Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gifting in Africa

When I was at the Gitaga Center for Street Children I went out into the field to take some photos of the kids playing football (or soccer to us Americans) and the kids all started rushing over to see the pictures of themselves. This was really the first time I interacted with children on the trip and it was of course amazing. The Rwandan kids were so sweet and kind and loved having their photos taken and getting to see them on the camera. However preserving the good relationship of photographer and subject is a very delicate balance especially in Africa and there is a right time and a wrong time to photograph. There is also a respectful and friendly way to do it, I will dedicate my whole next post to the ethics of photographing people (especially children) so I will not harp on about it too much here. I brought along a Polaroid with me, which I hadn’t done in years since Polaroid had gone bust and film was no longer available. However Polaroid is back with awesome new cameras so I brought along a cool blue one and 10 packages of film (100 pictures). I didn’t actually get to use all the pictures though because it got so crazy whenever I pulled out the Polaroid I became afraid it was start fights, but in smaller situations using it was incredible. Gitarma was the first place I pulled out the Polaroid and I learned my lesson from there not to pull it out in large crowds of children. The kids were so excited just to have their photo taken and to see it on the back of the digital camera so you can probably imagine how excited they were to actually get the printed Polaroid photo to keep. All of a sudden about a hundred kids stopped playing ball and ran towards me to get their photo taken.


Luckily things didn’t get too out of hand because I had to leave pretty soon, but kids were starting to climb on top of me and I started having flashbacks to getting attacked while giving out pens in a village in India. Doing things like giving out Polaroid pictures, pens, coloring books, or pencils is a wonderful thing to do, but has to be done very carefully because it can cause fighting amongst children and foster an attitude of begging where children beg foreigners for these things. Instead if you visit a third world country and want to bring presents I suggest bringing them to an orphanage or a school and giving them to the director and letting him or her distribute it to the children. It may not be the same wonderful immediate gratification you get from handing a child a ball or a pencil and getting a smile, but it is truly the more charitable thing to do because they will be given out in an organized fashion, which keeps children from fighting over the gifts and then the kids are thankful to the school and their teachers instead of a foreigner.


Polaroids are a little different then school supplies and balls and can be a wonderful thing to give to someone when you’re photographing them. However, it has to be done in a respectful way and because polaroids cost about $1 a piece I recommend doing it when not many people are around or you’ll end up with a lot of people lined up for a picture and not enough film to go around. The new film takes a little longer to develop (about 30 seconds) and I had some very funny moments of children staring at the blank white polaroid and then at me wondering what I was doing. As soon as the picture started to appear they were so excited and would smile and giggle, but every new photo I gave they looked at me unsure if it would appear. I tried explaining it, but in my broken French I think I said, "the picture us like magic, there is nothing than poof it becomes a picture." I think they still think I am crazy.


I had a wonderful experience photographing a family when I visited a water pump in the northern part of Rwanda. There was a small house on the road to the water pump and a couple of brothers came up to me and wanted their photo taken. I took a few and showed it to them on my camera and then after making sure not too many other people were around I took a Polaroid of them and they got so excited they ran back to their house to show their mom. I then met their whole family- the two original brothers plus their baby brother, their mom, grandma and father all living in this very small square one-room house on the side of the road. I ended up giving them about 7 photos of their family and the older boy who spoke English told me it was the first photo they ever had of themselves. It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend other photographers to bring polaroids with them when they travel, but be careful to determine if the situation is right before using it.



Anonymous said...

Hi Rebecca, we never met though you might remember my colleague Shamima. I love your images and am so delighted to see you using the polaroids! We took an instant camera to the Rwanda UNICEF office last year and it was so well received that we left it with Misbah!
Best wishes, Shaulan (UNICEF UK)

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