Old cameras give orphans in Africa new lease on life

INNOCENT HEARTS OF AFRICAN CHILDREN::A group of volunteers headed to Africa to help orphans after being touched by a documentary about child brothels in India

By Chen Ping-hung and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - Page 4

While rapid advances in technology have seen people replacing their electronic devices more frequently than ever, a group of Taipei Medical University (TMU) students have found a new sense of purpose for their used, outdated digital cameras — broadening the perspectives of orphaned children in Swaziland and giving them an opportunity to climb out of poverty.

The student members of TMU’s Flyoung Services International flew to Swaziland earlier this year for a five-day exchange visit under a voluntary program called the Innocent Hearts of African Children.

One of the members, Yang Hsiu-wen (楊琇雯), a graduate student at the university’s School of Healthcare Administration, said their plan to bring pre-owned digital cameras to the African nation was inspired by the US documentary film Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids.

The film, which won several awards including an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2005, centers on a New York-based documentary photographer who teaches photography skills to children of prostitutes in the red-light district of the Indian city.

The cameras allow the children not only to depict scenes from their daily lives, but also gave them the opportunity to go to school using money made from the sales of their works.

“We received nearly 20 donated digital cameras within just two weeks. The instruments were later brought to Swaziland by 11 voluntary members and were used to teach photography to local children sheltered at the Amitofo Care Center,” Yang said.

Flyoung Services International deputy head Chien Wei-ting (簡瑋廷) said that in addition to teaching the children how to operate a digital camera, the volunteers also took the kids back to the houses they lived in before they were orphaned by poverty or disease.

“By teaching them how to take pictures, the children were allowed to capture and record the places they grew up in from their own point of view,” Chien said.

Tu Yun-hung (涂昀吰), a senior at the university’s School of Medical Laboratory Science and Biotechnology, said that while most children at the care center had never laid their hands on a camera, they turned out to be surprisingly talented.

Citing as an example a 10-year-old Swazi boy nicknamed Ching Ssu (清思), Tu said the boy learnt to take pictures of others and himself, and within just five days most of his photos were on a par with that of professional photographers.

“Most of the children there have great potential. All they need is someone to guide them and show them how to fulfill their dreams,” Tu said.

Yang said she was impressed with the talent of an 11-year-old girl nicknamed Ching Lan (淨蘭), who, despite appearing to be extremely introverted and self-alienated, took as many as 200 photographs in just half a day and even figured out how to turn on the anti-shake function on her camera by herself.

Yang said they planned to hold a charity photography exhibition for the children at the end of this year before they make another exchange visit to Swaziland next year.

The volunteer group is raising money for the planned exhibition and people who would like to make a donation can call (02) 2736-1661, extension 2080, Yang added.