It all started in January 2017. My husband and I were in Encintas, CA, walking along the beach. We were both so incredibly happy to be close to the ocean, for the change of scenery from the mountains in Colorado. We were so happy to be warm, to have the time to walk next to each other and really talk for the first time in what felt like months.
Within an hour’s time, we decided it was time to go on an adventure. We craved time together and some space to get clarity on what we wanted in life. We needed to sell our house, free ourselves from responsibilities (that’s a fancy way of saying we were going to take a break from work and adulting), and just. go.
We didn’t know what that would be or when. We just knew that by the end of the year, we needed to be somewhere else. So we began researching opportunities overseas and emailing everyone we knew who could use either an engineer or a photographer. I got an email back from someone I met while living in Uganda in 2009, “We could use you both!”
And just like that, we found ourselves getting ready to go to Naomi’s Village in Kenya. Travis would help with some planning and construction of buildings and I would get to take photos of beautiful kids all day long. Dream assignment, right?
We sold our house in June, moved in with my sister temporarily, said goodbye to our jobs in July, and headed to Kenya in August. We were really doing it!
(Sidebar: my husband and I met in Uganda in 2009, but that’s a whole different story. Our relationship literally began in East Africa, so this felt like an appropriate place to take a deep breath and prioritize our lives.)
When we got to Kenya, we were amazed by how beautiful the children’s home was. The facilities were nicer than most I’d seen in that part of the world. There was a gorgeous garden. There were swing sets. There were three delicious meals every day and snacks in between. There were movies for the kids to watch and games for them to play. We were blown away from the second we got there.
I instantly knew that this would be an easy place to tell stories. Not because these kids had easy stories, not by any stretch of the imagination. But because the hope I saw there was so bright it was almost tangible. These children were given a life that is so out of reach for so many. They were being raised by women and men who loved them and cared for them, and in a safe environment that protected them from so much grief. It was the bitter taste of what their stories could have potentially been that made their current one oh so sweet.
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This was a true documentary project … glimpses of daily life for 81 children who lived in a home together in Kenya. That kind of access was such a joy and honor to possess. I don’t talk a ton about their lives before they came to Naomi’s Village, because that isn’t why I was there.
I was there to show what their lives are like now.
Their potential. Their future.
The sad stories matter, and their past absolutely informs their future, but I don’t always think the past is necessary to tell the truth. Because in this case, the truth is that these kids have no idea that I’m writing this blog, showing people all over the world their photos. They are children now, but one day they won’t be. And they should get to choose what the world knows about them. It’s not my choice. It’s theirs.
We lived right there on campus so I got to snuggle babies each and every day, watching some of them take their first steps and others learn new words. I got to help high schoolers write stories for their composition class and play soccer with the middle school boys. I helped take hair out and helped wash dishes and pushed swings and jumped rope and dished food and really, I just got to be part of the family.
I did literally all of this while holding my camera. It went everywhere with me. The kids made a big deal about it at first, but eventually they just accepted it as an extension of who I was. They stopped making silly faces at it or asking for specific photos to be taken. They just ignored me and went about their daily lives.
Everyone kept saying to us how incredible we were for going. And we just laughed. This trip was so selfish in so many ways. We walked together every morning. We looked each other in the eyes every day and talked about our hopes, dreams, and what was hard for us that day. We laughed more than we have in all 6 years of our marriage. We remembered why we fell in love with what we do for work and came back to the States incredibly energized to do more of it.
(One more sidebar because I love a good sidebar: I know that not everyone can or should drop everything and go. But, if you’re a photographer who is reading this and saying, “I wish I could…” please know that you can. There are so many ways to ignite inspiration, some of which don’t involve leaving your home. Personal projects are the most important gift we can give ourselves to broaden our scope, our skill, and our passions. They give us an opportunity to see and photograph in new ways. So make the time for them! It’s just as important as booking clients, I promise.)
Writing and photography by Rachel Greiman.
About Rachel Greiman: Rachel Greiman is a writer and photographer in Denver, Colorado. She owns Green Chair Stories, a company dedicated to telling stories and showing people how beautiful their real life is. She lives with her giant dog (an 80-pound bernedoodle named Bernadette) and giant husband, (a 6’6″ man named, Travis) in a small house in the city. Website // Instagram // Facebook