By Mitch Kloorfain
We think we know poverty. For so many families in Nicaragua it appears the only thing they may actually own is their poverty status.
According to the United Nations Human Development Report for 2009, 80 percent of Nicaraguans live below the poverty line, earning less than $2 a day.
In May I was invited/chosen to attend a workshop with several international photographers as part of a group called The Giving Lens to work with the youth of Empowerment International in Granada, Nicaragua, to teach them a skill in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and limited education.
The outcome was life changing for me, too.
Empowerment International offers community based educational programs to studentsand their families in addition to their schooling, not in lieu of.
The Giving Lens was founded by highly acclaimed, globe-trotting professional photographer Colby Brown.
at The Giving Lens, we are always looking to connect with heartfelt
organizations that not only are making a difference in their communities, but
truly helping to change the lives of those they come across.” said Mr. Brown.
So far, The Giving Lens has connected with Peru and Nicaragua and will bring photographers to Jordan and Israel later this year.
Because we live in such a giving community here on the Treasure Coast, my work partner, Wendy Dwyer, put out an "ask" to raise money to cover some of my expenses for this journey, as well as to create a surplus to make contributions to the Empowerment International. As usual, our community came through and made a difference in the lives of others.
Much like a pledge drive on PBS television, we offered print or digital images to those who contributed to the trip instead of a tote bag.
My 1,067-mile journey had me heading to Fort Lauderdale airport at 8 p.m. to be on an 11:40 p.m. flight that would have me there by 12:15 a.m. after factoring in the two- hour time difference in this small country in Central America.
The first day started with a meet and greet of the students and facilitators of Empowerment International. The students were very nervous as they made their much-rehearsed speeches to this group of strangers in English.
Armando, a student with EI, was given the responsibility of taking care of the catalog ofcameras, batteries, memory cards, cases and managing the images on a small netbook computer.
The cameras were a collection of mostly older model point-n-shoots with almost no two alike.
Our first excursion was to walk to a park and work with the students on the basics of photography such as composition, color, texture and lighting.
The park was cement based with no grass, ball fields, swings or anything we are blessed to have our youth play on.
Four kids were there wearing Chicago White Sox and Aeropostale T-shirts that were apparently donated somewhere along the line to become part of their wardrobe.
They played by kicking a ball back and forth between them with as much energy as a gold-medal Olympic event.
I was teamed up with Armando and Anielka, a young 15-year-old girl, and a translator, Pamela, to help me communicate with them.
The styles of the photographers were so vastly different from one another I decided to guide them using the journalistic methods I use with Hometown News.
I "assigned" Armando and Anielka to shoot a series of images of a park, which could be used in a fictitious newspaper, to tell the story of the park in three completely different images.
After showing them some of the aspects of an engaging photo, such as shooting from a low angle, shooting tight to exclude distracting areas or backgrounds and using spots of color that speckled other areas of bland color to make them pop, I let them go. They came back to me with the story of the park through their eyes.
There was a look of pride in their eyes that came from knowing they had created something wonderful and completed their first assignment.
The office of Empowerment International was just up the block from our hotel. This is where we would spend each lunch and dinner for the rest of the week. Our meals were cooked by Carmen, a local woman who is connected by EI with her daughter being one of the facilitators.
We gathered like a large family with an instant connection to each other, laughing about the day's highlights, talking about the plans for the next few days while sharing an authentic, home-cooked meal.
At that time, the poverty I expected to see escaped me, but that would all change the next day as we toured their homes and neighborhoods.
This is the first of a three-part series. Mitch Kloorfain is chief photographer for Hometown News.