I will be at BlueSky gallery this Saturday showing my prints from Rwanda

Join me this Saturday March 14th from 1-1:45 at BlueSky Gallery.  It’s the last chance to see and purchase these prints from my project in Rwanda, which I was honored to have selected by jurors for the 2014 photography viewing drawers.

For more information: Portfolio Walk
2014 Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers

Saturday, March 14, 12:00–2:00 PM
Last chance to view work and meet several artists juried into the 2014 Drawers.

blueskygallery.org

Gallery Exhibition at the University of San Diego showcasing my photos from Rwanda, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Genocide.

I was truly honored to be asked to be part of this exhibition at the University of San Diego  to mark the 20th anniversary of the Genocide, a milestone on the path of reconciliation in Rwanda.   Images from 7 photographers including myself, Fazal Sheikh, Robert Lyons and others, span two decades showing both what unfolded during that dark April in 1994 as well as the road that Rwanda has since taken to move forward, to develop their country,  and to try to live in peace with their fellow Rwandans, many of whom played some role in the mass killings.

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Radio Girls, Kigali, Rwanda, 2012

 

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Musical artist on red carpet at Salax Awards, Kigali, Rwanda, 2012

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Mural outside Ivuka Arts Center, Kigali, Rwanda, 2012

 

http://www.sandiego.edu/about/news_center/events/events_detail.php?_focus=47525

The gallery opening is Thursday April 24th at 5, followed by a panel discussion: Preventing Mass Atrocities:Lessons Learned from Rwanda

Joining me on the trip will be my dear friend Dida, who is a genocide survivor, though that is a small part of who she is and if you know her you know what I mean because she radiates a light, an energy and is a bright spot of love and compassion in this world.  Though I know what she has been through and often wonder how any person can be asked to bear as much grief as Rwandans have been handed, she has never once seemed like a victim to me, but instead is on a mission to do her part to help propel Rwanda forward to a brighter future.  She has been generous enough to join the panel to speak about her own experiences as well as what she and other young people want for Rwanda now and what they are working so hard to achieve, a peaceful future for the country they dearly love.

It was quite humbling to be asked to speak on the panel as well, since compared to Dida and others such as Philip Lancaster, an aide to General Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda during the genocide, I do not consider myself an expert on Rwanda.  But what I can speak to, in addition to representing the photographers’ work in the show, is my experience living and working in Rwanda and what I took away from that in terms of where things are now as they continue to try and move forward from their painful past.  Particularly because the focus of my teaching and of my personal photography work there was on young people, and the ways in which they are learning to use the arts to communicate with each other and express themselves.

I no longer look at the Rwandan genocide as a far off, distant human crisis, like we often do with the many humanitarian crisis around the world, understanding only so much as the media tells us about them, and usually having very little context for the country or for the people who are going through such massive traumas.   To me now the genocide is personal because I know people, I love people, who lived through it, who lost those closest to them and who saw their country fractured into a million pieces.   And I love Rwanda and feel a deep desire for it to be able to continue on it’s path of healing, something that I feel like this younger generation is very much capable of helping to bring about.  My friends deserve that, all Rwandans deserve that.

 

 

 

 

 

Ni Nyampinga magazine’s 4th issue is out, with photography created by girls from my class

I’m very excited to share a copy of the 4th issue of Ni Nyampinga magazine from Rwanda! The magazine was created to inspire girls to reach their full potential and to give them a place to have a voice and to discuss issues that are important to girls in Rwanda.  The goal is to have much of the content created by the girls themselves, hence my reason for teaching the photography class there.

This issue was about mentors, and how important it is that girls have someone to help inspire them, to show them what is possible, as well as to teach them a skill set.    The girls who we trained, who are now the writers and photographers for Ni Nyampinga, have the opportunity to pass that on now and to become mentors to other girls.

click here to see the entire issue translated into English from Kinyarwanda http://www.paigestoyer.com/GH_NN_Magazine4_English.pdf

On the mentor page, they have a write up for the group of talented women who I had the honor of working with for the GPI journalism trainings.   Cristi Hegranes, Jessica Mendoza, Lisa Salters, Suzanne Malveaux and Rose Odengo.    Seeing it reminded me of how much fun we had and how much we all bonded with the girls, so much so that at the end of the classes it was hard when the group broke up and people had to start heading home to the US.

It was a special experience and I love seeing it captured here in the magazine and to see our students now creating the content.   In particular I was very proud of my 14-year-old student Christine and her photo essay on teenage pregnancy which she had started in class. You can see it in this issue and it was also published by GPI and went on to be syndicated by international newswires.

http://globalpressinstitute.org/africa/rwanda/teenage-pregnancy-remains-main-factor-rwandan-dropout-rate

This story reached girls all across Rwanda, giving them important information about pregnancy and hopefully inspiring them that girls can have a voice and can participate in the media and reporting jobs in their country.

Great job to all of the reporters and photographers and the entire staff at Girl Hub Rwanda, including Phoebe, Jess, Martin and the rest of the crew!

One of my photography students in Rwanda has her first photo essay published internationally

When I first assigned the students a personal photography project, they really impressed me with the variety of subjects they were interesting in pursuing.    Christine in fact had several serious topics she wanted to delve into that we actually had to put on hold for now, as we felt they weren’t safe for a 14 year-old to be shooting on her own.    She decided to pursue her story on teenage pregnancy, a problem which both the students and their parents told me is a real concern for young girls in Rwanda.

Christine worked hard on this story throughout the class and now as a journalist with GPI, and it was exciting to see it go up on the GPI newswire last week and immediately be picked up for syndication by other news outlets.   It’s really great to have these stories being told by people within the community,  and in this case who better than another teenage girl who sees the problem first-hand among her peers.   I hope you enjoy her work as much as I did, great job Christine.

Teenage Pregnancy Remains Main Factor in Rwandan Dropout Rate | Global Press Institute.

Photo by Christine Kampire

photo by Christine Kampire

Photography projects, journalism class…… and finally graduation

It has been an amazing three months here in Rwanda, for me and for our family.  As it is drawing to a close what is clear to us is that we have roots here now and feel as if it is a second home and one that we will be sad to leave.

The focus of the last few weeks of photography class was to develop the students personal projects.   At the same time the Girl Hub began a fabulous program in conjunction with Global Press Institute to train a group of young women to be journalists.

Journalism and photojournalism students at the Girl Hub in Kigali

Three of my photo girls became part of this journalism core group, and they will be creating stories for both Ni Nyampinga magazine, and will also reporting for the GPI Rwanda news desk.   I encourage you to follow the stories that they do at http://globalpressinstitute.org/.   I will also be reposting the stories as I get them.

Cristi teaching the journalism class

GPI is a phenomenal organization led by founder Cristi Hegranes, and they have trained journalists all over the world.  As their website explains, “Global Press Institute (GPI) uses journalism as a development tool to educate, employ and empower women, who produce high-quality local news coverage that elevates global awareness and ignites social change.”   They have done this so far in 24 countries and their journalists have gone on to win multiple awards.   If you can’t tell, I think the work they do is amazing and serves such an important role by telling global stories from a local perspective.

To help give these girls real-life reporting experience we had at the honor of being joined for a week by CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux, and Lisa Salters and Jessica Mendoza from ESPN.   The energy and expertise they brought really took things to another level for the girls.    I then taught a seminar for the group about visual storytelling and photography.

Lisa Salters working with her group of students

A lesson in doing interviews with Suzanne Malveaux

Jessica Mendoza answering questions from one of the students

Not only were the girls given a first-class journalism education, which will continue over the next 6 months with additional training, but they are now paid journalists, an opportunity that is difficult to come by in Rwanda, especially for girls.   Their work has the potential to be picked up by wire services around the world, and so the influence they can have by telling stories from the point of view of girls in Rwanda is tremendous and very exciting.

The girls who took part in my photography class will be able to pitch photo stories and get assignments from the magazine.    They and the other journalists will now help transform Ni Nyampinga into a publication by girls and for girls throughout Rwanda.    Talk about the Girl Affect.

We held a graduation ceremony at the Girl Hub office in Kigali to celebrate what the photography students have accomplished over these last months.    Watching the girls arrive to see their photographs printed for the first time and displayed throughout the office was a special moment.    Parents, family and friends were in attendance, as was the Rwandan media and many people who were part of the success of this project, including the folks from Ivuka Arts who helped us find the girls, and everyone at GH including Martin, Jess, Phoebe, and many more whom I thank very much for helping to make this class such a success.   Playing an essential role was my friend and translator Dida, who really helped serve as a role model for the girls as well.

Allen with one of her images

Diane and her photo essay about a disabled girl living in Kigali

Joyeuse with her photographs in the exhibit

Each student got up and spoke about their project, and then showed a slideshow of their images.  It was emotional, particularly as the parents who I have gotten to know, joined the girls as they received their certificates and I know that they felt so much pride and hope for their girls’ futures.

Diane with her Mom

Uwase with her Mom

Just when I thought the ceremony was finished, the students surprised me with a beautiful gift, thanked me for everything I had done, and of course made me cry.   But it is me who feels such gratitude to have had this time with them, it has been an honor and a profound learning experience for me.

My amazing students giving me a gift at their graduation

I have witnessed them growing both as photographers and as young women, and they possess a confidence in themselves now that will carry them forward in whatever they do.   As they told me, they didn’t know that they could ever learn to be photographers, especially because they are girls.   At first they were afraid to approach people and to get close to ask questions and to take photographs, but now they are becoming fearless journalists and artists.    Watching them as they began to understand their own potential was really exciting.

Even though I am headed back to Portland, I will continue to post about the work that was done while we were in Rwanda.    Much of what we did there was about giving these girls an opportunity and a start,  so it’s just the beginning of what they will be producing both photographically and journalistically, and I look forward to continuing to share with everyone the work they will be doing.

Stay tuned.

The students choose their personal projects for class

Clarisse, Christine, Dida, Joyeuse and Allen – learning about depth of field

Christine

There have been a lot of necessary technical lessons so far in the photography class, but my mission is to create photojournalists, storytellers, and artists.   I have been looking forward to finally getting to the core of what we want to do with my students, and so I asked them to come up with a personal project, a story that they want to tell with their photographs.   I had them think about it for a week or so while we wrapped up lighting and portraiture lessons, and many of them seemed to be unsure about what they would want to do .

Turns out I was wrong, and when it came time to share their ideas with the class, I was blown away by what many of the girls, including 14 year olds, were thinking about.    The story ideas included prostitution, homeless girls in Kigali and if they could also be a Nyampinga (a successful girl who makes the right decisions), teenage pregnancy, how local women make a living doing crafts, the art of traditional dance in Rwanda and a story on girls fashion.    Even those who started out a bit shy, clearly had things they were interested in and wanted to say about their culture and about challenges that girls face.

Now they are learning that sometimes a first idea doesn’t always come through or at least in our case, isn’t always doable for a 2-3 week project.   Some of the stories, like one on drug-use we decided simply wasn’t safe for the 14 year-old student to do on her own.  They are learning to research, find subjects, make appointments and plan shoots, and to be ready to go where the story is.    One student found the subject of her story, a handicap woman who begs on the streets to support herself, on her way to look for people for the project she first had in mind.

We have had some fun, typical girl moments, where they giggled and blushed over how cute they thought the boys were in some of the photographs.    I believe it was suggested that they would make good subjects to practice making portraits of.    During our class on studio lighting they had a lot of fun “modeling” as they practiced taking pictures of each other and trying different lighting set ups.

There have also been some more intense moments as we have faced some of the realities that these girls, and everyone in Rwanda lives with.   One in particular was when I showed them the amazing project of Jonathan Torgovnik, his portraits of women who were raped during the genocide, along with the children that were born from those attacks.    They found it to be a very important project and said that those stories need to be told.    I saw some very intense looks as they studied the images, a few girls put their heads in their hands, and because now I am so keenly aware that everyone here has a story in relation to the genocide, I could only imagine what each one of them was feeling or thinking.   There are times that people offer you bits and pieces of their story, but otherwise you don’t really pry.

Mostly we have become a sisterhood of girls who are learning together, having a good time and sharing our desire to make powerful images that will help tell their stories of life in Rwanda.   I look forward to sharing their images with all of you as their projects come together.

The spirit and resilience of two amazing young women

Today I had the privilege of going to the home of one of my students, Diane, to create images about her life as a girl in Rwanda.   As is often the case, I could not have predicted the experience that awaited me and the emotions that the day would bring to all us, myself and my Rwandan friend and translator Dida, as well as Diane.    I left with a greater understanding of their lives, and about how people sometimes have to bear unimaginable things, as well as how strong the human spirit can be as it tries to endure and even thrive.

Behind Diane’s house

I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and love that Diane and her mother showed me, giving me hugs and big smiles, as they welcomed me to their home.  She told us that some of the other girls in our class asked how she could have me over to her house, wasn’t she embarrassed by being poor?  Not at all she told them, she was proud of her house, her mother and their life.    Her pride was evident as she eagerly showed me around and I saw the neatness and the care with which they treat their home.   It is a simple house, Diane and her mother share a bed, but as with many things in Kigali it is striking how clean and organized her house was.   Their beds are made to almost military standards (whereas I can’t remember the last time I made mine).

Diane and her Mom serving a snack

They served us a snack of fresh fruit, apples and these tiny bananas that they have here, that are much more flavorful than the ones in the US.  Diane, ever observant, said she had noticed me with une pomme at class one day, an apple, and so had gotten some for me.   Her mother brought us a basin of water, some soap and towels to wash our hands before we ate.   Dida explained that travelers in Rwanda, anyone who was making their way across the country, used to be able to stop into any home and be offered a place to stay and food to eat.  That has changed a lot since 1994,  but they still treat their guests with enormous generosity and kindness.

As we walked around the house, talking about some of their daily routine, I was taking pictures, and talk turned to how many brothers and sisters both girls had.    I knew instantly from the look at Dida’s face that this was not an easy answer for her.   After a deep breath and a pause, she went on to tell me that there had been 10 siblings in her family but that she had lost 7 of them along with her mother and father in the Genocide.  While this should not have surprised me,  I was unprepared for hearing that my friend had personally been through such pain and horror.    What I had until then only read about, and had tried not to focus on since coming here so that I could experience the country for what it is now, was hitting me with such force that I felt it was hard to breathe and could only reach out and hug her.   It’s okay she said, we are used to this.   But it’s not okay, it was not okay to me what she had to endure as a six-year-old girl, and ever since.

I liked both Dida and Diane as soon as I met them, they are in their early 20’s, and give off an infectious positive energy, curiosity and confidence.   As we are working towards teaching them to be photographers, and looking forward to the opportunities this could bring them, I had not yet allowed myself to think too much about the past they carried with them.    There are moments on the street or during an interaction with someone at the market, especially if a person is old enough that you know they were around in 1994, that you are struck by wondering what their story is and what burdens they carry with them from the Genocide.   You of course don’t want to pry with those you don’t know well and honestly it’s hard to think about it too much without feeling weighed down by the sadness of it, so you move on.

I think that many Rwandans are struggling to figure out how to  bear such pain and heartache, yet try to move forward as they work hard to help their country heal.    They are asked to remember what happened over and over, on national anniversaries like the one coming up in April,  in part to help make sure it never happens again.  Yet they are trying to move beyond it as well to find a way forward, as they are working at a reconciliation, a peace with something that most of us could never imagine having to make peace with.  You feel sometimes like they are giving everything they have, every last bit of energy, trying to will themselves and their county forward to a better place.

As you can imagine, it is not an easy path.  Every day they choose to be optimistic, they fight to push past any depression or despair, but it isn’t always enough.   Yet they have fierce determination, and I can tell you that if these two girls are any indication of the people who will be determining Rwanda’s future, the country has great reason to have hope.     I am in awe of their strength, work ethic, bravery and most of all the capacity they still have for joy and laughter .

Dida and Diane

The three of us sat on Diane’s bed for hours, like any girls would do, talking and laughing about life.    She sang us a song she had written, and then proudly showed me her school books, as they both talked about how much school means to them.  It is a chance to make a better life for themselves and their families and to try to make a difference in their country.   Only a few references were made to the genocide or to moments that they feel overwhelmed or discouraged in their lives.   Mostly it was about their optimism and how hard they wanted to work to create opportunities in their lives, to help other people, and to be part of Rwanda’s progress forward.

Eventually Diane also wanted to talk to me about her family, to let me that she had lost several of her siblings as well.   It was another blow to absorb, and I realized that as awful as it was, I needed to get used to the idea that this was a common experience.    I asked if her mother, who was sitting and singing in the other room,  ever talked about that, the loss of her children in such a way.   As a mother myself that really is beyond anything my mind can grasp.   “No”, she said, they don’t really talk about it.   It is something that everyone holds in their own space and in their own way, and some people do get to a point where they just breakdown from it.

the girls, talking about their lives and their hopes for Rwanda

As we laid on her bed talking, Dida translated from Kinyarwanda to English and back again, sometimes with a little French thrown in.   I was still trying to absorb what this must be like for them.   The experience of the genocide that so many carry with them, is something I know I cannot, and should not ignore, but nor do I want to dwell on it too much either.   I will find my own way to include the reality of it in my experience here while still choosing most of the time to focus on the present and the future, on the amazing love and hope that I am seeing everyday on the faces of people I meet in Rwanda.   I know that is also what Rwandans want, to be known for the beautiful country that they are,  not just for one dark period in their history.

This day has without a doubt stirred something profound within me, as I have come to know these amazing young women who are forging ahead with through so much difficulty, yet with so much spirit.   I was incredibly moved to be embraced by them in such a trusting way.   We reflected on how special the afternoon had been for all of us,  Diane telling us she loved us and asking Dida and I if she could come to us for advice.   What an honor to even be asked to offer wisdom to someone who probably could teach me far more about life.   We made an important connection with each other, a sisterhood, and to me that is what it is all about.   Women supporting other women, and younger girls, to be sure they have opportunities to grow and succeed, and to know that they are not alone, that someone cares.   After all, isn’t that is what we all want, no matter where we are from.

I am very much looking forward to getting to spend more time with them in the months ahead and to taking Diane up on her offer to come back for a traditional Rwandan dinner.

Diane and her Mom