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Finally tonight: a program that is empowering young people in one of the most dangerous countries on earth to look at their future through a different lens.
The NewsHour's Anne Davenport reports.
Can a camera be a tool for peace? That's one of the questions behind National Geographic's photo camps.
Now in their 10th year operating around the world, one program focused on South Sudan, known as the world's newest nation. South Sudan has been embroiled in a series of civil wars. The most recent 13-month conflict has left more than 10,000 people dead, and reopened deep ethnic divides, causing more than one million to flee and driving the country of 11 million closer to famine.
Catherine Simon Arona is a law student in Juba, the nation's capital and the largest city. She's one of 20 students at the university there from a cross-section of tribes who set out to document their reality. We talked to her on a recent trip to National Geographic headquarters in Washington, where she explained the backstory to this image of an orphan at the Confident Children out of Conflict center.
CATHERINE SIMON ARONA:
This child was so curious that he couldn't hold back how he wanted to touch the camera, and take the picture himself, because I took their pictures and they wanted to see, and when they saw it, they felt like they want to do it themselves.
I went out of the room and I captured this moment because I felt like it's very strong.
The images are part of the recently opened exhibit featuring 67 different camps, from India to Uganda, Baltimore to Los Angeles. The aim? Look at universal issues youth age 13 to 25 face.
Each camp is organized around the themes of love, survival, work, home, community, and self-image.
MATT MOYER, National Geographic Photographer:
So, see? Now, somebody is coming through, and ready, and go now.
Amy Toensing and Matt Moyer travel the world for National Geographic. The married couple has devoted time to this program for many years.
AMY TOENSING, National Geographic Photographer:
To actually hold a camera that has functions that they can control is like a whole new experience for them. It's very exciting for us how open they are, and thirsty for the power of photography and how they can use it when they get it in their hands.
They start to learn about each other, and that helps build bonds across borders, and stereotypes, and regions, and everything else.
The camps — within the camps themselves, very often, the goal is to bring in different people from different areas. In Pakistan, we had men and women together working. In Chad, we had Christians and Muslims who were working together.
We have put our cameras down, and so we're getting to see how they're seeing their world.
Is it hard to put your camera down?
The veterans mentor the young photographers. Here, Matt Moyer critiques Catherine Simon Arona's photo.
That tear frozen tear right there makes all the difference.
After meeting up again with mentors, this time at National Geographic, they set out for a more informal session at a Washington ice rink, a first-ever skating outing for the South Sudanese students.
The camera itself, you know, is just a box. What the camera really does and having the cameras, it allows these individuals to have an excuse to go out into their communities and explore, and to see their world, and study it in a way that they wouldn't by just walking through it. It gives them a voice.
Akuot Mayak comes from a small village. His family escaped to Ethiopia during the civil war, but Mayak was then sent alone to a refugee camp in Kenya. He and his fellow photo participant, Duku Savio, see holes in their country's cultural history that visual storytelling can help fill in.
Actually, documenting human life, it's meant a lot, because when you're documenting, you are documenting somebody's life, and it's good for a future. The country has been in a problem, and we need to grow up, and we make something for ourselves, so that we can be strong in the future.
Savio and Mayak say it's the ordinary, not the extraordinary, that often drew their eyes and cameras. For Savio, scenes of farmers and fighters, and for Mayak, quotidian life of girls swimming and a boy fishing. They want to show signs of normalcy, yet they live in a nation where even taking photos can be a source of conflict.
We take pictures from different angles. So, the pictures, it kinds of balance the news, and balance the information and the picture of the country itself.
If you just travel your camera all over the world, take pictures from different locations, take them back home, then they confirm with their own life, this will change a lot, and make people come back to normal life and live their normal life together in harmony.
The group of young photographers will continue to share, but now through social media and in pop-up exhibitions across Juba.
I'm Anne Davenport for the PBS NewsHour.
Online, you can see more images from these young photographers. That story is on our home page at PBS.org/NewsHour.
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