At 4PM, Thomas and I were in the truck with Kelzang on our way to a handicraft market, and it finally hit me that not only is the day over, but that it was Saturday and our workshop in Bhutan was over. Though this week was filled with all kinds of amazing experiences, the presentation of the graduation certificates to the participants will stand out to me above the rest. After the ceremony (which rocked and which I’ll relate to you in a minute), the students lined up by group number, walked by one by one to shake the hands of each of the instructors until Fred handed the student his or her certificate. Then each student bowed to the Secretary of Education at the end of the line.
The line ambled slowly forward set to the din of clapping parents and sniffling students and instructors until first Will’s group passed, then Fred’s. As I shook the hand of the first student in Sarah’s group, the line stopped in front of me. I looked toward the front of the line to see Fred hugging one of his students who was shaking and sobbing with emotion. Resolve disintegrates among the rest of us. Thomas and Will stoically smile at the students in front of them, Sarah begins to get teary, and I can no longer speak for the lump in my throat. The secretary of Education said “aww” and some of the parents began to sniffle as well. It was a great testament to the power of the week, not only for the children but for the staff as well. The temperature in the room testified to how significant the moment really was.
Obviously, the final presentation of the children’s work was an emotional experience, but not only for sentimental reasons. Their work was pretty fantastic and the powerful ways in which they communicated their story assignments were spectacular. The event was held in the VAST Gallery in Thimphu, and the scene was set with appropriate gallery jazz playing in the background as parents, students and gallery visitors perused the students’ work hanging on the gallery wall.
The event began with introductions and brief talks by Fred and the Country Director of Save The Children, Mr. Ghaley. Both eloquently told the story of both the workshops and the organization. After introducing the Secretary of Education, the students went up for their group slideshow. Will’s group went first: he addressed the audience, introducing his students’ work and describing a little bit of the workshop environment to the attendees. Each of his students came up, bowing before Madame Secretary on their way, and made a brief address to the audience to introduce themselves and make a quick statement about the workshop to the audience. The remarks all echoed the themes of “greatest week of my life,” “I’ll never stop taking pictures,” and “I learned how to see more,” each in their own endearing and genuine approach. After these introductions, the group showed their show. Each of the four groups repeated this for their shows.
After all four groups had had the opportunity to present, Sarah Meghan Lee introduced the main attraction: the slideshow of each of the photo essays the students had worked on collectively throughout the week. The content was pretty intense and the music to the show was appropriately somber. In the end, the audience reacted to the show with thunderous applause.
I gave a brief reflection on the students’ experience, their stories and their new abilities, and then introduced the lighthearted conclusion to the workshop, the Gag Show: a collection of funny moments collected into a quick show of funny and nostalgic images. After the Gag Show, the Secretary of Education made a wonderful address to the students about creativity, learning and possibility, and we closed the ceremony with the aforementioned, tear-jerking award ceremony.
Over the course of the week, our team had been given a few stories for the students to cover on top of having the responsibility to teach the technical aspects of photography. It is obvious that the kids are WELL on their way to creating a lifetime of interesting and powerful images. I can’t believe that the week is over, and either I’m incredibly tired or simply at a loss for words… but this week was a very memorable one. I hope that everybody has enjoyed reading about this workshop. We hope that you have a sense of what each of these days is like and will follow along with us again when we strike out next. Thank you to all of you and keep creating! Please be sure to take a look through the slideshows and comment on the work you see.