Exhibition: Mon Essaouira

Abdellah Assemer and his photos

Abdellah Assemer and his photos

Fairmail comes to Morocco! FairMail is a company producing fair trade greeting cards made from photos taken by underprivileged teenagers in Peru and India. Founding couple, Peter den Hond and Janneke Smeulders have now started a project in Essaouira, Morocco.

I met Janneke at the exhibition, ‘Mon Essaouira’ (My Essaouira) at Dar Souiri which runs until today (1 December). She explained a little to me about their work in Essaouira.

Through three Essaouira-based charities, Bayti, Au Couer de l’Amitie and Dar At Talib, nine under-privileged teenagers (4 boys and 5 girls aged 14-16) were selected to take part in two months’ intensive training by a volunteer professional photographer. They not only learned all the skills of the photographer’s trade such as how to use light, angles, perspective and subjects to make a more appealing photo; they also learned key inter-personal skills (they had not all met each other or foreign professionals before) and useful life skills such as responsibility, commitment and commerce.

Following their ‘apprenticeships’, and alongside their school work, the participants put on the exhibition, featuring six photos each on a theme of their choice. What struck me as I entered the exhibition was the quality of the photography. The amateur photographers use light, perspective and an awareness of aesthetics in a manner more mature than their years. This is particularly striking when juxtaposed with their own explanations of their choice of theme, which seem naive in comparison. The themes range from daily life (eg in the HQ of their association or in the port, where some of the kids’ families or they themselves work) to typical Essaouira subjects such as the town’s stray cats.

Fairmail participants

Fairmail participants

There was also an information board with short biographies of the photographers. Their daily situations made emotional reading. Many are orphans or living far from their families and all are very grateful for the support they receive from their respective associations. For several, the association is like a family to them. However, even from a short text, I had a sense that – despite their youth – all were resourceful, determined individuals. Some had taken so much from the training that they wanted to be photographers; others saw the experience and the opportunity to raise money from the exhibition as a means to a greater end. I was particularly struck by Fatimazahra: she enjoyed the photography, liked drawing, but wanted to complete her education to become a police officer.

Mon Essaouira exhibition

Mon Essaouira exhibition

One set of photos I particularly liked was about ‘passion and emotions’ and displayed an emotional awareness as well as commercial and artistic sense which one would not expect of a teenager living in such difficult circumstances. I was fortunate to meet the photographer behind this set of photos, Abdellah Assemer. He had popped by to check his sales figures. He was confident and eloquent in French and Arabic and was happy for me to photograph him with his works.

In the postcard projects, the teenagers get 50 % of the profits of the sale of their own cards to finance their housing and education. In the Essaouira project, 100% of sales go the participants’ education. FairMail intend to set up a local office to supervise the disbursement of the funds. I wish all the participants good luck for their future lives, incha’allah!

Although the exhibition ends today, Peter and Janneke are in Essaouira until Spring 2013 and can be contacted via their website.

Update January 2015: Fairmail is no longer working in Essaouira. If you would like to help Swiri kids from disadvantaged backgrounds secure their future, please consider a donation to my crowd funding campaign.

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