The World Through My Eyes

Photographs by young Mozambicans.

The South West Community Connection

June 2004

Through Their Eyes

Children in Mozambique show their world in pictures, with the help of a Hillsdale photographer

By Joan Rutkowski
For The Connection

The images they photographed are striking, but even more powerful are their words.

"I am in this project because it is for orphans, and my father is dead," wrote 14-year-old Saria Alberto Lhunguane. Saria is one of 11 Mozambican children who participated in The World Through My Eyes photography project, founded by Hillsdale photographer Blake Schmidt.

Saria continued: "I didn't know about taking photos and had never touched a camera. Now I am the only person in my family who can easily manage a camera and take good photos."

Many of the children are orphans, either living with relatives or in a Catholic hospital in Chókwè, Mozambique. It is uncertain, but likely, that their parents died from AIDS, Schmidt said.

Schmidt, 26, said his goal is to help Mozambican children develop artistic skill that also could make them stronger candidates for education scholarships. Poverty and illness make it difficult for children to attend consistently. And they certainly haven't experienced photography as an art or hobby. When the class started, the students "didn't even have the basic concept of a photograph," Schmidt said.

Before founding the project, Schmidt spent two years in the Peace Corps teaching English at the Agrarian School of Chókwè;. He developed a love for the Mozambican culture and formed close friendships.

Schmidt also loves photography. While growing up, he played around with snapping photos, but his interest advanced during a photography class at Lincoln High School. After graduating from college with majors in mass communications and world perspectives, Schmidt traveled the world, photographing his journeys. He returned to Portland and did some freelance photography and design work before joining the Peace Corps.

While in Mozambique, Schmidt was inspired by an article he read about Fotokids, a nonprofit that teaches photography in Guatemala and Honduras. He partnered with Marcílio Nhampossa, a friend from Chókwè and secured a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique. In February, after his service ended, they launched their four-month pilot project.

A nonprofit donated community center space for the school and Sisters from the hospital referred students to the program. The group met after school a few days a week, exploring sites in and outside the city and taking digital photos for a few ours.

Their pictures depict life in Mozambique. A toddler plodding down a dirt path, "AIDS" spray painted on a wall. A wildflower sprouting from the ground circled by an abandoned tire. A photography student smiling for his first close-up photo.

The children showed off their photos at two April exhibitions that drew hundreds of visitors and completed the pilot project. It was proud time for the students; local governmental leaders, US Embassy staff and community members attended the showings and asked the students about their work. The students were shy but proud, Schmidt said.

After the exhibits, Schmidt returned to Hillsdale to see his family and figure out a way to continue the project with consistent funding.

Though he could make a living as a professional photographer, Schmidt said he's more interested in returning to Mozambique. After a few moments of reflection, he said: "I guess I figured I could either be a good photographer and make a living or do something like this and be of benefit to people. I really like Mozambique and this just feels good to me."

And he's inspired by the students, who are hoping to continue their studies. As the project ended, 13-year-old Elcídio Ubisse wrote, "When I was nine my dream was to become a football player, but with the project I now want to be a journalist and photographer."

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