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Camera earns university tuition


François Drabo and the 35mm film camera that earned him an entire year of university tuition.

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Batism at Foyer Évangélique Mennnite de Ouagadougou
François Drabo is already putting his camera to use in recording church life for his congregation, Foyer Évangélique Mennonite de Ouagadougou, at a baptism. Here, Jeff Warkentin (left) and the baptizing pastor, Calixte Bananzaro (right) present newly baptised member Eléanor Kam.

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July 20, 2009
- Dan Dyck

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso — When François Drabo, 22, bought an older model film camera from his church, he already had a plan for how he would use it to pay for his university tuition.

In March, 2008, Jeff and Tany Warkentin, Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in Burkina Faso, invited selected Canadian supporters to donate film cameras that were no longer in use, to the Foyer Évangélique Mennonite de Ouagadougou, a fledgling congregation of mostly university students. Seven cameras were donated and traveled in the Warkentin’s luggage on their way home after a visit to Canada.

An average wage here is about $2/day here. Families face dramatic economic struggles and must make difficult sacrifices to put their children through school. The Warkentins hoped that the cameras might be a tool for some of their church members to earn a little income – but didn’t want to undervalue them by giving them away. “The fact that they had to pay something makes them more responsible for the camera.  It also prevents people from just taking a camera because it's free,” wrote Jeff in an email.

Photography equipment and processing costs remain out of economic reach for most Burkinabe people, but some can afford – and dearly treasure – occasional photos of family members, friends, and special events in the same way as North Americans do. Drabo, who studies Earth Sciences at the university, purchased a higher quality film camera for about $60 CDN. The money went to the church, and the camera went home with Drabo for Christmas.

Back home in Tougan for the holiday season – about 300 km northwest of Ouagadougou – Drabo joyfully snapped away until nearly everyone in the village had received his photographic attention. Later, Drabo was able to sell the individual photos back to his subjects at a profit, making enough to pay tuition for his entire university year. Processing costs about $0.60 CDN per print – almost one-third of an average day’s wage.

In an email update, Jeff wrote that, “François is becoming a quality photographer. He has a gift. He is continuing to earn small amounts of money on the side with his camera as he continues his studies.”

The Warkentins are grateful for the donated cameras. The money the church earned from the camera sales – about $250 CDN – was put in a bank account and will eventually be used for activities such as Bible training for church members and to develop a children’s ministry program. If more cameras are needed in the future, the Warkentins say they will consider sending out another invitation for donations.