Fotokids – The Original!

Fotokids – Many imitators Only 1 Original since 1991

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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©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


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 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

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.


Help Lift a Girl Up ©Juan Ixbalán/fotokids2022

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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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©copyrights David Ixbalán/Fotokids 2008

©copyrights David Ixbalán/Fotokids 2008

Santiago Atitlán- 1997 to present

Our program in this poverty stricken Tzutuhil village began in 1997 with grants from Soros, Agostino and Reuters Foundations to support our Under the Shadows project, a six year program that worked with children to examine the effects of the war years on them in rural communities around the country.

Some of the students who took part in the original program now work for the Commission on Human Rights and study journalism and law in university. Others, who received training in photography, digital story development and graphic design, went on to work for the organization’s design studio, Jakaramba!

This program has continued and additional Tzutuhil Fotokids graduates serve as teachers in Santiago Atitlán, training young students from primary school onwards in the basics of photography, Photoshop and graphic design and critical thinking. The students are part of the Fotokids scholarship program.

A Fotokids graduate from Santiago Atitlán works as a social worker visiting student’s families and their schools every month to help resolve problems.


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Fotokids brought our successful photography program to Honduras to work in the village of Las Mangas after the devastation fraught by Hurricane Mitch in the year 2000. The village is located on the edge of the Pico Bonito National Park, between the shores of the raging Cangrejal River and the Cloud Forest. Since it’s inception the program’s focus has been the use of photography and design to promote environmental education and conservation of the beautiful, unique natural resources that abound in the region.

The program uses photography, graphic design, and media technology as a tool for self-expression, creativity, critical thinking, leadership and vocational training. Older students who have been at least 3 years in the program teach younger students, and the project now serves over seventy students from 4 communities.

Fotokids scholarship program has raised education levels from just 10% of young people continuing their education past the 6th grade primary, to 90%.

taught computers and photography in the school system, work as representatives with the National Park service, serve as professional guides on a nature trail they created and built, and designed and operated an interactive nature museum.

Their award winning photographs have appeared in prestigious magazines such as Nature’s best and Ranger Rick. A Guaruma student has been a finalist twice in the BBC Young Nature Photographers competition

The students from 9 to 18 years old, have created an interactive environmental classroom, provided environmental lectures to over 50 local schools, produced a learning DVD on the regional watershed, taught computers and photography in the school system, work as representatives with the National Park service and serve as professional guides on a nature trail they created and built, and designed and operated an interactive nature museum. They are working as eco tourism guides and have set up their own eco tourism business.

Naturally the importance of conserving their country’s natural resources is one of the major themes stressed. The photography/media project has created a curriculum that can be replicated by other Central American teachers living in environmentally vulnerable areas.

Contributions to the project can be made in our secure payment system, PayPal. Please remember to specify that your donation is intended for GUARUMA the Honduran project.


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