In the cozy room, we all sit preparing for the LifeCircle session – always scheduled for Friday. The atmosphere is warm. Older students make cheerful noises as Jeri, the day’s life coach and teacher, takes out a piece of chalk to write on the scribbly blackboard. The younger ones remain silent, eager to hear what the writing reads. It is only on such days that they are willing to put away the cameras and collectively reflect on life issues and their relation to photography, “Life is like a camera”. Some duplicate the writing into their books. Everyone is calm, and the day’s life coach finally calls the session to order.
“Since you began photography classes, what aspects of your life have changed?” Jeri asks. Everyone remains quiet, unsure of the right answer. But there is never a wrong answer in reflective sessions. The Inua Mimi Rescue Centre students take their time to reflect as Jeri gives examples of the feedback received from the St. Mary’s, Silanga community. The students then break into chorus- each calling out “Teacher! Teacher!”. Everyone wants their voice heard.
“Life is like a camera. Focus on the important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and always take another shot.” Calmly, she explains what each word means, interchangeably using English and Swahili for the students’ ease of understanding. The discussion is lively as students share their thoughts on life’s realities and how these can relate to the camera. Thomas, one of the students, is keen to make sure that his colleagues understand that negatives are not necessarily setbacks but rather opportunities for self-development. “Life is like a chain. When you fail, give it another shot. As is in soccer, when you lose; you don’t give up,” Thomas says. The older students share his sentiments nodding in unison.
The students happily mention the good times they have had since their induction into camera classes. Their most memorable being the field trips, they agree they “captured”, and treasure them. I wonder why. They are overly excited whilst describing the trips. For some, it had been their first. For others, it was akin to an opportunity that enabled them to dream beyond now.
“What do you dream of being?’’ the coach asks. “I want to be rich. I want to leave the hood (Kibera) someday. I will live in Lavington (one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Nairobi),” one student answers as others begin to mention places they fancy – beyond Kibera. It is not that they all have the same dream, just that they have similar conditioning which they want to break free from. It is also an expression of team spirit.
“Take advantage of today’s opportunities. Tomorrow practically does not exist. When there’s something worth doing- do it today,” Gillian – another teacher and mentor – advises. We conclude the class by sharing snacks.
It has been three weeks since I began engaging with the students from Kibera- both St. Mary’s and Inua Mimi. Every one of these days has been a learning and growing adventure, as an individual and a photojournalist. It has been a test and opportunity to channel my energy to the positivity of these great photographers (the students of Inua Mimi Rescue Centre and St. Mary’s, Silanga); from whom I am constantly learning new elements to explore in my photography. For now, I sign off to reflect on my life- which is indeed “Like a Camera.”