Since 2006, the MY STORY photo project association (MSppa) has given Burma’s refugees the tools and photojournalism skills to document their lives, producing vibrant and lively photos.
Over 130,000 refugees have been displaced by frequent fighting and clashes between Burmese and the armed ethnic opposition. Many have been stripped of basic human rights and some have been living in refugee camps for as long as two decades.
Some have lived their whole lives defined by the limits of their refugee camp. Disconnected from their homes, how does one share their history with future generations? Or to even simply show their children where they came from?
For them, photography becomes part of their history to pass on to future generations. It helps them demonstrate where they have lived, serves to teach the world about the plight of the undocumented and helps them develop new skills to earn a living.
Under the guidance and expertise of veteran photographers, Nathaniel and Susan Tileston, participants are taught basic photography skills.
Each participant is provided with a digital camera to capture their story.
Their new skills are used in small assignments that help them document their living environment, friends and family, and neighbourhood events.
For example, some assignments include taking photos of their living environment such as where they sleep, eat and taking portraits of their friends and family (pets too). They’re also taught fun photography tricks such as painting with light.
Participants share and discuss each other's photos, and at the end of the session edit their work into a yearly exhibition that travels from along the Thai-Burma border and the Borderline Gallery to Canada and the United States.
Participants also have the opportunity to earn a small income from print sales with sales split 50/50 between the photographer and MSppa.
The MSppa also runs teacher-training workshops where former students are taught how to run their own photography workshops.
These workshops give new teachers the capacity to teach and pass on their documentary photo skills to new participants, furthering the long lasting impact of this workshop.
Teachers in training also practice teaching and assisting new participants alongside Nathaniel and Susan.
Through the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), Canada contributed $1,350 to the project. Though a small amount, these funds were enough to buy digital cameras for all the students and have created a long lasting effect on many refugees.
After the training, students use their cameras to document their work and lives on both sides of the Thai-Burma border.
Even after the workshops, Nathaniel and Susan keep in touch with their photo workshop teachers and many of their students who keep them inspired with their photos and their spirit.
Nathaniel and Susan are both retired professional photographers and teachers with over 50 years of photography experience between them.
This project is part of Canada’s engagement in the positive resolution of the challenging migration issues along the Thai-Burma border
MSaap is a registered Canadian charity and run entirely by a volunteer board of directors based in Nova Scotia.