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

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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.