7+ years of shooting at Kensington Church has given me a front row seat to some of the most memorable and life changing events of my career. Enjoy this look back…
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Run a Marathon so someone else can have clean water!
Had the great fortune of shooting The Detroit Free Press Marathon this past Sunday. I was shooting for Hope Water Project. A charity who’s goal is to bring clean water to the entire West Pokot area of Kenya and beyond. (You may remember I traveled there on a photo assignment earlier this year). Kensington Church had 1200+ runners raise near $1,000,000 for clean water wells in Kenya. Amazing people, amazing event! They trained for and ran a marathon so that someone else they have never met could have clean water. Very humbling. you can still donate here! They are at $921,566. So close! https://www.socialply.com/campaigns/hope-water-project-help-us-build-wells-for-the-pokot-people
The Kenyan Orphans.
When you hear the word “orphan” a mental picture comes to mind. When you attach Kenyan to it an even clearer mental images pops in to mind for most people.
These photos are a very small sampling of the 700+ orphans we photographed. We worked very hard to get them to have a pleasant look on their face (sometimes using the nearby kids to make them laugh), I wanted to show a different side of these precious lives. We have all seen the graphic photos used in poor taste to market things like this so I really wanted to take a different approach. These kids are happy and full of life. I hope that comes across in the finished product to the sponsors.
This was my very first time out of North America (Canada and USA only) so I really picked a heck of a trip to be my first. Traveling about 17 hrs by plane to Nairobi and then to the very remote West Pokot region of Kenya, then headed north 16 hours over extreme “roads” to help work with children in orphanages.
When you think of Kenyan orphans and you might visualize images of poor, dirty, sad, lonely, starving and sickly children with no future that most have forgotten about. Some of that is true but what I experienced is 180 degrees from the mental images I had before leaving.
Poor. Poor is a very relative term. Throughout most of the country everything you see driving past villages would be considered well below poverty by American and many other countries standards. But most seem to be doing just fine. Going about their daily work. The only thing you see people trying to get more of is water and food. Basics that we have within 10 feet of where you are standing right now. These people aren’t looking for the iPhones 6, 80" LCD tv’s, a vacation home or a weekend sports car, instead they need water to get their family through the day and will walk 4 hours just for that water that may be filled with disease.
Someone once asked a visitor helping “are their poor people in America?”. How do you answer that?! Even our poorest person can walk into a public restroom and get fresh clean water to drink. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making light of anyones situation in the states but it makes you think. What od we really need in life? The Pokot people seemed to have a different moral compass, a VERY strong sense of community especially in the younger children. “If I have two and you have none then I will give you one of mine”. This was refreshing and almost envious to witness. It is hard to pinpoint but it was just a totally different feeling, less selfish maybe?
Dirty, Sad & Lonely. These are all words that popped into my mind before the trip. Dirty, yes there is LOTS of dirt, a very bright rust orange color that gets in and on everything! But the children in the orphanage for the most part (excepting the very little ones) were very clean. Some of the cleanest uniforms and clothes I’ve seen. I don’t know how they get their clothes so clean. This is just one benefit of having a clean water well onsite. They now have the ability to take showers, wash clothes and dishes… in CLEAN water. Again all very common things in the states but are just now being presented to them.
Sad. I was prepared to be an emotional wreck, since I have my own two-year-old son of my own and one more on the way I figured I would be in the corner crying every day. But i wasn’t, in fact the tears I did have were tears of joy and happiness. These children were THE happiest kids i have ever been around. You never heard kids crying, yelling or arguing with each other. It was odd. You would also see and hear these kids praising God for “all that He has given to them”. WHAT?! This was a very large helping of humble pie for me. Listening to a 14 yr old boy speak to his peers, giving a testimony and thanking God for providing water and food for that day. It gave me such a sense of appreciation for all that I have. Not a feeling of “I’m blessed” (meaning they aren’t) or guilty but just one of true appreciation for all the basics and more that my family has. They are blessed in a way that we will never know. Humility, thankful, joyful and just all around happy with an uncluttered life. (i say this as I sit at my iMac with my iPhone notifications going off, my iPad streaming a movie streaming in my basement filled with “stuff”)
Lonely. You could definitely see a longing for love and affection from many of the little ones. It was very common to be shooting photos and feel a little hand on your arm or just leaning up against you wanting to hold your hand. They were to sweet. Of course I don’t know all that goes on in their life. What goes through their heads when they see us or when the lay in bed alone at night. Many of these kids are there because their parents died when they were very young and were forced to be the provider for their younger siblings. I can’t imagine what goes through their minds. But again, you have kids that went through all that and still praises God for all He has done for them. Their positive outlook is one to admire. This was a comment from a 15 yr old boy- “I am thankful God blessed me with the skill to go long periods of time without food so that I can feed my brother and sister first”. This gives me hope, and it should give hope to you with any trial you may be going through. I am a glass half full kind of guy so my thoughts may seem a bit off, but its food for thought. There is always someone worse off…
Sickly. We all have the image of what I call the “Sally Struthers kid”, that naked toddler with a bloated stomach and flies all over their face. This is what you expect to see, but I didn’t, not in the orphanages. We saw some devastating scenes while traveling through villages that didn’t have clean water yet. I will not ever post those images, I don’t think its morally right to exploit this, we have all seen them and we get it. (Don’t use guilt to market, use joy -editors note) But the children we worked with were very healthy looking; running, laughing and they did not appear to be in any pain. This is mainly due to the clean water wells that were placed at the orphanages. Members of our team said that just 2 years ago the health of these kids was totally different and looked very grim. Because of clean water and the drastic health change in the children local villagers are now understanding the difference in the water they drink and the clean water from the well. It was explained to me that to them it was like looking at sugar and salt side by side, both are granulated and white, but of course have a totally different outcome. Now they see that they can help prevent sickness from the water they drink, again a basic item that we wouldn’t even think twice about at home.
To close I can say that my perception was altered drastically (understatement). Not only of Africa and the orphans but of America and my world. THE question people ask me is; “What was the most impactful thing you saw?”. All of it was! But seeing the joy in these kids, the gratefulness and the eagerness to learn was amazing and humbling. There were so many emotional roller coasters on this trip. One moment you are filming a women sharing her story of how she used to be a FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) “cutter” and found God, did a 180 and left the practice, then 20 min later you are listening to a children’s choir blow the roof off with their praise and harmonies, then went on a walk to a nearby village to see how people really live and get invited into their hut. It was like that for the whole trip. You leave Africa saying “What Now?” How does someone process that? Luckily we had a great team and group of leaders who help us with that. We have become a very close family with friendships that will last many years….
Thats all for now, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions at all about this experience. firstname.lastname@example.org
Deep Thoughts from Kenya…
The Children are The Reason…
The reason we traveled 15 hours by plane and another 16 hours over mountains and dried up river beds by truck. The reason we’ve spent months planning, day dreaming, meeting, prepping, stressing and praying. The reason we got multiple vaccines shot into our arms. The reason we showered with our mouths sealed shut (because of the water) and gave up all the comforts of home. The reason it was all worth it? For The Children. Without all of this they may never know love, clean water, education and food.
Our primary mission on this trip was to collect data for the child sponsor program www.NoChild.org . My job was photographer, specifically to take portraits of approx. 800 children to be used for their profiles on the website. I was also to get photographs and “b-roll” video of life with the Potok people.
Of course as a photographer I shot much more than just portraits. Every where you looked was “that photograph”. A cute little kid playing beside a mud hut, a little boy driving a cart pulled by donkeys, a warrior out in the woods hunting with a long bow, women washing their clothes in a muddy river along the road side as we traveled… the list was endless. And I tried to make the most of being in such a remote location.
I was given a great piece of advice from my friend and frequent Kenya traveler, Clint… “you will get plenty of photos, just put the camera down and immerse yourself with these kids lives and they will change yours”… Boy am i glad i listened to his wise words. All of my greatest memories did not come while behind the lens but when it was put away. I will share more on that in another post.
I was prepared to me an emotional wreck while at these orphanages, the thought of these kids all alone with nothing sounded heartbreaking… and it is. But when i was there I found myself filled with joy for these kids. They were all SO happy. They were surrounded by their friends 24/7, had clean water, 3 meals a day and had the privilege to attend school. And it was viewed as a privilege. When talking with many of the teenage boys they were so curious about America and just learning in general. Most had a very mature mindset.
There is probably a good reason for that, most of them were forced to care for their siblings at a very young age. One boy who was 15 and had 2 younger siblings had to become the family provider at age 7. His parents were murdered in a cattle raid. He told me that he “felt blessed because God gave him the gift of being able to go a long time with out needing to eat so that he can feed his brother and sister first”. Blessed?! Let that sink in… This is a 15 year old
boy man talking. Stories like that were all around when you talked to these kids but yet they had such true joy and appreciation for what God has blessed them with each day. To hear a boy actually thank God for providing water, food and health was humbling to say the least. But that’s just it, they view all these things that we take for granite and expect, as a blessing. I came away with a strong feeling of Appreciation. Not one of guilt or sadness, but to simply appreciate the basic things in our life. At any moment we can walk 10 feet and have clean disease free water, for most in this region that is not the case.
The wonderful, extremely loving, Pokot children changed my life. It is my hope that, as I raise my boys, I will filter decisions through the lens of my experiences among the Pokot. If I keep these children close to me, my experiences can help to change, not just me , but the legacy of my family as well.
People of West Pokot, Kenya
This month I had the amazing opportunity to travel with a missions team to a VERY remote region in Kenya called West Pokot. After landing in Nairobi we drove 16 hrs into the “bush”. We were way out there, but it was an amazing adventure. One that will alter your mind and perception on everything going forward.
I was there to take photographs of all the children(700+) in 3 orphanages that we (Kensington Church) work with. These photos will be used to update the sponsor program Kensington runs, www.Nochild.org
I also had the amazing chance to ride along into some of the local villages to look at a few proposed water well sites in the area. This was amazing in that it gave me a chance to see life outside the walls of the orphanage. Life was devastating as we know it but was life as usual for the Pokot. The big issue every where we went was water… CLEAN water. Working with http://www.hopewaterproject.org they are able to raise money to drill wells for these people, giving them access to clean water that will not make them sick. Its simple but so basic.
I will be posting more when I edit through my thousands of images captured of life in this remote region Kenya. Please follow along if you like and share with your friends to help raise awareness.
Awhile back I was asked to come in for a top secret video shoot with some very special guys (NFL Players). I had to keep it hush hush because they wanted to keep it a surprise for an element for the Christmas service at Kensington Church. But now i can share some behind the scenes photos from the Kensington Christmas video shoot with Calvin Johnson, AKA “Megatron” and Matthew Stafford. These were 2 of the nicest guys to work with. Super friendly and willing to just have fun. It was a pleasure to be part of it all.
As a photographer, you never know what that next call or email will be about… glad I was available for this one!
One of my ongoing photography gigs is shooting for most of the events at Kensington Church in Michigan. Over the past 5 years this has been the greatest training ground a photographer could ask for. Great stage production, talented musicians and actors and an awesome lighting team.
This has helped me build up my skill as a live event/concert photographer and has opened more doors than i can imagine.
Here is a shot of one of the teaching pastors, Chris Zarbaugh.