Amina Mohamed, founded Cameras For Girls to change the lives of girls and women in Uganda, through the power of photography.
It’s no secret that COVID changed the landscape for non-profits and charities everywhere. Not only did it reduce the vital work we do in the field, but it also curtailed our ability to get out and make authentic donor connections, which are the lifeblood of any small endeavour, such as ours.
Through Cameras For Girls, a Canadian non-profit, we work hard to improve the lives of local girls and women in Uganda through our philanthropic outreach, using photography as our medium. When COVID hit, this work took a massive hit as we could not and still cannot travel back to Uganda. Unfortunately, they continue to suffer from the lingering effects of the pandemic, which has decimated their economy and sadly killed many of their citizens due to ill-management of funds earmarked for the vaccine rollout.
Amina teaching in Uganda @Cameras For Girls workshop in Kampala, August 2019
MAKING AUTHENTIC DONOR CONNECTIONS IS THE KEY TO GROWING OUR SUPPORT
I took to sharing our charitable work online through various channels and also wanted to speak with my donors through pre-arranged online coffee dates (thank you Zoom) about what was working and what was not. I wanted to ensure that the communication we were putting out was clear and reached the hearts of our donors.
Authentically connecting with my donors has meant everything to me. The fact that these people who have their own daily struggles take the time to talk and share with me is incredible.
CONNECTING THE DOTS FOR OUR DONORS
One of the early conversations I had was with a lady named Abby, who was born in Uganda just before then-president Idi Amin threw us out of the country. She now lives in Canada and hopes that she can return to see the country we were forced to leave behind one day. Abby first learned about me and our work on the CTV National News Feature, which aired earlier this year.
Abby and I have had lots of amazing conversations, and she has become an advocate and supporter of Cameras For Girls by helping us rework our business plan. Abby shared that while she loved the work we were doing, it was not always clear how the funds we were raising and/or the cameras we were collecting were being used to further our cause.
Then last week, I had a fantastic donor call with a man named Jim, a Business Advisor in Collingwood. He is a busy man with many things going on in his life, but he took some time out for me last week to discuss our current work and future plans with Cameras For Girls. Jim is a friend of my father, and he learned about our work through their conversations and became an early supporter of our work with Cameras For Girls since I first put out the call for donations on our Go Fund Me campaign in 2018.
When I asked Jim what he liked the most about what we do in our work with Cameras For Girls, he said, “he liked the impact we are making and the plans we have to change the lives of females in the developing world.” However, when I asked Jim what if anything was not clear to him and how we might improve, he said: “that I was not always connecting the dots.”
This authentic conversation was super insightful because when you are a founder or director in this case, and you are in the thick of things, sometimes you can fail to see the forests for the trees or in other words, you can get short-sighted and think that just because you understand what’s happening behind the scenes, that not everyone else is getting the complete picture.
Prisca showing Lydia the photo she took in the Cameras For Girls training in Kampala, Uganda August 2019 @Amina Mohamed Photography
ANSWERING DONOR QUESTIONS HELPS CLARIFY OUR CAUSE
After the chats with Abby and the work we did together on the fantastic business plan she helped me build, I did a Donor Survey and released the report a few months back. This document highlights our work and how we distribute the funds and the cameras. You can read more about it at: file:///Users/aminamohamed/Documents/Triple%20F%20City%20Tours%20Files/Cameras%20for%20Girls/Donors/Donor%20Results.pdf
In short, the funds go towards purchasing the cameras and the computer we use in the editing lab.
The cameras we collect come from people across Canada and the US. The cameras we cannot use directly in our training, we sell, and we purchase the cameras we use from the funds we get. Every dollar is accounted for and put forth towards our cause.
Jim’s question made me think hard about how sometimes I fail, and it’s a common occurrence among many non-profit directors and one that I am not alone in – how to connect the dots for our donors. I will do my best to do that in this blog.
HOW MY PAST SHAPED MY WORK
I have written about it before, but I must mention why I started this initiative again. My family and I emigrated to Canada in 1972, after we and thousands of other Ugandan Asians were kicked out of Uganda by then-president Idi Amin. We grew up without much, struggling as many other immigrants to this country experience, and it took us a long time to settle and call Canada home.
Early on, my parents instilled in me that giving back was making this world a better place. I have always held steadfast to this through my various volunteering efforts, including my current role with the Rotary Club of Newmarket.
In 2007, I travelled to Uganda for the first time since leaving in 1972 to film a documentary about the Asians returning to reclaim what they had lost during the exile. On that trip, I saw the plight of females in Uganda, how their rights are less than their male counterparts, and how they will not get an education simply because they are females. How they face sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, gender inequality, pay inequity, and the list goes on. Until I saw this with my own eyes, I did not realize this to be the truth. Sadly the statistics have only worsened; however, the difference is that people are now taking action to right this wrong, and Cameras For Girls is doing the same, using the power of photography.
Amina with her students at the CFG workshop, Kampala, Uganda
HOW WE HAVE USED THE FUNDS, WE RAISED TO FURTHER OUR EFFORTS IN UGANDA
After starting both my for-profit company Triple F Photo Tours and my non-profit Cameras For Girls, we were well on our way to making a difference when COVID hit, and we had to stop all of our work in Uganda. However, behind the scenes, we have been hard at work by building an online photography and business skills training portal so that our female students can continue to learn. We have been helping our students improve their resumes, cover letters, and Linkedin profiles to enhance their opportunities to find meaningful and paid work. We have been supporting them financially to help pay rent and food. The Ugandan government did not offer support of any kind to their citizens at all during the pandemic. Many found themselves facing eviction and/or greater food insecurity than they could ever imagine.
Thankfully, most girls who managed to find work through our program could keep their jobs and work from home. We continue to support their efforts from afar for those who have not managed to find paid or freelance work.
Getting back to Uganda continues to be an ongoing issue as the pandemic, and its effects linger. It’s unfortunately not safe to return, so for now, we will continue to train online.
We also continue to raise funds where possible and collect new and used cameras from our growing donor base. Without you, we cannot do this work, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT FOR CAMERAS FOR GIRLS
Being a finalist in the Social Entrepreneur Tourism Competition over the last ten weeks helped us develop a plan to scale our travel offerings and non-profit work. We are proud to announce that we will be partnering with a South African women-led travel organization called Khwela Womxn.
Through Cameras For Girls, we will teach photography and business skills to the women they mentor, endeavouring to become tour guides, a male-dominated space in that country.
They recently received four cameras from Canon South Africa, and with those four cameras along with the ones we will both be collecting, I will train these females from afar using zoom. They, too, will have the option to join our year-long training program, using our online training portal we have built to support their journey.
When it is safe to travel again to Africa, we will conduct all of our training programs in person, but for now, we will have to be patient, wait and continue training online.
We will also be announcing new photo tours in 2022, starting with Costa Rica. When you come on that tour, 10% of the profits will support our growing Cameras For Girls initiative in Africa.
Do you have cameras to donate? Would you please reach out to us at [email protected]?
Do you want to support our fundraiser? Please check out our Go Fund Me page.
When it is safe to travel again to Africa, we will conduct all of our training programs in person, but for now we will have to be patient, wait and continue training online.