If you give a child a camera

Let me introduce you to our interim photographer.


This is Promotora Luzmila’s daughter. She comes with us on house visits, during which Luzmila reaches out to her neighbors, offering them health advice and providing treatment when appropriate. The thing is, Luzmila’s daughter—like any other 6-year-old I know—gets bored watching her mother work all day. To divert her energy, and so preempt her from interrupting our work, I let Luzmila’s child play with my camera. Yes, the big, fancy digital camera. Here I present to you Luzmila’s daughter’s artistic output.


First lesson for our National Geographic photographer-in-the-making: your eyes’ movements don’t actually steer the camera. I show her how to aim before taking a picture.


Better, my dear, but we’re still out of focus. Press halfway down, hold, and then all the way. That’s right! ¡Con más fuerza!


We’re getting there! I’d love to tell you that the reason this picture shows no defining features of the patient is because of our young photographer’s concern for patient privacy. Unfortunately, it’s due more to the unwieldiness of the big, fancy camera.

This next photograph gets it right. The patient is trying hard not to laugh at the child’s frustration with the unwieldy camera.


Finally, we’ve arrived at professional standards! The photographer figures out how to use the big, fancy camera just long enough to capture this gorgeous picture of her mother. Mom, too, is trying very hard not to laugh at her child’s frustration with the unwieldy camera.


On a roll now. National Geographic, here we come! Mom taking off her gloves after treating and wrapping a cut.

The big, fancy camera is safely returned to my hiker’s backpack. And, we have successfully prevented the child from interfering in Luzmila’s work.

The walk down the mountain to Ollantaytambo takes two hours. Two long, lonely, dusty hours to ponder what I have just witnessed: a child from the rural Andean community of Pilcobamba encountering Big, Fancy Camera.

It amazes me that our technology has become so advanced that a 6-year-old child without any photography experience can take (close to) National Geographic-caliber pictures. Does this mean that we’re democratizing art? Maybe not. If I hadn’t been on a community visit, would Luzmila’s daughter have gotten the chance to create a spread for Nat Geo?


These lofty, philosophical questions are quickly choked out of me by the mountain’s dust. Instead, I start to ponder questions that are more immediately relevant:

What troubles lie ahead for these remote communities, whose children will have known iPods, Coca Cola and Big, Fancy Cameras before they know clean water and basic medicine?

When you think about it, are NGOs like SVH/Ayni Wasi somehow competing with the tourist industry for the Andean children’s interests? I sometimes have the feeling that, instead of becoming promotoras, the children might prefer a corporate career that could get them closer to buying their own kingdom of Big, Fancy Things.

On days like today, I wonder which team they see me on. Is my camera more impressive than the education I bring?

Perhaps we’re not in a competition at all. Perhaps the children will use the opportunities offered by the world of Big, Fancy Things for their communities’ benefit. Can you imagine? What if one of them actually did attract Nat Geo to the scene?


The trail down to Ollantaytambo is not long enough for me to come up with answers to all of these questions. And frankly, I’d rather eat arroz con pollo and take a cold shower than do any more philosophical pondering. Don’t think I’m leaving you hanging, though—I’d love to revisit this conversation. How about we talk more on the way up to Huilloc next week? In the meantime, we here at SVH/Ayni Wasi are interested to hear what you have to say. Let’s crowd-source! Please talk with your friends, have fun with these difficult questions, and shoot us an email at sacredvalleyhealth@yahoo.com, or leave a comment with your thoughts. Let’s get a good conversation started here.

– Written by Community Coordinator Katherine Un





6 Comments Add yours

  1. Love this, Katherine! This is something that I’ve always wondered about when traveling in Central America/the Caribbean. Love this sentence “Is my camera more impressive than the education I bring?”

    Great work, can’t wait to read more!!

  2. Jane Olayiwola says:

    Wow. This is a really great and thoughtful post. I liked the idea that a child living in a undeveloped region can capture the life they live and their environment. Typically, the photographs that the rest of the world sees of that region is captured and curated by a visitor, an outsider. So in a sense, by giving this child a camera, you are putting the reins in their hands, and they get to capture the world they live in– a more authentic view than a visitor might have. She gets to capture and tell the stories she wants to.

    Also, when I was a child living in a developing part of Ibadan, I remember craving a pack of crayons. In my experience, I find that creative outlets, especially for children, are limited in developing parts of the world. Katherine, by giving the Promotora your camera, you’re also nurturing her artistic sensibilities and giving her new lens to see the world, so to speak. This is so exciting and I’m eager to see where this goes.

  3. amu says:

    Great pictures and important questions! Does the work you’re doing in these communities have the side-effect of introducing “outside” elements that could have negative effects on local culture? I’m not familiar with what practices SVH/Ayni Wasi has developed to perform their educational work within these communities, but isn’t this also introducing outside elements to change local culture? And if that’s the case, why is one good and the other bad? Is it because with health education your mission is to reinforce an already existent culture, whereas the Big Fancy Things could corrupt it? Is there a way for you, as a conscious ally of the community, to be aware of the outside elements you bring in and to make sure as much as possible that they serve as ways to reinforce the culture? Like with Luzmila’s daugther and the Big Fancy Camera: What can you do and tell her so that she uses the camera in a way that will have positive effects on her relation to her culture and on the community as a whole? I don’t think it’s the Big Fancy Things themselves that are bad, but the ways we use them and the cultures that develop around their possession. Keep up the questions and the hard work! Bisous

  4. Luisa L. says:

    The world of Big Fancy Things is certainly a great lure. Education is a way to secure the “comforts” of the material world. The families you care for are probably well aware of that. They will send their children to get educated and secure a good-paying job if they can. And within a generation, local people will lose their present skills (which allow them a self-sufficient life), like in many rural places in Europe, and will become totally dependent on imported goods and will only be able to cater to the tourist economy. Within a generation, it is likely that these communities will completely change, and they must ready themselves for such a change.

    1. Katherine Un says:

      Dear Luisa L.,
      Thanks for your interest in my post and for a great reply. I am interested in hearing more! How do you think communities can ready themselves for the changes that you describe? Do you think that these changes are inevitable (have some communities in Europe found viable alternatives)?

      1. Luisa L. says:

        I’m sorry Katherine, this was just an observation, I am not a sociologist or an economist. And yes, changes are inevitable, these communities don’t live in a secluded, isolated way. Will they be totally powerless in the face of such a change or will they be able to have some control over it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s