Community: In Photos

Joop Rubens is in Malawi this month to photograph Firelight grantee partners. A photographer and former Firelight staff member, he is originally from Belgium (and, in case you’re wondering, his name rhymes with “hope”).  Joop is spending this month in the villages served by the Namwera AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC). His photographs will show the families and communities in Namwera as they meet the needs of vulnerable children. Since 2005, Joop has traveled and documented some of the remarkable work of African grassroots organizations. Reflecting on his travels, Joop wrote, “Africa is a magnificent continent and its children represent hope; they also live and inspire it. The privilege to witness this energy and photograph it continues to be the most humbling experience of my life.”

Joop left on February 1, 2011. This is his first series since his arrival.

Day 1- Life At First Sight

A few hours in a metal box and voilà, I am a stranger. Red dirt, umbrella shaped acacia trees, the smell of tropical downpours, and a big smile on the child walking next to me. I am eager to start asking questions and to have intense conversations about life in Malawi. Visually, completely over stimulated, I’m prepared to take life at first sight.

Day 2 - It Starts With The Family

The drive from Lilongwe to Namwera was fantastic thanks to a four-hour conversation with my travel companion, the director of NACC, Saeed Wame. When I asked him about governance in Malawi Saeed replied, “It starts with the family. Though we are led by a president, the family is the backbone of society.”

Day 3 - Circle of Friends

I’ve met so many children, parents, and grandparents today that my head is spinning. There was a grandmother caring for five grandchildren and the last of her ailing three daughters and a young man who took me to the seven homes he visits each day to ensure all the children are in school. That concept of                                                              togetherness is a photographic challenge. How can                                            I convey that people live on $1 a day, but insist on                                            sharing that $1 with their neighbor? A moment of                                              doubt, I lay in the grass and close my eyes for a                                                second. Unaware that children gathered around                                               me, I open my eyes and the answer stares down at                                           me: A Circle of Friends.

Day 4 – Scones and School

Through local partners in Malawi and other African countries, Firelight is able to support small loan initiatives. These initiatives provide a modest line of credit for people to start a business. As soon as the borrower repays, a second person can apply for a loan, and so on. Today I met Patuma, who used her loan to start a home-run bakery. She told me, “The income of my scones is sending all of my                                         four children to school.”