For over 25 years Fotokids, originally called Out of the Dump, has worked as a non-profit organization breaking the cycle of poverty through training in visual arts and technology. Over the years, the project has grown to provide services to children from poverty- and violence-stricken communities around the country. Today, Fotokids provides services to more than 215 children, aged nine to 23, located in six communities in Guatemala, and in the Central Valley of California working with children of farmworkers.
Fotokids was founded by award-winning, former Reuters news service photographer Nancy McGirr in Guatemala in 1991. The organization began with a group of six children who lived and worked in Guatemala City’s vast garbage dump.
In 1996, Fotokids expanded its program to include communities outside Guatemala City. The Children in Conflict program documented the effects of 36 years of war on three Guatemalan communities; Santiago Atitlán, Santa María Tzejá and Guatemala City, creating strong links between urban and rural youth.
Since its inception more than two decades ago, Fotokids has provided services to more than a thousand children, reaching more than 500 families living in poverty. Fotokids’ work has been exhibited in leading galleries and museums in 14 countries around the world, including Colombia, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. Furthermore, the organization and its impact have been featured in lectures at Harvard University, Bowdoin College and Boston University in the United States. Additionally, the program has been presented at international conferences and exhibits in Brazil, Guatemala, Japan, Spain and the United States. Fotokids is an independent, 501(c)(3) organization.
Fotokids students emerge from the program dedicated to giving back both to the organization and to their communities. The inclusion of Fotokids graduates in the management of the program gives these educators the advantage of knowing first-hand the community’s inherent challenges. Fourteen of Fotokids’ Guatemalan staff are graduates of the program.
The purpose of Fotokids is to help small groups of Central American young people from the poorest of barrios develop useful, employable skills as a means to self-exploration, expression, and discovery. Through intensive, long-term personal relationships with teachers and mentors, participating children learn to use photography, creative writing, and computers as tools to examine their lives, families, communities, and environment bridging the global technology divide.
Upon entering our program, each student receives a camera and begins to learn the basic skills and techniques of black and white photography. As the students progress in the project, their areas of study broaden. Although documentary photography remains a focus of the project, classes now include digital imaging, computer-generated graphic design, video, creative writing, theater, advertising, ecology, and English.
Ours is an integrated project focused on breaking the cycle of poverty. Fotokids requires that all of our students attend school and provides full and partial scholarships (dependent on academic achievement) most of whom could not otherwise afford to study past the sixth grade. This year we have eight students studying at the university level and five have graduated, a significant accomplishment for our young people despite neighborhood pressure to work or have children.
Making pictures and exhibiting them promotes self-awareness, creativity, and confidence. Photography stimulates our participants to reach for new horizons and dare to dream
Our young people have photographically documented the issues that surround them: their living conditions, environment, work situations, exposure to violence, drug abuse and dreams for the future.Our students’ work documents the dignity, wit, and sensitivity of the photographers and the members of their communities.
Because our students realize the importance of giving back to their communities and sharing what they have learned with other young people, all of our older Guatemala City participants are involved in teaching younger students, either in the capital or in one of our outreach projects. They have also given workshops in Granada, London, Mexico D.F., Houston, and Medellín.
Our photographers have had the opportunity to travel abroad and meet people from different countries and backgrounds, in this way broadening their experience of the world, and providing them with a global identity. Their work has been exhibited in galleries in Guatemala, Tokyo, Sapporo, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Houston, Medellín, Seville, San Francisco, Grand Cayman Islands, and New York City. The project has also been featured on CNN, Bravo, A&E, BBC, Channel Four London, NHK, Australian Broadcasting Cooperation, Austrian and German Public television, and Sábado Gigante.
Fotokids’ goal is to empower an upcoming generation of underprivileged children to escape an apparently never ending cycle of poverty. Graduates are now working as a television cameraman, editor, teacher, graphic designer, medical secretary, supervisor, systems Engineer, and in international non-profits.
How are students chosen?
We usually rely on the help of community leaders or local organizations to help choose our students. Potential students and their parents receive information about the project and meet with our staff. A group of new students, usually only 15 in number is selected from a community based on individual interest, and since we provide scholarships it is important the family feel strongly about the benefits of education. We then do a pilot program with the group who are taught by our older, advanced students for 3 months after which we graduate everyone and after a month or two weed out those who lacked interest.Scholarships are not mentioned and children are not eligible until they have remained in the project one year.
How long do students study with Fotokids?
Since we believe in the benefits of long-term mentoring, we support our students through high school and, should they choose to continue their education, university. Two original students with the project since it started in 1991 are now Fotokids teachers. We currently have ten students at the university level and several university graduates.
Where do the cameras and equipment come from?
Over the years, we have received donations of cameras and other equipment; from Konica Japan, Nikon, Canon, Olympus Cameras, University of Texas, Harvard University and Classic Restorations (Boston), among many others. We also receive material and cash donations from individuals and grants that help defray our equipment costs.
How is Fotokids financed?
Although we are able to cover some of our expenses with the proceeds from our design studio Jakaramba and the sale of prints, cards etc., the majority of our funding comes from grant – making organizations and individual donations. In addition, our students have at least one scholarship sponsor, whose contribution helps pay for his or her education.
Is Fotokids affiliated with the government or a religious organization?
No. We are a private, non-profit organization, a registered 501 (3) (c) in the United States as Fotokids ID # 45-1261970