Photographs of 19 orphaned Rwandan children will today be on display at Kigali Serena Hotel from 6 -8 p.m., in an award-winning photo exhibition dubbed, ‘Through the Eyes of Children: The Rwanda Project.’
Over the last 10 years, the Project, a non-profit Organisation based in the US, has trained and mentored the same group of children at Imbabazi Orphanage, in the Eastern Province, in photography skills.
“The project was originally developed to teach the children photography, something that they would really enjoy. They would also be enabled to create memories and document their lives because they had lost a lot but as it went on, we kept seeing that the photos were very beautiful so we started exhibiting them around the world,” said Joanne McKinney, the Project Director.
The project was conceived by photographer David Jiranek (1958-2003) and began as a photographic workshop in 2000 that was inspired by and centred on the importance of the children’s perspective and experience.
Rosamond Carr, the founder of the Imbabazi Orphanage, who lived in Rwanda for more than 60 years, also inspired the project.
“Imbabazi Orphanage is home to over 125 children who were left behind after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. They had nowhere to go and Madam Carr turned her flower garden into a home for the homeless children,” McKinney said.
In 2000, the children between the ages of eight and eighteen at the time, were given disposable cameras and they began photographing themselves and their community.
According to McKinney, the resulting photographs were nothing short of extraordinary—they have been exhibited around the world and have received a number of awards and accolades.
One photograph by then 8-year-old Jacqueline titled “Gadi at the Market” won the “First Prize - Portraiture” in the 2001 Camera Arts Magazine Photo Contest in the adult category.
Kristen Ashburn, a Photographer and Photo journalist, said that regardless of the children’s backgrounds, they have produced incredible pictures for their age.
“The children are being exposed to a new medium and they are creating a visual language that can help them in other areas of their lives. They have a very intuitive way of approaching photography and there is a self expression in that. What we want to do is give that expression light and a base to grow,” Ashburn added.
Through giving space to the popularly known ‘photo kids’, Ashburn said that they can build confidence, gain exposure and can maybe develop a history for Rwanda or a career out of photography.
“Rwandan people coming to the exhibition can look at it and say, ‘we are really proud that our kids took these pictures’,” said Ashburn.
“We are not really fundraising, it’s not about or getting people here to solicit for money, but we are here to celebrate the work of these kids in the context of the community because it has been celebrated in the context of other communities,” McKinney said.
Jenifer Howard, the Public relations Director, said that even though this is the first time since 2000 that a full exhibition will take place in Rwanda, the ‘photo kids’ have regularly participated in annual workshops, and exhibited their photographs to raise awareness and money for their education fund.