Lucy Wilson: The Highfield District of Harare, Zimbabwe, 2003-2004
The students test out their new cameras. Photograph by Lucy Wilson.
Introduction by Lucy Wilson
Zimbabwe is a place of many troubles. Erratic rains and periods of drought, combined with the takeover of white-owned commercial farms by the government, have often brought the words “famine” and “malnutrition” into the mainstream media in connection with this country that was once a breadbasket for southern Africa. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is among the highest in the world. The number of orphans is estimated to be well over one million. The inflation rate is the highest in the world. Zimbabwe’s longtime president, Robert Mugabe, has exchanged fierce words with the leaders of its former colonial master, Great Britain, and the United States, particularly over accusations of human rights abuses, unfair elections, and corruption. Worst of all, a number of major international donors have denied aid to Zimbabwe. Faced with these circumstances, how are the people of Zimbabwe coping?
As a Hine Fellow, I spent six months in 2004 working with the Child Protection Society (CPS), a local child rights advocacy organization. CPS was established in 1952 to promote the rights of children in difficult circumstances in Zimbabwe. I photographed and wrote about CPS’s community-based child care project in the Highfield District, a low-income, high-density suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. Programming in Highfield includes educational sponsorship, food assistance, youth development, and psychosocial support, as well as community support to child-headed households whose parents have most likely died from HIV/AIDS. CPS works with a group of community-based volunteers, local women who assist with the implementation of the programming, and in particular identify the children most in need of assistance.
As part of Child Protection Society’s youth development programming in Highfield, I also taught nine children and youth the basics of photography, giving them cameras and black-and-white film. I first asked the youth to write short essays on topics often drawn from the students’ own interests. (The students wrote in English, their second or third language.) The children were then encouraged to take photographs based on their writing. Once students developed the images, they selected their best pictures and wrote captions for them. These assignments asked the youth to reflect on the realities of their lives. The work that they produced indicates their ability not only to perceive these complex realities but to present it back to us in expressive and beautiful images and words.
I would like to thank the Child Protection Society, its staff, board of directors, donors, volunteers, and clientele, for welcoming me into the community and making this project a reality. Strachan's Photographic and Catholic Relief Services/Zimbabwe's STRIVE Project provided financial support and other invaluable assistance throughout my stay in Zimbabwe. Financial support was also provided by the Swedish International Development Cooperative Agency, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Bernard van Leer Foundation.