I arrived in Moshi, TZ last March for a much-anticipated visit with my sister. I was greeted by her smile, hugs, and a blast of heat, the extreme of which challenged every fiber of my Bostonian being.
My sister, Meritt, is spending a year working in Moshi working with Building a Caring Community (BCC). One of the first projects that she conceptualized when she got the position was for me to come and run a basic photography lesson for the older children and to produce a subsequent exhibit. With love for all aspects of such a venture, I was thrilled.
After a mere 36 hours to recover from jetlag and adjust to my new surroundings, Meritt, job coach Patrick Mangowi, and I found ourselves standing in front of some very excited kids with boxes of disposable cameras. The young adults of BCC are the most engaging and endearing group one could ever meet.
The stigma of their intellectual disabilities has historically kept them apart from society. But with the advent of BCC and its Young Adult program, they have found a wonderfully supportive community. They spend their days playing and learning together. Some days they make recycle paper to make beautiful handmade cards. Others, they work in their vegetable garden, growing food to feed the other children in the BCC program and for profit. With these vocational training programs, they are contributing financially to their families for the first time.
These kids love photos and cameras. A digital camera or smart phone means hours of entertainment for them. So for each of them to have their own camera and the chance to take their own photos brought each of them true joy. I instructed each of them to begin by thinking of things that made them happy, or made them sad, things that are important to them. Then they each chose their favorite place around the center to be the subject of their first photo. From there we walked through the village and visited one of the students’ homes.
They were so excited by the simple cameras that in an effort to slow them down we decided not to show them how to wind the film. They ran to us after each picture in order to have it reset so they could snap another. The basis of my ‘lesson’ was trying to help them to hold still before taking the photo.
After everyone had exhausted their film, and themselves we walked back to the BCC center. I had a child holding both of my hands the entire way. Mostly our conversations were one or two word exchanges and involved lots of hand gestures. They taught me animal names in Swahili and they smiled and giggled encouragingly as I learned to pronounce the words. One of the boys pointed to himself and then to me and with a huge grin, repeated, “African”, “American.” And then he would point at both of us again and say “rafiki” (friend), with an equally big grin.
My sister tells me that the kids cannot fully understand the nature of this exhibit. But they are very proud and pleased that people are looking at their pictures in America and I am so very proud to be sharing their photos!
You can preview the Developing Perspectives exhibition here. Please contact me at email@example.com if you would like to purchase a photo remotely. All proceeds from Developing Perspectives will go directly to Building a Caring Community. The funds raised here will support physical therapy programs, medical care and outreach in the Moshi Community. They will purchase much needed supplies, like orthopedic shoes, nutritional supplements, books, and school supplies for BCC students.