Kampala, Uganda: AKA Hope

In late August 2014, Anna Hedges and I spent a week in Kampala, Uganda with Chris, Courtney, and the AKA Hope kids. The plan was to teach the kids how to take photos and then give them each disposable cameras to use and bring back. We did our best to prepare in advance, but truthfully, there was no way to know what we could expect.

How do you teach art and abstract concepts to children who barely speak your language? Or who might not even know what a camera is really?

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There were several obstacles along the way. First, the cameras I ordered from Amazon didn’t come in. Thankfully, a friend had kindly donated money to Anna, so she was able to purchase more cameras and art supplies before the trip.

Upon arrival, we quickly learned that there would in fact be a language barrier. Teaching concepts like creative freedom, leading lines, and negative space might have been a bit ambitious on our part, but nonetheless, we did our best.

Talking through what creative “freedom” means with war survivors was truly fascinating. These kids are refugees and have fled war (many without family), so the fact that their first guess at these words’ meaning was PEACE made total sense to us. We went on to explain abstract concepts like how to draw and photograph love. The kids were eager learners and incredibly sweet.

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We kept telling the kids that if they came on the last day of the week we were going to give them each cameras to take home with them. They would just look at us with these confused expressions, look at the $5,000 cameras around our necks, and then look back at us and shake their heads, laughing. One of the bolder girls came to us and said,

“We don’t believe you’re really going to give us cameras.”

We assured them that we were! And while they would be a little bit different kind of cameras then we had, they would work and they could take photos of whatever they wanted and we would bring them back to the U.S. and develop them for them.

On the day we handed out the cameras, I don’t think we had ever seen anyone so excited! We were trying to explain things like why they couldn’t see the picture on the back of the camera, the fact that they only had 24 exposures each, how far away to stand from their subject, etc. and they just stood there nodding their heads in agreement with huge smiles on their faces.

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We asked them to take photos of three things:

 1. Something that makes you happy.

2. Something that needs to be better.

3. What does your future look like?

We weren’t sure if we would get anything back at all. And that was okay with us, because the experience was well worth it in our eyes. However, despite losing our luggage a couple of times and surviving at least four different flights and airline reroutes, not to mention seriously harmful X-rays that are supposed to damage film all together… the results were absolutely incredible!

We’re in awe of what these beautiful children created. We’re thankful that we can experience even just a glimpse of the world through their eyes. We happen to think they’re pretty incredible artists.

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