The Muskoka Foundation Photography Program was started to work with youth in disadvantaged communities to find personal joy and hope, a viable channel for self-expression and empowerment, and even a path towards a potential career. The Muskoka Foundation has established 12 partnerships with organizations that support orphans, street children and displaced youth in USA, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, and Africa. In each location, we donate highly functional digital cameras, memory cards and printers. We then deploy our 150+ strong network of international volunteers to present a photography workshop to the youth that includes camera training, games, field trips and photo evaluation.
These workshops have reached over 100 children around the world from the Favelas of Rio to the Reservations of Native Americans. The cameras remain in the communities for the children to continue building their skills and raising their voices to highlight both the beauty and heartbreak that they witness on a daily basis. We focus on sustainability and partner with local trainers, photographers, galleries, universities, and artists to build an ecosystem of support around the youth, while our volunteers act as catalysts to start the program and do regular check-ins to support the program. We also find international markets for the youth’s work by creating office art, calendars, gallery shows and digital images that are purchased by companies and individuals. One hundred percent of the sales proceeds go directly to the communities and the youth; thousands of dollars have already been disbursed.
The 100+ participating youth from around the world exhibited their work at galleries, schools and shelters in their own communities and at international art shows. Apart from sales to assist with basic necessities, this has generated enormous personal confidence:
“This project helped me discover my talent and creativity that I was not aware of. I feel that the most rewarding part of this opportunity is to receive such positive comments and to see other people appreciating my work.”
Erik, age 17. Mexico (Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots)
Furthermore, youth coordinators noticed drastic changes in students’ behaviors, especially amongst those suffering from emotional hardship:
“This photography workshop has boosted the confidence of the youth participants, they [actually] continue to volunteer to take pictures, a change attributed to The Muskoka Foundation photography course. This is my reward to see the happiness in the faces of youth who have made accomplishments through Aboriginal Youth Programs.”
Earlene, Canada (Napi Friendship Association)
This year we worked on a nature theme, reconnecting youth with the environment in their own communities, even a struggling weed or urban birds. We then managed a Photography Competition with a twist: all submitted entries were reviewed on Facebook - images with the most “likes” are featured in our 2012 Calendar. An amazing point: the youth from these disadvantaged communities used social media to connect with each other and review each others’ work! The youth also raised awareness of local mistreated parks and found beauty in forgotten local spaces – lonely fields or unusual trees.