Teaching, and exploring, photography in Liberia

Rather than suffer in Boston’s cold, I spent the better part of two January weeks in Liberia, in West Africa – where the temperature hovered around 90 and the “comfort index” pegged at 107. I went to the war-ravaged country, first colonized by free American blacks and freed slaves, on behalf of CODE and the International Book Bank, two literacy NGOs dedicated to the proposition that literacy, reading, and critical thinking are the keys to every other kind of improvement and success. I spent the first week running a workshop for Liberian writers, illustrators, and photographers, whom IBB, and the Liberian group We-Care, hope to teach to produce non-fiction school books for primary school students. This required teaching the students in the workshop the difference between fiction and non-fiction – which was much more difficult than you might imagine, and starting with the most basic principles of photography. It also required five days of teaching from 9-5, a far cry from one, three-hour, night-a-week at the Institute.

I spent the second week photographing in urban and rural schools, documenting, where possible, the work of CODE, IBB, and the We-Care Foundation. The photos you see here should provide a sense, if nothing else, of how privileged we in this country are. I have returned from Liberia thinking, as I returned from Somalia two decades ago, that we in America do not even know what poverty and true deprivation are. And I returned ready to do more of this work anywhere it is offered to me.

You may see more images, a color collection called Liberia Through My Eyes, and Liberian Schools in Black and White, in galleries on my website.

B. D. Colen

About B. D. Colen

B. D. Colen is a writer and photographer who during 27 years at The Washington Post and Newsday shared a Pulitzer Prize and covered medicine and health care for 17 years. He pioneered the coverage of bioethics in the mainstream media, and created and served as the editor of Newsday's weekly science section, wrote a nationally syndicated column on the intersection of health care, policy, and politics, and covered everything from the Karen Ann Quinlan "right-to die" case, to the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to the famine in Somalia in the early 1990s. The author of more than a half-dozen books on medically related subjects, since 1999, Colen has been teaching science journalism and news writing courses at MIT, and in 2001, he created and began teaching a documentary photography course - 21W.749, "Documentary Photography/Photo Journalism - Still Images of a World In Motion." His photography can be seen at http://www.bdcolenphoto.com. Since January of 2014 Colen has traveled to both Liberia and Haiti to document the work of five different NGOs, two focused on literacy efforts, two working with orphans, and one delivering medical and health care.