Campus Life

Through My Eyes

Making an Idea Reality Around the World

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This engraving, a Chinese idiom, is located on the side of the Leshan Giant Buddha — the tallest stone Buddha statue in the world.
Christina Kang—The Tech
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A giraffe grazes at Lake Manyara in Tanzania.
Christina Kang—The Tech
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Tourists visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
Christina Kang—The Tech

Machetes, stalkers, white sand beaches … airplanes, rickshaws, matatus … pickpockets, knifemen, lions, zebra carcasses … ugali, dosa, choma, peppercorn … kindness, laughter, sparkling eyes … hospitality, disease, sewage, monkeys … what a summer. Starting in the outskirts of Delhi, India, I traveled to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Thailand (for a 24-hour layover), and China this summer. It was my first time in all these countries, and, in fact, my first time in any developing country. Spending one to two weeks in each country, I documented MIT students working in those areas through photography and videography, interviewing them and the locals around them while searching for new projects.

It all started in April when I was searching for a summer opportunity in a developing country. I’ve always dreamed of being an international non-profit humanitarian physician, but I didn’t want to sit and do paperwork or work at a lab bench. In my search for a summer project, I wanted to do something in developing countries where I had dreamed of working for so long. I also wanted to be able to make a difference to both my immediate community, MIT, and to the world. I never dreamed that my interest in photography would show me the way to the perfect project.

During my years at MIT, one of the most frustrating things has been commitment to service from our students. It’s hard in a place with such a high stress atmosphere to spend the little free time you have doing something for other people that you’ve never met. As the world becomes more and more global, however, what happens in a small village in Africa can indirectly affect you, a student at MIT. Helping out and learning more about the world outside of your own can help you go beyond your imagination and make your life more fulfilling and miles more interesting. You would be surprised how a hobby, an interest, or a passion of yours can be applied on an international scale to help others. The projects that I documented included designing a multigear hand-powered tricycle for the physically disabled in Kenya, teaching Chinese children to think creatively and to work as a team, and creating a business run by locals and for locals to bring cheaper computers and cheap software such as Encarta to Uganda.

The idea began as a seedling, a branch of my proposals from an application to a different fellowship, using photography as advertisement and therapy for a rehabilitation center in India. The seedling quickly sprouted as I realized that my photojournalism could go beyond advertising for the cause, but could also serve to celebrate the students’ achievements, teach the MIT community about the problems in other countries, and motivate others to get up and volunteer themselves. Despite a lot of international development work being done by the MIT community, a lot of the work goes unrecognized by both MIT and the world around it. Here was a way to spread the word!

Thus, the planning began. With about one month to raise funds and complete the planning process for my project, I created a written proposal with a detailed description of my project idea, how it would help MIT and its students, how it would help me, and a detailed budget. Meeting with deans, heads of departments, counselors, and more, I presented my project and asked for their support. The Public Service Center was the first to jump up to support me, with Ms. Sally Susnowitz and Ms. Alison Hynd stepping up as point contacts for me to go to for guidance and assistance.

I faced many obstacles along the way; there were holes in my plans and lack of funds at the end of the fiscal year. With persistence and a lot of editing and advice, however, I raised a total of $10,750 dollars from the Public Service Center, the Edgerton Lab, the Deans of Student Life, the Service UROP Office, and the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming. MIT offers amazing resources that can help you pursue your passions and help you learn beyond the classroom. You just have to search and work for them, and a slight interest can become reality. Chances are, if you’re passionate and excited about an idea, so too will others who can help you make it happen.

In addition to photographing the projects and my experiences, I also wrote a great deal about my experiences on my blog available at Interviewing the MIT students, the locals, and investigating the issues at hand, I had a lot of time to reflect on myself and the world around me. Throughout this semester, I will share some of my photographs and experiences with you.

Coming soon:

getting robbed in Tanzania

life with a host family in China

the political system of Uganda

widespread NGO corruption

issues of dowries for marriage

goodwill gone bad

avoiding a sedentary lifestyle

overcoming the language barrier

waste and open sewage

contagious laughter from a child doomed to die despite existing treatments

polio (an eradicated disease here in the United States) as the leading cause of physical disabilities in Kenya