#237 Cameras become tickets to a new life

In the Mathare Valley slum of Nairobi a group of young people is working to make their dream of a better future become reality. The Mwelu Foundation puts cameras in their hands, teaches them film production and journalism and a sense of responsibility toward their community.

Julius Mwelu is founder and artistic director of the foundation. He credits Lana Wong, an American who reached out a hand to him in the Mathare slum.

As his photographs improved, so did his dreams. Shots he took as part of a project with the Mathare Youth Sports Association http://www.mysakenya.org/ were incorporated in Wong’s book, Shootback: Photos by Kids in Nairobi Slums.

Now Mwelu is a professional photographer with numerous credits to his name. A book about him and his foundation is soon to be released: Julius Mwelu & the Mwelu Foundation/Nairobi.

Hoping to give other young people the same chance that started him on his career path, Mwelu puts point-and-shoot cameras in the hands of Mathare youth. Their photographs capture the gritty life of their home turf. Sales of prints keep the program going. Videos tell the young filmmakers’ stories.

The Web site is irregularly updated. The Facebook page has only sporadic entries. But the work of the young people who have made films and photographs with the mentoring and support of the Mwelu Foundation is strong and moving.

Check out videos such as “Unsung Heroes” (below), which tells the story of a grandmother whose lost nine of her 10 children to HIV/AIDS and is sole support of 35 grandchildren. Examine the photographs of the young people. Look in the eyes of the aspiring young photographers.

May the Mwelu Foundation continue to put cameras in young hands, and may the dreams of these creative and talented young people become reality.

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