In just the past couple days, I have been asking myself this question. “What is the purpose of my volunteer work, and does it really matter?”. The reason that I bring this up is because of what I perceive as purpose. Everyone in this world has a purpose; a reason for being, a task they must solve, a problem they must fix. I was at one of our schools last Monday and I met these three boys.
Now let me first say that this honestly had nothing to do with the photography project I was teaching at the time. As I was working with two of my students, these three boys came over and asked for a photo (a quite common occurrence when your camera is out), yet something struck me about the three boys you see in the picture above. Instead of attempting to do something funny or strike a pose, the three of them posed as you see. A perfect position for a photo, but also a perfect position to capture a memory. As soon as the shutter clicked they ran over to see the photo and seemed jubilant at the sight of their own faces on the camera screen. It was then that I realized what my purpose is in South Africa. I am here to teach, to coach, to mentor, but more importantly I am here to help create memories, just like the one in this photo.
I remember speaking with a personal mentor of mine about this in August before leaving for South Africa, and we discussed how I can use this opportunity to explain to children how photography can help document their lives. Thoughts of baby books, family photos, and vacation photos ran through my mind also understanding that many of these primary school students do not have this to recall memories.
You know, it is quite amazing when you walk into a school sit down waiting for the students to arrive, and upon their arrival they immediately come to you and say “Hi James!”. When an eleven year old child remembers the name of a volunteer they have only known for two or three weeks one cannot help but smile and feel that you are making some sort of impact on their lives. It is their way of making memories about their experience, just as I use photos to create my own memories about my experience.