In the slums littered around Nairobi, there are thousands of children without any place to go during the day. It’s not for lack of want, but rather lack of resources. Many children lack the opportunity to attend school, and those who are able to attend are often only able to do so during part of each month. Instead, they may be put to work, or left on the streets under the influence of gangs and other bad actors. Some of the lucky few become engaged with organizations working to protect children from these poverty-driven disasters.
I recently spoke with David Lehman, who told me about how he was taking steps to address problems such as these. He explained that his epiphany moment came while reading this article on CNN.com. It was about an organization that was teaching children photography in the Mathare slums of Nairobi, Kenya. This intrigued me since I have long believed that photography is not only a powerful means of human visual expression but it can also serve to bring people together through a shared sense of observing the world around us.
After reading the article, David told me he immediately reached out to the Kenya-based founder and the two quickly formed a relationship. They Skyped regularly. David, who holds a law degree, helped create their organizational documents, further develop their photography program, and helped the organization win a $20,000 grant from the French foreign service. The organization was called Photo Start and was created as a solution to bring external resources to bear on these persistent problems.
David explained Photo Start’s mission to me:
Photo Start is a 501(c)3 charitable organization created to teach life and business skills through photography to children living in destitute and underserved areas. Modern photography requires a great deal of ancillary technological skills, which are often pre-requisites in many other fields. The course curriculum covers Photography and Videography, Technology, and Personal and Community Development. The course is designed to bolt onto existing organizations as a supplemental educational offering. As the students progress through the Photo Start program, they are trained and encouraged to mentor other children. Post-mentorship, Photo Start students become trainers within the program, which leads to workshops led exclusively by Photo Start graduates. In this way, Photo Start creates a self-perpetuating cycle of instruction that will create a very deep impact on local communities with an ultimate goal to train children to become, not only photographers, but successful and independent people in any field.
The project gained steam and David was soon in Kenya working on the ground for Photo Start. To help the organization move forward while David is abroad helping the children, he brought on CJ Meyer to serve as Director of Marketing, Communications and Partnerships and the U.S. point of contact.
David and CJ explained to me that a typical class session is split between classroom time and free shooting. While in the classroom, students are taught theory and foundational photography concepts. Students are then brought into the community to free shoot and practice their craft. Often, the students have the chance to wander the neighborhood with their cameras and interact with the community. It is great for the children and their practice, but it is also wonderful for the community to see the children learning useful, profitable skills. Many times the children will sell their instant photos on the street for as much as USD $5.00, which is a fortune relative to their economic situations.
Along with the first photo in this article, here are four more photos from students based in Nairobi, Kenya.