Xposure highlights photography in protecting Africa’s biodivers.

Sharjah 24: The vision and power of involving local communities especially children in wildlife photography and conservation projects were highlighted at a panel discussion titled “Cameras, Kids and Conservation” during the 8th edition of Xposure on Thursday.
The panel featured well-known photographer and educator Mike Kendrick, and his young team from Wild Shots Outreach (WSO), including Rifumo Mathebula, Karabo Magakane, and Melody Mnisi. WSO is an award-winning South African NGO that aims to engage previously disadvantaged young Africans in wildlife and conservation through photography.

Kendrick, who has specialised in teaching students from disadvantaged communities for over 25 years, revealed that as a wildlife photographer he had felt the need to start a programme involving the black communities living near the Kruger National Park in South Africa. He pointed out that they had been excluded from it either on account of resources or awareness, and WSO was a venture to uplift them. The programme has spread to other countries in Africa and trains government high school students and unemployed youngsters living adjacent to Africa’s National Parks.

For Rifumo Mathebula, WSO Programme Director and photographer, the association with WSO changed his life. Hailing from an impoverished community near the Kruger National Park, Rifumo wanted to become a teacher but could not pursue his dreams because of financial problems. His passion in assisting Kendrick in the training sessions brought more opportunities his way. Today, he is proud to be a model for the black community in the conservation mission. He revealed that the programme now has 1500 students and 160 workshops.

“First and foremost, I am a photojournalist and I love to take pictures as they are a powerful means for conservation,” stressed Rifumo, adding that Wild Shots is now in Botswana, Kenya and Namibia to teach young people about photography.

Karabo Magakane, WSO’s Assistant Programme Leader and a trained pilot, professed that her love for photography and conservation was kindled through WSO. With her private pilot’s licence – which she attained through help from the WSO Bursary Fund – her aim is to fly for conservation. She pointed out that her family and society did not understand conservation when she chose it as a profession. Owing to the lack of information about conservation, the efforts put into it are inadequate, she feels.

“People don’t care about conservation, so it is a challenge,” agreed Melody Mnisi, WSO Assistant Programme Leader and safari guide, who first learnt to use a camera at the WSO programme in 2022.

She remembered that before her association with WSO, she would look at images from her phone or magazine to draw animals for her art class assignments. “This is a dream come true,” said Melody who trained to become a safari guide with support from the WSO Bursary Programme.

“My community did not understand what I was doing; they thought I would be eaten by animals until I showed them pictures of my work,” said the young guide. “Today, my father’s instinct is not to kill a snake when he sees one but to call me.” She noted that her favourite photograph from her collection is the early morning shot of a leopard, which is on display at Xposure.

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