A lens on hope from Rwanda to Haiti

Mussa Uwitonze is standing on the patio outside the Worldwide Orphans office in Kenscoff, Haiti. Behind him, bamboo stalks point to the Chaîne de la Selle mountain range which rises into the mist. The winding journey from Port-au-Prince brought cooler temperatures and Mussa wraps his arms more tightly around his jean jacket. He closes his eyes and inhales deeply.

“It smells like Rwanda,” he says, exhaling. Rwanda is home.

Bizimana teaching photography with kids as they capture images that define their lives and community (Photo by Kristen Ashburn)

Mussa is one of three GroundTruth Film Fellows in Haiti this week teaching photography to 20 children who are part of the Worldwide Orphans network. By his side are Bizimana Jean and Gadi Habumugisha. All three young men were orphaned by Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, and, after learning photography in the orphanage where they were raised, they became passionate about not only taking photos, but also about passing this skill on to other children who remind them of themselves — children who need someone to pay attention to the challenges they’re facing, the trauma they’ve experienced, and the losses they’ve endured.

A new generation of “camera kids” (Photo credit by Beth Murphy)

And that’s what Mussa, Bizimana and Gadi are in Haiti to do. As project coordinators for Through the Eyes of Children, the organization that taught them photography as children, they are in Haiti paying it forward by teaching kids how to capture and tell their own stories and show others how the world looks through their eyes.

This month, their journey of hope and self-discovery from Rwanda to Haiti went through Boston where Mussa, Bizimana and Gadi visited our WGBH headquarters for journalist safety training, audio/podcast mentoring and drone flying class with our GroundTruth editors and other media professionals. Especially exciting was the chance to celebrate the work they’ve done to teach photography to foster children in Massachusetts — a collaboration with The Home for Little Wanderers that culminated in a photo exhibit and presentation at The Home’s annual gala last week.

All of this is being filmed for our feature documentary CAMERA KIDS. And as we’ve gone from Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, to Haiti, where it is said that beyond mountains, there are more mountains, Mussa explains why it’s much more than the landscape that makes Haiti feel like home.

“We’re orphans, and some of you are, too,” he told the group of 13- to 17-year-olds. “And for us, being here with you is like building a global family… we are all like one big family now.”