countless athletes and individuals who have worked to make an enormous difference in sports and beyond. The reaction from that community is itself inspiring. He had incredible charisma energy on the show, but even more remarkably, that same energy carried through in his life. His ability to connect with viewers on TV was just as as powerful off camera. Everyone is affected by cancer in one way or another. I took a moment that day to approach Stuart one on one to thank him for his example. He obviously knew I was there to photograph the event and after we chatted for a while, I was surprised when he asked if we could take a photograph together.

Stuart refused to let his condition define him. He stayed optimistic, full of life, exceptionally real, he continued to work hard and worked out hard. He fought cancer relentlessly and without ceasing three times, and while he was real about the hurt, his attitude was unwavering. If you’ve never seen him receiving the 2014 Jimmy V ESPY Award for Perseverance, good luck making through it without tears. It’ll be the most powerful film you watch for a while.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his colleagues at ESPN, and every person whose life he touched. Thank you, Stu.

“At the Intersection of Film & Digital” – Photography Seminar

What: “At the Intersection of Film & Digital” – Photography Seminar Where: Lancaster Camera Club, Brethren Village, FieldCrest Room. 3001 Lititz Pike, Lititz, PA 17543. When: Wednesday, September 3, 2014, at 7 PM For more information, click here. I will be discussing working professionally with digital and film formats. Topics will include equipment, hybrid Continue reading

“We Shall Have to Begin with the Children” – Fine Living Lancaster Magazine # 30

It is with great excitement to announce that my work with World ANCER in India, published in Fine Living Lancaster Magazine, Issue #30, is hitting shelves today all over Lancaster City! The title, “…We Shall Have to Begin with the Children…” offers a snapshot of India, discussing some of the many challenges, visiting Continue reading