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South Africa

Vulnerable children get behind the lens in South African photo workshop

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0483/Basi
Eleventh-grade students leave their classrooms at Celukuphiwa School in Estcourt, a town in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province. This photograph was taken by Thobani, 19, one of 20 participants in a UNICEF-organized child photography workshop.

By Ruth Ayisi

ESTCOURT, South Africa, 29 June 2010 – Slightly built Nokwanda, 12, buried her head in her hands every time someone asked her a question. Her participation in a recent UNICEF-supported photography workshop here looked like it would be limited.

Yet when asked to pick a favourite photograph, Nokwanda was transformed. She knew immediately which to choose, pointing to a photo of police officers at the Lyndhurst Primary School, which she attends.

“This is my favourite because it shows the policeman telling us that it is important to report anyone who does anything bad to us,” she said, suddenly sitting bolt upright.

The photography workshop, funded by UNICEF partner Gucci, was conducted in the semi-rural town of Estcourt in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s poorest province.

Orphaned and vulnerable

Despite progress made since the apartheid era, South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal countries in terms of income disparities. HIV/AIDS has also had a devastating impact. It is estimated that over half of the country’s 2.5 million orphans have lost a parent to AIDS.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0496/Mokoena
Nokwanda, 12, does homework as her aunt, Gainile, watches at their home in Matshesi Village, outside the town of Estcourt, in KwaZulu-Natal province. This image was taken by Godgiven, 17, a participant in a UNICEF-organized child photography workshop in South Africa.

Out of the 400 students at Lyndhurst Primary School, 81 have lost one parent and 24 have lost both. In addition to the distress of being orphaned, these children are highly vulnerable to abuse.

“A girl at my school, who lives near me, was attacked walking home from classes,” Nokwanda said, referring to an orphaned girl who was raped. “I do not feel safe anymore walking home,” she added.

Rates of sexual assault in South Africa are among the highest in the world, and children are most at risk. More than 50 students at the Lyndhurst Primary School, including Nokwanda, walk for hours along isolated paths to get to class.

‘To live a better life’

Against this backdrop, UNICEF photographer Giacomo Pirozzi conducted the photography workshop, teaching basic camera skills to 20 children – all of them poor, orphaned or otherwise disadvantaged.

“You can talk about your life through images,” Mr. Pirozzi said, noting that the children’s excitement was palpable; only one of the participants had ever used a camera before.

One group of fledgling photographers visited Nokwanda’s home, a two-room mud hut with crumbling walls and a leaking roof. Her aunt, Gainile, received them warmly. She explained that she had built the second room when Nokwanda came to live with her three years ago. At the time, Nokwanda’s mother was dying.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0498/Mokoena
Gainile, aunt of Nokwanda, 12, stands in their home in Matshesi Village, outside the town of Estcourt, in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa. Nokwanda is one of 20 participants in a UNICEF-organized child photography workshop. The photo was taken by Godgiven, 17, another workshop participant.

After her mother’s death, Nokwanda continued to live with her aunt, who has three children of her own, no job and can neither read nor write. Despite these challenges, she makes sure that Nokwanda attends school each day.

“I want to do well at school so I can choose what I want to be when I grow up,” said Nokwanda. “My dream is to live a better life.”

School provides needed services

The children also took photographs at Lyndhurst Primary School, whose motto is ‘Infundo Yinkululeko’ – ‘Education is Freedom.’ The school provides services that its students desperately need, including running water and latrines.

Workshop participants photographed Lyndhurst’s classes and its feeding programme, which provides a basic nutritious meal to most pupils. They also shot images of school activities organized by the Sport for Development programme, which aims to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy, and to educate children about the risks of early or unprotected sex.

At the end of the workshop, the newly minted photographers reviewed their work, discussing the merits and messages of their own and each other’s images. Then they captioned the best of their photographs.

Schools for Africa

The workshop culminated in a vote on the best photographer, best photograph and best group work, and each participant received a certificate.

“It is a fun exercise, but it also reinforces what they have learned about photography,” said Mr. Pirozzi of UNICEF. Nokwanda’s group won for the best group work. As the workshop facilitators departed, she rushed after their car, smiling and waving goodbye, overcome with emotion.

Gucci, the funder of the workshop and a UNICEF partner since 2005, is also the largest corporate supporter of Schools for Africa, a programme established in 2004 by UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Hamburg Society. Schools for Africa promotes quality schooling for all children, including those living in extreme poverty and those who have been orphaned by AIDS. It now funds education programmes in 11 African countries.



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