Kenema is a stunning portrait photography book by British Photographer, Peter Dibdin, capturing community life in Kenema, Sierra Leone.
About this project
Renowned British Photographer Peter Dibdin travelled to Sierra Leone in 2014 to photograph a development project by Orkidstudio who were building a new school for underprivileged girls run by Swawou School Foundation. There he took a series of powerful photographs of the community involved in the build, from the students at school, to the construction team working on site, capturing the hard work and excitement that surrounded the project. Shortly after Peter’s visit, Kenema suffered greatly in the Ebola virus pandemic of 2014/2015. In Spring 2016, Peter was asked by friends in Sierra Leone to return and share with the world his images highlighting the impact it has had on the region.
Kenema is the result of those trips. A beautiful 240mm by 297mm hardback photography book featuring 72 stunning photographs, accompanied by short interviews and selected essays. Peter and his partners at O Street, Orkidstudio and Swawou School Foundation are asking supporters on Kickstarter to pre-order a copy of the book, or make other pledges, to support its production and make it possible. Once published, all profits from the book will be going to theSwawou School for Girls to help them carry on the amazing work they do.
About Swawou School
Swawou Layout Community Primary School for Girls is a charitable school that provides free and quality primary education to out-of-school and disadvantaged girls in the local community of Swawou Layout in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone. Established in 2010, the school works to overcome the barriers that prevent girls from gaining a quality primary education – from school fees to overcrowded classrooms – and actively promotes a nurturing and safe learning environment, where pupils have the opportunity to explore and thrive. The School provides all 60 students with uniform, all their books, pens and materials, and importantly, a meal every day, prepared by the school’s cooks. It is the only school in the region who has a dedicated Child Rights Officer, who takes an interest in the girls’ welfare both in and outside of school.
In 2014 I travelled to Sierra Leone to photograph the build and completion of a new school in Kenema, by design and construction organisation Orkidstudio. The project, led by James Mitchell, was to provide new facilities for Swawou School for Girls, who provide a non-fee paying education for underprivileged girls in Kenema, a town in the east of Sierra Leone. At the time Swawou was based in a ramshackle hut made from sticks, woven palm walls and a tarpaulin roof, when it rained school had to stop. Orkidstudio had been asked to build a new 6 classroom building with a kitchen, to provide a cooler, safer and altogether more inspiring place to learn. My brief was to include a series of portraits of people involved in the school and its build.
As the basis of Orkidstudio’s work is about people I’d been commissioned to not only document the actual build but also to create a set of portraits that showed the breadth of the people involved in the project and who it would touch in some way. On arrival I set about the task with some gusto meeting current students at the school, people employed to work on the new building, the local chiefs and various officers from the army barracks which is next to the new building. What came out was an interesting series of portraits which showed a community with an optimism for the future. Life seemed to have a spring in its step.
Ebola struck Kenema four days after I had left. With the evolving crisis and the slow response from the rest of the world these photographs suddenly had a new meaning; these were the people that the TV failed to show. Not the medical units where people were dressed in hazard suits and equipped with medical equipment. Most people in Kenema live four to five families to a single small building. Families living cheek-by- jowl in a space the same size as my small flat in Edinburgh. How can a government-imposed lockdown work in places like that? I kept imagining the fear that my friends in Sierra Leone would be living in and felt powerless.
Because of Ebola, work on the school had to stop. The team at Orkidstudio andSwawou decided to use the time they had to pause to return to the UK and raise more vital funds for the project. I kept in close contact with James and his team and we decided to use the images I had taken in 2014 to help the very people I had photographed.
In January 2016, Orkidstudio were finally able to return to Kenema to complete the school. Then, in April, I also returned. Not only was I able to capture the girls having their first day in their new school, but I also took some more portraits of the community, and carried out some interviews, to find out how things had changed after having been through a year and a half of considerable torment. What struck me on my second visit was that despite having gone through such a tragic event, the optimism was still present. However, funding for projects such as Swawou School had had to be transferred to immediate post-Ebola emergency relief work. Meaning that additional funding for the school was now more vital than ever.
With the help of O Street and you, we are planning to publish the Kenema book, which will feature both the old and new photographs, along with selected essays by friends and acquaintances who know and love Sierra Leone as much as we do. We hope the published book will raise awareness of Swawou School Foundation and in turn they will be able to continue the brilliant work they do.
Thank you for taking the time to read about Kenema. We hope you will join us on our journey. Please share our story with your friends on facebook and twitter and help make this book happen!
Peter Dibdin and the Kenema team.
Risks and challenges
This is the first Kickstarter campaign we have done to support and fund one of our publications. We fully appreciate the support of our backers and understand the responsibility we have towards bringing the campaign to completion with the finished product, in the projected time frame. Therefore we will always communicate with our backers about any potential delays in the production of this book and will keep to our word as much as possible!