Meet the Toronto photographer behind Uganda's 'Cameras for Girls' initiative
TORONTO -- Uganda is a place with special significance to Toronto-area photographer and businesswoman Amina Mohamed.
In 1972, Mohamed and her family were among the thousands of people forcibly expelled from the country to fulfill the extreme nationalist vision of dictator Idi Amin – a ruler known as “the butcher.”
But despite the tragedy of having to leave her home as a child, Mohamed still feels a keen kinship with the country – and has made it the centre of her charity endeavours.
“It feels like where I belong, it feels like home,” Mohamed told CTV News. “I just knew I had to make a difference somehow.”
Mohamed runs a tour company that takes photographers to Uganda to show them its natural wonders, but with a philanthropic core.
“I show them the beauty of Uganda,” she said, adding that activities range from nature excursions to gorilla and chimp trekking.
But it’s the last three days of the 18-day tour where her heart truly lies.
Mohamed runs the “Cameras for Girls” program, where she teaches photography and business skills to female journalism students and recent graduates, assisting them in getting kitted out for the job with cameras.
Many do not have hands-on job experience because of a lack of equipment, meaning “they can’t get hired…they don’t own a camera and they can’t get paid,” Mohamed explained.
Each of the students Mohamed teaches through the program is given a small camera to keep, which Mohamed pays for herself, either through what she makes via her travel company or through donations.
The students who Mohamed thinks have the most promise get volunteer placements with a local aid group, which “helps them build a portfolio” of work, while providing NGOs “with much needed imagery.”
When Mohamed travels back to Canada, the training resumes virtually.
Eleven out of the 32 women in Mohamed’s program now have full-time work. That includes 26-year-old student Joanita Nakatte, who supports her mother after both her father and brother died.
“I was put on the payroll two months after she gave me that camera,” Nakatte said, adding that she was then able to earn enough to upgrade her camera – which she had bought for herself. “I worked so hard.”
Some of the photographers who go on Mohamed’s trips take part in mentoring the students too.
Kim Jackson from Agassiz, B.C., told CTV News she is a lifelong nature photographer, which is what drew her to Mohamed’s Uganda tour initially – but that helping the “Cameras for Girls” program was truly special.
“It felt awesome, I’ve always wanted to help people,” Jackson said. “Helping those girls was a dream for me.”
“I want to go back one day.”
Despite Uganda being a place with painful memories for her and her family, Mohamed says this is where she found “her calling.”
“I found mine a little bit late,” She said. “But I am just so happy that I found it.”
Anyone wishing to donate to the “Cameras for Girls” program can do so through its GoFundMe page.