Alyssa Bistonath
Feb 26

Piga Picha Toronto

After the success of Piga Picha Kenya, in October 2008 we started similar “Kids with Cameras” program in Toronto. This time, however, we ran the program in the classroom of a  local public school where Joanna Weis (a member of the Piga Picha team) teaches grade 7.  Each of the 15 children, after hearing the  Piga Picha story, received a camera that had been previously used by one of the orphans at St.Clares during the Piga Picha Kenya project. It truly seemed to motivate the students in Toronto to hear of the children who had taken a similar adventure half a world away. 

Through the weeks we created various exercises and field trips to help expand their vision of what it meant to communicate through photography. In explaining why they had taken a certain shot at a certain angle, the students began sharing their feelings and thoughts.  The young students used the photography lessons as a mode of self expression and also developed critical thinking skills–this artistic and emotional development is so important to the discovery of their identities and their role as innovators, social reformers, and leaders. 

For the first couple of weeks while I got to know the students at the school I was constantly reminded of children from Kisumu.  Children regardless of circumstances often need the same things: a sense of community, a sense of being understood, someone to listen.  When asked to photograph their school, their neighbourhood, city, family, and selves the children often brought back photos that were not only poignant but also a distinct record of the times that we live in.  

Aug 21

The World Youth Congress

I must say, it was an incredible privilege to take Piga Picha to the World Youth Congress in Quebec. With a warm atmosphere of enthusiasm the 500 delegates from 120 different countries set up exhibitions, gave workshops, participated in international dialogues, and went on the World Youth Walk.

The photographs by the children were exhibited all week and it was wonderful to stand along side and answer questions and give more information about the project and the children at St. Clares.  Later in the week Julie and I gave a workshop outlining the project with the hope of helping delegates create similar projects in their own or other countries.  There was a lot of enthusiasm about the project, and it was a great opportunity to discuss it with an international group.
All in all it was a truly inspiring experience.  The congress had an air of hope around it (and after all, “Tumaini” means hope!)  It was wonderful to meet other delegates working and living in Kisumu, to hear about other potential project ideas, and most of all to see the incredibly positive reaction to the photographs by the children.
All for now,

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,

Jul 12

Meet Byron

Vera, Givens, Byron and Mauren

A little man that has melted all of our hearts…

Byron is relatively new to St. Claire’s. He and his siblings (shown above) arrived here a few months ago from an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp. They were returned here to Kisumu as there are many Luo people here. He is often quite serious for a little toddler understandably given what he has seen. Bryon, his siblings and his mom survived as they slept in fields as they were escaping instead of houses (which were being burnt). He loves to be held and to listen to picture books. His mom is with Bryon’s older siblings trying to gather together money to re-create their life. No one has heard about/from his father since the post-election violence.

We’re really looking forward to these kids attending school next year. These are the faces of some of the kids who are in need of a dormitory. (The proceeds of our project are going towards building another dormitory for the increasing number of children at St. Claire’s).

– Joanna

Jul 2

“…these are my friends and I stay with them as one family.”

Lorine looking at her photos.

Peter writing in his journal.

Kevin Kangal’s journal.  It says, “I like foto because  these are my friends and I stay with them as one family.”  We teared up a bit when we read this…

Josephats journal.  It says, “I lal (like) this green grass.  I lal this class be cos it is good school.”

Christopher’s journal.  It says, I like this photo because “of this house and the boy which sits on the verhandah.”  This photo makes me feel “so happy.”

Felix Ojuang’s journal. It says “1. like this foto because these are my friends. 2. i like this foto because this is the best.”

Felix resting after finishing his roll of film.

A whole new set of film ready to get processed.


Yesterday was amazing. It was such a pleasure to see the children’s faces as they looked at their photography for the first time. What talent! Each child laid out their photos and their group looked them over. It was so fun to ask them their favourites and have them explain why. It gave us an opportunity to hear the stories, feelings, and reasons why they took their photographs. Each child picked their two favourites and glued them in their journals. After that they wrote responses to their photos, and then tore outside to shoot another roll.

Jul 2

Play Time!

We’ve had lots of time to sing, dance, play games and do crafts at the orphanage. “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” is the current new favourite. The children are very patient and diligent during craft time – not a peep is heard while instructions are given and they clean up without any prompts! A teacher’s dream class. 🙂
My highlight is when the children break out into song as they are incredible singers and their repertoire is quite extensive. They have led us through many, many songs in Swahili and in English – all involve dancing! They sure can keep a beat! (Hopefully I’ll come back with some rhythm!)

James, not only talented at crafts, is a natural song leader. The other kids follow his lead as he transitions smoothly from one song to the next. Much to be learned from this amazing little teacher.

More play time updates to come! – Joanna