Staying focused

Passing on a passion for photography

In late 2017, Amina Mohamed was at a crossroads.

With her 50th birthday on the horizon, she had left a successful and secure job as a mortgage broker in hopes of finding a career that would be creatively fulfilling. She knew she wanted her future pursuit to include photography — a long-time passion.

NAME:
Amina Mohamed
YEAR OF GRADUATION:
1989, 2002
PROGRAM:
Fashion Design, Advanced Television and Film
JOB TITLE:
Founder, Triple F Photo Tours

Fast forward to today, and Mohamed has just returned from her first expedition to Uganda through her newly launched company, Triple F Photo Tours. Over the course of 12 days, Mohamed did a test-run of the itinerary she’s planning for future photo tours through Uganda, and spent two days teaching 14 young female Ugandans how to use a digital camera.

The path from Toronto to Uganda is not as far as you may think: the country is close to Mohamed’s heart. Her parents and sister were born there, and were exiled during the 1972 expulsion of Asians from Uganda. Mohamed was born in the UK, and moved to Canada when she was three as a refugee. She returned to the politically unstable country in 2007 to film a documentary, and was deeply affected by the poverty she encountered.

“The people there sometimes don’t get one meal a day — they live on less than a dollar a day,” she explains. “I came back home to Toronto, and I saw all this waste and how people are not happy with what they have, and it was really hard for me to resettle.”

Mohamed decided to combine her passion for photography and philanthropy with the launch of a new venture: Triple F Photo Tours. She wanted to return to Uganda with a different mission — to help underprivileged Ugandan girls learn a viable skill that they could use both professionally and personally.

“I started Triple F intending to take people back to see the sights of the country, but also do something for the people, specifically girls,” she explains. “I wanted to pass on my passion for photography.”

Triple F offers small groups the opportunity to travel from Toronto to Uganda, where they will help teach Ugandan girls about photography as part of an extended photo tour of the country. The hope is that this will bridge the gap between girls in Uganda and travelers from the developed world through the art of photography.

“I feel at home whenever I pick up my camera. And to give these girls the same power and same comfort is all worth it.”

Over the years, Mohamed has nurtured an entrepreneurial spirit, using her degree in fashion design to start a business designing custom wedding gowns, which later led to a stint managing wardrobes on television and film sets. A second degree in television and film enabled Mohamed to launch her own production company, which in turn helped to hone her video and photography skills.

But those years also brought challenges. Working in film and television meant long and unpredictable hours, leaving little room for other endeavours. Mohamed also underwent three back surgeries which required time for rehabilitation and recovery. Most recently, much of her and her husband’s time has been devoted to the caring of their adopted daughter.

But having fully recovered from her surgeries, and with her daughter old enough to spend some time alone, Mohamed decided that it was time to find a way to make a difference in her home country.

“I didn’t want to just give money, because I found it never gets to the people that need it,” she explains. She spent the next year scouting out schools in Uganda that she could work with and collecting used camera equipment that she could give to the girls.

Of course, there were roadblocks along the way. After Mohamed first settled on a school, she learned that girls often did not attend classes because they were needed at home to garden or take care of their younger siblings. Another school lacked electricity, which would have made it impossible for Mohamed to train the girls using digital equipment.

Finally, a friend of Mohamed suggested she narrow her focus to aspiring journalists — girls who had either graduated or were working in media. This led her to a media school based in Kampala, where 14 eager girls were ready and waiting to be taught the basics of photography and photo journalism.

In August, Mohamed flew to Uganda, visiting the school and students for the first time. Over two days, she trained the group on basics such as how to hold a camera, aperture, shutter, ISO, composition and perspective.

“There’s only so much practice you can do over two days, but I couldn’t believe the quality of the work these girls were producing by the end,” she says.

While the first Uganda trip proved to be a successful test run, Mohamad has grand ambitions for her nascent company. She’s partnered with KelbyOne, a digital photography training module, on licenses for videos and tutorials and is hoping to return to Uganda at least twice a year going forward. She is conducting her first photo tour in June 2019 with a focus on training more girls and helping photographers enhance their skills, all while visiting Ugandan landscapes.

The first step towards this goal was the recent launch of a Go Fund Me campaign. Mohamed is hoping to raise funds to purchase point and shoot cameras, a computer, and to rent a space for each training session that is equipped with proper internet access. She is also still accepting point and shoot cameras and other gear through donations.

“I feel at home whenever I pick up my camera,” she says. “And to give these girls the same power and same comfort is all worth it.”

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