AUBURN GRESHAM — A group of Perspectives Charter Middle School students got a chance Friday to see Africa without having to leave the building.
That's because freelance photographers Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill brought their images and journeys of Africa to the students as part of their Everyday Africa project. Students were shown numerous photos taken by the pair, who first went to Africa as Peace Corps volunteers and now visit Africa at least twice a year.
But by the end of the one-hour panel discussion and slideshow presentation, stereotypes and myths students had about Africa had changed.
"I thought Africa was this poor country where everybody walked on dirt roads barefoot," said eighth grader Diante Jackson. "Now I know what life is really like over there."
Students said when they think about Africa they instantly think about a lot of wildlife, orphaned children and no clean water. Many of the students said TV images and movies are what led them think this way.
"That's all I ever see on TV," Jackson said.
And while "those things have happened in that part of the world I discovered more about Africa than I ever knew," Merrill told a group of 50.
Students said they were surprised to see photos of Africans wearing sandals, name brand T-shirts like Adidas and one man standing next to a motorcycle. One thing most students knew when asked was some of the different countries, such as Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda.
Emmanuel Gipson wanted to know if all Africans wore their hair in braids.
"I saw in some of the photos that guys had Afros and the girls had pony tails," said Gipson, an eighth grader. "I didn't see any guys with mohawks or girls with weaves, though."
DiCampo said when he first went to Africa he too had misconceptions and quickly saw they were not true.
"I thought it was this poor and extreme place, but there are not people walking around all day strapped with guns to protect themselves. People went about their business in an everyday fashion," DiCampo recalled. "I lived in Africa for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer and learned about their way of life over there."
Medical care is in big demand in Africa, according to DiCampo.
"People were lined up to receive free medical care from the many different American organizations that came there to provide this service," DiCampo said.
The Perspectives visit by DiCampo, who lives in Seattle, and Merrill, who lives in New York City, is part of culture experiences school officials said they try to expose students to each year.
"We want our students to be knowledgeable about people and places in this world," said Shyla Butler, external affairs project manager for Perspectives Charter Schools, 8131 S. May St. "The world stretches beyond the United States and students need to know this."