Earlier this year before Lockdown, one of our best photographers went out to Zimbabwe to document the work of four charities. We catch up with Kristian Leven to find out more about his experience and also to see some of the work he shot for the charities.
- Can you tell us a little about how you heard about PhotoAid Global in the first place? And why did you want to join?
I was looking through Photo Professional magazine back in 2017, when an article about Photo Aid Global caught my attention. I loved the idea of joining an organisation that was aiming to connect charities and NGO’s whom are in real need of professional imagery to help promote the great work they’re doing, with photographers who would be willing to voluntarily provide their skills to photograph them.
- What excited you about this project in Zim in particular?
I can’t deny that it was the opportunity to go to Zimbabwe that really attracted me first. I’m always up for a new adventure and this definitely seemed like one. After reading a bit about the Semwayo Sewing School, it seemed like a fantastic cause to work alongside with, but it seemed like a big distance to go for one organisation. Thankfully another 3 were added to the programme to make the journey a lot more worthwhile.
- You hadn’t been to Zim before had you?
Real nerves to be honest! A nervous excitement that came with stepping into the unknown. I also wanted to make sure that it was safe to go to – unfortunately the only time we usually hear about other countries in the news is when something bad has happened there, and Zimbabwe has had its fair share over the years. Ness put my fears to bed though, and not only made sure that I was picked up and taken back to the airport, but also that I would have someone with me at all times. That person came in the form of Moses, and what a top guy he was! So thankful to have him as my guide, and bed partner!
I also wanted to repay the faith my sponsors had placed in me in financially helping me to go there, which I’ll go into a bit later.
- Did the trip meet your expectations? In what way? Or was it totally different?
It was definitely as intense as I thought it would be! There was a lot packed into a short amount of time, and by the end I was pretty pooped. I knew this was going to be the case though so not a big surprise at all, but with my hosts being devout Christians, we unfortunately didn’t get the post shoot beers in which I was secretly in need of at times! But honestly I have nothing but huge love and respect for everyone there – I was really made to be very welcomed wherever I went, and I’m so glad I was able to help in a small way.
- Can you tell us a little about your first impressions of the place?
Without question the worst roads I’ve ever experienced. I’ve sworn to never complain about ours ever again! But in all seriousness, I was actually relieved that there wasn’t anywhere near the same amount of poverty that I had seen in Ethiopia the year before. That was something I’ll never forget, and it was somewhat comforting to know that Zimbaweans aren’t in the same unfortunate predicament.
- We’d like to know a bit about each of the projects you covered. All of these trips are always intense and by default in terms of money and resources the charities try and cram in as much as they can with you!
Semwayo Sewing School
The first day was spent at the Semwayo Sewing and Design School, which was set up by the man who organised the whole Zimbabwe side of the trip, Moses Semwayo. He wanted to help women and girls in his local community gain a skill that would help supplement the family income at a time when there was a large amount of unemployment. The school, which started with just one student, has now taught over 100 women and girls to sew school uniforms, re-usable sanitary pads (which were particularly important during the Cyclone Idai aftermath), and general garments which could be sold to their local communities. The sewing school is currently based in a local church, with all the sewing taught on manual machines. The current class consists of six students aged between 18-36, some of whom walk up to two hours each day to attend.
The Mwana Trust
The second day was spent with the The Mwana Trust, an NGO that pays the school fees (there aren’t any state schools in Zimbabwe) of a certain number of orphaned and disadvantaged children, as well as providing food and support for them and their families. We headed to three separate schools in the morning, where the Trust gave out bottles of cooking oil to the children they support (cooking oil is surprisingly expensive and out of reach of the poorest families). Before leaving for the day, the children are given their lunch – one cupful of boiled maize each – and are told to bring in a container to help take it away; some of the children are so poor though they have to make do with old plastic bags. The Mwana Trust also teaches each student how to plant their own crops, an invaluable skill for them and their families, and thanks to generous donations, the Trust was able to plant their own community garden, the produce of which is shared amongst their beneficiaries.
Hope for Kids
Day 3 of the trip was spent with Hope for Kids, whom are also committed to offering education, food, and psycho-social support to the orphaned and disadvantaged children that they look after. I was with them on a Saturday, which meant we couldn’t capture the work they did in schools, but we spent the day moving between houses, handing out food parcels – which include 2 litres of cooking oil, soya chunks, fried fish, sugar, salt and 10kg of maize – to those most in need.
In the pictures you’ll see Pamela, 17, who lives with her mum and 3 year old sister in a house that was built by Hope For Kids after their original home was destroyed by Cyclone Idai; Brian, 17, who lives with his brother Lovemore, 21, in a small two roomed hut that one of their teacher’s gave to them in return for them completing their schooling; Ms Moyana, who looks after her grand-daughter Faith,11, since Faith’s mother died of a short illness; and Privilege, 14, who was left by her mother at her aunt’s house a few years ago and has not been seen since. The aunt looks after four of her own children as well as three other orphaned children; all the children share one bedroom
Joshua Dhube Primary
My final morning was spent at Joshua Dhube Primary School, which was opened in 2015 and largely funded by Mission Direct. It teaches 916 children from Kindergarten right up to Grade 7, however there are only 14 teachers presently, with the school on a government waiting list for more. In the meantime the Headmistress covers two grade years herself, with the help student support staff. The school is still looking to raise money to complete two classroom blocks, as well as the landscaping to provide a safer environment to play.
- You kindly also raised funds for extra financial help through sales of your prints, what compelled you to do that? The charities were over the moon. Can you also maybe explain how you raised funds to go on the trip?
I just didn’t want to go there empty handed. Yes, I was giving my time and skill for free, but I knew that if I could raise £100 at least for each charity, it would go a long way over there. I just didn’t realise quite how far it would go until they told me. It just puts so many things into perspective.
Also the cost of the flight was raised through sponsorship via Just Giving. I created a page and publicised it on Facebook, and I managed to raise £250 through friends, and my mum topped up the remaining £250!
- Would you go again somewhere, either same place or elsewhere?
I’ll probably leave Zimbabwe for any other PhotoAid volunteers for the foreseeable future, but I think it would be interesting and quite exciting to go back again in a few years, and be re-acquainted with everyone. Other than that I’m open to anything, and as long as I’m able to help in some way, that would be amazing. It’s actually spurred me onto seeing if I can volunteer my photography skills here in the UK, and I hope to make something happen soon.
- Finally would you recommend other photographers wanting to put something back to consider doing something like this?
Without question. I unfortunately heard the term ‘white saviour’ crop up in conversation a couple of times before I went there, which made me kinda question whether what I was doing was ‘the right thing’. When I was there, I asked Misheck, who runs Hope For Kids, whether he felt uncomfortable having a white person travel there to help them. He couldn’t have looked more bemused. He went on to passionately tell me that having volunteers come and help was a lifeline for them, not to mention the sponsorship money that would help put a number of children through school for the year.
As odd as it may seem here, it’s also perceived as a great honour to have a visitor fly all the way from the UK and be interested and take notice of an organisation in Sub Saharan Africa. The kids are also super excited, the majority of whom have never seen a white person before, and it’s a great experience for them as well! So I left without any doubt that the work done by the volunteers at PhotoAid was a massive help not only to the organisations and community, but most importantly, the children.
To see more of Kristian’s brilliant photographic work see his website where there are links to his social media. https://kristianlevenphotography.co.uk
If you are a photographer who is interested in registering with us or a charity and would like photographic support, please get in touch with our Founder Vanessa Champion.