Giving Orphans a Voice Through Pictures

Story by Allyson Wiley

Inspired by the Lasallian tradition of service to care deeply about the world around her, Wiley traveled to Zimbabwe last year to photograph children at an orphanage outside of the capital city of Harare.

“I was determined to find a way to give these children a voice, especially when they are being impacted so heavily,” Wiley says. Accomplishing that was no easy feat since Zimbabwe prohibits photojournalists from visiting the country for fear of provoking criticism of the government, according to Wiley. She spent nearly two months in the country traveling as a “tourist on safari” to avoid having her photography equipment confiscated.

Through her intimate portraits, Wiley says she hopes to make viewers feel connected to the children. “I wanted to provide visual imagery that made us look at the orphans in a way that we would look at our own children,” she says.

The photos won first prize at Book Passage’s 2004 Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, and landed Wiley a job as a photographer at Sunset magazine. She is also pursuing a master of science degree from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, where she is researching how visual imagery impacts Third World countries.

Wiley graduated from Saint Mary’s College in 2002, majoring in anthropology and sociology with particular emphasis on visual culture.

“Through my education at Saint Mary’s I was able to evoke an artistic passion inside myself that helps me speak to the world around me and, more importantly, to speak for those who don’t always have a voice,” says Wiley.

Her exhibit, titled “AIDS Orphans of Zimbabwe,” was displayed at the College library in the spring of 2005.

Reflecting on her career choice, Wiley says, “To me there is no more powerful or influential tool than photographic images. We know they can be used to sensationalize, manipulate, or to sell goods. I would like to use the medium to stimulate conversation among cultures, to help us find out what is unique and valuable in our respective ways of living, and to honor that in photographs.”

This photograph was taken at a preschool class within the orphanage. You can see in the faces the different personalities among the orphans?­—?some children were hesitant, some curious, while others loved the attention of the camera.

This boy’s name was Nixon, and he was in charge of caring for the goats at the orphanage. He was found three months earlier walking alone on the side of the road. His parents had died of AIDS, and he had nowhere to go.

According to Allyson, “These children had never had their picture taken before; they didn’t know how to respond, so often their response was bashful. I wanted to capture that. These children felt honored that I was choosing to photograph them, and I was glad I could provide them with a picture of themselves. We take that for granted in the United States.”

This young girl had recently lost both her parents, within the same month, from complications of AIDS, and remained the most reserved child at the orphanage.




To view more of Wiley’s work, please visit