Some of you know that I have been busy with a ministry in Soshanguve the past month, teaching some kids from our local township photography. I am doing this in partnership with Jon Hall of NieuCommunities San Diego and Peter Schrock of CRM’s Creative Services division. Peter and Jon will be facilitating a similar class with locals in San Diego and Ensenada, Mexico. In this project, we are focusing on teaching kids in low-income areas photography, inspiring them to photograph their worlds, hoping to empower them, their families, and their communities in the process. We hope to create cultural bridges and help transform economical divides. As well as trying to teach kids the “art of seeing” through creative photography, we are challenging the kids’ communities to see through the eyes of their children. The culmination of the two-month-long class is a local show in the kids’ neighborhoods as well as a large exhibition of all the kids’ work combined in San Diego before the close of 2010.
Our class from back to front, L to R: Me, Precious, Pretty (my translator, 18 yrs.), Alex (creative assistant, 14 yrs.), 2nd row: Lucky, Tshepang, Gopolang, Tshegofatso, front row: Nthabiseng, Baleseng
To update you on my particular class, I have seven kids committed between the ages of eight and ten, and one kid, Alex, (also my “creative assistant”) soon to be fifteen. Most of these kids I have developed relationships with over the past three years, half of them belonging to the family of “Granny (Go Go) Beauty,” an extended family that NieuCommunities has befriended and spiritually mentored the past six years. While I am in a ministry transition of sorts, discerning where to go next within CRM, this class has been incredibly life-giving to me and I know it is to the kids as well. I give the kids disposable cameras each week, and they’ve been completing assignments on “What makes me happy,” “What makes me sad,” and “What are things that I love.” My good friend Emily, Go Go’s youngest daughter who I’ve been praying with the past year and a half, is hosting the classes at her house. Apparently, she tells me, the kids talk about the class all week long, looking forward to it. I must admit that I do too and am in a continuous state of excitement, wondering what their next batch of photos will reveal. One example of how excited they are is that at one point they were showing up to the class four hours early to Emily’s on Saturdays, at 9am instead of at 1pm when we begin.
In African culture, and even here in the modern, racially mixed township of Soshanguve, family and doing things together is of utmost importance. It’s actually a challenge for me to encourage the kids to keep their cameras for themselves, as they are used to helping each other (or in some cases, “taking over” for another). Because family background is so important, I’d like to relate some details on my understanding of each kid’s family situation. If you are interested in sponsoring a child to help with the costs of the project, please click on the link at the bottom of this post to donate. I will be happy to inform the children who is donating on their behalf.
ALEX, Age 14
Alex is the youngest son of one of Go Go’s middle daughters, Christina, who is currently quite ill. Alex has an older brother, Sylvester. Although Alex is a bit out of the age range we were aiming for (8-12 yrs.), I knew he should be in the class. Whenever I’d go to visit Go Go, he would borrow my digital and take intriguing shots. He’s always been fascinated by photography and a quick learner. He is a student but also my “creative assistant”: I give him my digital to take photos and shoot video during class. To see the videos he’s taken so far, see my vimeo account.
BALESENG (bah-leh-sehng), age 9
Baleseng is the daughter of Umpo, a woman I knew in 2007, who died quite suddenly of AIDs. My ministry partner Barbara and I wanted her to be a part of our book of women’s stories, but before we had gotten her complete story, it was too late. Now Baleseng’s go go (granny) looks after her, as well as our good friend Doris, who sees Baleseng as a daughter. She is the playmate of Doris’s son Gopolang, and Doris was sure she would enjoy the class. Baleseng’s got a sweet spirit and, from her photos, a real eye for beauty.
GOPOLANG (hope-uh-long), age 9
Ah, Gopolang. My little friend. Gopolang is the son of my friends Doris and Macdonald. He has an older brother Lebogang and a new baby sister Lesedi. Doris, a friend since I first came to South Africa, is HIV positive but has survived many years taking her ARVs. Gopolang has been tested since he was born and is still HIV-free. Like Alex, he has always had an interest in photography, taking interesting shots with my digital. He’s extremely quiet around adults but can be a little rascal- I think that’s why I like him though. I knew he’d get a lot out of this class- I was excited at the opportunity to challenge and engage him. Like I thought, he is loving it.
LUCKY, age 10
Lucky is the son of MaNthabiseng, Go Go’s neighbor, a woman with serious mental health issues. He has an older brother and sister but is the only one left in the family who has stayed in school. The kids basically look out for themselves and rely on help from Go Go’s family. Given MaNthabiseng’s history of causing trouble for Go Go’s family (verbal and violent abuse, even though Go Go’s family tries to help the family), I originally said he couldn’t be in the class. I didn’t want a scene from his mother. He showed up the second class, however, and it was after that that I sensed God wanted him to remain in the class. He happened to make “lucky #7” of the kids in the 8-12 age range of our class. Lucky is very well-behaved and engaged in the class despite his family situation. I’m so glad I listened to God about him. You can see hope woven throughout his character.
NTHABISENG (nn-tah-bih-sehng), age 9
Nthabiseng is the daughter of Anna, another middle daughter of Go Go’s. She has an older brother Tshepo and sister Dikeledi. Her mother, previously unemployed and separated from the father who was abusive, now works as a housekeeper and travels many kilometers by taxi every day to work. I’ve known Nthabiseng since I came in 2007. With a spritely spirit, she’s an important friend to many of her cousins.
PRECIOUS, age 10
Precious is the middle daughter of Emily, at whose house we have our classes. Her older sister, Pretty, just started college and is my translator for the class, and her precocious younger sister, Lungile, usually joins us for class. Precious is rather quiet but extremely joyful and always there to help if someone’s in need. She is blessed with two parents (Emily and Solomon), who may have struggles financially but are devoted to their family and community. Her mother, Emily, is instrumental in helping others, from taking Go Go to the doctor to actively fighting for the rights and needs of adults and children in their community. You can see Precious as well as Pretty beginning to follow in Emily’s footsteps.
TSHEGOFATSO (so-faht-so), age 8
Tshegofatso is the daughter of Champagne, who is daughter to Betty, another of the middle of Go Go’s daughters (Go Go has five in all). So she is Go Go’s great-grandchild. Because Champagne was so young when she had her and not quite responsible enough at the time, Go Go has mainly raised Tshegofatso as her own. Go Go is now ailing and I think all of the grand- and great-grandchildren are feeling sad about this. Tsegofatso now has a younger sister and brother. Champagne has become increasingly responsible and is currently staying with Go Go herself. She recently got a job at a nearby mall after praying and fasting. Tshegofatso, the baby of Go Go’s family for so long, is gradually growing in self-confidence. She has a great photographer’s eye.
TSHEPANG (tsah-bahng), age 8
Tshepang is son to Abigail, next-door neighbor to Emily. I have seen him around many times, playing with the other kids, but never knew him very well. Once he went with Emily and I to Doris’ and he didn’t say one word. He has an extremely sweet spirit though. For some reason I kind of hoped he could be in the class, and when he showed up the first day, I was very happy. He is very careful about his shots and tries out interesting angles. Some of his nature photographs are breathtaking. As one of our other youngest students, he is thoroughly enjoying the class.
The costs come to 5,918 Rands TOTAL. To break it down:
- Disposable cameras for practice and three assignments = R2847
- Development of film/ Prints and digital copies made to CD = R2283
- Other supplies, including journals, storage envelopes, flashdrives, Prestik, Post-Its, pens, and posterboard = R381
- Snacks for each class (introducing healthy items like crackers and cheese, and celery with peanut butter!) = R407
For the cost per child, the TOTAL divided by 8 is R739.75, which amounts to exactly $99.75, or
$100 PER CHILD.
If you want to sponsor one of these children for only $100, please click HERE . It’s under “Project- Kids with Cameras.” (A donation of any other amount is much appreciated as well). Please email me to let me know of your donation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
. . . THANK YOU for your support! I’ll be updating with the kids’ photos soon.