With a wide variety of experiences to choose from this summer, 16-year-old Sam Pinczuk decided to go to Ghana. He says he spent the hot days doing something cool: teaching kids there photography. The trip touched the Ghanaian kids’ lives and affected the high school student in ways he couldn’t have imagined
He says the two-week trip was his way to translate his ideals into action.
“One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein,” he said. “It is ‘The world is a dangerous place to live in, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
So he looked around to find a place where he can make a difference. “In Ghana, I found out about this area in the Volta region called Kpando. And in Kpando, there is a large problem with HIV and AIDS. I found out an organization called HardtHaven Children’s Home. I really wanted to go. I wanted to have an impact on their lives somehow.”
Through A Camera Lens
During his stay, Sam taught Ghanaian children at a local school English, math and hygiene. He also held workshops about photo journalism.
“They had small cameras and I taught them the basic photography skills so they can document the issues that are surrounding them,” he said. ”I think it’s really important for them to learn how to communicate and advocate for themselves so that they can solve some of the issues in their area.”
When he left Ghana, the children were still working on that ongoing project. Now back in the States, Sam is working on it, too. “I’m going to go through the photos and try to creative a story and also create a web site where people could go and see the issues and maybe brainstorm ways to solve those issues.”
Ending Child Slavery
One of those issues is child slavery in the Volta region. Sam took dozens of pictures that illustrate who those young slaves are and what they do.
“They’re either taken from their families, or their families sell them because they don’t have enough money to feed their own families,” he explained. “And fisherman force them to work very long hours with no pay. It’s very hard especially that they are my age and the life they still live is really very challenging to see.”
Documenting child slavery, however, wasn’t an easy job.
“The first two times the fishermen weren’t willing to let me take pictures of them,” he recalled. “They were pretty threatened by me. The third time I went there I was able to talk to them. They were able to see that I wasn’t a threat. I wasn’t out to get them in any way. They allowed me to talk with those laborers and take pictures of them.”
That helped him understand how those kids feel. “They constantly live under fear. Many of them told me they would like to go to school. But they can’t do that because if they stop coming to work they would be mercilessly beaten.”
Sam is still thinking about the problem and ways to end child slavery, and he has a plan.
“I will go back to Ghana. I want to work more with the fishermen to think of solutions where they don’t have to use child labor or they could have better fishing methods so they don’t need that many people.”
A Rewarding Summer vacation
Sam’s mother, Jane Pinczuk, is founder of the Music in Me Foundation International. The non-profit works to empower youth, and it sponsored Sam’s trip to Ghana.
“Sam’s strength is obviously his ability to help people through the lens of his camera,” she said. “Since Sam is only 16, it was very scary to let him leave home and go so far away. Actually on his way out, I couldn’t breathe and once I spoke to him, once he got there I was totally relieved because I could hear the thrill and the excitement in his voice and I knew he was okay.”
She's happy that the experience was so inspirational.
“I’m just so thrilled that he’s been able to reach so many people through his pictures,” she said. “And these children are orphaned and people take advantage of them. So I’m just so proud that Sam did this and came back safely and he’s interested in helping other children live safe and empowered lives.”
For Sam, the trip proved one important point: no one is too young to make the world a less dangerous place.