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May 20, 2011

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Enriching young lives through lens

A recent exhibition featured photography by local migrant school students. Nie Xin finds out more about the Shutterbug Project and meets some of its volunteers and snap-happy beneficiaries.

Huang Pingping, a fifth-grade student from Wenhe Migrant Primary School, is so excited to see photographs she has taken exhibited among 80 works at the Glamour Bar on the Bund.

The "Photographers' Got Talent - 2011 Shutterbug Photography Exhibition" was a photography exhibition for and by migrant children living in Shanghai held last Saturday. All exhibited photos were taken by Shutterbug Project students. Income from this exhibition will go toward the future development of the Shutterbug Project.

Since February, Huang and her classmates have been lucky enough to own a Kodak camera and learn how to take photographs in the Shutterbug Project organized by Hands On Shanghai (HOS), a non-profit organization based in Shanghai.

HOS was founded in 2004 by a group of young foreign professionals. With previous experience with the Hands On/Cares worldwide network, they established an affiliate organization in Shanghai, with a series of migrant education projects one of their most important jobs.

"We have been given four classes so far and my favorite items to shoot are figures, especially cool people," says Huang, 11.

Huang came to Shanghai three years ago with her family from Fujian Province. Her father is a worker in the decoration industry. Her family are delighted to see their daughter using the camera all the time and she also teaches her 11-year-old brother to take pictures.

The young girl says she dreams of becoming a professional photographer in the future. "Shooting beautiful models sounds so cool," Huang says.

Eighteen primary school students from Wenhe school visited the exhibition last weekend.

"It's not the first time we have organized events of this kind. Including the regular shooting classes and relevant displays, the Shutterbug Project started in 2008," says Richard Brubaker, the president of HOS. "It aims to teach students in Shanghai migrant schools to use digital cameras to capture beauty in life."

Besides learning simple photography skills, the program is a way for children to express themselves. Currently around 60 students from fourth to sixth grade in migrant schools such as Zhonghe (now Wenhe), Yucai and Yuying benefit from the project.

Exhibitions to display their photography and gather more charity funds have been held several times, including a show two years ago in the same venue.

Fourth grader Song Zongda has learned how to use the camera correctly and the best angles for shooting after attending four classes.

"I look forward to the photography classes every time. I like shooting natural views, especially beautiful flowers," says Song, whose parents are originally from Shandong Province but now live in Shanghai's Pudong New Area and make furniture.

The tutors are volunteers from different industries, most are white-collar workers. They take part in this project in their leisure time.

"Before teaching the kids, the volunteers accept professional training from the New York Institute of Photography," says Vera Dong, a consultant for the Shutterbug Project.

Since early 2007, Dong and her fellows from the New York Institute of Photography started to collaborate with HOS and actively participate in this project.

"At first we only knew how to shoot but didn't know how to teach," recalls Dong.

She spent several months preparing practical teaching plans and training programs for the volunteer teachers.

Wang Yi is one of the volunteers who really enjoys teaching and helping the migrant students. Currently employed as the security program coordinator of safety, security and business resiliency in a commercial company, Wang has taught several photography classes to migrant students since last year.

The children take pictures of things that are most beautiful to them, usually colorful flowers, people around them such as family members, neighbors and classmates, as well as items they are familiar with such as the lights at home.

Together with the children, the volunteers get not merely a sense of achievement, but also some new values in life.

"Migrant kids have their own views of understanding life and beauty, purer than adults," says Wang. "I don't find them different from local students. From this project I learned a lot myself."

"Most of them have poor living conditions but they have a passion for life. Many of them like shooting trees which represents vivid life and positive attitudes," says Dong.

Besides learning photography skills and knowledge in classrooms, students are brought to parks to take pictures of nature.

Dong has met a lot of talented students from this project. When she talks about them, she is so familiar as if enumerating close members of her family, and she calls them "geniuses."

She still remembers one of her students Liu Ruirui, a girl who loved cats and taking pictures of them in different states throughout the day.

"Sometimes we feel it is a pity that those very talented students can't continue to pursue their interest in photography due to their family's social conditions, but we are still glad that we have let them realize their talents and inspired their passion for beauty and confidence in life," says Dong.

A camera is lent to each student for the whole semester but they have to return it to the organization at the end. Dong is planning to buy some on her own for the school to allow the students to have more chances to take photographs.

"I am very touched by those students. They are talented, smart and I treasure this chance," says Brubaker. "HOS has many ongoing migrant education projects and more people are starting to participate in them."

Sun Mingchen, a 19-year-old college student, helped in the latest exhibition as a volunteer. It's her first time taking part in a charity project besides campus events.

"I got to know this event from my classmates and I hope to do my best to help more people. It's very meaningful," she says.

Hands On Shanghai Projects

Science teaching

Aims to teach upper grade students from Shanghai's migrant schools the knowledge related to science. Volunteer teachers teach topics related to physics, chemistry, environment, astronomy and other scientific areas through lively experiments and games.

English teaching

Fourth-grade students at Shanghai's migrant schools are taught English. Using curriculum developed by professionals, volunteer teachers conduct the lesson systematically following a teaching plan.

Shutterbug club

Students are taught how to use digital cameras to capture beauty in life. Besides learning simple photography skills, the program is a way for children to express themselves.

English drama club

This project aims to teach students how to perform drama in English. Volunteer teachers teach them basic performance skills and direct a drama within the student group.

Rising star

Working to embolden and encourage underprivileged youth by providing meaningful relationships with caring adults outside children's families.

Basketball club

Designed to provide professional basketball training opportunities and a children-centered environment to students from Shanghai's migrant schools and help them develop in both character and sports ability.

Library Project

Helps the school to build up a library and assist in its running. The most important aim of this project is to broaden the view of the students and lead them to form a reading habit by providing them with interesting books and organizing different reading activities.

Anyone interested in getting involved can send an e-mail to To learn more about volunteering as an individual or as a group of friends, e-mail To learn about ways your company can get involved, e-mail


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