By Rida Ahmed
Kevin and Sheryl Minnett are a husband and wife photography team based in Toronto. Their enthusiasm for photography began in the early days of film but really accelerated while they volunteered in West Africa and where they learned the true value of the image, especially in our visual world today.
They will be travelling to South Africa to work with the Vervet Monkey Foundation. The organization started after the discovery of an orphan baby vervet monkey. Only a few hours old, authorities were contacted to enquire about its care and it was revealed that there were no facilities to provide for its welfare. They were told to kill the monkey because the species were considered vermin. As environmentalists and humanitarians, they came up with another solution; to create an organization to provide a sanctuary for these animals. Today, the Vervet Monkey Foundation researches the lifestyle of this species and the claims against them so that they can educate the public on the role the vervet monkey plays in the ecosystem, in addition to providing a sanctuary and rehabilitating the monkeys.
1. How and why did you decide to join Photographers Without Borders?
Volunteerism has always been a large part of our lives, particularly in the global south. After many years of project management, leading volunteer teams, fundraising events, and creating artwork for promotional materials, we decided it was time to combine our passion for photography and volunteerism. So, we started a search and PWB seemed like the right fit.
2. Why did you join the South Africa trip/organizations specifically?
We have a strong interest in wildlife, the environment and sustainability. Projects that are of particular interest to us include: preservation/awareness of environmental concerns, animal welfare/wildlife preservation, and community-driven projects that lead to sustainable change. This organization fit well with our areas of interest and we are honoured to have been selected for the project.
3. How are you preparing for your trip? Are you fundraising for your trip? If so, what sort of fundraising events have you done?
We have done a lot of fundraising for many years, so have opted not to fundraise for this trip. But, we are preparing for the trip in other ways by doing some reading about the organization as well as the area we will be travelling to, and making sure our gear is in order, etc.
4. Are any of your past experiences helping you prepare for your trip?
For over 10 years we helped to manage projects and lead teams of volunteers to developing communities in Mali, West Africa and Bolivia, South America. We have learned the importance of building relationships and working alongside people in the communities where we volunteered. During these years we also did photography and video for the non-profit organization we volunteered with, providing images to be used for promotional materials, etc. So, we feel our past experiences have helped prepare us a great deal.
In recent years, we have been doing wedding and lifestyle photography, as well as wildlife and travel photography. When photographing weddings, a photographer must be able to adapt and be flexible. While we can't be prepared for every possible situation, we do need to be able to manage any situation that comes our way.
All of these experiences help us when embarking on new endeavours such as this trip.
5. Which photographers inspire you and/or your work?
We may be slightly different in this respect because we often find ourselves inspired by young photographers entering the industry. Their fresh perspective and energy can be contagious. But, there are a few photographers whose work we follow and who we have learned from including wildlife photographer Christopher Dodds and wedding photographers Bob (and Dawn) Davis, Jasmine Star, and Roberto Valenzuela.
6. What are you most excited/nervous about for your trip?
For us, meeting the people involved with the organization, learning their story and what brought them to start or volunteer with the organization. Of course we are always excited to utilize our skills in meaningful ways, but a few nerves can come with that as we hope to achieve what the organization is looking for.
7. What do you hope to learn or gain from this experience?
A great understanding of the work the organization does and its importance. We look forward to learning from the people involved. Although we have a lot of volunteer experience, this particular project is quite different from what we have done before. Most of our work has been with people; this project has a different dimension with a focus on animals, so we anticipate the entire opportunity will be a learning experience.
8. Do you have any advice for people who are thinking of joining PWB?
As we mentioned earlier, we have had a lot of both volunteer and travel experience abroad, which has provided us with a certain level of confidence when traveling to a new place and working with new people. Based on our previous experience, some points of advice would include; to be open to new possibilities and experiences, to be respectful and gracious, to be prepared and then to be and be ready and willing to learn. We all have ideas about how things should be done, but when entering a new environment, chances are we first have a lot to learn from those who were there before us and will continue to be there after we leave. Once we have taken the time to learn, we can then collaborate on how to reach the desired end goal.
To donate to their project and the organization, visit http://org.grouprev.com/vervetmonkey. To learn more about the Vervet Monkey Foundation, visit their website, for more information about Kevin and Sheryl Photography, visit their website.