PIGA PICHA (Take a Picture) Project

And The Show Begins!

We’re back in Canada now, and missing our friends in Africa.However, there is no shortage of things to do here!  So not much has changed in that regard.

On Wed, Alyssa is teaching a workshop at the World Youth Congress, discussing how to go about a project like ours.  She will be showing some of the photos, and discussing the hows and whats for people to be able to implement such a project themselves.

And Paul has been busy organizing our first exhibit in Ottawa.  

We know you are all anxious to see the photos that the kids have taken.  And all I can say is, you should be!!  It’s an excellent show, and we are extremely excited to share it with you.

Jul 27

Piga Picha Party!!!

Can I tell you a secret?

I’m relieved that yesterday is over!

So much planning and so much work went into our community party, and I’m really happy to say that it went off beautifully!!

In order to get people to come, we decided to make flyers and hand them out to people passing in the street. Here are some of the children watching the excitement from the orphanage gate, underneath our party banner.

At 11am, the festivities began! We had football (soccer), facepainting, crown-making and balloons.

Surrounding the property, the show was on display. We had easels made that we painted, which showcased two images per board. The show is called, ‘Pieces of Innocence’, and will be coming to a gallery near you in the coming months.

To keep the day flowing, we had excellent facilitators. They MC’ed, led dance competitions, brought rappers, and entertained for hours.

One of the most important things the facilitators did, was break our guests up into groups and discussed issues such as HIV/AIDS, poverty, orphans and the relationship between them all.
Our hope was for this dialogue to bring St. Clare’s orphanage into their local radar, and also to bring their own personal sense of responsibility to the forefront of their minds.

Our only hurdle yesterday was that lunch was very late. Late, even for African time! However, eventually the pilau did arrive, and all the children squished tight together in a single file line to get their meal.

At the end of the day, our guest of honour, Wendy Muckle (who had just arrived from Canada that morning) , gave a brief speech honouring the photographers and the importance of the work they are doing.

She also handed out the certificates of completion that we gave each student in our Piga Picha program.

And suddenly, that was it. The end of our session here. Words cannot describe how hard it was to say goodbye to our new friends, who we have grown to love enormously. Watching them pack themselves into the van for the last time before driving away was heartbreaking.

It might be the end of this program, but it is never goodbye.

Boda Bodas, Back to the Future, Bracelets, and Some White Paint

Waking up here makes me laugh every time.

Knock knock “ALYSSA, it’s 8!”, Jenny or Paul knock on mine and Catherine’s door and I know that I can’t squeeze any more sleep in although I may try. I know it’s time to rise, and a whole day of surprises lay ahead.

It’s funny how Kisumu has absorbed us. If there is water we might attempt a sponge bath, if not – it’s make shift coffee, some oats, and out the door we go. We find the nearest Boda boda driver (bicycle’s that you sit on the back of), we ride into down for internet access, food supplies, and project materials. This morning in particular Catherine and I walked to the orphanage with a pile of cardboard on our shoulders. It has become so natural.

Yesterday was great. Joanna stopped by for a visit before boarding her plane (destination- home), Jenny stuffed loot bags for the children (we’re giving them out on Saturday) and cleaned house, Paul met with the facilitators for Saturday (who are experienced in the art of conversation about AIDS/HIV), Steve Obeto painted the banners, Catherine and I picked up the large exhibition prints and painted the exhibition stands. Our Kenyan colleagues would laugh and tell you that we were “covered from head to toe” in white paint… I say that is a mild to accurate exaggeration. We settled down for the night with Paul’s homemade Lentil soup and talked about “Back to the Future” and the activities we will run at the block party on Saturday. We decided on a balloon game, a soccer challenge, face painting, and crown making.

In short, things are being completed around here, and I am really proud of the team. Today Paul, Catherine, Steve Obeto, and I will be framing the prints, and Jenny is working on letters for the children. Later we’ll head to the Primary school (for the last time!). There, Jenny and I will make bracelets with the children, Paul and Catherine will do audio interviews for the online slideshow we will make back in Canada.

Saturday’s party is really shaping up. Activities in the morning, then lunch, then time for the facilitators to help us start conversation with the community about the stigma related to HIV/ AIDs. After that our guest of honour Wendy Muckle will give a speech, and the Piga Picha children will receive their certificates. I think my favourite part of the day will be when the children arrive and see their photos blown up, framed and mounted on the stands. I’m sure they’ll rush around laughing trying to find their photos.

Okay, all for now. I’m off to the Nakumat (grocery store) to look for carpenter’s glue.


Expect the Unexpected

It constantly amazes me how children are free-thinkers.  How in moments they can do the unexpected, and then fall right back into line, and then do the unexpected all over again.  Last night’s curation session is proof.  Jenny, Paul, Catherine and I sat on our clay floor and looked through the children’s photographs as a collective.  We giggled, oohhhhed and awwwwed at the sheer creativity of the young minds we have the privilege of working with.

I would like to announce that the children at St.Clares have far exceeded expectations.  There is a show, and we are so incredibly proud of Marie Clare, Grace, Denis, Felix Ojuang, Felix Ormondi, Kevin, Mukwa, Josephat, Damacrine, Macerius, Blaise, Christopher, Lorine, Jacqueline, and Peter.

Today we get the rest of the film back from Saturday and tonight we will make our final decisions.  We will have a difficult just exhibiting 32 photos! There are so many more that are beautiful, and telling.  We look forward to coming home and sharing these photos with you.  In the mean time we are gearing up for the Block Party on Saturday.  There is a lot of work to be done this week, but I know as a team we will get it done with ease.  

All for now,

When You Look At A Tree, What Do You See?

We are very excited to get yesterday’s film back. Our little class went really well. Better than I expected, actually.

First we talked about all the ways to photograph a tree. Trunk, leaves, flowers, and other obvious elements. Then I talked about forests, wind in trees, sun through leaves, looking up a tree, etc.

The orphans have hardly ever left the orphanage. I can’t even comprehend exactly how familiar their surroundings are to them. So familiar, they probably don’t even see it. So this was an exercise in the hopes of helping them expand how they see their surroundings.

I held up photos from magazines that I chose based on their effective composition qualities, to play with this idea, after exemplifying Shapes, Colours, Lines and Patterns, Space and Detail.

Holding up a photo of a man biking along a red dirt road, I asked, “what is this a picture of?”

“A bike”

“A man”

“A tree”

“Yes, these are all correct. What else?”


“Is this a picture of colour?”


“Is this a picture of space?”


Soon, a few pictures in, after naming every element in the photo, they were identifying lines, colours, details, etc. themselves.

Off they then went to use a roll of film around the orphanage, just for those components. No pictures of friends, goats, or buildings allowed. Nothing specific. Just colours, shapes, space, and details.

For some, this was very challenging. They stood there with their cameras, unsure of where to go. We would ask them what they saw, and soon they were running toward lines, and colours. I pointed one child to the clothesline. We walked over together, and when I encouraged him to get closer, he started to see what it looked like from underneath. He had a new perspective. I am excited for that photo.

Others took to it right away, and could be found climbing trees looking down, or taking interesting pictures through the reflection of a car review mirror.

Yesterday was our last day of shooting, and I think we all feel it ended on a high point.

Now we are making selections for the show, and are in a high gear of planning for the community party on Saturday. We’re expecting about 200 people, orphans included. In addition to an exhibit of the 11X14 photos that the orphans took, there will be games, speakers on HIV/AIDS, music, and dialogue facilitators.

Ok, lots to do. Less writing, more action.

We’ll be in touch soon.

On The Ground And Running

Catherine here, Greetings!

After 2 days of travel, I landed in Kisumu this morning. It is 1pm, I have already visited the orphanage and played with the kids (actually they played with me. Apparently I’m a jungle-gym), I’ve been to the market to buy timber for our exhibition, I’ve visited our home, rode in a tuk-tuk and now am the Internet Cafe about to get a samosa. I feel like it should be dinner time now, or bed time. I’m exhausted!

While my experience here is new, I was happy to get here and find the project in full swing. Our living room has stacks of the kids’ pictures, the walls are covered in program ideas and kids’ profiles. The others are so immersed in this project, they can’t even see it anymore.

So, take it from me, it’s all very exciting.

Tomorrow is a huge photo day. I am teaching a workshop in the morning. The plan now is to do a seeing exercise with abstract pictures. Using patterns, colours, shadows, movement, blur, etc. to expand from how they are using the camera now. This is probably extremely overzealous and the kind of naive idea you laugh back on later, but it’s worth a shot!

We’ll let you know how it goes…

In the afternoon, we are going to write letters with the kids to Canadian students that wrote to them earlier. Very sweet.

Ciao for now,

Jul 18

Kisumu Rebuilding After Violence

A burnt out building still stands near Kisumu’s town centre.

On December 27, 2007, Kenya held its in the middle of a controversial election campaign. The two main candidates were the incumbent Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. Now, this would seem to be a pretty typical election except for the fact that each candidate were representing quarreling tribes. Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe is smaller in population but historically, the one who has maintained government and business. Meanwhile, Odinga’s Luo tribe is known to have more members but situated lower on the economic ladder.

Some might say that economic divide isn’t the only thing keeping these two tribes apart. Like several other African countries, Kenya’s national language is Kiswahili. In this part of the country though, I’m told tribal alliances and the baggage connected to them reveal themselves in spoken accents. The native Luo language is also spoken by many people here but it could cause tension if spoken to the wrong person so it is important to be a little careful.

To make a long story short, Kibaki won and his opponents, particularly those living in Odinga’s home province of Nyanza, revolted. As a result, January saw many violent clashes between Luos and Kikuyus. The situation peaked when local Luos began setting fire to local Kikuyu businesses until Kikuyus fled to seek refuge in their home villages.

Heading north out of town, the highway is lined with damaged storefronts.

Around Kisumu, pro-Kibaki sayings like like “Kibaki Tena” (Kibaki Again) can still be seen spraypainted on the walls. Some people I spoke to about this said that even attempting to do this during the day would be to “dig your own grave.”

Violence was felt pretty much all over town and the major shopping centres came under police protection as citizens scrambled to stock up on supplies before locking themselves in their homes until things calmed down. Some areas were so badly hit that they earned nicknames like “Dafur” and “The Gaza Strip”.

If you follow Kenyan politics, you’ll know that the situation calmed down after a coalition government was formed, Raila Odinga coming into power as Kenya’s second Prime Minister. It wasn’t until 1000 people died, including two Members of Parliament and nearly 600 000 displaced before this agreement came into effect, however.

In Kisumu, there is a collection of graffiti in favour of both Odinga and Kibaki. This particular slogan echoes feelings that unless Raila Odinga was offered a major position in Parliament, the situation would have escalated beyond control.

We’re told that this is the first time Kenya has seen conflict of this nature and from the looks of it, things have calmed down considerably. However, Kikuyus have not yet returned and burnt out buildings and IDP camps still speckle the Kenyan landscape, reminding people of what they experienced a few short months ago.

Project Update

Wow – I cannot believe how quickly our time here has gone. Today is my last day with the project… I do not know how I will say goodbye to the kids this afternoon. I’m excited for my students in Canada to correspond with the kids at St.Claire’s and to continue to do what I can from Canada to support the kids here. I look forward to seeing them again and hearing through Sister and Julie how they are all progressing. In such a short time, one can become so easily attached.

Catherine arrives tomorrow at 8:50am to sleep in my bed! The timing is perfect as the week will be quite busy and Catherine’s photography and curating skills will be essential.

The block party where we are celebrating the children’s photographs, art and stories is in 9 days! (Saturday July 26th). Members from the community who have supported St.Claire’s as well as family members of the children who are able and surrounding neighbours are invited to celebrate the children and our MC, who is HIV positive, will lead some discussions around HIV and its effects. There will be many games, lots of food, music and of course the children’s photos! All of the kids at the orphanage have contributed in some way — through murals, crafts, decorating the frames for the photos or taking the pictures. Everyone is quite excited about the party.

9 days! Lots to be done…

Today, Alyssa is off with Obeto getting the boards for the frames to be posted on. Paul is working on the Block Party Budget — we are hoping Celtel sponsors us (they will let us know today or tomorrow) and Jenny is busy labelling photos and deciphering which of her kids’ photos should be blown up for the show. I am tying up last minute details – trying to help prepare crafts for the remaining days and other little errands.

This afternoon we will all head to the primary school for the children’s second last time journaling. After our time at the primary school we’ll meet again with Obeto and Jops to discuss the Block Party budget and in addition continue to go through the many photos selecting what is best to be blown up for the Block Party and for the World Youth Congress in Quebec where Alyssa will be doing a workshop in August. Saturday will be the children’s last day to shoot.

much to do, I should sign off and get to work!

Thanks everyone for your support.

Jul 16

Meet Sister Philomena of St. Claire’s Orphange.

Sister Philomena is one of the original founders of St. Claire’s Orphanage, which was started in 2005 with 8 children. The Orphanage now has just over 90 children -including 27 of the children who attend the primary boarding school.

Sister has an amazing, jovial, and loving spirit. She always greats us with a huge smile and has been very helpful towards our project and our stay here in Kisumu.

She loves the children very much and it is a joy to watch her interact with them. (I caught her skipping the other day!!) At the beginning of the project she sat in on a couple of our lessons to ensure the children were understanding our accents -as she put it. She is an outstanding teacher and was excellent in conveying the photography lessons…again a joy to watch!!

She is a very open, loving, and caring woman and her door is always open for a chat…it has been wonderful getting to know her.

Thank you for everything Sister Philomena!!

(As you can see from these photos -little Dan is always on by her side!!)