I have written about informally using photography as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am also interested in projects that directly involve photography. One such project was started by Mozambican PCV Blake Schmidt. The following is an interview with Blake about “The World Through My Eyes”.
1. Where did the inspiration come for the project?
When I was nearing the end of my time with PC in Mozambique my dad sent me a NY Times article about a former photog of theirs, Nancy McGirr, who had started Fotokids in Guatemala. Reading about the project to teach photography to young kids who’s families lived in/on and survived by scavenging from a big dump in Guatemala City was inspiring to me. I thought at first about joining them in their efforts but as I wanted to stay longer in Mozambique I decided I’d try a similar project but do it Mozambican style.
2. What were the challenges in starting this project?
Finding funding, getting community and local government support and finding someone to be my partner on the project. Actually while those all took time and patience it went relatively smooth in setting it all up! It all got a lot easier when Marcilio, my best Mozambican friend, agreed to be my project assistant. He was not only a local and someone I trusted completely but he was also a teacher and could explain what we were teaching in Changana (local Mozambican dialect) if the students needed to understand it in a language other than Portuguese.
3. Tell me at least one anecdote about how this project has helped youth in Mozambique.
HARD TO SAY. I haven’t really been in touch with my students in over 6/7 years. I am friends on Facebook w/one of them and Marciliio and I are really good friends.
4. Give some highlights of what the project has done over the years.
In the four months of the pilot project we taught basic photography to 11 Mozambican teens between the ages of 13 and 18. We had 8 boys and 3 girls (tried for more girls but culture, etc. prevented that) who studied with us three times a week and in many cases were the first ones in their families to use cameras. At the end of these four intensive months of classroom studies and field experience taking photographs we narrowed down the student’s photos from anywhere between a few hundred and over thousand to five each for an exhibition of their work. We created a 60 photo exhibition (11 students x 5 photos plus 5 from Marcilio, who was my project assistant). The photos were shown in three exhibitions in Mozambique including the opening in Chokwe, our community, as the final part of the April 7, 2004 Mozambican Women’s Day celebrations in Chokwe. The second exhibition was in Maputo, the Mozambican capital, and in attendance were Peace Corps staff and volunteers, NGO and embassy workers and the US Ambassador who also spoke as well as 7 of the children who had participated in the project. We were on Mozambican TV and radio, RTP Africa (Portuguese Radio and Television) and picked up in some of the newspapers.
5. Is it still active?
I conceived the idea in August of 2001, just four months before finishing my PC service, and called it quits in winter of 2006. It was a great experience and I would have loved to keep it up but continued funding and support was the biggest challenge to keeping it sustainable.
6. Have you returned to Mozambique any?
The last time I was there was in 2007….six years really is to long and I miss Mozambique and my friends very much. I was there once a year (at least) from 01-07 and it is still my favorite country.
7. Are there other similar projects?
Yes, many around the world. When we started The World Through My Eyes I only knew of a few others but now there are probably more like dozens. In India, Columbia, Rwanda, South Africa, the US, etc.
8. Any advice to someone, such as a PCV, who wants to start a similar project?
Make sure it is something that people in that country or community want, get a “partner in crime” if possible who can be your second in command. More than limited funding I found that the hardest problem was having many supporters on the periphery but never someone right in the middle with me to bounce ideas off of, plan with, delegate to, get inspired by, etc.
9. I believe you have seen photography be an agent of change and transformation, can you discuss the role of photography in this aspect?
Generally speaking, photographs are universal and can convey messages quicker, easier and more effectively than words. A good photograph needs no explanation or captions to inspire, incite or influence people. I’d say the majority of photographs taken are not great or even interesting to the general populace and there is a lot of bad that can be done with photographs. With the advent of digital cameras and camera phones the number of photographs being taken on a daily basis has to have multiplied exponentially over the last 10-15 years.
10. What are you involved with now?
I moved back home to Portland, OR in November and after holidays with my family and friends I went to Guatemala to study Spanish and travel for seven weeks. I recently returned home and am searching jobs in the area and plan to stay here to be nearer to my nephews. I’m hoping to go to the World Cup in Brazil next summer to see some great football and see friends from when I lived there six years ago.
In my next blog I will write about other photo projects.