Twende Porini : Let’s Go to the Bush
They say – and this applies to many things, not just photography – that you should never work with children.
But then you get an assignment that blows all of that out of the water, as I found on a recent trip up to the northern Serengeti to document Asilia’s Twende Porini project. Twende Porini means “Let’s go to the bush” in KiSwahili. The initiative takes a group of15 kids (aged between 7 and 14) from the villages bordering the Serengeti National Park to one of the company’s camps in the bush for five days. Add a smattering of wildlife experts, safari guides, school teachers and Asilia HQ staff and watch as the whole mix unfolds with game drives, quizzes, films, lectures and above all a lot of fun.
It’s an ambitious project by Asilia. This year there were5 such groups over a month-long period and based out of Sayari Camp. The children learnt a wide variety of things, with the main aim being to foster an understanding of the need for conservation in these wildlife areas and emphasizing the crucial balance of man alongside the animals that live there.
How much stronger – and more definite – you make that by bringing children right into the bush, so they live it and feel it every moment of each day. How much stronger it is than classroom lectures and pictures in well-worn exercise books where the reality feels like an unreachable lifetime away. I think that is the success of a project like this, where these kids are totally immersed first-hand into this learning experience.
Through my lens, I watched as kids saw elephants up close for the first time, without fear, and with the knowledgeable voice of one of the guides explaining their different behaviours. I watched their wide-eyed faces as a herd of zebra ran right in front of their moving vehicle before the car erupted in laughter and relief that they hadn’t hit them. I watched as Asilia co-founder, the inimitable Mzee,Ole Kirimbaipointed out animal tracks in the soil and then stopped the entire procession of game drive vehicles so that everyone could look at a dung beetle studiously rolling its ball of dung.
From the great to the very small we saw it all and I watched everyone’s faces throughout. Myopic of me, yes, but that is one of the great joys of photographing children. Their reactions to what they see are open and real, they don’t cover up their emotions when they see something for the first time. It totally renews the first-time feeling of being the bush, at least for me, when you see something that is perhaps very familiar but now you’re seeing it through fresh and excited eyes.
It’s an all too rare experience and that makes it a real privilege. In that way, I can totally understand the reaction by one of the smaller children, Grace, to being dropped off back at her home village when it was all over. She was so cross at coming to the end of her bush trip that she stomped off without a backwards glance or without even saying goodbye.
I felt like doing the same.
Author: Eliza Deacon, freelance photographer
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