While living on the streets of Tshwane, South Africa, David has been mistreated, misjudged, and ignored by other citizens.
“So often we withhold dignity from people enduring homelessness,” said Megan Ribbens, who serves with Christian Reformed World Missions.
Now Ribbens is working alongside David and others to restore that dignity. Ribbens teamed up with Blake Woodhams, a professional photographer, to offer photography classes to David and 11 others.
These lessons allowed participants to tell their own stories rather than having their stories told for them.
“In entering a world that was not our own,” said Ribbens, “we chose to teach skills and equip others.” After a few lessons, Ribbens and Woodhams soon found themselves engaging in participants’ lives, sharing tea, and other forms of fellowship that showed signs of built trust.
During one of the lessons, David shared why he lives on the streets, a story that Ribbens says “completely changed my stereotypical assumptions.”
It turned out David had a chance to live with his mother, but he knew that she was receiving government grants and did not want to take advantage of that money.
These were the kinds of stories that David could share through photography. Ribbens challenged David to use his new skills to capture snapshots of his life and invited him to display his photos at a homelessness summit.
“[The viewers] mulled over the creative perspectives, deep meanings, and raw images,” said Ribbens. Adding voices like David’s to the conversation in Tshwane is an important step to transforming the city, says Mike Ribbens, Megan’s husband.
“It’s all about trying to transcend boundaries,” he said. “We can talk about spiritual renewal, social renewal, but if we don’t actually talk together, we’re never going to make a long-lasting impact. That’s the beautiful thing that's happening here.”