In 2018 during a trip to Guatemala, I was embedded with a team from Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity as we worked on the country’s 100,000th housing solution. The week was filled with laughter, hard work, and lots of sweat – the kind that fills your heart to the brim because you know that you are making a real difference.
In between mixing cement, laying bricks, and plastering walls, we got to know the families we were helping. Their stories, dreams, and goals. We shared meals together, played ball with the kids, swapped jokes with the adults. We became part of their family, welcomed into their lives, forever bonded to each other through these experiences.
Throughout the week, I caught fleeting moments and compelling images of those around me. I connected a small Fuji Instax printer to my camera and gave away small instant prints to the people in the photos. Everyone – young and old alike – loved watching the little print pop out of the printer and seeing their image appear before their eyes.
Kids would rush off to show the photos to their family and friends. (Often returning with their playmates to get a photo together!) Adults beamed with joy, holding the picture close to their chest. But quickly, I began to see them squirrel these prints away, tucking them in a pocket or small box.
Curious why they were immediately hiding the pictures, I asked a translator what was happening. What was so special about a small print? Her response was one I never expected.
She said it was the only picture of themselves, their friends, their kids, or the family all together, that they had.
Coming from the United States, a world where photos are so common, cheap, and plentiful, I struggled to understand. I took thousands of pictures that week, printed dozens more. Heck, the phone in my pocket has thousands of images and video clips on it. How could they not have any photographs together? None at all? Cell phones take great photos, one doesn’t need a fancy camera! Go to any pharmacy and prints can be made in an hour for pennies.
But we were in a developing country. There are no pharmacies closeby, and those that are don’t have photo machines. Few could afford a cell phone, let alone a camera. Lucky individuals could make a few dollars a day, doing back-breaking labour in farm fields. The really lucky ones could get full-time jobs in the city, mostly as unskilled labour.
For me, the little instant print was something I was giving away, something inexpensive but fun. Yet to these individuals, children, and families, the photographs were priceless. Needless to say, this left a big impression on me. I immediately began thinking of ways to continue providing these prints long after I returned home.
Upon returning to Texas, I contacted the local Fujifilm representative to tell them about my experience and the work that Habitat for Humanity Guatemala was doing throughout the country. I sent a detailed donation proposal requesting a few cameras and some film so the in-country team could continue providing these small images to those they help in the most impoverished villages and towns around Guatemala.
Several months passed and without warning, a large box arrived on my doorstep. Packed to the top with cameras, printers, and film, Fujifilm had fulfilled my wish. They had donated 4 Instax printers, 10 Instax cameras, and 120 boxes of instant film! This donation would allow Habitat for Humanity Guatemala to provide photos to everyone they serve for the next two years! I was ecstatic, and a smile didn’t leave my face for weeks.
If my heart was filled from working in the field, it was overflowing as I hopped on a FaceTime call to let the Guatemala team what happened. Soon after, I was back on a plane for an early Christmas, like Santa, with a bag full of goodies on my sleigh.
Ok, in my luggage.
I arrived in the country over Thanksgiving, the US holiday of sharing with others. It seemed serendipitous, even if it was a result of available flights and scheduling arrangements. Like kids on Christmas morning, they excitedly explored the new gear as I taught them all how to use it in the field.
Though the team and I didn’t share a turkey and all the traditional trimmings that day, we did share a lot of love, laughter, and gratitude. What more could one want?
Checking in Habitat for Humanity Guatemala a few months later, the donation was an immediate success. The team distributed the cameras, printers, and film throughout their offices to give as many groups access to the gear as possible. They can now regularly hand out photos to families, kids, and people in the towns and villages, spreading a little bit of love and joy throughout the country.
A huge thank you to the team at Fujifilm North America for their donation, this would not have been possible without their support.
Want to see more? View my Guatemala gallery here.