National Geographic teaches students in Botswana the art of storytelling

National Geographic Photo Camp
Photo Camp students working together as they explored the Okavango Delta in Botswana (Image credit: Esther Ruth Mbabazi, National Geographic Photo Camp)

Students with no previous experience in photography have been learning how to tell stories through pictures, at the National Geographic Photo Camp in Botswana. For seven days they worked alongside some of Botswana’s top photographers and photojournalists, as well as several National Geographic Explorers who shared their wealth of knowledge and experience.

Over the course of seven days, students aged 16-21 from the Bana Ba Letsatsi and Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust learned about the power of storytelling through a very hands-on approach. They were taught the basics of photography, how to edit an image and also had the opportunity to tell a story of their own, reflecting on all the ways we are connected to water. 

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With cameras at the ready, students were able to photograph the people, places and things that moved them, as well as talk to local community members, farmers and businesses about their connection to water and life in general. Students also had the opportunity to explore and learn about the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a vital source of water for roughly one million people.

During Photo Camp Botswana, students enjoyed a game drive at Moremi Game Reserve. One student, Mokgwathi Motswagole, photographed a family of elephants. "The Okavango has influenced our lifestyle as a family because some of us became fishermen, some polers, and traditional basket weavers, while others carved mokoro from indigenous trees found here. This week I learned why it’s important to tell my own story. If we all learn to tell the story of the Okavango Delta, maybe we can preserve it for future generations." (Image credit: Mokgwathi Motswagole, National Geographic Photo Camp)

Koketo "Koki" Mookodi works with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project, and used her background in tourism to help set up an educational conservation program in the Okavango Delta. 

"It has been very encouraging to see how these students have taken to the Photo Camp," she said, reflecting on the photo camp. "I've watched them blossom as the days have gone by and build confidence and grow into themselves. Watching them learn more about themselves and their lack of limits has been very rewarding. I look forward to many, many more camps."

Student Angel Gaobon photographed a mokoro poler taking a drink from the river during their expedition into the Okavango Delta. As part of an essay on ways that water is part of her life, Angel writes: "My home is Maun and I'm proud to be from here. It has a river called Thamalakane which is a good place to meditate. It is a place of peace. When I meditate by the river, it is quiet and peaceful with no distractions. The only noise you can hear is the song of birds, which is relaxing to me." (Image credit: Angel Gaobonwe, National Geographic Photo Camp)

Not only is the course designed to give students the opportunity to learn about cameras and photography, it also helps them to build confidence, makes different possibilities seem achievable and provides a new creative outlet. 

"Through the week, this experience reinforced the fact that we are all storytellers," said Esther Ruth Mababzi, one of the students taking part. "With the right tools and opportunities, we can be in charge of our stories, stories of our shared existence, as communities and globally."

The week closed with a final show where students shared the photos and stories they'd captured and how they felt about the experience. 

Photo Camp students exploring the Okavango Delta. "If heaven was on Earth, I think the Okavango Delta would be the place," writes student Wellington Mutasa. "We should never lose hope, but rather take action before everything gets out of control. We should respect nature and nature will respect us back." (Image credit: Thapelo Fanabe, National Geographic Photo Camp)

National Geographic Photo Camp student Mompoloki Xhaniwya took this photo of a mokoro poler during the trip into the Okavango Delta near Boro. Reflecting on the Camp’s theme – the ways we all connect to and are connected by water– he wrote, "It is very important that we all take part in protecting the Delta so that it continues providing us with water for our animals, fish and other resources we need." (Image credit: Mompoloki Xhaniwya, National Geographic Photo Camp)

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.