A few years ago, I joined a couple of other folks with a passion for photography and an interest in doing something for the local community in Antananarivo, Madagascar. We collaborated to successfully crowdfund a small youth center that would cater to local vulnerable kids who, for whatever reason, were not attending school. Thanks to the support of generous donors, including a member of that community who did the actual construction, a few months later, Anjezika Community Center and School – later re-dubbed “Centre Le Cameleon” – was born.
The idea behind the center was that it would provide a safe space where kids could engage in enrichment activities to expose them to new interests and skills that would pique their curiosity. We never intended to function as a school or to focus on schooling itself, but thanks to the initiative and imagination of our paid administrator, who has become the energy and lifeblood of the center, Le Cameleon has managed to integrate virtually each and every child at the center – over 200 – into a local school, even to the extent of training them for the 5th grade completion exam.
The one thing we three founders had in common – besides a passion for helping disadvantaged youth – was photography. And from the start, we had always had the intention of introducing some of the older kids to photography, in the hopes of “awakening” some hidden talent. And so over the next two years or so, I gradually built up the supplies I would need. I bid on batches of “condition ‘as is'” point and shoot cameras on eBay, built up a supply of film and other implements we could use to demonstrate the magic of photography, but for a variety of reasons we kept postponing the actual classes until I was poised to leave Madagascar for good, and we could postpone no more.
Finally in April, just a few months before my departure, we managed to assemble a handful of 13-, 14- and 15-year-old kids with an interest in photography, and present our class. We explained to them how cameras worked, and briefly turned the second floor of our center into a camera obscura – basically putting the kids inside a giant “camera” in which the outdoor scene was projected onto the opposing wall.
A half dozen kids expressed an interest in learning about photography. After the camera obscura demo, we showed them a series of vintage cameras, gave them each a point-and-shoot camera and a short class on how to operate it, courtesy of Safidy, who runs the humanitarian photography website Zanaky ny Lalana (Children of the Street), and photographer Toni Haddad. We sent the kids away with a roll of b/w film and an assignment.
A couple of weeks later we showed them how film is developed, but were unable to actually demonstrate it due to the lack of running water at the Center. And we sent them away with a roll of color film. And in subsequent weeks, with additional rolls of film of their choice, until I finally ran out of time in Madagascar and we had to “go final” and collect the cameras. But along the way, we printed their pictures and asked them to evaluate their own work, choosing which pictures they thought were best, and explaining why.
In the end I think we achieved our goal of exposing these kids to something completely new, and maybe even kindling a spark of an interest they may return to at some point in the future. Their patience and dedication were impressive. And I got a smile when I explained that they were likely the only kids in their whole country who know how film gets developed!
So if you’ve read this far, you’re probably curious how the photos turned out. For that, you’ll have to wait until my next post, because there are so many to share! You can start here.