A professional photographer, Yang Che-yi (楊哲一), is helping children on offshore islands to dream big by undertaking a “Send a Picture Postcard to the World” project.
To the children of Dongjyu (東莒) on the Matsu islands, the center of the world is not Taiwan, but neighboring Nangan (南竿島), which is the most populated and developed island in the region.
Surrounded by the sea, Yang said the children of Dongjyu feel isolated from the world and they lack a sense of belonging.
This inspired the 31-year-old photographer to give new hope to the children and change their lives through “photography education.”
Yang is conducting his project in isolated communities so that children discover the beauty of their homeland through a camera lens. Pictures taken by the children will be shown at exhibitions and made into postcards to send overseas, so that children living in these remote areas can feel a link to the rest of the world.
Though Yang originally had the idea in 2009, the project only got underway last year. To date, Yang has visited Penghu’s Huayu Islet (花嶼), Matsu’s Dongjyu and Lanyu (蘭嶼), off the coast of Taitung County.
This year, he plans to make one more stop at Nanao Township (南澳), Yilan County, and then next year he plans to visit Pingtung, Yunlin, Hualien and Taitung counties. Yang said he also hopes to take the project to Thailand, Myanmar and Kiribati — a Pacific island nation which is a diplomatic ally of Taiwan.
“Funding and manpower for the project is limited, so under these conditions we choose to work with kids in elementary schools where the need is greatest, but it will have the least cultural impact,” Yang said. “It’s not just handing out cameras to the students and showing them how to take pictures. To me, photography has a mystic power. It allows me to see the past and link it to the future, but the current young generation does not seem to able to see the future and they have no feeling for the past. Photography can help fill this void.”
“The simplicity and straight-forwardness of photography can inspire people and instill new values in them,” he added.
Yang said he had often heard other photographers complain that there is no photography education in Taiwan and that he felt it was up to him to do something about it, but he found that it was very difficult.
“It was quite difficult to get funding and to find suitable teachers. For your own portfolio, you only need to focus on your own production. To conduct photography education, you need to write teaching proposals, prepare for the courses, and do lots of tedious and arduous work. Also education never stops. After summer camps, then we work with schools to organize photography clubs,” Yang said.
As Yang’s project remains outside of the mainstream education system, taking it into the regimented programs of Taiwan’s schools can lead to conflicts, but despite the difficulties and hard work, Yang has persisted with the project with stubborn determination, because it was photography that transformed his life.
“Once I started to take a new look at Yilan, my home county, through the camera lens I had a strong feeling of my responsibility to the land. I wanted to teach kids everything I learned from photography. That way, I hope it can also transform their lives,” he said.
When Yang visited Dongjyu, there were only six students at the elementary school — and only one pupil, nicknamed Hsiao-fang (小芳), in first grade, while there were none in second and third grade.