Sunday, September 4, 2016

A 'disappointing' but valuable experience

Sigh. Sometimes -- no matter how hard you try -- things just don't work out the way you would like. But that doesn't always mean that nothing was gained from the experience. For example, consider my recent effort to bring the Smooch! to Nairobi, Kenya, by the end of 2016. 

I have begun actively seeking opportunities to work with photographers from around the world to help complete the 10,000-image archive of Smooch! photos. Earlier this year, I learned of a local non-profit working with primary school children living in an enormous Nairobi slum. This organization offers these kids after-school and weekend learning activities, providing them with additional educational opportunities as well as a safe environment for children at risk. 

I was excited to discover that photography was one of the skills taught by a volunteer teacher. Wouldn't it be awesome, I thought, if these young photography students could be guided by their teacher to collect Smooch! images of their own loved ones within the local community? I sent an email to the organization with my proposal and was met with great enthusiasm. Hooray! This could be an exciting way to begin gathering Smooch! photos taken by photographers living and working elsewhere in the world.

I felt comfortable offering the non-profit staff small stipends for their assistance but wondered how best to compensate the kids for their efforts. On the suggestion of my primary Kenyan contact, I happily agreed to cover the cost of primary schooling for selected participating students who completed their Smooch! assignment. Perfect.

I spent the next six months working to confirm the financial details provided to me with the individual schools, often waiting a month for each reply. Sometimes my questions were answered, sometimes not. Often the replies I received differed from what I had been told. Or I would receive no reply at all. Finally, I heard from a U.S. church supporting one of the schools involved: Three of the four students I was inquiring about were already sponsored. Ugh. A disappointing way to discover that the non-profit I was working with had other plans for the promised Smooch! funding.

The solution: If I truly wanted this effort to succeed, I would need to go to Nairobi to personally ensure funds were used as intended and photos collected as promised. That would not happen in 2016. Nor in 2017, when the country would be undergoing national elections, often marred by violence. Perhaps I'll manage to go in 2018.

Until then, I'll be continuing my search for international photographers willing interested in gathering images from around the world on behalf of The Smooch! Project. My next inquiries will be to photogs in Iceland and Greece. I've already begun connecting to folks in Iceland. You can view their smoochy faces on Facebook here.

And what did I learn from this experience? That it is best to confirm information via multiple sources, especially where money is involved. That the world is wide and opportunities to find new Smooch! photos abound. That my goal to collect 10,000 images from around the world is worth every effort, some of which will be easy and some more challenging. What a lucky photographer I am!