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  • Writer's pictureGraham Dodridge

James Purdy's Experience

James Purdy is a photographic student from Maine, a north easterly state in the United States. James joined Snap to teach photography to the disadvantaged children of South Africa, having discovered us on Changing Worlds. The below is his blog from his recent five week project:

My purpose for doing this is to further understand and expose myself to parts of the world that I have not had the opportunity to visit, as well as put myself into new cultures in which I can affect change. And here I am! I have finally arrived in Port Elizabeth, South Africa! I am preparing to meet the volunteer group I will be working with, as well as a professional photographer who is the program director at Snap Foundation. His name is Remy Whiting and he is a professional photographer who has partnered with United Through Sport and Changing Worlds in order to create the photography program that I will be volunteering with! The goal of this program is to teach young South African children how to use film and digital cameras. By using photography as a forum, our hopes are to mentor these children in their lives, while also giving them the skills to photograph and document their lives. As I am set to begin this incredible project, I can only hope that my work will affect someone in a positive way. I would hope to leave a lasting impact on a least one persons life, yet any change that I can make is what I have come here to do. Here is new opportunities and to a new world!

Today we taught at two different schools in the townships surrounding Port Elizabeth and the experience so far has simply been eye opening. It’s incredible to give a child something that we take for granted, a camera, and see the joy in their eyes when the get an opportunity to take a picture for the first time. From what I have witnessed thus far, these are the happiest children I have had the opportunity to meet. I just cannot express how amazing of an opportunity this has been and I have only been here less than one week!

Here we are in week two of this amazing trip! We have finally completed our 1st week of volunteering and what an incredible experience it has been so far. I really just cannot express how unique some of these children are. After working with them for almost two weeks, I think it is becoming more and more obvious just how special this is to the 20 children we see at each school. While the photography skills we are teaching could help lead to a possible career for these children, the reality is that many of them will not become photographers which leaves me questioning the true meaning of this project. What I have come to understand is that the simple joy that these children get from this project is what matters. For many of the students, this is the most enjoyable part of their morning, day, or even week. For many of us, this can be hard to comprehend. The idea that an hour and half with a camera could be the highlight of our week. However, after seeing the living conditions, the schools, and the people that many of these children interact with on a day-to-day basis, it becomes easier to understand how something so simple, can create such happiness. If I have learned anything from the young children I have been working with for the past three weeks, it is that happiness is a not a feeling or a random emotion, but instead a choice. The reason that I say this, is based on the children’s reactions to their own lives. As I have expressed before, I have not met a group of children that are so happy and upbeat, despite the conditions in which they are living. Some may argue that this is because they “don’t know what they are missing”, however I find this difficult to believe when many of them still see other cultures through television, magazines, and pictures. For many of these children, they have most likely seen wealthier homes, people, and lifestyles on say, a television, and it must make them question why it is that their lives are so vastly different than other humans.

It is because of this that I am seeing that happiness is a simple choice, a state of mind if you will. These students could look at their life in the most negative way possible. That’s the easy way out. Complain about the living conditions. Whine about the poor healthcare. Cry about not having shoes to wear to school. No, this is not what they will do. Instead they will laugh, they will sing, dance, scream, run, jump,smile. They will be happy. And I can promise you that this happiness is not a result of their new bedroom, or their shiny new pair of shoes. No, this happiness is organic. It is these children’s way of making a statement. Telling the rest of their friends, families, neighbors, and peers that they cannot be brought down by materialistic possessions. They are alive, with the ones they love, and this is all that matters to them. I have said it before and I will say if again.

It is amazing what someone less than half your age can teach you.

This weekend was safari weekend in South Africa! What an incredible experience to see these amazing animals in their natural habitat. This animal was also a sight to be seen. The African Buffalo is a cow on steroids.

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