Have you ever had an experience in your life that has changed you forever? For Babita Patel, a humanitarian photographer, that fateful day happened during an assignment to one of the poorest places in the Western Hemisphere: Haiti. In Babita’s words here is that moment that changed her life.
I WAS WALKING THROUGH CITÉ SOLEIL, the largest slum in the Western Hemisphere located in Haiti, one of the poorest places on Earth. Trash littered the streets and dirty stagnant rainwater was often used as latrines. The sun pulsated directly overhead, bleaching the blue sky to a blinding white. Sweat droplets raced down my spine and pooled at my lower back. Children dressed in rags – or for some, in nothing at all – played a spirited game of soccer with a half-inflated ball. I snapped a picture of a group of rambunctious kids, only to have eager young hands grab at my camera to see the image captured on my screen.
The novelty of the reproduction faded and most darted off between the shanty houses. One remained, diligently pointing at each face on the screen, as if ticking them off in his head. He stopped at the last one. His own. He let out a burst of pure, innocent, giggling glee and scampered off. Alone, I realized that for people who have next to nothing, a mirror is an unattainable luxury. This child only met his reflection by process of elimination. For he knew which ones were his friends and which one was the stranger.
I was struck dumb. For I never realized a person could walk through life without knowing his own physical self. But photography can change that. It lets a child see himself and his world through different eyes. By learning tangible skills and creating new avenues of self-expression, he can contribute to his life and his community.
And thus, the seed for View Finder Workshop was planted.
founder, humanitarian photographer
The mission of View Finder Workshop, a non-profit organization, is to give disadvantaged children a sense of self-expression, confidence and dignity all by using photography as a way to show how they see the world through their eyes. Per Babita, “Looking through a viewfinder helps children see themselves and their world differently”.
The first View Finder workshop was held in January along with their partner Respire Haiti to bring photography to 18 restaveks (child slaves) and vulnerable children living in Gressier, Haiti. It was a week-long workshop in which the team brought in cameras, memory cards, batteries, a printer, paper and ink into the school in Haiti. The results were fantastic. It was the first time any of these children had used a camera and the joy in their eyes and beauty of their work was truly special. At the end of the workshop, View Finder held a gallery show at the children’s school to exhibit their work and all the equipment was donated to the school so the children could continue their work in photography.
Following is a film documenting the Haiti View Finder Workship which truly captures the project. To see the short film, click here. This film highlights their week long journey of discovery, as they learn how to use a camera and begin to explore new ways of seeing themselves and the world around them.
Following the workshop in Haiti, the View Finder team hosted a gallery of the children’s work in New York City and next in Santa Monica to bring the children’s stories to the American public. Building on the success in Haiti, View Finder is now working on their second workshop to be held this January for 40 children living in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.
“The assignments for the Kenyan workshop will focus on self and community identity. The students will give context to who they are and who they are within their slum neighborhood through photography. It is a story not many people have heard of including the children themselves.”
-Babita Patel, Founder View Finder Workshop
View Finder Workshop will partner with The Supply, an organization that built a secondary school in the heart of the Lenana slum in Nairobi, Kenya, for the January project which will be a tailor-made 5-day workshop for all the students in Form 1 (9th grade) to explore the themes of identity and human dignity. It is bound to be a wonderful success!
To learn more about View Finder Workshop, please visit their website att: www.ViewFinderWorkshop.org. There is also another great short video on their fundraising page that gives a nice background on View Finder here.
About Babita Patel, Founder of View Finder Workshop
executive director / founder, humanitarian photographer
Babita photographs the work of non-profits & NGOs, documenting the social issues they address. She knows powerful images can connect people beyond language, cultural & country borders.