Lessons Learned in a Colombian Orphanage

Lessons Learned in a Colombian Orphanage


It has always been a dream of mine to work at an orphanage.


I know. It’s a little bit random, and not exactly typical for an American girl. But it’s true: working at an orphanage was my earliest dream job. I think I was 9 years old. I don’t remember what put the idea in my mind, but it was that time I told my mom that I wanted to work at an orphanage.

Sometimes ideas and dreams in life seem incredibly random. I remember being younger and wondering if I would ever be able to use all the gifts and live all the dreams that I had. I knew from an early age that I was a visionary – not a dreamer, because I actually could break down my dreams into goals and set out to accomplish them with gusto.

In March I saw the fulfillment of many dreams coming together.

I think that many photographers feel similarly as I do: We want to make a difference in the world through our art. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to make this difference. Sometimes we make it through the images we take. Sometimes we make it through relationship building. Sometimes we make it through investing and bettering lives. I think it’s different for everyone, but for the most part, we have a desire to bring beauty and hope to the world. Somehow we know that we can do this through photography.

Through much planning, many prayers, dozens of emails, and a handful of willing individuals, photography made a difference in the lives of hundreds of children in Colombia.

I took 4 photographers with me. We had all different backgrounds and talents. One was a technical guru. One was a wedding photographer. One was a sweet portrait photographer. One had dreams of becoming a missions photojournalist. We all came together to teach photography to Colombian Children.

We brought 10 cameras with us. We started in a public school. Every day over the next week, we taught “English” classes via the platform of photography. One day was composition. One day was rule of thirds. One day was perspective. Having classes of 30-35 kids, we organized rotations of 3. One group would hear a photo lesson, while one group would hear a photo story, and the last group would go practice. We only had 8 minutes per rotation, and realized our goal was ambitious. But somehow it happened. 200 Colombian children who never would have had photography lessons were able to hear a few explanations and tips, and practice using a camera with their friends. It was an incredible experience.


The next week we moved on to an orphanage in a remote part of Colombia outside Bogota. We had half days with 13 kids rather than 35 minutes with 30 kids like at the school. During this time we were able to invest one on one. Even though there was a language barrier, we quickly learned the correct photographic terms in Spanish. As the kids took photos, we used hand motions and expression to coach them along, pointing out interesting subjects or helping them improve. At the end of the days, we gave them something priceless: Their own photos printed via a portable printer that we brought for that very purpose.

Right before I went on the trip, a friend of mine told me that she had gone to South America once and worked in an orphanage for a little bit of time. While there, she learned that photo’s are one of the most priceless possessions for the orphans. These kids have next to nothing, but photos are pieces of art that they have attached memories of indescribable worth. I am still speechless to think that we could give these kids something so simple, that would mean so very much to them.


Each of us promised to write to these kids every month, to send photos of projects we were working on and of us in action. We hope that our investment can bless these kids, who really do have no one.

I can’t even tell you how astonished I was at the untapped creativity in some of these kids. They took the simple lessons we gave them and put so much heart into their assignments. Looking back, I marvel that these kids may not have ever discovered the creativity within them had they not been given cameras to discover that imagination.

I tell you this story not because I am anything out of the ordinary: I tell you this because I hope you can gain some inspiration to believe in yourself and what you can bring to the world also. If every photographer I know can use their gifts to reach those in need, the world really can become a more beautiful place.

Read more from our category

Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

Some Older Comments

  • Paul May 14, 2012 07:20 am

    Thanks for sharing this with us, bet it was very rewarding too!

  • Ewien van Bergeijk - Kwant May 14, 2012 12:17 am

    Thanks for posting, kids are one my fav's and most fun subjects in Mali, West-Africa.
    I too carry a PoGo printer to hand them out occasionally ... Be welcome in Mali, when the ongoing unrest has passed :]

  • Mdaley May 11, 2012 02:08 pm

    Great post! Thanks for bringing happiness to those kids. Reading your story can picture the eyes of the kids full of curiosity and excitement. Great job!

  • Arturomar May 11, 2012 04:20 am

    Well done, I thank you for sharing.

    I'd really like to know how did you get that effect in your last photo, the one with the tricycle.

    The subject doesn't seem to have nothing special, but your photo does.

  • DanielCC May 11, 2012 01:39 am

    Hi, I'm a Colombian photographer, I live in Bogotá, I have had similar experiences with kinds in need and I do understand your thought... I actually started to realize about my talent and passion for photography through the work with these kids

  • Jeet May 8, 2012 11:22 pm

    I would love to be a part of such a group of photographers.
    Are there any links/resources that would let us help?

  • erving May 7, 2012 04:54 pm

    Well done, Christina and your team members! That's what I always believe that photography is not only to please someone, but also to change people or even the world. I salute to your contribution and hope you everything success in this project.

  • Jay May 7, 2012 02:14 pm

    What an amazing idea - to give these kids the means to express themselves. Hat's off to you and your team..

  • Alexx May 7, 2012 04:59 am

    Great post!


  • midwestslp May 7, 2012 02:35 am

    Thank you for this beautiful story. So moving. So powerful. What an amazing way to make a difference in the lives of little ones who will never have the childhood that all children are meant to have. You're amazing. God bless you richly for being so selfless.

  • Naomi May 6, 2012 11:52 pm

    Love this! What an awesome opportunity. My heart so yearns to do more of this type of work. Thank you for sharing!

  • Dante Longo II May 6, 2012 11:09 pm

    A bow to the photographers, and another to the author, for enriching the lives of orphaned children. The kids gained more than experience behind a camera: they experienced the caring possible when adults choose to share.

  • Jeff E Jensen May 6, 2012 02:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic story. I would love to participate in something like this someday. My wife and I have talked about taking our kids and spending a summer vacation doing humanitarian service in Mexico sometime. This would be a great addition to such a trip. Last year, our family vacationed in Mexico and took an afternoon to visit an orphanage and play with the kids. We brought them small toys, candy, and school supplies. It was a highlight of the trip.


  • Elizabeth May 6, 2012 02:23 pm

    Wow, what a great post! I can just imagine the wonder in their eyes. I bet it was so fulfilling. I know how my kids love their camera, I can imagine how fun it was for the kids in Colombia. Great work, thanks.

  • Ramiro May 6, 2012 01:31 pm

    Nice artIcle, thanks for sharing your story!!, and thanks for inspiring other people to get out of their comfort zone and help others. By the way, it is Colombian, not columbian and Bogota, not bogata.


  • raghavendra May 6, 2012 12:43 pm

    Heart melting, i have read several blogs on helping the orphanage, helping the people in Kenya.
    We need more guest posts like this.


  • Heather May 6, 2012 03:19 am

    i am so enamored by this post. I, too, hope to share my love of photography with young people. The only difference is the venue. I want to reach out to the children of soldiers serving overseas. As a wife of a soldier, I know the importance of sharing daily life with the soldier overseas. It is an awesome connection for both sides.

    One day....................