In September and October of this year, I had the amazing opportunity to spend six weeks traveling around East Africa and Ethiopia for my favorite nonprofit, She's the First. STF sponsors girls’ education in developing nations, giving them the chance to become the first in their families to graduate from secondary school. This was my third trip with STF's Co-Founder and Director of International Operations Christen Brandt to visit and document the organization's partner programs abroad. (We previously traveled to Guatemala and India together).
I had four main goals for this trip: shooting portraits of the 86 She's the First scholars we would meet over a month and a half, documenting the girls' lives in still photos at school and at home, shooting video profiles of several of the girls, and shooting two promotional videos for upcoming campaigns.
I was working for six weeks, and there are so many photos and stories I want to share! I'm dividing the trip into four blogposts, one for each country we visited.
We started our trip in Tanzania, where She's the First partners with AfricAid's Kisa Project, a leadership program for girls in their final two years of high school.
All of the girls we met in Tanzania are determined to finish high school and go on to have a positive impact on their families and communities; some young women are planning on continuing their studies in university, while others will head out to find their first jobs.
One of the most inspiring young women I've met in any of my travels is a recent graduate of the Kisa Project. Eli lives with her mom in a rural area and had to quit school for a period because she lacked the money for school fees. She's overcome many obstacles, but has an amazingly bright outlook on life. I'm currently working on a video profile about her that She's the First will release next year, but this quote from Eli sums up her life view:
The Kisa Project is so special because it recognizes the importance of strong female mentors in the lives of young women. The project has five full-time mentors who guide the girls through subjects including goal-setting, leadership training and computer skills. To help the mentors better document their work, I held a photography and video workshop with them. We worked on composition, lighting and storytelling over four hours in the Kisa office.
The young women I met in Tanzania are all so focused on their studies and their goals. Many of them live several hours away from their families in boarding schools because quality education for girls isn't available in their region. Yet every time I meet She's the First Scholars, whether in Guatemala or India or Tanzania, I'm reminded of what it was like to be in high school; these girls work hard on their studies, but also have friends and sports and hobbies. They love seeing their friends at school everyday, but are also excited about the next phase, be it college or getting a job and starting their careers.