The December Stories are a series of first-hand accounts of the ONA community’s work on important causes and issues around the world. This year, we partnered with our longtime friends at 100cameras on the ONA x 100cameras Snapshot Projects, which train photographers to teach the 100cameras curriculum around the world. Below, one of the project leaders, Katie Hebson, shares about her recently completed time with the Q’eros nation of Peru. All of the featured photography was taken by the project’s participants, except where noted.
I first fell in love with mystical Peru and its exquisite people four years ago when I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and floated down the Amazon. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to return this past October with my two daughters to lead a Snapshot Project through the non-profit organization 100cameras. 100cameras’ mission is to provide a space where kids can process and tell stories of their past, present, and future through photography with no judgement or expectation. Their model partners with local organizations in the communities they work with.
My project took place high up in the mountain village of Qochamoqo with the girls of Q’eros Nation. The Q’eros are known as the wisdom keepers of the Andes, considered to be the “ultimo ally inka,” or the last Incan community of Peru.
I partnered with Willka Yachay, a non-profit founded and run by Hannah Rae Porst, dedicated to helping indigenous communities thrive in the modern world. They are empowering the next generation of the indigenous Q’eros of Peru to become leaders, who guide their community down the path toward sustainable modernity while revitalizing their cultural identity. The projects they create and support are: education/schools, alternative energy, food and water security, cultural and musical preservation, traditional and western medicine, and a weaving cooperative. This cause is important to me because historically the Q’eros, like many other indigenous people, have been targets for discrimination and marginalization.
Almost two years ago I stumbled across “participatory photography.” As an anthropologist, photographer, and former educator of at-risk kids, I recognized it as being a highly effective and flexible tool, crossing cultural and linguistic barriers, providing an accessible way to describe realities, communicate perspectives, and raise awareness of social and global issues. An impressive means to create positive social change by young people in their very own communities. The next week I went out and bought ten cameras and began my first of four projects so far. (I am currently in the process of starting a non-profit -CHICA- to empower and give a voice to native + indigenous girls of the Americas (South, Central, North) through art: participatory photography, film, poetry, music, movement, spoken word, all forms of artistic self- expression.)
Teaching the girls how to share their inner and outer perspectives through photography—and helping them explore their narratives in the larger context of a global world—was exhilarating. They exhibited a deep sense of curiosity and wonder, and were enthusiastic to learn the curriculum. Experiencing the rituals of daily life in their unique and wonderful village was magical; the pure beauty of simplicity exchanged…dazzling smiles, fresh air, sunshine, camera shutters clicking, hand holding, llama chasing, luminous starry nights, contagious giggling, and sheer bliss exuded, all while exploring the mountainside taking pictures of their dream-like realities. And always with a gaggle of curious and astounding little beauties, plus a dog or two in tow.
I approached the work as a storyteller by deep listening and quietly, seamlessly slipping into the flow of daily life in Q’eros. The community welcomed us literally with open arms, brilliant smiles and twinkling eyes. They are a lovely and enlightened people generous of heart and spirit. We were honored to be warmly taken into their homes, lives, and community. 100cameras provided me with excellent support, training and a creative and dynamic curriculum. The Snapshot course teaches both technical photography and storytelling skills. It also gives a platform to sell the children’s photographs with one hundred percent of the proceeds going directly back to the community to provide funding for the most pressing educational and medical needs. Angela Popplewell, fearless founder and director of 100cameras, and her dedicated and talented team are beyond generous and committed to their cause. Their courageous projects are reaching children all over the world.
I was profoundly struck by the youth of Q’eros—and of Cuba where I worked previously—who have little to zero material possessions. They are the most illuminated, exuberant, creative, and elated children I have spent time with. They possess an inner strength, tranquility, and share a deep affinity for one another. The common threads being living presently in the moment, strong family ties, a rooted connection to the earth, water and sky surrounding them, pride in their culture and community belonging. When I asked asked the kids from my photography project at Gimnasio Boxeo Rafael Trejo in Habana Vieja what they would change about their lives and the world if they could, all responded enthusiastically that they wouldn’t change a thing, reinforcing what I already know to be intrinsically true…authentic happiness and fulfillment come from inside oneself, not from the external trappings of our modern world.
Above: Katie, her daughters, and members of the Q’eros nation.
Follow Katie and contact her @katie.hebson. Learn more about 100cameras at 100cameras.org, and view/purchase the students’ photos in their online shop. Learn more about Willka Yachay at willkayachay.org.