Building Bridges

In Moldova, 20 young people from Moldovan, Roma and Gagauz ethnic groups came together in a week-long photojournalism camp, learning in the process to bridge cultural divides and show compassion through storytelling.

“This camp was the only place that offered me the opportunity to interact with diverse ethnic groups. For the first time, I have got a new vision of storytelling through photography,” said student Sava Duminică. “Nothing else matters in life than listening to others, to show compassion, to just open your heart and let people’s story be seen to the world, to give them a voice, to give them a hope.”

During the April camp, a joint project of National Geographic Photo Camp and Internews, students visited Soroca, where a large percentage of Moldova’s Roma population call home. In one of the poorest countries in Europe, rural areas like Soroca face poverty rates four times higher than urban areas.

A family inside their home - 3 people sit on the lower bed of a bunk-bed, a child sits on the top bunk and one person stands.

Roma people have faced discrimination for centuries in Europe, and Moldova is no exception. For some students, the experience of being in the Roma community – let alone photographing and storytelling in it – was new.  

“We listened to the story of a family who speaks with fear in their eyes about the next cold winter, while they have no clothing for summer. We listened and we cried. We listened and forgot that we have to shoot, as if we became their little helpless children that can feel their pain,” said student Liubovi Tabunșcic.

Along with technical skills of operating advanced camera equipment, and principles of photography like focus, framing, portraiture and lighting, the campers grappled with concepts of media literacy. By becoming content producers themselves, issues of objectivity, fairness, and bias become more clear.

Participants also focused on what it means to create stories through pictures. How do you connect with people? How do you start a conversation with someone you don’t know?

The difficulties of life for Soroca families was eye-opening for many students, and they rose to the challenge of documenting everyday life with sensitivity and artistry.

“They met us with hospitality,” said student Alexandru Costin of the Soroca community. “They enjoyed life. Every moment. Everything.”

Three people look out a window with a flowered lace curtain.

Working with National Geographic photographers Erika Larsen, Dominic Bracco, and Matt Moyer, the students had opportunities to document a range of small-town experiences, from a traditional celebration called Șezetoare, memorials for the deceased at Easter, and the everyday work of carpet weavers, carpenters, farmers, bakers, and other artisans.

See a slideshow of the students’ work:

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National Geographic Photo Camp is a program that teaches young people from underserved communities, including at-risk and young refugees, how to use photography to tell their own stories, explore the world around them, and develop deep connections with others. Internews has partnered with Photo Camp in Crimea, Pakistan, Kenya, South Sudan and Greece. National Geographic Photo Camp is sponsored by the National Geographic Society in partnership with VisionWorkshops of Annapolis, Maryland. Photo Camp Moldova was supported by USAID.