I am endlessly amazed by the vast array of backgrounds of the people in this community. After browsing through a photographer’s site it was not the wedding photos that caught my attention but rather the photos of his philanthropic work. I instantly emailed him and was amazed by his story, his passion, and the background that lead to where he is today. It is my honor to introduce you all to Andy Kristian. He is proof that it doesn’t matter where you have been but rather where you are going that counts. He grew up in a life of poverty and the fact that he made it out is amazing in itself but what is truly impressive is that he hasn’t forgotten where he came from or the people still struggling and he has made it his mission that no one else forgets them either.
My name is Andy Kristian; I am a Lancaster, PA wedding photographer, a humanitarian and an African Social Entrepreneur. My humanitarianism is through actively doing photography work that communicates social problems and promotes social change. While doing that, I have been able to do both commissioned assignments from International Development agencies and also pro-bono work for a number of smaller organizations that would not afford such a service, and yet are positively impacting others and could benefit a great deal from having professionally done media.
My wife and I are both from Uganda, and that is a big influence for the passion that we have for the kind of work that we do. My personal story of growing up in poverty but somehow, through the grace of God escaping that trap, is also a major influence in that I often see myself in the subjects that I take.
I have been a photographer for about 6 or so years now, even though my introduction to photography goes many years back. My childhood friend’s father was a photographer and my friend had learned from him. Whenever his dad was not home, we would sneak into his equipment, take a roll of film and then process it in their small dark room. It is too bad that those are images that I do not own or have any idea where they are.
I proceeded to high-school, then college and then graduate school but studied Political Science first, and then Psychology. I did not go to school for photography, even though later, I was admitted into a very competitive documentary photography fellowship from the Open Society Foundations.
Our humanitarian work in Africa involves visual communications consulting for non profits (multilateral and bilateral organizations) including European and American government foreign aid agencies, UN agencies, Non Governmental Organizations and several local national and community based organizations. For most of the national and community based organizations, their budgets can not afford good visual media, and so we help them by offering some of our work in the data bank or shooting for them if we are on another assignment, it affords us to do so.
We are now taking our humanitarian work to the next level! We are working on establishing a non profit organization / social enterprise called VillageServe (website is coming soon). This organization’s mission is to alleviate poverty by empowering African villages through creating entrepreneurship opportunities for sustainable living. Our organization seeks to work with small farmers; to train them in best practices, equip them with necessary tools, and give them seeds. After harvest season, we will buy back their product (each farmer will earn approximately $1,200 per acre). We will then sell their product for some profit, and then put that money back into a different village. So we will be moving from village to village, serving villages.
Our goal is to impact more than 5 million people in Sub Saharan Africa by the year 2020. Yes, it is a big ambition but it is doable, with every kind of support. We are starting with our first 100 – 200 farmers in 2012. This is work that will require all the help that we can get. We want to set it up in such a way that people can donate enough to have a farmer get started, and that some people if they so wish, can make small loans to help our farmers get started. Obviously, we will also hope to get some major donations and grants as well as major investments.
Our other sources of funding include web design for the wedding industry. We have started an web design and interactive agency focused on wedding professionals. This will help us get some money to invest in our VillageServe programs. We are also in partnership with The Wedding Cinematographers and Filmmakers Association – theWCFA, a soon to launch premier global association for wedding videographers. 30% of the revenue will be channeled to our programs for the next five years. They are about to launch and we would hope that wedding videographers in USA, in every state and in every country will jump on their platform!
Empowering African and poor communities resolves a lot of problems. It solves war, hunger and disease. Granted, Somalia’s hunger crisis is as a result of drought, but thousands of lives could have been saved if the country was stable and people were spending time planting their gardens and trees rather than being in refugee camps. Somalia will never be hunger free unless it is conflict free.
The conflict trap is deeply interwoven into the poverty trap. If we alleviate poverty, if we create opportunities (not hand outs), then these people will begin to educate their children and buy them shoes or books, then communities can resolve their own social problems like lack of access to water, then small business will rise up, then these people will get improved lives through affording subsidized health care etc. Bottom up approaches to solving African problems are what we need, and we are committed to playing our part. We hope you can help us in this journey; a long, arduous but fulfilling one!
We are planning a vision trip to Uganda, East Africa in March 2012. If this interests you, please get in touch with me. I know this is such short notice, but you never know how God works it all out. Thank you for reading and thank you TWIPS for the opportunity for me to share with this wonderful community what’s on my heart.