Show Us Your World The ICAP Photography Workshop for Adolescents and Young Adults Living with HIV

Empowering Health Through Photography and Self Expression

HIV is a leading cause of death for adolescents in Africa, where many teens are unaware of their HIV status or are not on treatment. For young people with HIV, the key to staying healthy is getting antiretroviral treatment and staying on it. Unfortunately, adolescents often shy away from health facilities where they don't feel comfortable. And if they don't have the support they need at home or are worried about others learning about their HIV infection, they are at greater risk for abandoning treatment.

To keep these young people living with HIV in care, we need to reach out to them in ways that allow them to express themselves as they discover who they are. For a certain group of youths living with HIV in Kisumu, Kenya, a photography workshop led by ICAP at Columbia University opened the door to a new world of self-expression.

The 17 young people, aged 15 to 21, who participated in the workshop in April of 2018, attend the adolescent HIV clinic at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH), a facility that ICAP supports. For them, photography was a natural way to explore the journeys on which they find themselves — journeys that are often painful, frequently illuminating, and anything but dull.

Inspired and excited, they turned their lenses on their families, their communities, and themselves. Every day, on the long trips between their homes and the hospital, they transformed their unique perspectives into intimate portrayals of domestic scenes and moving revelations of their inner lives. They reviewed and responded to one another's work with openness, enthusiasm, and generosity. And they soaked up advice from the visiting artists who joined us.

We feel privileged to share these beautiful, authentic images with you. These young people carry a heavy burden through their lives. But their photographs, and the way they went about creating them, leave no doubt about their inner strength. We hope this experience inspired them to pursue their dreams and strengthened their resolve to confront any difficulties they may face. It certainly was an inspiration for us and we hope to bring workshops like these to other youth living with HIV in Kenya and beyond. After seeing the world through the eyes of these young artists, we are even more determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that they enjoy healthy, long, and productive lives.

Elaine Abrams, MD, Senior Research Director, ICAP at Columbia University

Amy Bedik, Photographer and Workshop Lead

In sharing her knowledge of and passion for photography, Amy Bedik (pictured) helped give the young people a new way to express themselves.

The young people practice shooting portraits on the first afternoon of the workshop.

The purpose of the workshop was to give the young people an opportunity to explore photography as a medium for self-expression and to learn to use a digital camera. It allowed them to express themselves and to see their friends, families, and local environments through a different lens.

-Dr. Elaine Abrams, Senior Research Director at ICAP

Portraits taken by workshop participant, Daniel.

The first four days focused on instruction and field practice. On day one, participants set out for their first overnight assignment to capture photos on their way home. Austin's photographs reveal the color and texture of everyday life in Kisumu.


Clockwise from top: Bike messengers wait for assignments on the side of the road. A man repairs shoes at his shop in the Manyatta Peace Market. Guards in the Jomo Kenyatta Grounds Park relax on their break.
Anyone who is positive, you live in your own world, because of stigma. With photography, that's changed.

Watch: Austin and Mercy in their own words


Clockwise from top: Workers at a clothing factory. Children at play. A boy picks flowers in a field on his way home.

Visiting the Kisumu Museum offered many subjects of interest to the participants, including an aquarium housing fish native to the region.

Participants look on as a curator explains the natural history collection at the Kisumu Museum.

Tony Karumba, an Agence France-Presse photojournalist, spent the day with the group at the Kisumu Museum, sharing career advice and technical tips.

A participant practices shooting outdoors.

Visiting artist Biko Wesa also joined the group, leading critiques and helping participants edit their work for a final exhibition.


A house her neighbors built from rags for a homeless man.
Nighttime view of her mother outside the family's house.


Clockwise from top: A friend taking his HIV medicine. A sign advertising job vacancies for young people — a symbol of hope. A landscape that embodies the idea of "first light," a theme of his project on empowerment and awareness.
My photos speak to me. They depict the natural African concept of living and boast of African pride.


Clockwise from top left: A dancer talks on his phone. Colorful birds in the trees. Children playing in the water.


Children pose next to a rudimentary hopscotch board.
His mother cooking breakfast for her neighbors, as she does every morning, in the beautiful early morning light.
Using a camera was one way to express my feelings. Taking photos every day made me feel connected to everything around me. It let me interact with people, nature, and buildings.


Mercy's composite photograph of a hot dog vendor at work is shot from an unusual perspective.
[My photos express] different emotions, expressions from people from the ghetto. [There is] happiness, sadness, but above all we have good, green vegetation that symbolizes growth and blossoming — which indicates a good tomorrow.


Clockwise from top: Her dark walk home. A close-up portrait of her mother at rest. A delicately detailed landscape.


A local clothing shop shows the characteristic colorful signage commonly found on small shops throughout Kisumu.
Boots in a field. Some participants thought this image was strange or silly. Will explained he found it mysterious, and wondered about how the boots got to such a remote location, and why someone might have left them behind.
My first subject when I received the camera for the first time was my dad, because he inspires me a lot. I wanted the whole world to see and know how much my dad has invested in me and how he ensures I'm always OK. I love you daddy. Thanks for supporting me.


A compilation of photos from participants. Clockwise from top left: Papito, Rael, Lizanne, Pinto, Velma, Felix, and Hope.

A photo exhibition was held on the last day of the workshop to celebrate its completion. Participants proudly displayed their photographs as family, friends, and representatives of the Kisumu Ministry of Health and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital admired their work.

The exhibition was followed by a reception during which participants spoke about their workshop experience.
Isaack's mother thanked the ICAP Kisumu team for the opportunity afforded the participants.

Dr. Juliana Otieno, former CEO of JOOTRH (pictured right), awards a participant with a certificate to recognize the completion of the workshop. Each participant received a certificate along with a folder of all their own photographs.

Workshop participants celebrating their achievements.

Having worked with these adolescents living with HIV since birth, I am so happy to have seen them overcome so many barriers in life and in their treatment journey. I am extremely proud to be part of their journey through the photography workshop. It's surely empowered them with a new lens to creative ideas and provided them with skills, motivation, and opportunity. A special thanks to ICAP for this initiative program which will improve these brave adolescents' skills and competence in developing a more sustainable entrepreneurship agenda.

-Dr. Juliana Otieno, Former CEO of JOOTRH


The HIV epidemic has challenged societies in most profound ways. It revealed the best and the worst in people — some rising up to care and stand by people living with HIV, while others have shunned and isolated them. For orphans and children living with HIV, life can be cruel. Many lost one or both of their parents at a young age, and few were fortunate to be taken in by a grandmother or an exceptionally kind neighbor. As these young people age, they face new challenges, like the loss of their caretakers and having to confront the trials of adolescence.

For us at ICAP, serving children and adolescents with HIV has been a priority from day one. I am proud of the range of programs we put in place to meet the needs of these young people and their families. We also designed research that answers the most fundamental questions relevant to their lives. We have sought input from the youths themselves, empowering them to take control of their health and their future.

Our mission is to improve the health of families and communities. This is evident in our work in Kenya, where ICAP has devoted itself to helping adolescents and youth living with HIV. Adolescent-friendly clinics feature a uniquely trained staff and a range of supportive services for young people. Select young people are trained as peers to support and guide others as they face the fact of living with a serious chronic disease while traversing the rough waters of adolescence.

The photographs included in this book provide a glimpse of the courage of people around the world, even those who face enormous adversity. ICAP is poised to continue its work with partners and communities, in genuine partnerships, to meet the needs of today and the compelling challenges of tomorrow.

Wafaa El-Sadr, ICAP Founder and Global Director

"Show Us Your World" is a compilation of photographs taken by adolescents and youth living with HIV during the first of two photography workshops organized by ICAP at Columbia University in Kisumu, Kenya. The workshop and the curriculum were designed to train the youth on basic skills in photography and provide opportunities for emotional growth and expression through this medium.

The workshop is an activity of Adolescents and Youth Living with HIV: Engaging and Empowering through Photography, a multi-year project supported by the President's Global Innovation Fund (PGIF).

The workshop curriculum was created by Amy Bedik, Elaine Abrams, Melissa Reyes, and Doris Naitore, with input from Columbia School of Journalism student Melissa Bunni Elian, whom we thank for her support as workshop assistant. A special thanks to Kenyan photojournalists Biko Wesa and Tony Karumba, who participated as visiting artists.

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