The On Field Media Project, Teaching NGOs to Tell Their Own Stories

Digital Storytelling.001

“Photographs are the portal to one’s first impression of a non-profit’s mission via their website. Having amateurs do that work is always a serious compromise. The staff might know the stories but that doesn’t mean they can translate them into effective visual narrative. Just my opinion.” This was a recent comment addressed to me on Facebook after I posted about our recent On Field Media Project training in Africa. I left this persons name off the quote because they deleted the comment, I am not sure why. Maybe they had a change of heart. But I know there are other photographers who feel this same way. To me, this is old, classic, and somewhat colonial thinking. It’s a antiquated mindset that has to be challenged. Continue reading

The Kilgoris Project

School starts early under the tree in Ndege, Kenya.

School starts early under the tree in Ndege, Kenya.


This week I had the privilege of photographing the extraordinary work being done by The Kilgoris Project in Western Kenya.  The Kilgoris Project is an NGO started around 10 years ago by Caren and Jon McCormack to provide quality education to the children of the Maasai. If you are a long time reader of my blog then you are familiar with this extraordinary work. In fact, I would encourage you to listen to the podcast I did with Jon a year ago last March. You’ll find it HERE.

Even though I have known about Jon and Caren’s work for some time, this was my first Kilgoris experience. While Jon and I took off to the bush to photograph two new prospective sites for more schools, Gavin Gough and Lesley Fisher were busy running Gavin’s amazing charity, SeedLight. The idea behind SeedLight is to help kids to express themselves through photography. Learn more about Gavin’s work HERE.

Jon and I visited two prospective locations for new schools. Each school is in a rural area that offers only one school for miles. The schools we visited in Ndege and Ollolailei, are spread over several miles. Each community might have one school that educates 500 to 600 children, but this is only counting the children who actually attend, there are many, many others who just don’t make the hike. Many communities like Ollolailei have no road. Children who are only 5 or 6 years of age will literally hike miles through the bush just to attend classes. But these schools are over-crowded–often 80 kids to a class and three to a desk. The schools usually have no funding for facilities for lunch programs, and with so many of the students walking so far to come to school, the classes are kept to only a half day. By the way, the older children arrive at school by 7:00am in order to receive tuition and don’t leave school till 5:00pm!

At both Ndege and Ollolailei the school is literally made of mud and sticks. Ndege is less rural and has over 500 students. The school has around 10 or so classrooms, but with no room left over for the primary children, they have their classes outside under a tree. It might be beautiful to look at, but not so nice when the rain starts. On those days, there simply is no class. Ollolailei is way off the road. Here the school is only one room and it does double-duty as their church. Here they have two classes under the a huge tree.

I am touched to be able to share with you some images from this week.

A note to all you photo geeks: All these images were shot with Fujifilm X-Pro 1.


Ndege children waiting for school to start.

Ndege children waiting for school to start.


Children often are three to a desk.

Children often are three to a desk.


Philip Oloetiptip is the 1st grade at Ndege.

Philip Oloetiptip is the 1st grade teacher at Ndege.


Oloetiptip and his 1st grade class.

Oloetiptip and his 1st grade class.


A smiling student at Ndege.


Children sit early in the morning for tuition.

Children sit early in the morning for tuition.


A child waits outside his classroom at Ollolailei.

A child waits outside his classroom at Ollolailei.


A Masai elder stands next to  the schools class under the three at Ollolailei

A Maasai elder stands next to the schools class under the three at Ollolailei


The one room school house and church at Ollolailei.

The one room school house and church at Ollolailei.

If you would like to donate to the work that the Kilgoris Project is doing in Kenya, here’s your chance. Please donate.

Guest Blog: Marco Ryan

I’m going to go down a bit of a rat hole. I’m even going to give it a name: value.

You’ll already be wondering why a post that begins “I’m going down a bit of a rat hole” might have anything to do with Focus for Humanity – a newly launched foundation aimed at giving grants to aspiring photographers and to help under-funded NGOs afford world class photographers  – but stay with me for a couple of paragraphs and hopefully you’ll see why.

I’ve never quite understood why photographers struggle to sell the value that they bring to organizations. Well perhaps it would be more accurate to say I have never really understood why organizations won’t pay for the value that photographers can bring to their organizations.

That’s value with a capital “V” by the way – the intrinsic benefit that we recognize that great images can bring to a brand – and also value with a small “v” – because I think most photographers are undervalued and charge too little for what they do.

Why is it that an organization will pay an IT technician $70 an hour or a lawyer $200 an hour but not pay a photographer $100 an hour?

Perhaps it is because there is an association between complexity or certain required qualifications or proven experience and a market price.

Or perhaps it is that, for a profession such as a photographer, the need for creative vision, emotional intelligence and expressive story telling often outweighs the need for bachelor, graduate or professional qualifications. Yet because those qualifications are optional it becomes – especially for the uninformed buyer – more difficult to arrive at that market price or critically, to measure the value delivered.

It is of course further complicated by the proliferation and pervasiveness of digital cameras that mean many organizations don’t even to begin to create a business case for an assignment because its just too hard, right? Instead that same organization will thrust a Canon Ixus into the hands of the nearest intern and say, “get on with it”. (though I’ve nothing against Interns or Canon Ixus’!)

Now let’s add a layer of complexity. Let’s go further down that rat hole.

Imagine now that you are a business that is underfunded or does not make a profit, like an NGO. How do they afford someone like Matt Brandon or Gavin Gough? Or what happens if you are a talented semi-pro photographer looking for your first proper client and someone approaches you. How much do you charge without losing that first job or undermining that all-too-difficult-to-judge market price?

Many of the larger more established NGOs have multi-million pound marketing budgets and regularly use the likes of Karl Grobl, Matt Brandon, David duChemin or Ami Vitale on highly structured and well funded assignments. And long may that continue.

But the issue is more with the new, fledgling or underfunded NGO and also with that individual semi-pro photographer who is wanting to make the leap to full time – both of whose activities are more localized or more specific to a particular campaign.

Often, that new NGO’s need is greater, but their budget is smaller, resulting in a prioritization of funds away from hiring that top photographer. In the case of the semi-pro, they opt for doing pro bono work in the hope that it will strengthen their portfolio, but all that happens is that it undermines their value with the client going forward.

The first stage of resolving this is that the NGO needs some form of Damascan road experience to help understand how to budget and monetize the value of the photographer’s work and the semi-pro photographer needs the courage to value their own work and stand firm on their price so as not to undermine the market.

So how do we break this vicious circle? How do we climb out of this rat hole?

Well, one answer it to try and remove the barriers that are stopping each of them. In the NGO’s case that barrier is usually a lack of funds. In the semi-pro photographer’s case it is often a mix of lack of confidence, lack of knowledge in how best to price or a lack of experience with customers.

And this is where an organization such as Focus for Humanity (FFH for short) starts to make a difference. We see our role as bridging these two communities who have shared needs and common goals but perhaps different perspectives.

So as to not leave you hanging, here is a brief summary of how we tried to create a solution to help everyone climb out of that rathole!

Focus for Humanity created assignment grants to allow underfunded NGOs to win the services of established photographers such Matt Brandon, David duChemin, Gavin Gough, Karl Grobl, Jeffrey Chapman or Edoardo Agresti. For free. The NGO gets a full assignment undertaken by a world-class photographer with no strings attached. Well, actually a couple of very minor strings, like agreeing to budget for the following years for similar services; being willing to take some mentoring from FFH on digital marketing and acting as a reference for future NGO applicants. The established photographer gets a new client and is paid the right market rate for his work.

And for the semi-pro looking for that final leap to full time photographer?

We have an annual scholarship that provides the funding to allow them to work with their first client – probably an NGO – and to be mentored into how to approach and further educate clients in the value of images. In addition the grants cover travel, upgrading their equipment and some project expenses.

And for those of you still a few years away from being ready to apply for this scholarship there will be a series of mentoring and workshop grants that will help you to work on your craft and vision.

We fund the Foundation solely through donations, and we run the organization as a virtual online foundation to minimize the costs. Our current target is to allocate 93% of funds into grants each year.

But we can do with your help in three ways:

Firstly tell everyone one about it. Add a blog badge to your site HERE, follow us on twitter HERE, join us on Facebook HERE but, most importantly, become our advocates within your own network and get others to sign–up or donate.

Secondly we need your pledges and donations and those of your friends. It can be a one-off donation of $10 or a monthly recurring donation of any amount you like. But if, for example, we got a thousand of you to give, say, $50 each we would then be able to meet all our commitments for this year. So if you want to help, then help us to reach more than a thousand people willing to give just that little bit.

Thirdly, If you work for a company in the photographic industry then you can help with sponsorship too – although we prefer to use the term partnering as we believe that this is a two way relationship and we need to give those partners equal benefit in return for their support. Every lens, body, bag, filter, tripod, plane ticket or item that we don’t have to buy for our grant winners, is money that we can re-allocate into another grant. We’ve got great ideas on what else we want to add to our grants in the coming months and years, and sponsorship or partnering is one way of making that happen.

“Be the change you want to see in the world”, said Mahatma Ghandi. Perhaps you can help us make real change in how NGOs and other organizations value the work of photographers to help humanitarian causes.

Our thanks to Matt for allowing us the platform of his blog to reach out and share with you all about Focus For Humanity. Thank you for reading this far and for showing an interest in what we are trying to do. You can read more detail about Focus for Humanity, our grants, how to apply and how to help by checking out our website,

Marco Ryan was born in the UK, but now lives in Cairo, Egypt with his wife and young family. His professional career as an eCommerce Strategist, Digital Marketing expert and speaker is covered on his work blog,, but it ensures endless travel but sadly insufficient time for one of the more creative forces in his life – photography. Contact him through this blog for commissions or prints.