By Mitch Kloorfain
Second column in a series of three
We didn't know it when we woke, but the students of Empowerment International in Granada, Nicaragua, were going to show the volunteer photographers with The Giving Lens the hard realities between our contrasting life styles.
Having already completed our introduction and first photo walk with the students, now it was time to walk a mile in their shoes.
Empowerment International is not where the students get their schooling. EI is a successful program that works with parents and youth to instill the value of education, as well as find solutions to the roadblocks that may prevent the youth from attending school.
After lunch we visited the EI facility where students were being tutored in reading and writing by other students only a few years older.
Don't picture a building with heavy double doors that leads into an air- conditioned hallway decorated with student work that then connects you to banks of classrooms with neat rows of desks and polished floors.
This building was dimly lit except for the area by the skylight. Benches lined the walls with students sitting along the perimeter.
As I was taking photographs of the students I felt water dripping on my back and head. It must have been a leaky roof, I thought. I looked up and realized the skylight was an opening in the ceiling and I was standing in a pit where the rain water was meant to drain.
The novelty of having it rain inside the building was absent to the students. They were focused. They were reading and the prideful smiles were genuine when they reached the end of their lessons successfully.
When we were preparing to leave for our last (and most emotionally lasting) part of our week we were introduced to Hobbes Ginsburg. (I know, I repeated his name in my head about three times, too).
Hobbes, 18, named for the iconic cartoon character from the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, was a standout with his dyed blue hair, pierced lip, torn blue jeans and a Ramones 1974 concert T-shirt. Hobbes moved here with his parents from the United States several years earlier when they came to open a café. He spoke Spanish like a native and turned out to be an excellent conduit between The Giving Lens photographers and the students for the rest of the week.
I have been to the poorest sections of New York City, Fort Pierce, Stuart and Topeka, Kan. I have read "National Geographic." Nothing prepared me for the next two hours of our journey.
The students from Empowerment International come from a locale referred to as the barrios, or the neighborhood, for us north of the border.
We started walking down a single road with homes of several students on each side.
The homes would have never passed code here in the US.
The average home had a wall or two of cinderblock, another formed by pieces of wood nailed together with the remaining walls made a few pieces of tin or aluminum. Barbed wire lined most of the property borders and didn't stop the kids from running near it or resting on it as we paraded through their neighborhood.
Out of courtesy, we always asked permission, in our broken Spanish, to photograph them or their children as we walked through.
We photographed mothers with their children, kids playing marbles and those who came running out to pose for a photo.
Each time, we showed them the photos we took on the backs of the cameras. Although it is unlikely they would see those imagers again, they couldn't have been happier to be photographed.
As we walked through the barrio I kept looking for where it ended. I never saw it.
Our neighborhoods of low-income housing can last for several blocks, however this never seemed to end. We walked for nearly two hours until our return vehicle met us. There was so much more ahead but we left with a large part of the barrio unvisited.
That evening, the photographers got together. As we discussed the day we attempted to process what we just witnessed.
It was unanimous that the residents we met in the barrios of Granada were generous to share themselves with us.
Those few miles we walked were life changing with respect to how I view poverty home and abroad and how naive my own perceptions and interpretations were before witnessing it in the barrios of Granada, Nicaragua.
I came here to teach photography. The ratio of what I have learned to what I have taught is greatly imbalanced.
Mitch Kloorfain is chief photographer at Hometown News. This is the second of a three-part series.
Part I, which was published last week can be found here --- > Group of photographers connect with Nicaraguan youth