Crossing Borders Baltimore – I Am…

June 8, 2011 by

This winter, our Crossing Borders program in Baltimore with the Refugee Youth Project, gave 15 refugee teens the opportunity to explore their new city of Baltimore; it’s similarities and differences to their home country, culminating in a visual “letter” to the city and it’s people entitled, “Dear Baltimore.” In April, these students participated in a second workshop examining the word “refugee” by visiting the other people in their neighborhood that came to this country under similar circumstances but were of different ethnicities than their own. This project was titled, “I Am,” because in exploring the stories of the various cultures residing adjacent to them, these students learned more about themselves and the community that surrounds and shapes them.

Crossing Borders Baltimore / Photo by Tila Neupane


Life is not easy. Life is full of struggles but we have to do hard work ourselves to make our lives easy.
I’m a young lady originally from Nepal, actually I was a refugee in Nepal for almost 16 years and now I’m in America. I live with my family, I love my family very much.
– Bishnu

Crossing Borders Baltimore / Photo by Kibra Asfaha


My name is Kibra. I learned different things in different houses. We went to three different houses and saw a lot of things that are different than the other houses. There were different cultures in each family. We went to Bishnu’s house and we learned that her grandfather has the magic to know what will happen to you in the future. We saw their food and it smelled good and tasted nice

This program is so cool, all the students like it. I learned where all the students come from and what they like to eat.
One thing I learned about myself is that I really like this program and I have so much fun with all of the students. We have so much fun. I also learned about being a photographer and how to take a lot of pictures. I love this program and have so much fun with all your work. Thank you.
– Kibra

Crossing Borders Baltimore / Photo by Suk Maya Tamang


Hello everybody I am Suk from Baltimore city. I have been in the United States for four months. I am the oldest child in my house. I’m always happy and I look tall. My home country is Nepal and it’s a beautiful country. I like to do things but often feel shy and afraid. I’m afraid to speak alone in groups because if I say something wrong people will laugh at me. I’m new that’s why it’s difficult to understand American people. I speak a little bit of English. I’m in grade 11 now in Patterson High School. I only have a few friends in class but in Nepal I have a lot of friends. I like to do homework, read beautiful novels, watch Hindu movies, and make new friends. My country is very important to me as well as my family because they help me every step.
One thing I learned from Mustafa’s family is that they are from Iraq. In their culture the ladies or women wear scarves on their head. They have a book in Koran, which is a prayer book they read every morning and pray. They respect their elders and love the younger kids. Their family is very respectful.
One thing I learned about myself this week is that there are different kinds of cultures. I am so lucky because I get this opportunity to learn new things like taking pictures and including lots of people.
– Suk

Crossing Borders Baltimore / Photo by Shrooq Abad


Crossing Borders Baltimore / Photo by Karar Hashim


Crossing Borders Baltimore / Photo by Ghadeer Abad


Crossing Borders Baltimore / Photo by Teklewyni Asfaha


My name is Agut. I am from Ethiopia and I’m 15 years old. I have been here for four months. I am very sad everyday because I miss my mother’s relatives in my home country. Sometime I am happy because of my education. I like my education. Yesterday I went to the schoolhouse and learned things about my country and culture.
The things I learned about myself. I learned how to take a picture. Before I didn’t know how to take a picture of myself. I learned how to make friends and to use my imagination.
– Agut

Crossing Borders Baltimore / Photo by Ghadeer Abad

Olympus Donation

April 19, 2011 by

Many thanks to Olympus Imaging America!
Olympus has just donated a set of their fantastic PEN EPL1 cameras for our photography workshops, to add to their previous sponsorship of digital cameras for our programs.

Here are a few photos of our students learning to tell stories through photography over the years, using their Olympus cameras….

We’ve Moved!

March 29, 2011 by

Please visit our new blog here. Thank you!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… Crossing Borders Baltimore

January 4, 2011 by

Photo by Kibra/Crossing Borders Baltimore


While half of our rotating cast of characters, also referred to as volunteers and teaching assistants, were in Chad for National Geographic Photo Camp, the other half remained local to put on yet another successful Crossing Borders- Baltimore. Crossing Borders is our regional initiative to help teens who have immigrated to the US, learn more about themselves, each other, and make creative contributions to the multi-cultural fabric that our country consists of, through photographic story-telling. Last Spring, we began working in Baltimore with The Refugee Youth Project, RYP and The Walters Art Gallery. We conducted a six-week program with refugee teens attending Patterson High School, meeting once a week after school and exploring creative writing and portrait photography. One program just wasn’t enough, and with the generous support of the Brook Group, The Walters, a slew of volunteers, donors, and National Geographic photographers, a gala fundraiser generated enough money to produce three additional workshops in Baltimore over the course of a year.

Photo by Mareen/Crossing Borders Baltimore


At the beginning of December, we went back to Patterson to work with the students from RYP, for the first of these three workshops. With students from Eritrea, Iraq, Bhutan, and Nepal, some having been in the US for as little as six months, our assignment was simple. Explore the city of Baltimore and it’s people to discover how it may be similar or different to your home and country. Furthermore, since Baltimore is made up of such unique stories and people from many different cultures and backgrounds, they were challenged to write about how they might creatively contribute to this new community, their new home.

Photo by Dhana/Crossing Borders Baltimore


Photo by Shrooq/Crossing Borders Baltimore


Photo by Hari/Crossing Borders Baltimore


There were some familiar faces and plenty of new ones to fill our tiny classroom on the first day. In lieu of doing a six-week format for this particular workshop, we opted for a weekend intensive to more fully engage the students. With winter beginning to rear it’s ugly head, we were lucky to have so many shooting assignments to keep ourselves warm and exploring around the city. The work produced was amazing, and a true account of the open and kind people we encountered in Baltimore.

Photo by Rajen/Crossing Borders Baltimore


Photo by Luchia/Crossing Borders Baltimore


Photo by Ghadeer/Crossing Borders Baltimore


Photo by Bishnu/Crossing Borders Baltimore


One of the students, a boy from Iraq, wanted to shoot a portrait of some of the holiday singers performing in Fells Point. He approached the man, asked to take his portrait, to which he agreed, but then asked why we were all roaming around with cameras. The student told him that our assignment was to learn more about this place and it’s people, since Baltimore was their new home. The man immediately wrapped an arm around the student, called him brother, and asked where he was from, starting up a conversation that covered love of family to fellow man. Regardless of the season, our new friend shared with us that he held no hatred in his heart towards anyone, so that at the end of the day he could rest easy, and that was his key to life. His words summed up how we were treated by everyone we encountered in the City of Baltimore- with kind curiosity and open arms. For a city that is given such a negative reputation, and in the midst of bitter temperatures, these students uncovered a warm place filled with even warmer people.

Giga Who? Giga What?

December 23, 2010 by

GigaPan! Integrating the use of a GigaPan into our programs has yielded some really fantastic results. For those of you out there still scratching your head, GigaPan is not a gigantic frying pan, but an amazing little robot developed by Carnegie Mellon University, with NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group, and a little help from Google. The robot is designed to turn any camera into a super high resolution, panorama-taking machine. By attaching your camera of choice, zooming in to your camera’s maximum, and telling the GigaPan where to start and end the panorama, you can let the robot work it’s magic and systematically snap hundreds of images that are then stitched together in their own software program, producing one seamless image.
GigaPan has also created a global online community where users can upload their panoramas, begin conversations and make discoveries into each other’s images. The following is a brief documentary on it’s use in a school in South Africa, further illustrating it’s place in the photographer’s story-telling arsenal.

At all three Photo Camp Chad sessions, we showed students how to use this technology and integrate panoramas into their final exhibition. You will notice that in the above documentary, colored lines were used to outline and branch out notations from the printed panoramas in the exhibit. This is not dissimilar to the way in which online conversations about the panoramas take place at gigapan.org. Applying this same methodology to the final print exhibitions in Chad, students used colored string to attached their notes and thoughts to individual subjects within each displayed panorama. When the exhibition opened to the public, these annotations helped the people of N’Djamena to engage with the students over the images.


The process of teaching this technology and it’s applied use to the students was sometimes challenging, but the results are stunning and really bring the viewer into the world that they chose to capture. Please click on each GigaPan to see it in larger detail.




The photography featured here was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID.) The contents are the responsibility of the participating students and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. This project was funded by USAID under the “Peace Through the Development” program.

Photo Camp Chad 1

December 16, 2010 by

Themes of encouraging cooperation and building community guided the first of our three consecutive Photo Camps in N’Djamena, Chad. Students were assigned to shoot in areas of the city where different examples of those themes could be found and explored. Then our staff led focused group discussions which inspired participants to discover their own unique contribution to a community as a positive youth-leader in Chad.

The results of this first camp were nothing short of astounding, as the teaching staff watched these young adults begin to grasp and utilize the full power of the photograph to tell a very real story of their fellow Chadians, who were often from very different backgrounds. Faced with the new experience of conceptual thought, the breakthroughs our students made in visual storytelling made this one of the most challenging, yet rewarding Photo Camps to date.

Photo by Ganota / National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Photo by Horthense / National Geographic Photo Camp Chad

Photo by Ali / National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Photo by Hawa / National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Photo by Horthense / National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Photo by Sylvestre / National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Photo by Ganota / National Geographic Photo Camp Chad

The photography featured here was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID.) The contents are the responsibility of the participating students and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. This project was funded by USAID under the “Peace Through the Development” program.

National Geographic Photo Camp – Chad

November 23, 2010 by

For the last two months, VisionWorkshops has had the unique opportunity of running another National Geographic Photo Camp series in a locale not often photographed. Through the generous support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID’s) Peace Through Development program, 60 youth from across the country of Chad came to the capital city of N’Djamena to participate in one of three week-long camps.

During these workshops, lead by National Geographic contributing photographers Lynn Johnson, Amy Toensing, and Matt Moyer, our students explored the cultural richness of their capital city, documenting the stories and daily life of it’s diverse inhabitants.

While, for many of the students, this workshop was merely a documentation of their own backyard, nearly half of the participants traveled a great distance from the rural provinces of Batha, Guera, and Kanem to take part.

In the upcoming weeks we will see more of the amazing documentary work that resulted from these three camps, as well as explore some of the unique approaches we took in designing this particular project. Tailored to our most mature students yet, ages 16 -30, these camps also resulted in a new kind of student-teacher relationship for our staff, one that was more akin to training a colleague. On that note, I’d like to present to you the self-portraits of a few of the new young photographers working in the world.

Gislaine - National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Djobsadi - National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Elima - National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Sidoine - National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Ali - National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Ali - National Geographic Photo Camp Chad


Achta - National Geographic Photo Camp Chad

The photography featured here was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID.) The contents are the responsibility of the participating students and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. This project was funded by USAID under the “Peace Through the Development” program.

Seasonal Thoughts and Photos

September 29, 2010 by

Fall has arrived here in Maryland, and with it, a season of amazing sites, smells, and sounds. Many students are back in school, and the weather here is getting cooler. What is fall like where you live? Do any of the seasons carry special feelings or memories? Join the discussion on our Facebook page and post your thoughts and pictures!

National Geographic Photo Camp India

Our Mentors – Alison Harbaugh

September 3, 2010 by

In this new blog series, VisionWorkshops hopes to highlight our incredibly diverse and talented group of mentors. Acting as teachers, assistants and friends to our students, our mentors work across all our programs. We hope their experiences with our students and programs as told by them will add another chapter to the story that is VisionWorkshops.

I own my own business, Freckle Photography, so my day job not only is as a photographer, but as a business owner as well. I document weddings and children, but I also do corporate events now and then. I am slowly making the transition into travel and documentary photography, and plan to be doing more of that in the coming year. I also teach at a private art studio in downtown Annapolis called Already Artists, where we work with kids, ages 3-10. I assist in teaching the kids about different artists, old and new, and then we create some awesome artwork.

I work with VisionWorkshops because… for one, I love teaching and working with kids of all ages. It’s so cool to see the switch flip on when they begin to grasp a technique…it never fails to make me smile. Second, in teaching, I learn so much about myself and my profession. Sometimes it’s great to step back to the basics of photography and just shoot. VisionWorkshops students always amaze me with the images they produce which pushes me to let go and view the world around me with new eyes. Most of all though, it’s their stories that really touch me. Getting to learn about another culture, and reading/listening to their words when they describe where they come from, who their families are and how they see themselves with such passion, really brings it all home. 

I’ve worked for all of VisionWorkshops programs: Insights – The Identity Project, The Bates Middle School and Annapolis Senior High workshops of Crossing Borders, and a National Geographic Photo Camp in Washington, D.C.

One student that I always think about when I think of VisionWorkshops is Maddie. She was a student in a Insights workshop – a program for juvenile drug offenders (and the first group I worked with in VW). She was as hard as can be. Kirsten paired us up on the first day for an ice breaker. I was probably as nervous as she was to be there…here was this tough girl who I knew nothing about – except that she was in trouble for something that got her sent to the Drug Court… and I was this naive girl with little knowledge of that world. It was intriguing to me, yet a bit frightening. “How do I even begin to talk to her,” I thought. Well, the ice breaker worked, and we bonded immediately. Over the next few weeks we became quite close. By the end of the session, Maddie had dreams of being a photographer. It really taught me a lot about people, but most of all it made me realize that I can make a difference in someone’s life by sharing the skills that I have. 

The Insights program by far has been my most memorable and favorite experience. Seeing kids who have issues, with either drugs or alcohol, show up to learn about photography and writing and watching them become better people in 10 weeks time is really rewarding. So many kids just need an outlet for their energy and being creative and expressing themselves is the perfect way to begin to recognize who they are and who they wish to become. – Alison Harbaugh

Visit our Gallery and Program pages to find out more.

A Lasting Impression

August 13, 2010 by

Photos by Piper Watson (Staff) VisionWorkshops Pine Ridge


Pine Ridge came with a preface. One that was relayed to me with great emotional depth as a place that was overwrought with “permanent grief” and the repercussions that come with that. What I found; however, were nine kids with a glimmer of hope in their eyes, and an unmatched excitement by having a camera placed in their hands. The physical and emotional challenges that they faced and conquered, I hope, showed them an alternative way of looking at life, from the one that bears down on them all other days. With a fresh pair of eyes, we returned them to the reservation after three days of exploring the Black Hills. Thanks to our generous partner, Collette Foundation, their liason Cathy Donahue, our hosts; The SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club, and a wonderfully positive staff; Susan Poulton, Whitney Shefte, James Rhodes, and Chaz Thompson, we were able to make this one of the best visits yet to Pine Ridge, and hopefully one of the most influential.

Our final slideshow presentation took place during opening night of The Oglala Nation Pow Wow, projected outside and beneath stars that glittered in the blackest of skies. The Pow Wow was a great way for us to gain insight into the Lakota traditions and heritage, seeing performances firsthand and by talking with other locals.






A warm thank-you to the people of Pine Ridge for allowing us to enter their lives and continue to be a part of them.