Happiness, it’s a choice

Stacey Hatfield works as a Photography Team Leader at Net-a-Porter and also is Co-coordinator for SNAP Foundation she has been interested in the Snap Foundation teaching programmes (founded by Photographer Remy Whiting) for a while. Last year in June she was able to embark on a lifechanging trip to South Africa to work with young children in some of the townships’ schools. Stacey got the chance to also head out there again this February to volunteer and co-ordinate a small team of volunteers teaching in the township areas of Port Elizabeth. This was her experience.

From the outset, it was wonderful to put cameras in these children’s hands and experience the unbelievable enthusiasm they have for learning about
photography. It’s incredible to give a child something that we take for granted, a camera, and see the pure joy in their eyes when the get an opportunity to take a picture for the first time.

The experience brings rewards, new skills, self-belief and strong emotions for both the volunteer teachers and the pupils. A typical week consists of three lessons per day visiting three different schools and teaching a new topic each day to children aged 10-16. For example the day one was learning about light, day 2 Sports photography, day three Perspective and so on.

They were so excited to start photographing their surroundings and to take fellow pupils’ portraits in the school. But the most exciting moments for them by far were the perspective jumping shots and using the Polaroid cameras. Working on perspective within photography, we got the kids running and leaping high in front of the camera to make it appear as if they were jumping up to a height that even Icarus would be proud of. They loved the challenge and practiced over and over again until they got the shot right. Every lesson
was filled with laughs and giggles, funny portraits, dancing, story telling, insights into their lives – but also insights into my life for them, all through photographs. And selfies, they love selfies; the craze has certainly spread to Africa.

Working with these kids was incredible fun but almost everyday we would get a reality check, some of the stories we heard and the pictures we saw make you realise how fortunate we are. Our pupils of Enzomncane School were between 11 and 14 years old but some of the things they are exposed to on a daily basis would scare the toughest of characters. We heard stories of drug and alcohol abuse, murder, corruption, poverty and HIV. This is everyday life for so many people in the townships.

What I came to understand is 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 day, or even week. For many of us, this can be hard to comprehend the idea that an hour with a camera could be the highlight of our week. Yet, after seeing the homes, living conditions 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 worked with during my time volunteering for SNAP, it is that happiness is a not a feeling or a random emotion, but instead a choice.

On my last day, we attended the school assembly. The sun was just coming up and the light was beautiful. The children all lined up in their uniforms, listening to the principle, Ms January, imparting her wise words. Before we knew it, it was time for us to hand out the certificates to Grade 6 and 7…
both Remy and I handed out certificates and orange Snap hats to our pupils. It was sweet to see them all so very excited but also a little shy about being
recognised in front of the whole school. The entire school then proceeded to sing together, all in harmony, which was wonderful to hear – just as it was to see so many of them dancing away! Experiencing this kind of thing certainty makes your heart warm.

Soon enough, it was time for us to say goodbye to everyone at the school. I will miss the energy, love and excitement that the kids gave us everyday.
Looking forward to the next trip!