Students from Bana Ba Letsatsi and Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust, ages 16-21, gathered together for National Geographic Photo Camp Botswana, a week-long interactive experience where they learned about photography and the power of storytelling.
They received mentorship and practiced their skills with National Geographic Explorers Jahawi Bertolli, Federico Pardo, Esther Ruth Mbabazi, Thalefang Charles, Kirsten Elstner, and several Botswana-based photographers and educators.
“I learned the principles of photography and how to tell a good story. I never realized this was a thing that I could learn,” Photo Camp student Angel Gaobonwe said. “I’m going to continue to work to make better pictures and to tell stories. They are important to me and to others.”
“It was quite fulfilling to see their transformation into these promising storytellers. Some of these students held the camera for the first time last week and a few days later they understood the basics of using photography to tell stories. It is that understanding which we hope we could nurture so that we inspire more storytellers from Botswana,” Charles said, reflecting on the experience.
In addition to learning about the basics of photography and engaging in editing exercises in the classrooms, students embarked on field assignments where they were asked to reflect on the ways we are all connected to water.
With cameras in hand and a question to consider, the students took photographs of the places, people, and things that moved them––gaining confidence along the way. They interviewed local community members, visited businesses and farms, took photos during a game drive through the Moremi Game Reserve, and explored the Okavango Delta—which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the main source of water for a million people, and one of the most biodiverse places in Africa.
“I learned more than just about photography. I gained confidence in learning about other people’s lives, and that it’s OK to ask questions so I can understand,” Photo Camp student Thuo Difongo said.
To learn more about the Okavango Delta, students met with National Geographic Explorer and Managing Director of the Botswana Wild Bird Trust, Koketso “Koki” Mookodi. Through her work with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project, Mookodi has drawn on her background in tourism management to establish a successful conservation education program in the Okavango Delta.
Reflecting on the experience, Mookodi said, “It has been very encouraging to see how these students have taken to the Photo Camp. I’ve watched them blossom as the days have gone by and build confidence and grow into themselves. Watching them learn more about themselves and their lack of limits has been very rewarding. I look forward to many, many more camps.”
“Through the week, this experience reinforced the fact that we are all storytellers, and with the right tools and opportunities, we can be in charge of our stories, stories of our shared existence, as communities and globally,” said Mbabazi.
The week concluded with a final show––a montage of the students’ photos and stories to celebrate their work and growth throughout the week.