It felt like a dream.
It’s been four years since I've seen Jean Bosco -- the shy, sturdy boy I met in Murinja Village in 2008 when charity: water funded a well his community. I have traveled to almost 60 countries capturing people’s lives over the years and his story has never left me. One day, he was filling his jerry can with murky brown water and a few days later I rejoiced with his whole village as they drank clean water for the first time. It was then that I realized that I wanted to capture that story around the globe -- the story of change.
I’ve been to Rwanda many times now working on photo stories for various nonprofit organizations. Each time I have visited, I've thought about going back to see Jean Bosco. I wondered if he still lived in the same mud home with his family, I wondered if he still walked for water. I wondered if he still remembered me. This last trip, I had to find answers to my questions.
I drove down the same bumpy road I remembered, but unsure if the driver was headed in the right direction. We met a woman under a tree with three children and I showed her the photos of the 15 year-old Jean Bosco on my phone. She said she knew where he lived and joined us in the van to direct the way. We arrived at the top of a hill and then walked down the narrow pathways lined with banana trees and maize plants. Memories flooded from years ago.
I arrived at his familiar family home, but Jean Bosco wasn’t there. There was a young boy nearby who raced down the hill with his wheel toy to go find him. I waited excitedly and talked with his father and siblings. Even though I was expecting him, when the now 22 year-old Jean Bosco arrived with a yellow jerry can on his shoulders and a huge smile was on his face, I couldn’t believe it. He opened his arms wide and hugged me.
The last time I saw him, he was a boy. Today, he is a man.
We sat in the shade of his childhood home and talked about life. He said he thought I had forgotten about him. I tried my best to explain that I could never forget about him. I told him that prayed for him often and that I had been telling his story to the whole world. I have shared his photo story at almost every conference i’ve spoken at over the past six years. His story has changed the story of so many others by raising money for clean water projects in their villages and helping them go from dirty water to clean water. I also shared with him that his photo was printed in New York and is as tall as his house. He beamed that familiar smile. We talked about what his goals and dreams were and possible ways for him to achieve them.
He was excited to share with me that he is now a father and lives next to parents house with his wife and baby girl, Jean Marie Vianey. “She is beautiful!” I exclaimed. He was very proud.
I didn’t want to leave Murinja that day, but I know I’ll be back. I’ll continue to check in with him in the years to come and stay involved in his life. I am thankful for that day I met him six years ago because it changed the way I photograph people. Jean Bosco’s story made me an advocate for others. It challenged me to not just photograph what is, but also photograph what can be. I saw what a photograph could actually do -- challenge thought and evoke action. Photos can change the way people think and see the world. I’ve come to realize that photographing humanitarian stories isn’t about getting a great shot for a portfolio; it’s about being an advocate for others so lives can continue to be changed! When charity: water provides clean water for a village, it has a profound impact on a community's health and well being. I got to witness this transformation firsthand in Jean Bosco, and it changed me too.
Jean Bosco summer of 2008