by Hillary Sturgeon
For years, photography has been an interest of mine. Though in this day and age everyone is capable of being a photographer with the newest iPhone, I still find solace through the comfort of my camera and the artistic expression in photography. It has been a personal joy and deeply personal for me as a way to connect with others and the world around me.
For this reason, I have struggled to understand how I might use my photography to help others. I knew how taking pictures at Made in the Streets would help the organization as a whole, but until I got here I was lost on how I could use this talent to specifically help the students at MITS.
I had to take a look at the way pictures have influenced my own life.
In order to figure out how pictures can improve the lives of these former street kids, I had to take a look at the way pictures have influenced my own life. I thought about the vast number of times I have grabbed the boxes of pictures at home and spent hours perusing the old photos, thinking about the stories, trips, and adventures that inspired the moments in them. I thought about how my photos of friends and family were the first things I put on my walls when I got to college. Pictures have helped me remember the moments throughout my life and have helped me connect with family and friends even when they have seemed far away.
Now my experiences with photos revolve around the students here at MITS. One of my distinct memories from my first trip to Kamulu was of how much the students loved to have their pictures taken. The girls tend to have a full photo shoot, complete with all of their friends and various poses, while the boys stare at the camera and attempt to look as cool as possible. They like to take my phone to look through ALL of my pictures, and they absolutely love when visitors send printed copies of photos from their trips.
Despite absolutely loving photography and pictures, however, I can’t help but become frustrated when the kids are constantly asking to look through my albums, or ask me to “take me photo” every time I have my camera out. It becomes hard to not draw attention and easy to become a distraction. When I become frustrated, I start to think of myself and about how much of an inconvenience it is for me. In times like this, I forget who I am here for.
In the end, I am in Kenya for every child here at MITS. I have come to realize that these kids love pictures for all the same reasons I do. Their lives have most likely never been documented before coming to MITS, and now they are taking every chance they can get to seal every good moment in time. I often forget that these are some of the first visual representations of their lives they have ever seen and it is exciting for them. Finally they are able to remember their stories in a way they were unable to in the past, and see the way their lives have changed for the better since they arrived at MITS.
Now when I think about the way photography can be used to support these kids, I think of their beautiful smiles on the other side of my lens and of their excitement when they show me the photos proudly displayed in their rooms. With this mindset, the most important part of my job becomes remembering to keep an eye out for the important moments in each student’s life and capturing them. All of a sudden, a personal joy of mine, something that seemed so private and intimate, is transformed into something I can share with these students to bring joy to their lives, and that is more than I could have ever asked for.
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