The northern Nigerian city of Jos can be a difficult place to grow up in. Impoverished and volatile, it has been a flashpoint for ethnic and religious clashes over the past decade and the site of several Boko Haram attacks.
And it can be especially tough for the city’s street children and orphans.
I first visited the area in 2008, working at Gidan Bege, an orphanage for boys aged 12 to 19. Many of them had spent much of their childhoods living on the streets. Some came from abusive homes and had experienced great trauma.
The creative potential of these children was immediately apparent – but so, too, was the lack of opportunities available for them to pursue their creativity. With no funds, resources or mentors, their talents were not being nurtured.
So, I took six of them and began to teach them photography. We started with some ‘old school’ techniques using film cameras and then moved on to digital.
It became known as the Murmushi Photo Project. As well as giving them a practical means by which they might one day make a living, it provides them with a visual voice through which they can document their worlds.
And what have emerged are images of great beauty amid hardship.
Here are their stories:
Shadrach Adie Amallam – ‘I discover what is hidden’
“My mother died two weeks after I was born, and my father died when I was three years old.
I was sent to live with my relatives, but they just took the money meant for my school fees and sent me to live with other relatives.
My relations then tried to kill me – by trying to hang me, throwing me in a pit and in a river – and kicked me out onto the streets when that didn’t work.
I trekked about 50km from my village to Jos and then lived on the streets for five years.
I would eat whatever I could find on the ground, even other people’s leftovers. Other street kids taught me how to beg.
I started going to a community programme that fed street children, and there I heard about an orphanage. I moved into the orphanage and went back to school.
I loved learning photography. It helps me to explore and to see new things. I like telling people about what I see and posting it online.
Photography helps me to learn about the world. I discover what is hidden.
I always see the sunset but never thought about taking a picture. But now that I have a camera, I see it as a picture and realise that it is something beautiful.
Photography helps me to see more of my country, to meet people and to care about things I never used to.
I made this picture during Harmattan, a dry wind that occurs from December to February on the West African coast.
It is dusk and my friend is standing there. Usually, the sky is bright. But during Harmattan, because of all the dust, the sunset is even more beautiful.
The dust is just dust, but with the light it is something special.”
Emmanuel David – ‘I can now share the African story’
“Rioters in Jos killed my father when I was six years old. His body was never found.
Our family struggled and life was hard, as my mother tried to raise three children on her own. A colleague told her about Gidan Bege, an orphanage in Jos. I moved there so that I could go to school and be cared for.
I have just finished high school and would love to become a musician and a famous photographer.
Living in Nigeria can be hard, especially if you’re from the lower or middle classes. But Nigerians are friendly. Our motto is ‘one for all and all for one’. There is a good sense of brotherhood here, and you can make friends with anyone.
The camera has opened my eyes. Things I neglected before, I now see as important. Photography means a lot to me, and a photo can mean a lot. Learning photography is one of the best things that has happened to me.
I can now share the African story. Through photos of people, streets and markets, I show how life is lived in Nigeria.”
Fwangshak Joseph – ‘When I see this picture, it reminds me of my time on the streets’
“I left my parents at the age of 12; my mother died and my new stepmother was very harsh. So all four children left the house, and I started living on the streets.
A family friend saw me on the streets and took me to an orphanage.
I have just finished secondary school and am working in a hotel now. I hope to go to university to study psychology. I would also like to be a professional photographer and to have my own business. It can be hard work, but I enjoy it.
I love this picture because I love swimming, and he looks like he is flying. When I was living on the streets, we boys would swim a lot in the rivers and lakes. Whenever I see this picture, it reminds me a lot of what I used to do.”
Felix Rana – ‘Having a camera helps me to process past memories’
“Both my parents died before I was two years old. My life became a tragedy because people in the village turned on me and said I was responsible for my parents’ deaths.
So I was sent to stay with my uncle and his children. But one of his children died, and his wife had many miscarriages – so, again, the finger was pointed at me. People said I caused it to happen. They started hunting me, so I had to run for my life.
My uncle, who was a missionary, rescued me and we started running together. But he feared putting his family at risk, so he left me on the streets.
I saw a truck that was carrying a lot of luggage. I climbed into a box on the top of the truck. The truck drove to Jos, so I started living on the streets there. I would beg for food to survive.
Eventually, I was taken to an orphanage.
I now have hope in life. I would love to become a journalist. I also enjoy music and singing.
The picture is of my friend Samson. I made this picture because it reminds me of my past and how I can be something in the future. It reminds me not to be worn down and to keep having hope.
Learning photography means the world to me. And our photography class is now like a family; we have a strong, brotherly bond.
Having a camera helps me to see a story and also to remember and process past memories. It changes how I view life.”
Enoch Shaibu – ‘Photography can record history’
“When I was a child, I was accused of killing my neighbour. So I had to run away from home. An orphanage outreach programme found me and brought me to Jos.
In the future, I would like to be a Nigerian military officer. I enjoy swimming and being outside.
Photography can record history. A picture is a memory of that time.
Photography can open doors for me, and I believe I can travel the world because of my camera.
Photography is peaceful work – there’s no corruption, no fighting; you can just work peacefully.”
Ali – ‘Murmushi means smile in Hausa’
“I am an only child, and I lost my father when I was very small. For various reasons, I had to live on the streets, but my life turned around when I was brought to the Gidan Bege orphanage.
I enjoy music and reading books. I hope to be a musician one day and a businessman.
Nigeria can be a tough country. Sometimes you’ll feel good and sometimes you will feel bad, but I do love the country.
Murmushi means smile in Hausa, and I’m very happy I had the chance to learn photography. Before, I would see everything as normal, but with photography, you see things in a new dimension, and it is a way to remember the good and the bad.
I made this picture to express joy and the sound created from the drum. If you look at the drum, the person’s hand is playing it, expressing happiness and joy. The hands are crafting the sound, and I want to show the world that the best thing Africans can do is play the drums.”