I recently finished leading a workshop in Thailand, along with co-leader Kate Havercroft, for a photography workshop company called The Giving Lens. I have known its founder, Colby Brown, since 2011, and have seen this company grow to fruition during that time. However it was not until the last few weeks that I truly understood its mission.
While in Thailand, Kate and I led a team of seven photographers through a cultural and heartfelt experience that none of us will forget. The purpose of this workshop was to spend time with, teach, and encourage photography to a group of girls with an organization called COSA. This NGO (non-governmental organization) is a safe-haven for children at-risk for being involved in the human trafficking industry in Southeast Asia. As a team we brought over 20 donated point-and-shoot cameras and spent two full days with them. No words can describe how it feels to have been a part of their lives; it was a deeply humbling experience, one that I will never forget.
I used to be in the military, and there was always a high sense that I was making a difference by serving my country. I’ll admit, after choosing the career path of a photographer I have had some internal conflict about the purpose of my job, worrying that it’s too self-serving. Over the past few years my job has shifted more towards being a photo-educator, and being able to help people become inspired and passionate about photography is making me realize that what I do does make a difference in people’s lives. Sometimes, even just by the simple act of sharing a photograph online, I am able to inspire. And after spending time with the girls of COSA on my trip to Thailand I now know that my job as a photographer has no limits.
The point I’m trying to make is this: photography can make a difference. While on my trip to Thailand, we not only were able to create our own photographs to show how beautiful this amazing country is, we were also able to be a part of all of these young girls’ lives and help plant that seed of empowerment, that they too can be and do whatever they desire. We were with them for only two days, but who knows how far our impact will reach.
You don’t need to fly thousands of miles overseas to do any of this. Wherever you are, there are ways to use photography, or whatever your passion may be, for the greater good. For you this may be volunteering at a community center, or working with an organization such as Operation Photo Rescue or NILMDTS, both which are great ways to donate your time and photography skills. It only takes one person to make a difference, and there’s no reason that person cannot be you.
Nicole S. Young is a professional photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of several print books and eBooks, and runs her own online store for photographers, the “Nicolesy Store“.
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