After a period of apprenticeship at a renowned photo studio in Freetown, a cross section of girls realised there was a serious absence of women in the field of photography. These girls came together to create a group they called Girls Behind the Lens in order to close this gap. These female photographers, between the ages of 19–26, were intentional about shifting the narrative about female photographers in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone, like most developing countries in Africa, has a wide disparity in women and girls empowerment as compared to their male counterparts. Many girls start formal education with high academic performance during pre-primary and junior high school, but that changes when they enter secondary school and university. Consequently, most careers, including photography, are dominated by men.
This transformation started in 2017 when four girls joined an apprentice program to study photography. They noticed the female absence in photography, video production and graphic designs. This increased their desire to master the art of photography and hold spaces in this industry for more girls. Upon completing the apprenticeship program, they thought of ways they could increase awareness about photography among girls and trigger their interests in the field.
They had a brilliant idea of training more girls and young women in photography. By going on school tours they could educate and inspire girls to take up photography and raise money to fund themselves through formal education or vocational training. They had these great ideas and passion, but little resources to bring their ideas to life. The group included six young women whose profile ranged from students to early school leavers. They started with one camera, a lens, and a passion for photography.
In 2019, Purposeful partnered with the Fund for Global Human rights to pilot a youth-led participatory grantmaking initiative that put young people at the centre of grantmaking decisions. The Tar Kura initiative was geared towards funding amazing youth-led initiatives endorsed by a youth panel of ten young people. After going through the grantmaking processes, Girls Behind the Lens was selected as one of the groups to receive funding among the thousands of groups that applied. After a year of behind the scenes mentoring by the programs team at Purposeful, and two years of passion and commitment from the girls, we are proud to share the success story of this amazing team.
Power in a trust-based participatory grantmaking model.
When “Tar Kura” was launched, Purposeful and the Fund for Global Human rights were intentional in our approach to reaching youths. We were also aware that whenever the term “youth” is mentioned, many Sierra Leoneans think of young men. They ignore the fact that young women are also part of that demographic. This is why talented young women usually miss out on opportunities. This fund was designed to intentionally break those stereotypes, consider females as a significant demographic for this fund, and meet them where they were. In addition to funds provided, the project team at Purposeful added non-financial support like coaching and technical support to the team to ensure that they are able to execute their plans as proposed.
When the group initially started, they needed space for their training. The girls decided to tap into the good relationship they had with their former employer to ask for temporary space in his studio to be used as needed. Their former boss gave them permission to use his studio changing room for their activities. They used the space for team meetings, strategising, and training other girls.
A Trusted Brand
Success comes in different shapes and sizes
Girls Behind the Lens now has a dedicated team of five paid administrators responsible for their day to day administration. We proudly celebrate one of the team members, Fatmata Jalloh, who has now enrolled into university to study accounting and finance, while continuing to work for the group.
Girls Behind the Lens has successfully recruited and trained 12 girls in two batches. These trainees will be assigned to different photo studios to serve as interns in order to continue to improve their skills.
Girls Behind the Lens can now boast of three cameras, three lenses and two computers. They have just rented a three room apartment they are turning into a photo studio. The building is currently under renovation and will be officially opened to the public on February 12, 2022.
Strength in Solidarity
During the interview for this blog, Fatmata jokingly mentioned that “when we heard of the grant amount we were eligible to apply for, we were amazed — not to mention applying for it.” The group was able to achieve all of the above and a lot more. This is a result of the girls believing in their shared vision and owning it. Each one played her individual role to bring the vision to life. Selecting Girls Behind the Lens was no mistake. We are indeed proud to have crossed parts with these girls.
Written by Aminata S. Kamara, Senior Program Manager at Purposeful