Our boys love playing with cameras. Lend them a camera and they will run around the Center taking photos of anything and everything, filling up your memory card in no more than 20 minutes. However, look through the three or four hundred images they took and you’ll find most of them blurry, poorly composed or shots of really random and uninteresting subjects, such as a cement floor. To them photography was more about playing with a camera than it was about being creative and exploring the world through a lens.
That all began to change when Amber Lucero contacted the Rwandan Orphans Project and offered to teach photography workshops to any boys who were interested, regardless of age or experience. Amber has a background in photography and the visual arts, and is a staff member at San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts, or MOPA. She not only brought great enthusiasm for teaching our boys but also a wealth of creativity and a friendliness that led to our usually shy boys to bond with her almost immediately.
Amber’s lessons started by teaching the boys the basics of composition; framing, lighting, and knowing what your subject is before you just start snapping away. Her lessons, while geared towards photography, were designed in a way that taught them shapes, colors, patterns and other basic academic principles without them even realizing it. Those early lessons were meant to lay the groundwork for the exploration of the boys’ creativity that would come later. And although they started off slowly, after a few weeks we began seeing them becoming more strategic with their shots.
Before long, even when Amber was not at the ROP, the boys would have cameras out, prospecting around our Center and its surroundings searching for interesting subjects to photograph and trying to take creative shots of themselves and their friends that were unlike the usual hip hop poses they used to always mimic from music videos they saw on TV.
It’s been several months now since Amber’s first lesson, and it’s been truly remarkable what she has been able to teach our boys, as well as what they’ve been able to do with that knowledge. It’s also been a great way for us staff to see their lives in the Center from their perspectives. Now many of their photos are hanging up in our office. Soon others will be displayed at an exhibition here in Kigali and yet others will actually be displayed in an exhibition at MOPA in San Diego from October 19th to February 2nd. If you’re in the San Diego area during that time please visit MOPA and see their work for yourself!
As proud as we are of the wonderful art our boys are now creating, we are even more proud of the confidence and self-expression Amber’s classes have imparted to them. One of the greatest challenges we face in transforming these former street children is building up their self-esteem and erasing the negative thoughts we know many of them have about themselves when they come into our program. The idea that, because he was a street child, his life has no meaning, no value and had he died in a ditch nobody would have even cared, is a common feeling boys have when they arrive at ROP. It’s our job to change that way of thinking by teaching them that each and every one of them has value and that they all have a bright future ahead of them. Amber’s program plays no small part in altering their way of viewing the world and, most importantly, how they view themselves.
Big thanks again to Amber and the Museum of Photographic Arts for working with our our boys!
Thanks for reading and enjoy the boys’ photos!