The charity, founded by Prince Harry and Lesotho’s Prince Seeiso, helps the African kingdom’s youngest victims of extreme poverty and the HIV/AIDS epidemic get the support they need to lead healthy, productive lives.
Jackson has been covering the charity’s efforts for the past eight years, and recently, through the generous assistance of Fujifilm, had a remarkable experience. He taught the children how to shoot.
“One episode that particularly stood out for me in this whole project was when many of the Sentebale children were playing sport on the games pitch at the centre,” Jackson said. “One of the slightly older children had limited mobility with his lower limbs, and found it very difficult to get involved in the physical activity.
With help from volunteers, he learned that he could use a digital camera to photograph his friends playing sport. He really felt like he was part of the action, evident from the smile on his face as I watched him look at the images springing up on the back of the camera. This was something that, as a photographer, I really relate to. He took to the photography in a big way and whenever I saw him after that, he was camera-in-hand – a Getty sports snapper in training!”
Jackson writes more about the experience below:
For the past eight years or so I’ve been regularly traveling out to the remote South African mountain kingdom of Lesotho to document the work of a Charity that was founded over 10 years ago by Prince Harry alongside Prince Seeiso of Lesotho.
Sentebale simply means “forget me not” in the the local Sesotho language. The charity focuses its work on the vulnerable children of what can be a harsh and unforgiving country – Lesotho has been ravaged by HIV/ AIDS, suffering from the second highest rate in the world. This has left an orphaned generation in desperate need of support, education and medicine.
Over the years I have grown to know the children and staff in Lesotho well and it made me keen to get involved in more depth. I’ve always noticed the positive effect that the process of taking a photo has on the children. It’s almost therapeutic; the universal language of the still image has always been a means by which I am able to break down boundaries and create and immediate connection with the children I am photographing.
As in many of the counties I’ve been to around the world, the kids in Lesotho love looking at the digital image on the back of my camera. The pleasure I get from taking a photo becomes a shared joy with many of the subjects I capture.
On previous visits, I have also noticed in many of the orphanages the children love creating montages on the wall of their friends and staff.
It was to this end that I contacted Fuji who kindly gave me some brightly coloured Instax 8 cameras as well as a set of digital bridge cameras to take to Lesotho with a view to giving the children an opportunity to get involved in photography sessions. I was sure that photography was a tool that would enable the children to not only be creative, but reinforce many of the important messages Sentebale stands for.
Much of the money raised by Sentebale over the last few years has gone towards an incredible, multi-functional facility, The Mamohato Children’s Centre, designed to provide emotional, psychological and medical support to the children. Based on sacred land donated by the King outside the capital, Maseru, the centre is used to run week-long “Network Camps” for vulnerable and HIV positive children.
Education, health awareness and, above all, fun are key for the children who visit. It was here that I was lucky enough to be given permission to start running photography sessions for the children. With more than 10 camps a year and up to 100 children in each camp, it was a chance for many of the disadvantaged children of Lesotho to get involved in the magic of photography.
I headed out to Lesotho to begin the project armed with sacks of dressing up gear, a number of massively overweight bags containing the cameras and a huge amount of AA batteries! The thing that concerned me the most was getting the film to Africa safely and it took a lot of negotiating to get the packs of instant film around the numerous X-ray machines (which can affect it). One bag went AWOL in Dubai en-route, but I felt a huge sense of relief when I arrived at the Mamohato Centre 28 hours after leaving Heathrow. I was jelagged and stressed, but had all the cameras in one piece!
Teaching the Lessons
In Lesotho, I was able to both give training to the staff (who use digital cameras to document the weekly Mamohato Network Camps, images of which are used to create a slideshow for the children at the end of the week) and also introduce the cameras to the volunteers who run the camps, explain how they worked and discuss concepts for sessions with the children.
As we suspected, the cameras were an instant hit with the children. Many came into sessions very shy and reserved, but left smiling and confident. Each group of children took part in an hour-long ‘fun’ introductory session, creating a collage on the wall.
Knowing that the children in Lesotho love to dance and sing, I was keen to make the lessons quite physical and with a real sense of fun. I played music in each class and, along with the volunteers, we encouraged the children to “shake it” fanning the instant photos as the images appeared. I know that the instant-film aficionados will tell me it’s not essential to develop the film in this way, but it was a great way of making the lessons less static — and the kids loved it! Every time my whistle blew the children would gather the images they had created to build a montage on the wall around a logo of the charity. Towards the end of the session the children dived into the dressing up box and created images of each other gear in everything from pink wigs to father Christmas hats – great fun! (£20 well spent in poundland Wandsworth!).
In addition to this throughout the week the children created a ‘Mamohato Times’ newspaper using their photos and text they had written. This was a more cerebral activity that the introduction sessions and the instant cameras were perfect for this as they enabled the children to conceptualize and image, create it and immediately write about it.
This idea developed from something the children had done previously. For me it was incredibly satisfying to see them using the cameras so creatively and thoughtfully to create something that reinforced many of the important messages they were being taught as well as remind them of many of the great friends they had made.
At the end of a week-long camp the children were able to take away the images they had created, a lasting memory of the camp and something to show their family – invaluable.
The Official Opening of the Mamohato Centre
After my initial visit to Lesotho to initiate and run the project, I headed back a few weeks later for the official opening of the Mamohato Centre. This was to be a huge event, attended by various local dignitaries as well as the King and Queen of Lesotho and Prince Harry.
It was a showcase for many of the activities that children would take part at in the centre including HIV awareness, sports games and yes, photography! I was able to explain the project to many of the visiting guests, the King and Queen as well as Prince Harry, who was totally on-board. Prince Harry is a keen photographer and immediately got stuck into the sessions taking photos with the children and even a photo of the King and Queen – not the more formal royal portrait I have been used to, but great fun!
The project legacy
The legacy of this project has always been integral to me, seeing the positive effect it had on the children made it important to me that it wasn’t a flash in the pan. Getty Images and Fuji have been fantastically supportive of the whole venture with Fuji even funding the project with film for the next year. Beyond this we are exploring ways to keen the children snapping well into the future!
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