Fotokids – The Original!

Fotokids – Many imitators Only 1 Original since 1991

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bronx & me©Chris Vail 2018 N. McGirr taking pix of Fotokids vinyls during the Bronx exhibit of Latin American Photography

Letter from the Founder N. McGirr

I am sure you have all been reading about children separated from their parents by U.S. immigration. In light of this, I feet this is a good opportunity to talk about the impact Fotokids has had in keeping over a thousand young people from immigrating, and the even larger picture of our influence globally.

I had no idea when I started Fotokids 27 years ago in Guatemala City’s garbage dump, that photography could be used as a tool to teach so many things and could get children excited about learning. Since the very first article in the Washington Post in 1991, Fotokids, focusing uniquely on a long term commitment, was the first of its kind and inspired a concept replicated by other photographers in India, East Timor, Nepal, Colombia, Belize, Mexico, London, Algiers, Finland, Tarawa Kiribati, Kenya, Algiers, etc. and continues to thrive as global learning tool. We have personally advised many of these projects.

Fotokids objectives go way beyond the idea of taking a good photo, this is a secondary benefit (although we always hope we have many good photos)! We are teaching young people to observe. Perceiving your surroundings in a different way, and learning to develop a visual voice through images, discovering how to do that creatively are some of Fotokids goals. How can I be an agent of change? The study of photography is an ideal tool to inspire discussion and ultimately stimulate the search for possible solutions. It is an excellent key to open up the feelings of young people and to further encourage them to develop the valuable skill of writing.

Doris Summer, Director of the Cultural Agents Initiative at Harvard, recognized this when she said that Fotokids had inspired her to creat her 3-year program to connect photography programs around the world. We have spread the Fotokids methodology through our exhibits attended by Fotokids students in fourteen countries and in over forty exhibits. These students have had the opportunity to interact with young people from other countries and share their ideas.The many television, radio, newspaper and magazine articles we have also inspired others to replicate our project. Check out Fotokids CV here []

This is how a program like ours can be adapted to serve in so many ways. We have used our photography curriculum to work in many venues . We have helped children with HIV, and wheelchair bound kids with spinal problems. We developed a six-year program that dealt with the affects of civil war on children in diverse areas of Guatemala. We have explored the U.N. Rights of the Child with an E.U. grant that involved Bangladeshi students from the East-end of London, a small village in Southern Spain, and Polisario refugees from the Sahara.

vivi & HIV kidsVivi teaching HIV positive children in Guatemala City

Margaret-with-fans.jpg.jpg©Nancy McGirr Margaret Burr teaching in the Sahara, Tinduf Algiers Rights of the Child project

linda in Uganda.psd©copyright Nancy McGirr 2005 Linda Morales in Uganda

The Girls Life Skills project has given our high school age girls a chance to get jobs with their Fotokids vocational diploma in technology and the media arts thus vastly expanding their horizons.

A fifteen-year program in Honduras, GUARUMA founded by Fotokids became it’s own entity and uses our programs to teach ecology and environmental education. We increased educational levels there from primary school to middle school in five years from 10% to 93%. Children from this project have gone on to form their own eco-tour company, work in the national parks, and become professional photographers as well as, birding and wildlife guides.

Franklin prize©Franklin Ramirez- Honduras GUARUMA Finalist BBC Young Nature Photographers

Our project with the California’s Central Valley and the Cutler Orosi school system, working with children of farm workers, has been so successful in giving the kids an identity and mainstreaming them into the U.S. culture that the school system is continuing it forward by themselves.

Currently we work in the gang areas of Guatemala City where we start the kids at an early age giving them an identity, a peer group, skills that require discipline and creativity and scholarships that follow them from primary through university. This functions as a preventative program to impede gang recruitment. Fotokids students have given workshops in in Spain, Mexico city with street kids, London, and a keynote speaker at an environmental conference in Adelaide Australia. Not only have our programs been replicated by photographers but also by our international volunteers. Young people from Holland, England, France, Australia, Spain, Vietnam, Austria and the U.S. have carried the seeds of giving back with them and have created their own amazing projects.

Ex-volunteers have gone on to work with: HIV in Kenya, women’s projects in Afghanistan, children in a cancer ward in the States, heading up charter schools, working with migrant children, forming their own advertising & design agencies, publishing photo books, teaching at universities, community organizers, producing films, and creating leadership programs.

I know that was a lot of blah-blah but I feel you might want to know these things in order to tell others that Fotokids, though small, not only works, but that it has been used globally as an important model.

Now for some more news updates! I went to NYC to see the inauguration of the exhibit we participated in of Latin American photographers, at the Bronx Documentary Center and it was wonderful. The BDC did a great job of printing and framing 35 prints and did splendid vinyl murals of Fotokids photographs that stretched around the block. The opening had an excellent turnout. I am very pleased and hope this will be the start of a long-term collaborative relationship. NYT- check out Fotokids pix [] here

We need 25 educational scholarships this year, for 10 kids from Mesquital and 15 from Santiago Atitlán. These sponsorships are $600 year and we monitor, do monthly school and family visits, tutor, buy books and pay monthly fees. You can donate on our website [] or by check made out to Fotokids and sent to: Fotokids 1333 Jones St. #1001, San Francisco CA 94109.

So please talk to your friends and family and see if each of you can interest one or two supporters. I’m sorry to put this funding request in the middle of the newsletter, I usually post it on the last page in the How you can Help section, but we have even more students eligible for scholarships next year, so I have to get on it! We took on no new students in 2018 in order to make sure we can afford the continuing scholarship expenses.

At the end of this month, I went to Sedona AZ to speak at Valley Verde, an international boarding school and to their community at large. I was very impressed with both the students and the quality of the teaching staff. We will do a joint workshop with 10 of the Arizona students and our Santiago Atitlán group in November. We hope to make this an ongoing relationship; participation by both staff and kids would I believe make for a valuable cultural exchange.

Exhibit Alert-Next year in November, we will be having an exhibition at the Studio@620 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

What’s new with the Kids

I think one of the things I like best every year during our August anniversary party is to visit with the returning Fotokids graduates. It makes me feel happy to see how they have taken the opportunities offered them and have gone forward, often against a strong current of obstacles.

Josefa could not attend the party because she was doing her oral exams for her university degree in social work. She later left me a message that she had passed! This was no surprise to me. Here is a single mother who spent five years studying, as well as working for us visiting every Fotokids family in the Santiago Atitlán community once a month. When she was not doing that, she was teaching our Girls Life Skills class giving them the necessary tools to help pull them out of poverty.

Jessica Lopez who began her university career in education with a Fotokids scholarship (2010) mentioned to me at the anniversary party that she had found her passion in giving workshops for a non-profit involved in early pregnancy prevention. Unfortunately, it pays nothing, but she used her graphic design skills learned in Fotokids years ago, to land a steady job in design for a major manufacturer. The job enables her to follow her dream of working for the non-profit and still be able to cover living expenses. Another affirmation that our vocational programs do work! Jess said, “ They would never have hired me, but for my skill as a graphic designer.

Beca with Fotokids embroidery

At the Anniversary party-Santiago Atitlán young women staffers show off how they have embroidered “Fotokids” into their huipiles! (blouses)

Nancy Morales (B.A. graphic design) just got a great job as designer/photographer with the IGA, (The Guatemalan American Institute).The IGA works with the U.S. Embassy on cultural exchanges. It’s a good job and she had to beat out a lot of competition in order to get hired. Rumor has it that Berta Garcia a Fotokids graduate (she was with us from nine years of age through the university where she studied law) and who currently works with the human rights commission, is considering running for Mayor of Santiago Atitlán! Oswaldo Batres is teaching English in two schools and Sam Zepeda is working a Call Center and as an English teacher.

Santiago Atitlán-Berlin and Andres worked on renovations at the Santiago school. With grants from Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church and the Ross family we: put in a new floor, replaced the bathtub with a storage space, upgraded the bathroom, and put in new lighting. Outside we constructed a stone pathway where the grass had been, (pounded to mud by many little feet), a new entry gate with lock, repaired the back wall, and cleaned out tree roots from the pipes.

We are filming two more videos for Oxford University Press with Colette Thomson of Footstep productions. Emelyn will once again be the star, and she will be interacting with her co-stars in the Basque country. We all had some problems at first pronouncing the Basque names. Filming, along with Fotokids extras, will continue at the All Souls Day celebration in San Juan Sacatepéquez where huge Kites, some 40 feet in diameter, fly heavenward with messages addressed to the ancestors.

flying kites-1.JPG

©Jorge/Fotokids2015 Kite makers raise one of the huge kites on All Soul’s Day

Gerardo’s class of primary school kids participated in a workshop on wild greens and edibles given by the Ministry of Agriculture to help increase the use of vegetables in meal planning. Malnutrition is a big problem within our community and many of the families exist on black beans and tortillas or just tortillas with salt. Rocío is finishing her last year in film school and has been already working freelance in various productions. Werner is working in video, doing weddings and shooting for the German Embassy. Vivi is now in charge as the educational coordinator for Cuarto Mundo a French charity that gives art classes to kids that work in the markets.

How you can Help

U.S. Retirees -Donate your IRA distribution to charity, Fotokids that is!Retirees ages 70 1/2 or older who directly transfer their IRA withdrawals of up to $100,000 to a qualified charity will not owe income tax on the distribution

Put us in your WILL. What better legacy is there than to give a kid a future? Our Legal Name is Fotokids Inc. and USA tax ID # 45-1261970 We need scholarships as mentioned in the newsletter, Educational $600 year, Fotokids Vocational $300. You may donate online at [], on our Fotokids FB page, or make checks out to: FOTOKIDS Address for donations: Fotokids/Walt Trask, 1333 Jones St. #1001, San Francisco, CA 94109  [], Or on our Fotokids FB page, or make checks out to: FOTOKIDS Send any donations to: Fotokids/Walt Trask, 1333 Jones St. #1001, San Francisco, CA 94109

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matra_fotografoSpanish Voices

In 1994 Fotokids began an alliance with children from the Western Sahara (Polasario refugees) Bangladeshi students from the east end of London, and a small village in Spain to examine the U.N. Rights of the Child as it applied to each of these groups.

The students traveled to London and the Director gave classes in Tinduf, Algiers. The 3 year project, called Spanish Voices and supported by the European Union focused on traditions, culture and the children’s dreams and culminated in a TV series shown on the BBC and a board game based on the rights of the child and free trade designed by the children, and fabricated in London, LocoCoco.

Children affected by the 36 year conflict

In 1997 just after the Peace Accords were signed, ending Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, Fotokids initiated a project to bring together children from areas that had been strongly affected by the violence. Called, The project to create youth leadership and strengthen democratic values in areas affected by the violence lasted six years and was supported in part by the Soros Foundation and the Reuters Foundation.

The program that ran for 6 years, created links of understanding and compassion, by bringing together children affected by the violence and massacres.  Students from the City, Santiago Atitlán y Santa Maria Tzejá Ixcán examined the conflict through extensive interviews with massacre survivors and produced written testimonies of their flight, life in Mexican refugee camps, (or of the 12 years of hiding in the mountains) and subsequent problems on return to Guatemala. The students produced photo illustrations and created videos, leaving a personal powerful legacy for future generations.

Girls Life Skills

Girls Life Skills enables young women to consider a different perspective, that will guide them in the process of self-discovery, learning to dream, forming goals and developing their self-confidence.

Evelyn teachs the first Girls Life Skill class

They learn to tell their stories using self-portraits, photo essays, journals, video and discussion forums. Women professionals in non-conventional careers are invited to speak to the students. Analysis, discussion and search for solutions related to women’s issues within their communities are discussed as well as information on sexuality and pregnancy prevention.
 This successful three-year IT program is ongoing and has graduates studying for university degrees in law, social work, architecture, graphic design, education and engineering.

California- Central Valley

Fotokids worked with the Cutler Orosi school system  in California’s Central Vally to help integrate children of farm workers into the general school population using our photography curriculum on identity. This program was supported by the state school system for five years and they then took it over as part of their after school program for migrant children and it continue today.

Children Living in Rival Gang Territories

Fotokids under the auspices of Mercy Corp in a USAID project, worked with children living within contiguous gang dominated neighborhoods to build a sense of community and help develop their strength to fight back. Fotokids part was using photography to work with 200 new young people and inspire a sense of identify and promote leadership.The program culminated in three exhibitions held in the barrios we worked in, Villa Nueva, El Bucaro and on the fringe of the garbage dump.

Exhibit at Cegma

 Children born with HIV Aids

Fotokids teachers worked with children In Guatemala City who had contracted HIV before birth. It was important as they were approaching adoelscence, to not only educate them on the condition and how to live with it, but to help them shape an identity that wasn’t just based on the fact they were HIV positive.

Vivi teaches computer basics to HIV positive children

Ciudad Quetzal

Several years ago, one of our older students who grew up next to the garbage dump, Evelyn Mansilla, now Exeecutive Director, came to us while completing her journalism degree at the University of San Carlos, with the dream of giving back to her community in a unique and highly personal way.

Evelyn had decided to start her own project in a small impoverished neighborhood an hour away from Guatemala City (Ciudad Quetzal). Every Saturday Evelyn took time out of her busy schedule to commute to Ciudad Quetzal to teach a group of 9 students between the ages of 6 and 13. The results have been impressive. Evelyn’s students have all been quick studies and their grades in school have skyrocketed since their first day of class.

Children Living in Rival Gang Territories

Fotokids under the auspices of Mercy Corp in a USAID project, worked with children living within contiguous gang dominated neighborhoods to build a sense of community and help develop their strength to fight back. Fotokids part was using photography to work with 200 new young people and inspire a sense of identify and promote leadership.The program culminated in three exhibitions held in the barrios we worked in, Villa Nueva, El Bucaro and on the fringe of the garbage dump.

Exhibit at Cegma

La Lucerna

Fotokids contracts its successful program to other non-profits. As part of Plan International’s Voice and Expression program we initiated a 6-month project working with poor children in an isolated village on the skirts of the active volcano Fuego. Fotokids uses photography and writing skills to promote creativity, self-expression, self-confidence and encourage leadership skills, in this case to a group of 5th and 6th graders.

Antigua-Children with Disabilities 

Fotokids designed a three year photography program as therapy and empowerment for children with spina bifid a and other spinal problems in conjunction with Transitions. The wheelchair bound children from 5 to 12 years old, had one Fotokid from the City as their personal mentor and teacher. For many it was their only outing all week and they zoomed around Antigua Guatemala taking photographs, gaining confidence and learning to see.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn March 2013 Fotokids started a new after school program using photography and writing skills as a means of identity and self-expression to support mainstreaming of migrant worker children in the Cutler Orosi school system.

We received a grant from Tulare County to extend this to 4 more elementary schools, in addition to the El Monte middle school, for a total involvement of 60 youth in grades 5-8..

Students work on assignments that promote identity, self-expression, the rights of the child, visual literacy and critical thinking.  Each student will receive three 4×6 prints per week to use for written reflections and keep in their portfolios.  Fotokids groups at each afterschool program work towards exhibits and/or showcases to be held in December and May.

Fotokids’ Central Valley program focuses on first-generation Spanish speaking immigrants. Research and experience has shown that immigrant youth are at high risk of becoming disconnected from school and other positive institutions that would otherwise be able to help support their learning and development.  Schools often struggle to involve recent immigrants in the activities that would provide them with opportunities for meaningful membership in a positively oriented group.

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4. salvandoThe highly successful Save Girls program originated in 2006 as a three-year program whose mission was to provide young women with the confidence, life skills and vocational training needed to effectively insulate them against the violence and poverty that characterize their gang-ridden communities in the capital. The original program was so popular that Fotokids has expanded it to other high-risk barrios in Guatemala City. The girls, ages 14-16, receive intensive training in information technology, graphic design, photography, advertising, writing and client management. We now have offered the technology course to 40 girls and they are working as graphic designers, teachers, and have gone on to study in the university. Pending funding, Fotokids would like to offer it in the future to rural areas where patriarchal traditions prefer to send the boys to school and not the girls.



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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2009 two of the original Fotokids students, Marta and Rosario who lived on the edge of Guatemala City’s sprawling garbage dump initiated classes where they now live in Tierra Nueva II, one of the most dangerous gang areas in Central America and work with some of the 37 families of assassinated bus drivers, as well as, with other extremely poor families.

Marta began teaching when she was 12 years old in Santiago Atitlán and went on to get her university degree in education.

Tierra Nueva is one of the most dangerous gang areas in Central America. Extreme poverty, gang extortions and assassinations are daily occurrences.  The teachers have classes with boys and girls 8 to 11 years old and two Save Girls classes, limited enrollment to only girls, and classes are also offered for kids from surrounding neighborhoods in Guatemala City.


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