How one Singaporean’s love of photography and travel benefits some of Asia’s neediest youths.
By: Nathan Calvert
As a child, Yeong Wee Tan was fascinated by cameras. The ability to capture a moment in time at the click of a button captivated him. As he grew up, he began to express his creativity through a lens and enjoyed sharing his photos with others. Photography became more than just a hobby; it was a way of sharing his art with the world. Today, Yeong, 47, works as a regional ICT professional, but outside of work, he spends his time leading photography expeditions to roads less travelled, documenting life in other countries through his lens.
In his travels, Yeong has come across many people who have never used a camera, people who have never experienced the joy of capturing an image. Out of a desire to share his passion with those less privileged, PHOTOkidz was birthed. With a simple mission—to engage and inspire—PHOTOkidz has now impacted the lives of over 500 young people through photography workshops for underprivileged youths in developing nations.
City News spoke to Yeong, the founder and director of PHOTOkidz about its vision, mission and impact.
City News: What is PHOTOkidz and how did it come about?
Yeong: PHOTOkidz is a community program that aims to engage and inspire under-served children in developing countries. PHOTOkidz has a long-term aim: to encourage creativity, to develop communication skills and to nurture confidence in each child, which is achieved through short photography trips during which children are exposed to the magic of photography.
It was founded in 2010 as a not-for profit organization. Since then, we’ve built up a team of PHOTOkidz supporters and have utilized their skills, knowledge and passion to help underprivileged youths and children in Cambodia and Bhutan. We have been on a number of trips to both of these countries and have conducted photography workshops multiple times in each of these locations.
How do underprivileged children become involved in your workshops?
PHOTOkidz partners with local non-profit organizations, such as schools and community groups, in developing countries. Once a local partner organization has been identified, the PHOTOkidz team will travel to the area with all of their own donated resources—cameras, printers etc.—everything that’s needed to run the workshop. Volunteers then run workshops with underprivileged children who are supported by the partner organization, where they learn basic photography techniques. The workshops consist of both theory and practical sessions, which require the participants go into their local area and start seeing their own world through new eyes.
How do you ensure the sustainability of the program? Do the skills taught continue to be practiced once you have left?
When the PHOTOkidz team completes the workshop, all of the equipment used is donated to the partner organization. Organizations will only be supported by PHOTOkidz if they agree to make the cameras available to the children for long-term use after the workshop. Those involved in the workshops continue taking photos and send them to PHOTOkidz monthly as a way of ensuring that participants continue to develop their skills once the workshop has finished. Many of these photos can be viewed on our Facebook PHOTOkidz page.
We have also conducted train-the-trainer workshops for the teachers and staff of the local organizations we work with. This builds the capacity and sustainability of the program. The local trainers continue to work with the children to take more pictures and email these pictures to us as “reports” of the program.
What impact have the workshops had on the attendees?
When we begin a workshop for the first time, I find that the children participating in the workshops are often shy and reserved. Many are inquisitive and enjoy exploring the camera. When we finish a workshop, the children are very appreciative and one group in Bhutan even made us promise to return to conduct further workshops, which we have done. One of the best indications of past success is whether people want to return to future workshops. PHOTOkidz has seen many of the participants return for an intermediate course, and to see the change in the participants is amazing. Many of the Bhutanese youth had matured and grown in confidence in their photography ability, and were more enthusiastic and eager to learn than they had been during our first workshop. I am glad to see these underprivileged children believing in themselves, and see this as one of the positive results of the program.
How are the PHOTOkidz workshops funded?
They are funded entirely by donations. People donate their used cameras, photo printers and memory cards. Volunteers donate their time and pay their own way to run the workshops. There is no cost to the workshop participants.
You’ve taken repeat trips to Bhutan and Cambodia. What is next for PHOTOkidz?
There is interest in our workshops from all over Asia, including groups in Singapore. While we would love to accept every invitation to work with underprivileged children and inspire them through photography, we are currently forced to turn down most of the invitations. The reason is simple: A lack of volunteers and support. With successful trips to Cambodia and Bhutan already under our belt, we hope to attract greater support so that we can continue in our vision of seeing young lives inspired through photography.
Outside of running workshops, is PHOTOkidz involved in any other projects?
We are currently involved in fundraising for The Youth Voice Lab. The Youth Voice Lab is a natural evolution of our partnership with The Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) to impact and educate more children and youth in the responsible use of digital media. While youths make up 59 percent of Bhutan’s population, outside of school, there are few facilities for youth to pursue learning and to stay engaged. This has led to a rise in social issues like gang formation, drug abuse and violence in urban areas. We are in the midst of fundraising to build and operate The Youth Voice Lab, a state-of-the-art digital media lab for youth in Thimphu. Donations are welcome for this fundraising.
How can people get involved with what PHOTOkidz is doing?
At PHOTOKidz, we depend on our community of volunteers and donors to help us make a meaningful contribution to every child’s life. By sharing items that you no longer need with underprivileged children, you can help us make a unique difference. PHOTOkidz is a not-for-profit organization, but it can’t operate without the support and donations of others.
There are many ways to support PHOTOkidz: Share about PHOTOkidz with your friends, family and colleagues; Like us on Facebook (PHOTOkidz). Start a PHOTOkidz camera collection drive in your home, office or organization and Volunteer! Sign up as a PHOTOkidz volunteer—we’re small but growing, and every bit of support helps. You don’t even need to be an avid photographer—we are looking for support in marketing and communications, in administration and membership, in photography, in operations and logistics. To volunteer, please visit our website and fill in a volunteer application form. You can also help by fundraising or donating funds as an individual/corporate sponsor. And there is also the opportunity to partner with PHOTOkidz in your organization’s CSR program.