2011 — student winner
Bob Miller is a freelance photographer and multimedia journalist based in Syracuse, New York. Specializing in visual storytelling for editorial, non-profit and corporate clients, Bob implements a variety of media to give stories their most appropriate voice.
Originally educated in graphic design, Bob began photographing when he discovered his love for the photographic essay. Since 2006, his work has drawn him to Kenya, Sudan, Bolivia, Mexico and the United Kingdom, and has been recognized by the College Photographer of the Year competition and recently exhibited at the Getty Images Gallery in London. As a freelance photojournalist, Bob has covered human interest and conflict stories and has documented international music tours for clients such as Universal Music Group. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, the Christian Science Monitor and Southern Living Magazine.
Bob graduated with a BA in graphic design with a cognate in journalism from Samford University, and is currently completing a masters degree in multimedia storytelling from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He and his wife Allison live in Syracuse, NY.
In a tiny room deep in a Nairobi slum, eleven African youths sit huddled around a table lit by the glow of an exposed bulb. Each of them carries a different burden to the table, but what unites them is their vision. While most kids their age wander idly in the streets, these youth, exhausted from a full day of work and school, plan to solve their slum’s waste management problem.
Throughout Nairobi, various grassroots initiatives led by young people have begun improving the quality of life for those living in the direst of conditions. Termed “youth groups” on the street, these initiatives could represent the future of long-term socioeconomic development in Kenya.
In January 2008, I photographed Kenya’s most violent conflict since independence. The pictures I made during the post-election violence exposed a nation frustrated with broken promises. Two years later, I returned with my cameras to see if these new promises, this time made in blood, would be kept. Instead, I found progress in the most unlikely of places.
In Kibera, where mounds of garbage grow between makeshift buildings and along paths and residences, the Usafi Youth Group has managed to develop a waste management system apart from the financial backing of any foreign NGO or their own government. Youth volunteers dig pit latrines to clear mounds of waste, opening up plots for sustainable agriculture projects on the newly fertilized earth. Other groups have created community toilets and bathhouses, and free education sessions on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS are organized and taught each week, all by youth leaders.
“We have to create something for ourselves so that life can move on,” Moses Amondi told me in response to the post-election violence. “And that’s why every day we wake up… we struggle with our hands, you know? If you tell people that in Kibera there is an agricultural farm, people cannot believe, because of the assumption they have. It’s our desire as young people to excel, and we’ll only excel if there is another helping hand that can come along.”
In some areas, athletic groups led by volunteer coaches have also begun to form, preventing idleness and crime among youth while encouraging a sense of pride in their own abilities. In the outskirts of Nairobi, volunteer boxing coach Hassan Abdul Kasalini prepared a team of youths for a bout. “Every generation has an obligation,” Kasalini told me. “We have an obligation for the other generations. We want to make a good name for ourselves. We don’t want people to think, Kibera – violence, violence, violence – all the time.”
But youth reform in Kenya is not without resistance. Power wielding politicians are well aware of the threat youth reformers pose to their political and economic strongholds. Consequently, most youth groups are purposefully independent of any affiliation to their own government. According to a study by Human Rights Watch, since 2002 “youths in some parts of the country [have] been offered money in exchange for their [voter] registrations cards,” and reports confirm that a large number of killings were carried out by youth of the lowest socioeconomic status. Indeed, systemic poverty is the greatest leverage politicians have over their own people.
“We were fighting for a change,” Kamau “Kelly” Nganga, age 21, told me. “We were voting for change, but it never happened, so we had to fight. I cannot see the change now. It can be worse in 2012, because the corruption we were fighting is still there, high up.”
In April of last year, United States ambassador Michael Ranneberger called on the young people of Kenya to seize active roles in the reform of their nation. The envoy, who had been moving around the country interacting with young people, said he sensed “a sea change of attitude” in the nation’s youth – that “the youth have woken up.” He went on to describe “a tidal wave below the surface” that “at one point is going to break” (Juma, 2010).
The goal of this project is to bring to light that movement. By documenting the work of Kenya’s youth reformers and the political and social challenges they face, this project will contribute to a balanced global perception of poverty and progress in Kenya by highlighting an immensely positive theme: that passionate, determined youth can incite change in its world. Through a photographic essay and an accompanying multimedia video, this project will aid youth reformers in the distribution of their message, while influencing the flow of financial support toward their initiatives.