MOSHI, TANZANIA–For two months in 2011, Raul Guerrero, 27, gave nine children in Moshi, Tanzania 100 disposable cameras. The result was more breathtaking and more fascinating than he’d ever imagined. From those photographs, Raul has founded The Disposable Project, a curated book that features over sixty photographs. Throughout the project, Raul taught the students ways to hone their creativity and tell their story through images of everyday life.
Moshi is nestled on the bottom slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The city’s education system has experienced some of the same general trends seen throughout Tanzania. While the number of children receiving education in Tanzania has burgeoned since the eradication of school enrolment fees in 2001, the quality of education has failed to keep up, due to a lack of supplies, funding and teachers needed to support the influx in students.
And there are still those students who do not have the financial means to continue their education past a certain age. “Education in Tanzania is a bit complicated,” Raul said. “There are a lot of factors that go into the current situation. There are immediate factors; such as if someone in the family passes away and there’s immediate pressure for family to come up with the money. And there are also cultural expectations. It all ties into child vulnerability.” When Raul dispensed the first set of disposable cameras, some of the students had never held a photograph of themself.
But an interesting thing happens when children have yet to be conditioned by something; they approach the new experience in their own, unique way. And in the case of The Disposable Project, that inexperience led to raw, and beautiful imagery. One picture shows a man sitting rigged, staring directly into the camera with an iconic image of President Barack Obama emblazoned on his t-shirt. Some students played to the camera and others appear to pay it little attention. But each child found his or her own way to interact with the camera.
Raul was a student at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles when he traveled to Moshi through the school’s Center for Service & Action. At the time, he did not know how much the project would affect the lives of his students, and he certainly didn’t know how much the project would affect his own life.
“I had no idea what it would evolve into. I had traveled a fair amount, as a photographer,” he said. “I’ve always documented my experiences behind the camera. I knew I would be working with kids and wanted to find a way to share my passion of photography.”
When Raul first began the project, he gave each of the nine students two cameras a week. The students spent the majority of the first few weeks just getting use to carrying around a camera.
And then Raul found a shop in Moshi that was still developing film. He got 4×6 prints to give to each student. Being able to hold and see the photographs made the students, as well as the community, excited and engaged.
“It was fascinating to see the kids’ progression. I didn’t really know how they would react to the cameras,” Raul said. “But as the weeks went on there was a more refined sense of what it was they wanted to capture.”
And as time went on, Raul noticed that some kids would give other students the 4×6 prints they’d taken of them. “I think it’s actually interesting. I think they wanted to replicate in studio portraits and they were doing it in their own rural setting. So it was interesting to see.”
But just as much as Raul transformed the children, he found that it’s his work with youth that’s also transformed him. Raul is currently living in Outat El Haj, Morocco as a Youth Development and Asset Building Peace Corps Volunteer. “Through my work on The Disposable Project and work with youth, I’m pretty sure that’s how I ended up living and working in Morocco,” Raul said. “It’s really interesting how one thing has lead to another.”
Since living in Morocco and working with the youth, Raul has spent a significant amount of time reflecting on his next step. After he leaves Morocco, Raul plans to pursue a Master of Business Administration. He’s set a goal to refine his business skills in order to help companies and social enterprises distinguish their brands on a global scale. “Even non-profits need help on this end.”
But most importantly, he wants to continue to work with children and for the benefit of children. After The Disposable Project, and subsequent volunteer opportunities with children, Raul feels a sense that it all was a bit serendipitous. “Through all my contemplation, everything just clicked,” he said.
Raul plans to return to Moshi in a year, after completing his service in the Peace Corps, in order to record the students’ reactions to their book of photographs.
The Disposable Project is on sale for a limited time and 100% of the proceeds go to Moshi-Born to Learn, a program that works to provide vulnerable and disadvantaged children access to education.
Featured photo (top): Being an internationally celebrated leader, Barack Obama was everywhere to be seen in Moshi – from screen printed t-shirts to men’s boxer briefs with “Obama” stitched into the elastic waistband. Photo courtesy of The Disposable Project.