The young photographer paying it forward

Wanjiru Ndegwa loved her experience with Canon Academy Juniors and decided to share it with other youngsters, sharing with them a gift of creativity.
Two children, photographed from behind. They are sat side-by-side and wear white t-shirts with ‘Juniors Academy’ written across the back in bright, primary colours and red and white checked skirts. Others sit beside them, but only their feet can be seen.

The young photographer paying it forward

Katie Simmonds

Written by Katie Simmonds

Canon Education Programmes Manager

Generosity comes in many shapes and forms, but it could be argued that being generous with your time is the greatest form of giving. Especially when it is something you have the least of. Sixteen-year-old Wanjiru Ndegwa from Nairobi has to be careful with her time, as she has an almost eye-watering number of commitments. But, somehow, she has managed to ‘pay it forward’ after a stint with the Canon Academy Juniors showed her the possibilities of photography. Not just, as you might expect, in the photos she is able to capture, but in the way she can share her learnings with others.
“I do art and music. Actually, I play piano, electric guitar and violin, but the main focus in is piano. I’ve also done dance and drama and, of course, photography.” These are just the things she reels off of the top of her head, but she is also currently studying for exams and volunteers with an environmental awareness group. So, for Wanjiru, it was business as usual when she spotted a Canon Academy Juniors poster in her local art supplies store and jumped at the chance. “I thought “it looks so cool!” So, of course, I signed up and went to the classes,” she remembers. “And it was reallyfun, we learnt a lot and I made friends as well. It was really really cool.”
Inspired by her father’s love of photography, Wanjiru already knew her way around a camera and was self-taught to a point. The Canon Academy Juniors, however, took her to the next level, teaching her new techniques and taking her skills further. It occurred to Wanjiru that this experience was far from common and although her school actively encourages the arts as part of a rounded education, there are plenty of kids in her area who attend schools that don’t. “In our country we had this system called 8-4-4 [eight years of primary education followed by four years of secondary school and four years of college or university] and, unfortunately, in some schools the students don’t have the opportunity to learn anything on the creative side,” she explains. It gave her the idea to approach a local school where she and some friends from an environmental awareness group had planted trees in the past.

Sixteen people in a line, all jumping in the air. At one end is Canon Certified Trainer, Ben Mwangi, dressed all in black, and at the other is Wanjiru Ndegwa, in jeans and a white t-shirt. The children in between are wearing white t-shirts and either back shorts or red and white checked skirts. Some are holding cameras.

The students of Olooseos Primary School in Kajiado learnt the basics of photography from Canon Academy Juniors graduate, Wanjiru Ndegwa (far right) and Canon Certified Trainer Ben Mwangi (far left).

On the right, Wanjiru Ndegwa kneels with one knee on the ground. In her hand is a camera, of which she is showing the viewfinder to another child. Wanjiru wears a white and red Canon branded t-shirt and jeans. Her companion also wears a white and red Canon branded t-shirt, but with a red and white checked skirt, white socks and pink trainers.

“I asked them questions before we started and discovered they hadn’t seen a camera ever. I could see that they were really interested and just having interest can go a long way.”

Plenty of adults would find teaching a room of pre-teens intimidating, but Wanjiru approaches all the challenges in her life pragmatically and enthusiastically, and this was no exception. “Teamwork is a very big aspect,” she says. “On my first workshop I invited my cousins – having support from other people is really cool – and you get to inspire them as well!” Alongside professional photographer and Canon Certified Trainer Ben Mwangi, Wanjiru confidently took the students at Olooseos Primary School through the basics of photography. “They were SO excited. I asked them questions before we started and discovered they hadn’t seen a camera ever. I could see that they were really interested and just having interest can go a long way,” she says. “Also, when they are excited, they tend to get distracted but that’s where I got the help from my cousins because we mingled with them and were able to help them stay focused, but also keep the fun going. ”The youngsters quickly got stuck in, learning how to operate a camera and then taking photos independently before returning to the group to look at the shots they had taken.

On the left, Wanjiru Ndegwa stands by a tree. She is wearing her long hair braided and centre parted, and a white and red Canon branded t-shirt. In her right hand she holds a Canon camera, and points to it with her left hand, which has colourful bracelets on the wrist. On the right is a quote that read: “First, I was thinking about teaching art and music and then Canon gave me the opportunity to teach photography as well. But the main thing was I wanted to inspire people.”

For now, Wanjiru has put her teaching career on hold, but she is adamant that this is temporary and has big plans to turn the first workshop into an exhibition and then hold further sessions under the banner of ‘Art for Change’. She wants to bring art, music and photography to many more young people in schools that lack the provision to do so and has already formalised the idea through her own school, using it as a ‘personal project’ which can be worked upon as part of her own curriculum. “Basically, the goal for ‘Art for Change’ is to advocate for creative expression,” she explains. “I think art can really help us in many ways. And I know this because it has helped me. You learn how to go about challenges in different ways. You learn to think differently. I saw how it has helped me in school and that’s what made me want to help other students as well. Creative expression unlocks a lot in a person.”
Having a strong and creative support network around her has made living a creative life as natural as eating and breathing, but it is clear that her family has also been foundational to the kind of passionate and generous young woman she is. She calls her mother her “number one supporter” and speaks of a family of creatives, including a sister at art college, who completely understands her drive and the sacrifices she makes to achieve her goals. Even so, her undertakings might seem like a lot for just one teenager. Wanjiru disagrees. “It’s not really a lot. I don’t think it’s a lot. It doesn’t feel like a lot. I think when you’re doing something you love it makes it easier to do everything.” The future looks bright for Wanjiru and since her experience with the Canon Academy Juniors, she sees photography as an integral part of her creative identity and something she will take with her for the rest of her life.
Children and teenagers who take part in the Canon Academy Juniors develop their creativity through hands on workshops with professionally certified trainers. They learn how to operate a camera and a myriad of photography skills, whilst fuelling their interest in the creative arts.

Two children, photographed from behind. They are sat side-by-side and wear white t-shirts with ‘Juniors Academy’ written across the back in bright, primary colours and red and white checked skirts. Others sit beside them, but only their feet can be seen.

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