GRANADA—The future is hard to picture for many underprivileged children living in the barrios surrounding Granada. But that hasn’t prevented a group of high school students from Villa Esperanza from bringing their lives into focus thanks to an innovative photography initiative that puts cameras in kids’ hands.
The program, run by Granada-based non-governmental organization Empowerment International (EI), is a form of artful aid that teaches teens to shoot, select and edit their own photos, which will be on display this Sunday at their gallery opening.
Over the past two weeks, these budding “photogs” got a chance to work with professional photographers from across the United States. The Giving Lens, an organization that connects photographers to tours, coordinated the program with Empowerment International to offer a positive experience for participants and the students.
During two week-long trips, the visiting photographers were able to teach some skills, learn a lot and explore Nicaragua. For Keli Keach, from Seattle, the experience was very eye-opening.
“I was so impressed by the enduring spirit of these students, the joy and happiness that they have for everything,” Keach says. “Photography gives them emotional confidence; they can say that they made something to really be proud of.”
This week, in the lull after the photography tours, the students are gathering each day (during school vacation, nonetheless) to select their best photographs and practice editing them on Adobe Lightroom. Meeting as early as 8 a.m., the students gather behind donated Netbooks to delete their blurry photographs, enhance the good ones, and laugh over the great memories made with their with new foreign friends.
Empowerment International was founded in 2004 to help educate poor people living outside Granada. The organization offers a wide range of services on a community level to serve as a hand up, not a hand out. Kathy Adams, founder and executive director, explains that everyone in the program is involved.
“School supplies are our ticket in the door, but we don’t believe in handouts,” Adams says. “Everybody here has to earn their keep. Everyone has their responsibility, from the little ones up to the high schoolers.”
The older students tutor the younger students after school, and many run the extracurricular clubs that keep kids involved. From photography to biking to dance classes, these groups keep the high school students motivated and interested in returning to the program each day. The program uses home visits to involve the parents and emphasizes finding the right path for each student, rather than employing a one-size-fits-all approach.
Program director Anielka Gutierrez says the home visits are working. “Now [the parents] understand that education is the key to break out of poverty,” she says.
Empowerment International is mainly funded through individual sponsorships of $30 per month. These donations cover school costs, such as books, uniforms and tuition, tutoring, home visits, medicine, extracurricular activities and the education center close to the neighborhood. The education center offers a safe place for students to spend their afternoons, and makes it almost impossible to avoid the benefits that come from such a supportive community. Since the program was implemented eight years ago, the neighborhood has seen the graduation rate rise from 50% to 80%.
All are invited to come to this Sunday’s gallery opening to see some impressive photography and celebrate the hard work of these determined students.
The exhibit will be held July 22, 5-7:30pm, at 519 Calle Libertad (150 m west of Puente Papa Q).