Gadi Habumugisha’s photography skills involve capturing emotion and memory in one shot.
His first encounter with a camera was when he was eight years old; he fell in love with the device, and taking photos has been his passion ever since.
At the time, he was living in an orphanage in Rubavu District, and the tragic events that led him there left him with only his sister, losing the rest of his family to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
He was orphaned when he was only two years old, but not even this drained Habumugisha’s dynamism.
The now 26-year-old is a cheery and vibrant person; this is clear in how he keeps a smile all through the interview, even when talking about his gloomy past.
To him, the past holds memories that have groomed him into the man he is today.
At the orphanage, a visitor from the United States volunteered to teach the kids photography, and he was selected to take part.
They were 19 children and their group was called ‘Camera Kids’; they breathed and lived photography and the workshops they had every now and then went on to sharpen their skills.
“We produced incredible images, some of them won prizes internationally, and that was in 1998. We had tour exhibitions around the world, including here in Rwanda, Europe, America and Canada. It was our trainer who helped us take part in these exhibitions,” he says.
Time came and the children took different directions, but Habumugisha and two colleagues sustained the passion.
Life after the orphanage
In 2011 he left the orphanage when he was joining university, he also worked as a tour consultant with Bizidanny Tours and Safaris and did photography as well.
“After leaving the orphanage, we continued doing annual workshops; we later decided to turn the project into something big by reaching out to other children. I had learnt a lot through photography. I was certain other children would too,” Habumugisha says.
So far, they have worked with different schools and with an organisation called Ubaka Urwanda that takes care of former street children.
They held workshops in schools, mostly in rural areas, for example, in Ruhengeri, Musanze and Gisenyi.
“Photography to me is an art that helps me express myself, or how I feel, without necessarily talking about it. And this is a skill I want for these kids,” he says.
Giving back to the world
Habumugisha and his colleagues have taken the training beyond borders. They have trained other children in orphanages in America because to them, photography is “the voice for the voiceless”. This is why they chose it as a tool to reach out to other vulnerable children.
“As an orphan you are always quiet and hopeless, most of the time because you are not where you are supposed to be. I remember I was in a hard place but when I learnt photography, I became hopeful. I saw my photos being exhibited around the world and people were paying attention, this motivated me.”
All he wants is for these children to dream again and know that despite being orphans, they have something significant to share with the world.
“It helped us move forward, I believe it can do the same for them. Who I am today is because of photography; photography is a tool that transformed our lives.”
This year in November they are going to Lebanon, and they will also go to Haiti, Ethiopia, and other countries next year.
“We hope to do this for as long as we can because we want to reach as many kids as possible, to give them a platform that will help them express emotions that might otherwise stay buried deep within,” he says.
“We mostly want to reach out to them. It’s not like we want to turn them into professional photographers, but we want to at least equip them with skills that can help them document their lives. It will be up to them to take on photography as a profession,” he adds.
Accomplishments and future plans
He has been able to travel the world where international companies hire him to take photos for them. He has had the privilege to take over 360 photos for Starwood hotels (now Marriott) in Europe and Africa.
He also does photography for non-government organisations and other hotels in Rwanda.
Although Habumugisha works as a full time human resource generalist at Kigali Marriot Hotel, he continues to reap big from his profession as a photographer.
He plans to continue doing photography as a career, but also wants to do more regarding giving back to society through photography.
“We want to do something special for the Rwandan community; we are planning on setting up a programme where we can help promote photography. We will build a centre that will create space for training, such that we get more people who can tell Rwanda’s story through photography.”