Caroline Stafford and Aimee Rathle, high school students from London and New Orleans respectively, carried out a photography class with students from Tchey school. In this article, they describe their experience and how they came up with the idea for the class.
by Caroline Stafford and Aimee Rathle
In July of 2011, my cousin and I led a week of classes at Tchey School, one of the schools supported by the Ponheary Ly Foundation, in a small village outside Siem Reap. We taught a photography class. Sounds simple enough, right? However, these children had never seen a camera before, let alone know how to use one. But the children were delighted at the concept of taking their own photos and were rearing to go.
We taught two classes of boys and girls (aged between 10 and 13) whose English was of mixed ability. Some understood most of what we said, but others understood very little, making hand signals, acting, and Pictionary on the blackboard…most useful. In the end, we got the message across. The idea was that the children would make a poster about their family life using pictures that they had taken.
The original idea of creating these posters came from a friend of my mother’s. She created a website called, “My World.” Here, you can see poster boards from similar volunteer organizations, but from different parts of the world, such as children of similar age, doing a poster board about their family in the West Bank, Palestine. Families there are less poor, speak much better English, but the children lead equally challenging lives, there traumatized by the region’s strife and ongoing conflict.
Hence, the idea was not just to teach the Cambodian children how to create a poster of their family, using real photographic images, and learn how to present a project, but also to share their experience with other children around the world.
With concept in hand, we were ready to go. The Foundation had about 20 digital cameras that we could use. We gave each student a camera to take home (after a long practice session at school). We needed to start with the basics, like how to focus, zoom and delete a photo, but they were quick to catch on and were thrilled by seeing their images appear on the screen.
Then, using an example poster that we made, the children understood that they needed to take photos based around the idea “My Family and Where I Live.” For example, they needed to take pictures of their parents, siblings, their home, any pets or animals and any other features of interest to them around their home.
After they returned the next day, we developed the children’s’photos and the posters were now on their way. Each poster included interesting photos, used the English that we helped them with and were annotated with charming sentences describing their life. We were amazed by the precision by which they approached each task: cutting, gluing and poster decoration.
These children seem to have natural artistic ability and attention to detail that was just amazing. There was no way they were going to be rushed and each aspect of the poster was designed and decorated to perfection. The week finished off with a show and tell, and although, initially shy, we saw just how natural they were presenting in front of their classmates (something they’re not used to doing in Cambodia) and how proud they were of their sharing their family images. More importantly, on the last day, we showed them a mini film clip of each presentation and also a picture of each of their posters on the Internet. It was amazing to see their eyes light up through the multiple uses of technology, media interaction that they had never seen before.