After months of preparation and trembling for the visa approval, the time had finally come: The first visit of one of our partners was just around the corner. Our friend and photographer Jean Bizimana from Rwanda spent a week in November with us in Hamburg. The highlight was the exhibition of his work in the Kölibri in St. Pauli. Not only Jean’s work with the Foundation in the different projects in Rwanda was highlighted, but also his latest and very personal project “Mothers”, next to the exhibition of the Foundation.

In September 2017 we got to know the Rwandan photographer Jean Bizimana through the initiative Taking pictures, changing lives (to hear more about the story click here.) A lot has happened since then. Now, in 2019, Jean has been able to accompany us on our second project trip to Rwanda and has become a close confidant of the Foundation over time. Meanwhile he is not only taking pictures for the Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation and changing lives, but also works as our translator, advises us on difficult decisions and constantly inspires the team with new ideas.

Change of perspective: We as hosts.

This year we finally had the opportunity to show Jean our daily work in Hamburg. The time from the first idea and the first agreement to his visit has passed like a flash. Jean is also still surprised:

“I would not have thought that I would get the visa. In the last few weeks I was traveling a lot professionally. That is why I couldn’t send my passport to the embassy. So, the permission came as a surprise. But I also used to think that I would never come to Germany in general.”

Fortunately, that has changed. During the week Jean spent with us, he got to know the procedures in the Foundation and at the same time was able to gain an insight into the work of the Lemonaid & ChariTea company by taking part in sales trips. Jean was very enthusiastic about it and states: “Everyone from the Foundation and the company was happy that I was there and wanted to show me the best of Germany”.

On the road with Fynn on a sales trip © Jean Bizimana

The power of Images.

At the end of his week in Hamburg, the Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation, accompanied by Jean, organized an evening on “Perspectives from Rwanda”, in which the main person, Jean Bizimana, our communications manager Hanna Brüning and Eliphaz Ntibizerwa, the founder of our partner organization Friends of Rwanda, spoke about the projects in Rwanda, their professional lives and the language of pictures. Before and after the presentations, there was time to inform oneself about the way the Foundation works, as well as the processes around the promotion of projects through the exhibition – and, of course, to exchange ideas with Jean about his contribution and his own project.

An important anecdote of the evening, which will probably accompany us in our work for a long time to come, is about the joint selection of the exhibited pictures for the representation of Jeans work in the context of the Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation. One of the pictures was a source of lively exchange between the Foundation and Jean. It shows a Person of Color kneeling with half of his body in kind of a „mush“, wearing dirty clothes and looking up to the photographer.

A banana beer producer at work ©Jean Bizimana

Through self-reflection and awareness, the Foundation constantly tries to position itself critically of the power and privilege it holds – especially in the selection of pictures. It is precisely with a photograph as such, that the confrontation with White Privilege is omnipresent for us: are we contributing to stereotyping with the exhibition of this photograph, especially without knowing anything about the context in that moment? Does a picture of a Person of Color doing manual labor in dirty clothes contribute to stereotypes, if you want to choose five representative pictures? Jean, however, chose this photo for the exhibition (without knowing our thoughts in the beginning): For him it was clear that the picture shows a person who, with the support of the partner organization RSF has built up his own beverage-business doing his daily work – the production of banana beer. It is therefore THE perfect picture in the context of Lemonaid.

From such experiences we learn again and again. We become aware of the importance of contextual reference and the wealth of information and interpretations contained in pictures. It is our responsibility to create contextual references and it is important to be reminded of that constantly by people like Jean.

Jean, what is important for you?

In the evening, and in conversations during the week, Jean talked about his latest project, how and why he now cooperates with NGOs and why he especially supports the work of the Foundation: “The Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation was the first NGO with which I cooperated. I am generally a photojournalist who reports on conflicts, current news and politics. To see corpses used to be normal for me and I thought that was part of life. But after working with humanitarian organizations and seeing how they support people they don’t know, I started to think that there is something missing in my life: That was love and mercy.”

Jean Bizimana at the exhibition © Lilly Zumholte

Mothers – The search for the maternal perspective.

His latest project “Mothers” is also connected to this realization. Jean spent his childhood in an orphanage and became conscious of the fact that he missed the special mother-child connection in his life. In order to capture this feeling and make it visible to others, Jean visited mothers in different situations, took pictures of them and asked what motherhood means to them:

“I began to explore the true meaning of motherhood with the project »Mothers«, because after my adoption, when I was 20 years old, it was very difficult for me to live with my adoptive family, because I didn’t know what it was like to live in a family”. 

The project helped him to fathom this special connection and showed us how different and yet equal motherhood can be in different constellations and for everyone.  

Melanie Nyirandinda: "Being a mother means gaining respect in my society." ©Jean Bizimana
Melanie Nyirandinda: “Being a mother means gaining respect in my society.” ©Jean Bizimana

The whole evening marks a great moment in the history of the Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation. The presentations and pictures, as well as the conversations on the evening, were inspirational, not only for us, but also for the numerous visitors. They generated questions and suggestions that we are allowed to work on every day.

To have the opportunity to make our work more understandable for our partners from the project countries through a visit is a privilege we do not want to miss.

For us it is clear, that this will not be the last visit.

Jean Bizimana and Eliphaz Ntibizerwa with the Foundation team © Lily Zumholte
Jean Bizimana and Eliphaz Ntibizerwa with the Foundation team © Lilly Zumholte

If you want to know more about Jean Bizimana’s work, please visit his blog or his social media channels.