”Look, look! Look at my pictures.” Teens from the E-smile learning center were showing me the first pictures they have taken. It was the third time I saw them and we were still getting to know each other but already that time I felt this would be a great month with these young people.
I had started to plan the project months before when it was still winter in Finland. I had been reading about empowering photography projects and I immediately felt it was something I would like to do. And I wanted to have this project in Mongolia which is a very special place for me.
The idea behind the project was that by taking pictures and writing about them the teens should start to see the environment, community and society around them. And that they would start to feel as active members of them. The plan was to have one lesson dedicated to photographing and one lesson for writing each week for a month. At the end of the month they would have an exhibition of their pictures.
I contacted Mongolian Youth Development Services Center and asked if could I come to have this project with them. From the start they appeared very professional. And to my joy they were welcoming me to work with them.
I was very nervous when I arrived to Ulan Bator and met the teens for the first time. I really didn’t know what to expect. All I knew about them was that they were from the ger district and that they were regular visitors at the E-smile learning center. But when I met them I was very pleased. They were smart young people with lot of ideas and good will. For the start they were very shy but as the course went on they became more and more open and lively. I’m very glad I got to know them.
I had made great plans about the project and how it would go. But still I noticed that for the lessons my plans weren’t detailed enough. And at the same time no matter how much I planned things wouldn’t go that way. There was always a slight feel of uncertainty before the lessons: who would show up, did they have the cameras with them and what about the pictures and writings – how would they be. A huge thank goes to my co-worker who helped me to track down the missing kids and was organizing extra lessons and of course translating. Without her help I could not have had this project
I was pleased with the pictures and writings the teens produced. They were telling lots of interesting stories about their lives. The teens had obviously paid a lot of effort to thinking about the pictures and taking them. And I was very pleased with the discussions we had during the lessons. I think for them it was a new experience to discuss about their ideas and feelings in a group. I hope it gave them a feeling of being heard and cared for. For me it was great to see these young people starting to have vivid conversations with lot of laughter.
“Look, look! Look at my pictures.” The teens were showing their pictures to the visitors at the exhibition opening in The GIZ gallery. The exhibition with teens’ pictures and writings turned out to be quite a success. It required a lot of work and some nerve-wrecking moments but it was all worth it. The teens were excited and maybe a bit overwhelmed about the interest the exhibition got. The visitors were impressed. And I myself was very happy and very proud about my students and what they had accomplished.
My wish is that I can come back next year to have the same kind of course with different teens. I also hope that the workers at MYDSC got some new skills and knowledge and they may have the course by themselves also. My experience with these teens and MYDSC is very precious to me. I think I learned as much or even more than the teens.
Opening ceremony of “Our earth – Holiness earth” youth photo exhibition at the German Center for Excellence