More than 150 rural-based children, aged between five and 17, had an unexpected bonus added to their mid-year holidays when they not only acquired basic photographic skills, but each one also received a camera, film and batteries to practice their new-found knowledge. On June 25, 2008, within three to four hours these children, many of whom had never held a camera, were budding photographers, hoping their best shot would be good enough for a grand prize.
Under the patient and practiced guidance of renowned photographers, Derek and Norma Pearman, the enthusiastic children learnt about film, f-stops, shutter speed, and an obtained appreciation of light as being more than simply a lack of darkness. Armed with new insight and new cameras, they captured shots of specially prepared props on the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve (KPNR), as well as imagination-led scenes in the 'free' photography category.
Two days later their broad smiles spoke of excitement, pride and a sense of accomplishment when they shared the results of their newly acquired skills. Each film was carefully bagged, tagged and rushed to Nelspruit, about two hours from t h e KPNR, on Thursday for development. The photos were then hurried back to the reserve and handed to the eagerly waiting children on Friday.
While Thabiso Mathebula, Hlulani Nyathi, Hlayisane N t i m a n e a n d Harries Mathebula were winners in the various categories, Miuehle Mathebula received a special judges' commendation for her 'out the box' film shot of the sun. Six-year-old, Deneo Mahathane, scooped the grand prize for the "best portfolio according to the brief." Commenting on the course, Hlayisane said: "This is a good thing and I hope it will go on and on so that our younger brothers can learn too."
The photography course came about when Zani Kunz, co-ordinator of the Reserve's Children's Eco Training Programme (CET), roped in the assistance of Linda Geldenhuys and Ilse Coetsee, of Make a Difference (MAD) and Fuji Film, represented by the Pearmans. According to Linda, the winners' best photos will be enlarged and auctioned at a MAD-sponsored golf day in November this year, where the proceeds will be ploughed back into CET.
"Through CET, we strive to inspire within the young - the leaders of tomorrow - a greater overall appreciation of nature's importance in all its intricacy," says Zani. "With this course, while having great fun, we could transfer a technical skill and use the environment as an inspirational tool in the process.
" The CET courses, for children from within the community surrounding the greater Kruger National Park, are part of an educational process, incorporating the use of the bush environment to link with the National Education Curriculum Trainers are selected from various farms within the Reserve to attend ongoing training programmes that qualify them as instructors for the CET courses. Experts from various fields are used for more advanced sections of the training of the instructors.
The training is divided into practical and theoretical activities. Critical thinking, problem solving, group work, motivational actions and enthusiasm form a part of the training. The children leave the day's training with a sense of pride of what they have achieved and a sense of responsibility to their surroundings.
"Our dream is to expand the outreach programme to the neighbouring schools and to have a training centre with accommodation so that schools from all over the world can share in the education and preservation of our natural heritage." Adult literacy and computer training for employees from within the KPNR also forms part of the CET educational programme. On their way to the next challenge!