For each of the Anthony Robbins Platinum Partner events, the Platinum Partners engage in a “contribution” during the event. Simply put, the contribution is a day-long community service project that has been thought out and carefully planned. For the Africa event, the group chose the Nakatindi Community School of Livingstone, Zambia for its contribution effort. They could not have found a better focus for their efforts.
Education in Zambia is provided at two levels: primary education (years 1 to 9), and upper secondary (years 10 to 12). Some schools provide a “basic” education covering years 1 to 9, as year 9 is considered to be a decent level of education for the majority of children. However, tuition is only free up to year 7, and UNESCO estimates that 80% of children of primary school age in 2002 were enrolled. Most children drop out after year 7 when fees must be paid. In addition to tuition, students at the government schools must also pay for textbooks, supplies and uniforms. Both government and private schools exist in Zambia. The private school system began largely as a result of Christian mission efforts during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
For the Nakatindi School, the government only provided an annual funding of $150 for the last two years for supplies, maintenance, and other needs. The goal, then, of the Platinum Partners contribution effort was threefold: (1) raise a significant amount of money to provide much needed supplies, staffing, and facilities; (2) collect a significant amount of books to aid in the education of the students (who all learn to speak English); and (3) personally visit the school to perform a massive and coordinated maintenance effort in several needed areas: windows, desks, doors, walls (painting), floors (concrete patching), and gardening (the school endeavors to grow all of the food it feeds its students). According to the Anthony Robbins organization, the group conducted an exhaustive search to find a school where the community, faculty and students would fully commit to the effort. I can say they roundly succeeded.
Before arriving at the school, I learned that the school had dramatically increased its proficiency test scores in the last five years since its new headmaster arrived. I also learned that of the approximately 800 students at the school, the majority of them are orphans, who attend primarily so they can get at least the one meal a day that is provided at school. I did not know what to expect in what I would see or find at the school, but what I did find was beyond my imagination.
When we pulled into the school, all of the children – all of them – were out on the grounds, playing, running about in their white and blue uniforms. In the middle of the yard stood a tent with stacks of thousands of books collected by the Platinum Partners as part of the contribution. After a few minutes, I turned to Karl, who works for Robbins Research International, and asked, “What, is this their recess period or something?” His response reflected the impact of three days of travel to get their on my mental faculties: “No, it’s Sunday. There’s no school today. All of these children came here just for this.” I had completely lost track of what day it was. I suspect the travel and my previous day’s sudden and violent illness probably had something to do with it. “Wow,” I responded simply, dumbfoundedly.
Then, for the next half an hour, I was mobbed like a celebrity by dozens upon dozens of children who wanted me to take their picture. I quickly learned that showing the kids the LCD with the capture of their photo was also a part of the ritual. I also found it was impossible to take a photo of just one child; once I started to set up a shot, the nearest six to eight children would force their way into the shot. I soon learned some deceptive techniques: I’d tell the child I wanted to photograph to stand off to the side, then I would pretend to set up a shot of a mob of children – then quickly turn over and photograph the child I originally wanted to. Then, of course, I would have to turn back to the mob of kids so that they would be satisfied. It was a bit overwhelming, this very outgoing, friendly and fearless group of children, taking pleasure out of such a simple act as having someone take their photo.
After a while, all of the students lined up on both sides of the driveway coming into the school to greet a caravan of jeeps carrying the Platinum Partners. The greeting was much more orderly than I expected, given the energy level of the children and the significance of what the day would have in store for them. As I waited for the jeeps to arrive, I noticed a small boy sitting on a stump with a patch sown into the left leg of his pants: “Barack.” I asked him, “You like Barack Obama?” Enthusiastically, he responded, “Yes.” If only the POTUS’s own people felt the same way about him, I thought. But as I saw throughout every aspect of what happened that day, having the right attitude is a vital foundation for any success. Believe that you will succeed and, with a little help, you will. Believe in failure or hope for failure, and it is bound to ensue.
After the Platinum Partners arrived, everyone gathered for a celebratory dance and drumming, followed by an announcement as to how the maintenance teams would be divided. For the next few hours, I simply went around from station to station, trying to capture a glimpse of the spirit and heart of these children and the Platinum Partners, and to somehow document the significance of the work that was being done. While being a photographer can be a privilege at times like this, being witness to significant events and recording them in detail and artistry, it can also be a barrier. As much as you can get caught up in some of the energy of an event like this, as a photographer, you are somewhat removed emotionally and unable to fully participate in a way that is as meaningful as those you capture on pixels.
I photographed kids and adults hauling buckets of water to soak newly planted trees, working together to hammer nails into repaired desk legs and seats, and getting messy together to paint walls and cement-patch floors. I gained a new understanding of the term “heat in the kitchen” by joining the local women and Platinum Partners (oddly, only the women were assigned to kitchen duty) in the open-air tent that served as the kitchen. With kettles sitting on open, hot coals, it did not take long to get hot under the hot Zambian sun. I thought of the occasional barbecue we have held in our backyard when I contemplated how much food these women had to prep and cook for the 800 children of the school. Given the small space available for those children, it took several hours to run them all through the cafeteria to eat the one meal they would be served that day.
After work, the students and Platinum Partners played soccer and football, danced, shared stories, and posed for more pictures. On one of the newly-painted walls, they all put hand prints in various colors to reflect the bond and partnership of the day. Then, there were many, many more pictures.
The impact of that day and the effort by the Anthony Robbins Platinum Partners simply cannot be grasped; only an examination of the numbers gives a glimpse of how much this contribution meant to the staff and students of the Nakatindi Community School. As of the day of that event, there was only one teacher for every 75 students. There was only one book per classroom. Most of the desks and chairs in the school were broken or damaged in some way. By the day of the contribution, the Platinum Partners had raised over $40,000 dollars to contribute to the school, as well as collect thousands of books. That money would provide salaries for three more teachers for three more years, provide new facilities, and build a fence and pay for a security guard to keep the new, massive book collection from being stolen (a likelihood given the rarity of books in the country). As if that was not enough, later that evening, at the closing social event for the Zambia part of the trip, the Platinum Partners collected $3,000 more to go the next day to purchase tools to donate to the school so that it could continue its maintenance efforts.