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Botswana Youth Share Stories of the Okavango Delta at National Geographic Photo Camp

Local students in Maun, Botswana learned and practiced photography skills with a team of National Geographic Explorers and Botswana-based photographers and educators.

September 27, 2022

Students from Bana Ba Letsatsi and Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust, ages 16-21, gathered together for National Geographic Photo Camp Botswana, a week-long interactive experience where they learned about photography and the power of storytelling. They received mentorship and practiced their skills with National Geographic Explorers Jahawi BertolliFederico PardoEsther Ruth MbabaziThalefang CharlesKirsten Elstner, and several Botswana-based photographers and educators. 

“I learned the principles of photography and how to tell a good story. I never realized this was a thing that I could learn,” Photo Camp student Angel Gaobonwe said. “I’m going to continue to work to make better pictures and to tell stories. They are important to me and to others.”

Photo Camp student Angel Gaobonwe photographed a mokoro poler taking a drink from the river during the group’s expedition into the Okavango Delta. As part of an essay on ways that water is part of her life, Angel wrote, “My home is Maun and I’m proud to be from here. It has a river called Thamalakane which is a good place to meditate. It is a place of peace. When I meditate by the river, it is quiet and peaceful with no distractions. The only noise you can hear is the song of birds, which is relaxing to me.” Photo by student Angel Gaobonwe, National Geographic Photo Camp.

“It was quite fulfilling to see their transformation into these promising storytellers. Some of these students held the camera for the first time last week and a few days later they understood the basics of using photography to tell stories. It is that understanding which we hope we could nurture so that we inspire more storytellers from Botswana,” Charles said, reflecting on the experience. 

Photo Camp student Angel Gaobonwe photographed a mokoro poler taking a drink from the river during the group’s expedition into the Okavango Delta. As part of an essay on ways that water is part of her life, Angel wrote, “My home is Maun and I’m proud to be from here. It has a river called Thamalakane which is a good place to meditate. It is a place of peace. When I meditate by the river, it is quiet and peaceful with no distractions. The only noise you can hear is the song of birds, which is relaxing to me.” Photo by student Angel Gaobonwe, National Geographic Photo Camp.

In addition to learning about the basics of photography and engaging in editing exercises in the classrooms, students embarked on field assignments where they were asked to reflect on the ways we are all connected to water.  

With cameras in hand and a question to consider, the students took photographs of the places, people, and things that moved them––gaining confidence along the way. They interviewed local community members, visited businesses and farms, took photos during a game drive through the Moremi Game Reserve, and explored the Okavango Delta—which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the main source of water for a million people, and one of the most biodiverse places in Africa. 

“I learned more than just about photography. I gained confidence in learning about other people’s lives, and that it’s OK to ask questions so I can understand,” Photo Camp student Thuo Difongo said.

Photo Camp student Mompoloki Xhaniwya took this portrait of Mr. Water Setlabosha at his home in Maun when he interviewed Mr. Water about his life and career as a mokoro poler on the Okavango Delta. Xhaniwya reflected on this conversation and lessons learned from the other field assignments in his writing, “It is very important that we all take part in protecting the delta so that it continues providing us with water for our animals, fish and other resources we need.” Photo by student Mompoloki Xhaniwya, National Geographic Photo Camp.

To learn more about the Okavango Delta, students met with National Geographic Explorer and Managing Director of the Botswana Wild Bird Trust, Koketso “Koki” Mookodi. Through her work with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project, Mookodi has drawn on her background in tourism management to establish a successful conservation education program in the Okavango Delta. 

Reflecting on the experience, Mookodi said, “It has been very encouraging to see how these students have taken to the Photo Camp. I’ve watched them blossom as the days have gone by and build confidence and grow into themselves. Watching them learn more about themselves and their lack of limits has been very rewarding. I look forward to many, many more camps.”

Photo Camp student Angel Gaobonwe practices taking a portrait of Koketso “Koki” Mookodi. Photo by Esther Ruth Mbabazi, National Geographic Society.

“Through the week, this experience reinforced the fact that we are all storytellers, and with the right tools and opportunities, we can be in charge of our stories, stories of our shared existence, as communities and globally,” said Mbabazi.

The week concluded with a final show––a montage of the students’ photos and stories to celebrate their work and growth throughout the week. 

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