FEATURE: Caring Kasia volunteers at African school – with experience to be shared in stunning must-see Hitchin photographic exhibition to aid charity

Kasia Burke's Ghana Exhibition. Credit: Kasia Burke

Kasia Burke's Ghana Exhibition. Credit: Kasia Burke - Credit: Archant

A Hitchin photographer has been sharing her experience of volunteering in Africa for charity – ahead of a must-see exhibition of her images.

Kasia Burke's Ghana Exhibition. Credit: Kasia Burke

Kasia Burke's Ghana Exhibition. Credit: Kasia Burke - Credit: Archant

Kasia Burke visited Ghana to help decorate school classrooms and take pictures for Bucklersbury-based Humanitas – a grassroots charity working to protect and care for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Stunning pictures taken by the talented photographer are also set to feature in an exhibition to be held at The Coffee Lab on Sun Street on Thursday until July 8. All profits from sales of prints and gifts will be donated to the school Kasia aided – based in the remote village of Ayensuako in central Ghana.

Kasia told the Comet movingly: “When I first arrived I felt overwhelmed. I was taken aback by the beautiful people and delightful smiling children all greeting me with open arms and warm welcomes. I was also shocked by the heat and the dust and how simply the people were living – with many in mud clad huts barely bigger than your average garden shed, with an average of five or six children in each family.

“The first day I trekked up to the school grounds to start painting I thought I couldn’t breathe and the sweat was dripping off me in buckets.

Kasia Burke's Ghana Exhibition. Credit: Kasia Burke

Kasia Burke's Ghana Exhibition. Credit: Kasia Burke - Credit: Archant

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“I was thinking to myself, ‘how can I manage a physical task without passing out?’.

“I continually doused myself with water and progress was slow, but after a couple of days I became acclimatised to the heat and the job got easier.”

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In under a week Kasia had completed the second coat of paint and was ready to get creative with some murals.

In between painting she’d pull out a book her own children had given her to donate to the school, and read to groups of enthralled children.

But she realised they couldn’t relate to the objects, places or characters in the books – so kind-hearted Kasia decided to write her own story for the children, calling it Anna’s Seed.

Kasia explained: “It tells the story of a girl discovering it’s better to learn how to feed yourself than to rely on others for handouts.

“They really understood the story well, even without the images of a picture book. The next day I decided to paint my last mural which would illustrate the story and the kids helped by painting the seedlings Anna grew.”

Kasia was sad to leave Ayensuako. On her last afternoon at the school the sky filled with dark clouds and the heavens opened.

A torrential thunderstorm fell on the village hammering down on the school’s tin roof. She soon learned there’s only one thing to do in a tropical storm – get the drums out and make as much noise as possible!

Kasia adds fondly: “The community is strong and has a huge heart full of goodness. I was greeted and welcomed with warmth and affection from the poorest of widowed mothers to the noble chief of the area who patiently answered my ignorant questions. I will miss the children of Ayensuako,”

The mum from Hitchin was very conscious at first not to take photos without asking and didn’t want to act without respect for the privacy of the community. But she soon learned she couldn’t take a serious photo without a large number of adults and children jumping into the shot.

She said with a smile, recalling her experiences: “I was photo-bombed nearly every time, so I had to be quick.

“The villagers enjoyed watching me walk up to the school to paint and when I walked around the village taking photos they would call out ‘abruni’ – an endearing term for a white man.

“I could hear it being called to me from all corners of the village and each time I arrived at the school my new friends would all be there to greet me and pose for the next photo.

“Now that I’m back in my hometown here in Hitchin there’s definitely something missing as I walk down the street.

“Thank you to the people of Ayensuako for making me feel part of their community and for reminding me true happiness starts with a smile.”

Humanitas focus on the education of children living in the remote village of Ayensuako where the farming community lives well below the poverty line.

The families are unable to afford the cost of sending their children to the state run schools located many miles from the village – so in 2014 Humanitas established a primary school, which now teaches 160 children living in the village and the surrounding area.

Humanitas believes education opens up opportunities for further study and future employment in the towns and cities – allowing the pupils benefitting from their work to have the potential to break the cycle of poverty in their communities.

Kasia’s stunning photograph’s will appear to July 8 at The Coffee Lab, Sun Street – with Thursday’s opening night open to all.

For more visit Humanitas on Bucklersbury, or visit their website www.humanitascharity.org.

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