Challenging Perspectives Photo Challenge – South Africa

To encourage SERVE 2015 volunteers to think critically about common perceptions and misconceptions related to developing countries, we were given the task of taking three photos that we think will challenge the perspectives of people in Ireland – keeping in mind the Dochas Code of Conduct on Images and Messages.

With this task in mind, we quickly realised that it would not be that difficult to fulfil. While so much has changed, developing countries continue to be described through a series of lacks and absences, failings and problems, plagues and catastrophes. This is not all we have experienced in our first week here in South Africa. While basic services and facilities are lacking / absent, the local communities are working hard to respond to these issues. Entrepreneurs are setting up their own small businesses to generate income and provide services to their communities.

These entrepreneurs were photographed by Bridie Denning and Sinéad McNeela, who captured small business holders at Freedom Park and Boitekong – two informal communities surrounding the mines in the North West Province of South Africa.

  1. One label that is attached to developing countries is that they are hot, dry, arid.  However, pictured above is one of the many organic vegetable patches that are dotted throughout Phokeng and the North West Province. On the Home Based Care visit in Freedom Park, volunteers were surprised to see homes that were self sufficient, growing their own fruits and vegetables, using solar power to provide electricity to their homes and poultry farming to supply meat and eggs to their household. (Photo 1: Vegetable Patch in Phokeng, South Africa (Photo Siobhán Hughes), See also Photo 3.
  2. Sinéad’s picture of the ‘Shoe Repairs’ sign outside of Boitekong, illustrates that, someone has taken the initiative to set up a business to repair shoes in their community. They identified that there was a need for the area and set up their shoe repair business as an income generation project.  (Photo: Shoe Repairs at Boitekong (Photo Sinead McNeela)
  3. Photo 3: Mango and Orange Plants at Angelique’s Creche in Dichibidu (Photo Niamh Fanthom)
  4. In Freedom Park, one of the largest squatter camps in the North West Province. People have flocked to the mining areas from all across Southern and Eastern Africa looking for work. Freedom Park is home to over 30,00 people. This has created huge social and economic issues that people are facing every day. Lack of access to clean water and electricity is accelerating these issues. In Freedom Park, Lee is running a small shop providing groceries and other essentials to the undocumented citizens of the informal community living here. Lee is Chinese and runs a very successful business in Freedom Park which he is very proud of!  (Photo: Lee, a Chinese South African in Freedom Park (Photo Fiona Henry)
  5. Technology is growing in the majority world. Mobile phones, laptops and tablets are sweeping through communities – with Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter being a huge hit! Above (photo 5) is a photo taken by SERVE Volunteer John Mannion. While visiting Matlhabe, a rural community with just fifteen families, Dinga was leaning against a tree chatting on his phone. A sight not often associated with rural Africa! (Photo: Dinga on his phone at Matlhabe (Photo John Mannion)
  6. The Kelloggs box, branding an advertisement to feed children illustrates that fundraising is also done within the country – similar to the fundraising done at home. “Buy this box, help feed a child”. Breakfast clubs are organised in Ireland to ensure that children attending school are fed and are able to concentrate for their day at school, increasing the standard of their education. These types of programmes are also in effect across South Africa in all communities – including the squatter camps. SERVE’s partner Tapologo, with the support of Irish Aid are able to ensure that Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in the squatter camps receive a daily nutritious meal. These meals are cooked by women in the community who volunteer to cook these meals each day. Volunteering and fundraising is not just a ‘western’ concept. SERVE volunteers also work hand in hand with Step up and Serve, a local youth group who are working to make change in their communities. (Photo: Buy a box, feed a child (Photo Caroline Meghen)
  7. At the SERVE training days, a lot of work was done around challenging perceptions of Africa. When given a map of the continent of Africa and told to write or draw what comes to mind when they see this image, words like famine, hunger and corruption featured heavily. Karina McGinley captured a photograph (below) at Matlhabe in rural South Africa. The poster is one of many we have seen dotted around shops, churches and community centres informing people how to monitor and respond to corruption. (Photo: Anti Corruption Poster in Matlhabe, South Africa (Photo Karina McGinley)
  8. A man sitting by the side of the road with a Singer sewing machine is a sight that one would not expect to see or even imagine when they think of ‘Africa’. Women are usually portrayed as the sewers, dressmakers etc. This photo is challenging gender stereotypes. (Photo: Sewing by the roadside at Freedom Park (Photo Bridie Denning)

Overall, the photo challenge was an enlightening and successful project. Each volunteer presented their photos back to the group on Wednesday evening. A group of 13 committed volunteers and leaders are now working hard to challenge perceptions and encourage support for the entrepreneurs, volunteers and people who are working hard in their own communities to create change.