©Emely Juarez/Fotokids 2023 Sifting Thoughts

Letter from Founder/N. McGirr Spring 2023

We have taken down the Fotokids 30th Retrospective Exhibit and I’m very pleased. Attendance was good and the exhibit looked really beautiful. The show was up for four months which enabled a lot of people from all walks of life to view it and we had quite a bit of good feedback.

Strong colors and powerful photographs greeted visitors at the entrance and in the first of the four galleries, we hung large photos from our book, Out of the Dump Photographs and Writings by Children of Guatemala published in 1995.* Those photos presented a good impression of what life was like when I first started the project in Guatemala City’s garbage dump. People told me they were moved by the bold black and white images taken by the children and accompanied by their writings. We even had several viewers who said it brought tears to their eyes.

In an effort not to depress you so early in the newsletter (I’ll do that later) I’ve excerpted one written piece from the book, that doesn’t bring up family violence, drinking, finding dead bodies or witchcraft.

When I’m a Father by Rember Ramirez

When I’m a father I’ll take good care of my old parents as long as they live. I’ll take care of my children too, and work so they can eat. I’ll take care of my children like my parents are taking care of me. I’ll get them things they need, and I’ll make sure they’re educated.

I’m going to teach my children everything they need to know so they’ll turn out to be good people. I won’t allow them to hangs around with bad people because bad people teach children things they didn’t know before, like for example, how to sniff glue or how to smoke. I will never permit that.

I’m going to be a good father; I’ll love and care for my children and teach them to read and write so they’ll have a good future, just like my parents are doing for me now.

My brother reading to my father

We sold over 40 photos, so that not only helped to offset the exhibition expenses, but also gave the students (still participating in Fotokids) 40% of the profit from the sale of their photo, or sixty dollars. The other 60% goes for printing, matting, framing and the scholarship fund. That $60 by the way, represents at least the equivalent of 3 weeks income for the family. You can still purchase photos like this one of Molly’s at fotokids.smugmug.com


Two things I have to tell you, one, our online fundraiser, World Give Day, is May 4th this year and the money we raise will be used for scholarships and teachers’ salaries. We have just two online fundraising events a year, this one and Giving Tuesday which is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in November.

In addition, we are doing a camera and MacBook drive. It seems as if all our technology is going down at once and there are very few computers left on which to teach Photoshop and design.
Used equipment is Great!

Got a point and shoot you no longer use? If it’s fairly easy to use for the beginning students, we can use it!
Nikon equipment, both digital camera bodies and DSLR lenses? (Unfortunately, we can no longer use film cameras as both the processing chemicals and paper are too expensive and difficult to obtain).
MacBooks! Both Pro and Air manufactured after 2014. Are you upgrading? We have a group of students coming down in June from the US who will hand deliver your donated cameras and computers. Email me at info@fotokidsoriginal.org and I’ll tell you if it works for us and give you the address in California where you can mail it!


Abdias, Jonny and Berta all graduates of Fotokids, along with Evelyn and Berlin who are current staff, stopped by my house for pizza after visiting the exhibit together last mionth.

Looking at them as they were getting ready to leave, it washed over me all at once, just how much they had achieved. They all said Fotokids had given them the self-confidence to speak to people. “We were interviewed and asked our opinions so many times.” I always insisted the sponsors of an exhibit invite at least two children for the inauguration. So, they traveled all over the USA and Europe staying with families, visiting local schools, being interviewed by the press and appearing on TV. In addition, so many of you have worked with us in workshops, taken the students into your homes or have visited us here in Guatemala. That kind of exposure yields growth.

Abdias, who started with Fotokids at nine years old, from the then very poor barrio of Mesquital, is now Chief Photographer to the President of Guatemala and from his office in the palace he manages five other photographers.

Jonny, who joined Fotokids at the same age and is also from Mesquital, is the Central American Regional Supervisor for a pest extermination company called Rent2Kill – I know, kind of an unfortunate business name for here in Guatemala. The company works with all the big clients, McDonalds, Walmart, Pollo Campero, etc. He has been responsible for Zoom trainings for 500 employees.

 Berta, Berta! Get this, she begins her election campaign next week running as the first indigenous, woman candidate for Mayor of Santiago Atitlan. When she was young, Berta lived in the community telephone exchange in a small house with her blind father, mother and sister. During Hurricane Stan, a mudslide buried 600 people alive. Berta’s house was in the path of the torrential river of earth They heard the roar of it coming and as the house filled with mud sealing the door shut, the family was only able to escape thru a window. Berta began in our Fotokids scholarship program when she was 9 . Having a scholarship gave her the opportunity to complete her education from primary through the university where she studied law. In the past, Berta hosted a call-in program for Tzutuhil womens’ rights on a pirate radio station and currently she works with the Human Rights Commission.

Evelyn, Fotokids Executive Director, grew up in the dump, graduated from university in journalism, has been invited to conferences and workshops in Adelaide and London and recently has been named as one of 100 young Central American leaders by the Seattle Institute, is Fotokids Executive Director.

Berlin runs Fotokids design studio Jakaramba. He interned at the Bergen County Record in NJ, worked on the set of George Lucas’ Star Wars and Hispanic TV and on an HBO special. He single-handedly printed the 190 images in the exhibit, amongst a myriad of other contributions.

I felt overwhelmed with satisfaction to see how well they were doing. What’s the secret? We used to ask ourselves that all the time but came to the conclusion, there is none. No secret. It’s just them having the tenacity to stick with the program, stay in school and do their Fotokids assignments. On our side is the commitment to support them, not just financially with scholarships but with tutoring, being there for them year after year, getting to know and work with the families, providing medical and food when needed and yes, giving them the technology training to allow them to get ahead. Unlike projects that exist for 6 months or three years, we have a ten-year curriculum and we are in it for the long haul. This makes a difference.

©Nayely/Fotokids2023 Defining negative space

©Darly/Fotokids 2023 Negative space

The classes have started and the new kids are showing their creativity, as are the teachers. Conceptual exercises such as making photos that use negative space to draw attention to the photograph’s subject, I think are pretty intellectually sophisticated for kids 12 years old, but they definitely grasped the idea. Other assignments featuring portraits of family and neighbors, not only gets a kid looking at how to use light, but forces them to interact socially, guiding their subjects.

In Santiago Atitlán, the three student teachers, Juan, Maria and Daniel turned our schoolhouse into an interactive Museum of the History of Photography.

The text that adorned the walls went all the way back to Leonardo DaVinci and the camera obscura. They sent me photos of the new class of ten-year-old students fastidiously taking notes and standing on a cement block to reach the huge camera obscuras they had made. I loved their initiative. Getting the kids excited about learning is the key.

Darkness Alert – Realizing that even success can generate problems I am always amazed at the kids’ fortitude. Jonny, yes, the same Jonny mentioned above, told me earlier this year, that his whole family was forced to abandon their home. A two-story house that they had literally built by buying a cement block whenever they could afford one. Block by block they constructed it over the years behind their sheet metal walls and dirt floor.

One chilly winter night his mother called him, panicked, she told him that a gang had called at the house demanding Q1000/month in extortion money. His mother told him, “Don’t even come home.”
He said to me, “I didn’t even know where, where should I go?” Gang members who live in the neighborhood had seen that he and his brother had cars. The family had to sneak out after midnight with a police escort. If the gang were to see them moving out they would shoot them as a lesson to others. Jonny said he didn’t want to make too much of a fuss as his sister, who still lives in the barrio, is a grade school teacher and lives alone. He knows the gang would make her the target.
But saddest of all for him was the effect it had on the family. His brother and wife, his two sisters and mom all had to split up and find different places to live. It meant last December was the 3rd Christmas with no home where everyone could gather. His mother told me how she is depressed living now in a small room. She thinks of her deserted home lying vacant, and how she was once surrounded by family.

Such a struggle to build it and it is gone, along with the fabric of the family. Everyone is desolate. The light that shines through though, is that Jonny has a good job and is paid well. He is able to support his mother. So many others might look to the north to migrate. This is a direct result of your support for Fotokids over so many years, helping with operational expenses, medical, lunches, transport and with educational and vocational scholarships. Without you, we couldn’t have helped over a thousand kids, giving them a chance to realize their dreams.

Negative space ©Daniela/Fotokids2023

Negative space ©Greta/Fotokids2023

them a chance to realize their dreams.

When I first started in Santiago Atitlán in 1997, we had to have an interpreter because most of the children and their families spoke their native tongue, Tzutuhil, and had no Spanish. Betty, a local fourth grade teacher, was my translator. Whenever the mothers came for a visit they would begin speaking, becoming more and more animated, then emotional and lapse into crying, talking for at least five minutes. Afterwards I would ask Betty, “What did they say?” She would answer, “They said thank you very much!” 

So thank you very much!

Our costs have gone up in terms of scholarships (and everything else, but we are talking about scholarships here) – high school fees are now almost $70 a month and university fees are $106 a month, plus additional fees for inscription twice a year.

How you Can Help
What we Need in 2023
We need more educational scholarships at $600 a year. 
(Both Educational and Vocational scholarships are now $600 a year)
We can accept stock as well

Fotokids Educational and Vocational Scholarships $600 a year
New IRS rules let our U.S supporters deduct $300 even if you don’t itemize

You may donate online at Donate with PayPal Giving Fund
or make checks out to: FOTOKIDS
Monthly Recurring gifts can be made on regular PayPal for info@Fotokidsorginal.org

Send any donations to: Fotokids/Walt Trask, 
2240 S Palm Canyon Drive, #16, 
Palm Springs CA 92264

Join our Fotokids Supporters page on FB see more photos and vote for your favorites during our competitions.

FOTOKIDS |info@fotokidsoriginal.org fotokidsoriginal.org

Help Lift a Girl Up ©Juan Ixbalán/fotokids2022