Guatemala and Lamorinda Unite to Build Dreams with Fotokids

(Alex Aruliah, Photographer)
Dylan Browning and Fernando, his Fotokids buddy, fly a kite they made to honor their ancestors in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

    Recently, local high school students spent a week with children from Guatemala’s poorest communities, sharing laughs, practicing photography, serving others and learning what differentiates and what unites them.
    A partnership since 2006, the non-profit organization FotoKids and the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church (LOPC) believe in building community, improving the lives of families and making children’s dreams a reality.
    Nancy McGirr, founder of FotoKids, is an award-winning, seasoned photographer who relocated to Guatemala in 1991 after years of documenting Central American wars. She was introduced to life in Guatemala City’s dump and to a group of six children, ages 5-12.
    With three cameras she taught them photography and how to document their lives. One project featured each child photographed in their dream career.
    “I realized then that the kids didn’t know how to dream,” she said. She recalled sisters, Rosa, whose dream was to sell tomatoes and Marta, who wanted to mop floors.
    All the kids wished they could attend school, but didn’t have funds for uniforms or books. McGirr circulated the kids’ photography to her contacts and soon camera companies donated equipment and friends became sponsors.
    Originally called “Out of the Dump,” Fotokids commits to helping kids with their education while teaching photography, graphic design and media technology skills. Whether they go to a university or enter a vocation, they have skills to use immediately.
    “[Fotokids] sets these kids apart. It gives them confidence and an identity,” said McGirr.
    Thirty-two years since its inception, the success is evident in the thousands of dreams which have become reality. Rosa and Marta were class valedictorians and won university scholarships. Rosa works in educational outreach and Marta is pursuing a theology degree.
Others have gone on to careers in politics, law, business administration, architecture, design, journalism and aviation.
    When Orinda residents Mark and Ena Crastenburg took their daughters Sara and Rachel on an LOPC mission to Guatemala in 2008, they had no idea how the experience would impact their lives. The Crastenburgs remain active supporters of Fotokids, including fundraising and Board membership.
    As for their daughters, “It opened their eyes to children who own nothing, but are happy and productive. It made them take stock of the world and honestly, put them on a trajectory to pursue service-oriented careers,” said Crastenburg. Sara is a Captain in the Army and Rachel is a marriage and family therapist.
    LOPC’s Mission and Outreach Pastor, Lauren Gully, led this summer’s trip of 20 high school students to Santiago Atitlán in Guatemala. She’s impressed by how Fotokids “has built a sustainable methodology for lasting change. They use resources through art to not only teach valuable skills, but also to help kids process trauma and build community. For our students, it’s impactful to see different ways kids live and to understand their responsibility as part of a global community.”
    Michelle Browning traveled as a mentor with her kids Ashlyn (17) and Dylan (18). She said friendships formed as Fotokids were paired with each student. In spite of language barriers, the kids connected with each other by assembling and delivering food baskets and competing in a photo scavenger hunt. Dylan continues to keep in touch with his buddy Fernando via Zoom.
    “There’s magic happening there,” said Browning. “It’s a place where kids can dream big.”
    Currently, 129 students are enrolled with a need for 40 scholarships. To view the photography and learn more, visit

Amy Moellering can be reached at

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