Jacques Nkinzingabo aka Yakubu has gone from selling CDs on the streets of Nyabugogo, Kigali to becoming a successful young photographer helping other Rwandese do the same.
In 2014, equipped with phones and small cameras, he started teaching simple photography techniques to kids with disabilities in an orphanage. Soon after, the government found host families for the kids and the programme came to an end.
Determined not to give up on the cause, Yakubu and Falk Kagelmacher joined forces in November 2015 to establish the Kwanda Art Foundation; an art platform in Rwanda which aims to improve and promote the country’s art industry internationally and internally and train local artists.
While working on one of his personal photo projects documenting the lives of ‘Marines’, (street kids based around the Nyabugogo bus station who are known for stealing phones at night) Yakubu realised they had the potential to document their own lives.
Whenever they could, they would grab Yakubu’s camera and take pictures of each other. They loved being around the photographer and became very interested in the project.
Yakubu felt the urge to start teaching them skills to give them the opportunity to show the world around them. Most classes were given at night, when the rest of Kigali was asleep.
So why such an interest in street kids? ‘Homeless children on the streets of Kigali have very limited chances to improve their lives’, says Yakubu. Although Yakubu has never been a street kid as such, he has his own experience on the streets.
He lost his father when he was still a baby and his mother left him with his older brother at the age of five to look for a house they could stay in. For two years, Yakubu lived the life of an orphan until he moved in with his mother again in 2001. Even so, his mother didn’t have the means to support the family so Yakubu went to the streets looking for money and food.
Now, the young photographer has ambitious life goals: ‘I want to improve the situation of the kids through activities, engagement and workshops because education brings development. Through these activities, they will have the opportunity to learn, engage socially, get a voice, and finally, improve their situation. The goal is to create.’
To achieve he organises workshops where the kids are guided by professional trainers and photographers, interact with each other, learn, and produce their own work. This project is called ‘learn4change’ and in May 2016, they are planning to have their first exhibition in Kigali.
‘Our living standards are better than theirs, but they see more things than us. Let’s give them a voice and a way to express themselves so we can also learn from them.’
Check out more of Yakubu’s work here