shooting in the townships

As we rumbled into Kwide in our small convoy of minibus, pickup truck and hatchback we were incongruous against the corrugated steel shuttering, reclaimed wood boarding and walls of wind ravaged plastic waste, thrashed by the warm Cape winds against any fence or object where is could secure anchor. An intoxicating patchwork fragrance of African cooking over wood fueled fires interspersed with the smells of poverty living. Warnings of raised terror threat and roadside armed robbery soon melted away as we entered the secure compound of Emzomncane primary school.

The infectious energy, cheerfulness and happy smiles, apparently ignorant of the relative lack of future opportunities, challenges to health, general poor living conditions and underclass status, filled me with good spirit. I had arrived in the comfort of a British Airways A380 Airbus and the juxtaposition of these two worlds, separated by mere minutes and only a few kilometers set my head spinning with myriad questions. But my searching impotently for answers was soon forgotten as I became preoccupied by the day’s schedule.

I was with five international photographic students who had all signed up to teach the children of South Africa a way to express themselves through pictures. Yifan Hu from Wuhan City in China was taking time out from his studies at London College of Communications where he is immersed in a project about Hereotopia, a concept by philosopher Michel Foucault to describe places and spaces that are neither here nor there and that are simultaneously physical and mental, such as the space of a phone call or the moment when you see yourself in the mirror! Yifan had been inspired by a visit from fellow Director and founder of Snap: photographer, Remy Whiting. Did aspects of life in a township reflect any part of his Hereotopia project, I wondered.

Next I met Natasha Clemo from Bodmin in Corwall, UK who had heard about Snap from her tutor at Plymouth Uni. Effusing about how blessed she is and how she will never again take anything for granted, I was beginning to see that the beneficiaries of Snap were not limited to the children being taught, but were the students who were just beginning to explore their understanding of the world beyond their previous experiences. Then I chatted to Amy Davies from Cardiff, Wales. Her safety concerns about traveling to this part of Africa were muted, but not entirely diminished, having just witnessed an aggressive face-to-face credit card robbery in broad daylight. But Amy expressed to me that in experiencing the Snap project she had gained confidence. Amy thinks that everyone she knows back home would benefit from the experience, that she is stronger than she thought she was and more loving than she realised. Amy has made some lifelong friends and along with Natasha has vowed to return next year and to help Snap grow in the interim.

Out on the rubbish strewn playground James Purdey from Maine in the U.S. was heading a ball across a group of year 10 students, pointing digital cameras skywards. They were sitting in an inner circle learning how to take action shots. James, a strong looking ‘all American kid’ armed with ubiquitous back facing baseball cap, T shirt and baggy shorts was holding the enthusiastic attention of not only his class, but groups of other school children on a play break. James had discovered Snap on the Changing Worlds website. Although James had previously taught in the U.S. he described this experience as being on a ‘whole different level’. He claims that the children of Kwide township are the happiest he has ever met. James also noted that the Snap project made up a valuable part of his college qualification.

More than volunteers these students had not only committed months of their time to teaching in foreign lands, they had also paid money for flights and accommodation to be here. These guys were truly committed to helping people far less well off than themselves. Some had borrowed money from friends and family, some had sought sponsorship and others had saved their earnings from bar work and other weekend jobs. Snap was leveraging the infrastructure of United Through Sports. This relationship meant that the Snap student teachers were living in secure accommodation in Port Elizabeth with thirty or so other like minds from the world of sports. I met Sophie from Germany and Mel from Switzerland. This global fusion clearly makes for a culturally rich, diverse and totally inclusive chapter in all their lives.

Although the volunteers were working a full curriculum during the school week, the weekends were their own. Some had been shark diving the previous weekend and karaoke nights at Barney’s, in the centre of Port Elizabeth was a popular choice. All were looking forward to a trip to a game reserve at the end of their tour to photograph incredible wildlife such as lions and elephants.

Back in the playground a diminutive and smartly dressed year ten pupil called Yonela Mrasi chatted with me. Yonela had never used a camera before. She particularly liked zooming in and taking action shots and silhoettes. Yonela told me she loved Amy and thought that Remy was a cool guy. Her enthusiasm extended to all of the children I met. Athule Makuma, dreamed of the possibility that she might one day become a professional photographer, although becoming a doctor was also another option she was exploring.

On my arrival at the student accommodation earlier in the day I had been enthusiastically welcomed by the infectious good humour of Programme Manager Domineque Scott. Dom had visited from Delaware in the U.S. for a few weeks a couple of years ago, but liked it so much she decided to stay. I felt immediately embraced by this broader family, brought together by a common selfless goal of helping others, but sadly my time here to see for myself what we are achieving with Snap, was all too short and it was time to head home.

Like so many of the volunteers I met I am blessed with a head full of wonderful memories, a clutch of new friends from around the globe and a 32Gb SD card full of photographs to help me ‘picture my world’ and tell my story. I know now that what we have started at Snap has the potential to become a real contributor to better global cultural understanding and tolerance. I hope that it will be a continuum in my life’s journey from here on in.

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We welcome any enquiries about sponsorship opportunities, volunteering and donations by calling Remy on +44 (0) 7704 587073 or emailing info@snap.foundation

Please send your old functional, digital cameras along with chargers etc. to Snap.Foundation, Silver Agency, 702 Eagle Tower, Cheltenham GL50 1TA UK

You can also donate to us at Crowdfunder

Graham Dodridge is Founder and Director of Snap. Foundation and is also an avid photographer. Snap is the charity arm of Silver,agency.