The acacia studded plains and lush valley of Leparua village opened up before us as we emerged through the gates of Lewa Conservancy in our truck. It was nearly sundown and the cows were returning home down the steep incline of rocky terrain just opposite our camp. A chorus of birdsong joined the wooden bells and mooing cattle as they made their way to their enclosures. Calves were calling to their momma’s issuing stern commands to quicken the journey. It was supper time for the babies and apparently the ladies were taking too long to come home.
At 5 pm Lepaura was bustling with energy and productivity. School bags were put aside and sleeves rolled up to assume the role of herders and helpers. Adults and children of all ages could be seen tending to the evening’s chores and responsibilities. The arrival of two foreigners went virtually unnoticed in the commotion of daily life. Sitting on the ridge of our camp surveying the village, we realized that we had so much to learn about this community and were eager to start.
The morning sun greeted us as we shook the sleep out of our bones, dressed and made our way to the Lepaura Primary School to meet students and faculty. We shared ideas with our fellow educators then waited until school hours had completed to begin working with students. Twelve pairs of curious eyes - bright with interest - peered back at Elizabeth and I as we introduced ourselves in the library. These eyes belong to an extraordinary team of seventh graders – all talented documentarians poised to begin our journey together. New to Leparua, Elizabeth and I asked our students to teach us about the spectacular environment they call home by collaborating on a project that celebrates indigenous knowledge, communication and friendship. Our goal was to get to know each other through a shared experience of exploration through visual storytelling and photography. Each participant assumed the role of teacher and student, which provided insight, inspiration and laughter for us all.
We began our project with preliminary lessons on how to use a camera to tell stories with images. Once familiar with tools and tasks, we set into the village in teams. The first moments behind the camera were shy ones. As our conversations deepened and the days progressed, the awkwardness dissolved and the steady determination of twelve brilliant minds emerged. Each night as Elizabeth and I reviewed the day’s work, we were surprised by the successes of our students’ efforts. We expected the timidity of new photographers to be reflected in the images. What we found instead were stunning photographs of Leparua’s environment, rich with originality and a healthy dose of adventure.
Although lean in comparison to the great volume of work the students created, this book embodies the bravery and creativity of the twelve students who opened up their world to us. Elizabeth and I left Leparua with heaviness in our hearts having just said goodbye to a remarkable group of youngsters whose vision and beauty continue to inspire us.
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