There are many updates to report and as life calms down, I can think of none more important to begin with than for you to meet one of the photography students I’ve had the humbling opportunity to work with over the past few weeks.
Violet, 17, has had a journey long full of challenges and successes. She is the third eldest of ten children, and at the age of six she lost her biological mother. Her father remarried and in total, there are twelve in her family. Their household relies on river water for drinking, has a separate kitchen from the main house, and the ten children all share one room. Luxuries such as electricity, transportation, internet access, and even a latrine, are all foreign concepts. I’ve learned that challenges often push people in one of two ways, either towards giving up or towards greater success. Violet is one who has embraced the latter. She is fluent in English, Swahili, and Luo, has strong interpersonal skills, yet has not quite been able to finish high school after three attempts. One one attempt, she paid her high school fees but her family would not cover her transportation to move to school, so with a bag in one hand and a suitcase balanced on her head, she went on foot without asking for help. She recently enrolled herself in a basic computer class in a nearby town which she has paid for herself, giving her confidence to begin developing skills in the digital world.
I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone with an appetite to learn and succeed as much as Violet possesses. Her questions are usually two steps ahead of where we are learning. When I introduced the educational resources we have available to the students, she absolutely begged me to borrow a book. She goes home every night after her classes to help with chores at home, and spends the rest of the night reading by paraffin lamp. She tried to get through a 300+ page book in a night, taking notes diligently, and again begging to read another night, which tells me she either fell asleep reading or ran out of paraffin to burn in her lamp.
Violet is the kind of person who is cut out for photography, and I’ll be as specific as saying she’s cut out for photojournalism. She has an incredible understanding of overcoming challenges, something photojournalism requires and even centers on. She asks meaningful questions relentlessly and isn’t afraid of interacting with others. Her language skills are absolutely enviable. Violet knows that this is her greatest opportunity and she acts on it consistently. Her notes are incredibly thorough, detailed, and full of highlighted questions as well as pointers. In about two weeks she was already cognizant of where light was coming from in every environment. Her favorite subject to photograph has been home visits in the community, to meet people, tell their stories of hardships and successes. Home visits will be their primary responsibility for Rafiki Africa Foundation, to help update and find additional sponsors for other students of LightHouse Academy. As her journey comes full circle, Violet herself was a student at LHA from kindergarten through eighth grade, and then into high school, an opportunity made possible by a sponsor. She worked as an aid at LightHouse Academy which she used to pay for her computer classes. Now that she is in the photography program, her sponsorship that comes to Rafiki will be helping to support Violet.
Violet has on more than one occasion requested to arrive early or stay late, to sneak one more shoot in, to ask just one more question. I am quite sad I only had three weeks in person with the students this trip but we are already planning others. We intend to email regularly and they have assignments each week, as well as books and other resources to study. She understood the magnitude of what was going on as she learned, as she was introduced to the resources many of you helped provide. Old MacBooks and cameras, hard drives, books, have made a tremendous difference. As they continue to grow, so will their needs, but they are already getting a reputation in the area for being able to photograph. I myself have learned a great deal from this experience, from Violet especially. It was hard watching them round the corner on the last day as they headed home, though I know I’ll see them again. Unexpectedly and almost equally as hard was leaving Daniel’s camera behind. To a selfish extent, it felt like I was leaving a piece of him, but I can think of no better community for his legacy to continue on.
There’s no one better to express that thanks than the students themselves. In the video below, Daisy (left) will speak in Luo, Violet in Swahili, and Roger will speak in English just to mix it up.