The Giving Lens opportunity enabled by Arzuw Foundation

“Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.”-
Jon Bon Jovi.

When you read this quote, the majority of you might already know what you are passionate about and what you are willing to do to achieve set goals. Arzuw Foundation takes its pride in seeing Turkmen students succeed in all aspects of life and follow their life passions.

 A year ago, one of the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG) students, Mayya K., took a life-changing trip to Jordan with the Giving Lens Organization that opened a door for her to experience a new world through photography. The Giving Lens (TGL) is a unique organization that combines a range of opportunities for people, who love photography and travelling, explore different communities and portray the lives of people through photography.

As Mayya  K. quotes, “if not having a passion for all these things, then TGL is a wrong place, unless you are trying to change your life, and take a step to get out of your comfort zone. But whatever the reason is, TGL trips do challenge and do change people. Well, I came back inspired and motivated.”

In our Interview, Mayya K., enthusiastically shared about her experience with Arzuw Foundation Blog readers.

Arzuw Foundation: How did you hear about The Giving Lens?

Mayya K.: Some people consider social media as something negative that consume a lot of time and contribute nothing useful. I think we should not neglect that social media are powerful sources of information, it only depends on user what information he/she is willing to digest. So, if you are interested in music, such as jazz, follow the groups that are dedicated to it. Thus, your news-feed will be always updated with information you would appreciate. That’s what I do. And, that’s how I learned about TGL. I was browsing my news-feed on Facebook, and a portrait of a Bedouin grabbed my attention. Actually, what really attracted me was the story behind the photograph.

Arzuw Foundation: What was the story? And, what was so touching about it?

Mayya K.: It was a repost from the author’s page, where he shared his feelings from one night he spent in the desert – Wadi Rum, Jordan. That night he sat by the fire and talked to the guy he just met, a Bedouin who spoke very Basic English. The author himself was a Californian photographer, who spoke no Arabic. They shared various stories with one another about their families, showed pictures of their loved ones, enjoyed minutes of silence in the night and the smell of shisha. With the help of sign language, mimics and laughter, they both found something in common. That night both felt somewhat lonely, being far away from their loved ones. Sharing those immense and short moments of solitude together, helped them to go through that sleepless night, as a photographer, I set a camera for the star trail photography.

His name is Michael Bonocore (Mike) and his post was dedicated to his friend Shaban Radwan – a man on the portrait, who had a birthday that day. I love stories that photographers share from their photography trips. Through those stories one has something new to discover, new to learn, new to experience and new to imagine. The story itself was from the trip to Jordan in 2012, organized by TGL and co-led by Mike and Colby Brown, a TGL founder.

Arzuw Foundation: Why did you decide to go to this trip?

Mayya K.: When Mike mentioned about a new trip to Jordan arranged for April for 2014, that’s where the drumroll rattled. I surely decided to check this trip out and the organization itself. The more I read, the more I wanted to participate in the project. I had doubts because I knew no one from that organization and people who took part in TGL workshops. I wanted to experience a new way of life, meet new people with interesting backgrounds, and tell their stories through photography. I questioned if that was exactly what I wanted to try. Nonetheless, I submitted my application, and soon after I had an interview for the workshop with Kate Siobhan, a Vancouver based travel photographer, who along with Mike conducted TGL Jordan 2014 workshop, I took part in.

Arzuw Foundation: What resources did you utilize to participate in this program?

That would've not happened if not the opportunities that Arzuw Foundation offers to Turkmen students and recent graduates to participate in an intensive workshop or an internship. We all know many great internship opportunities are without any compensations, this narrows down the choices for our students, who lose perfect opportunities to get their first significant career steps, because they cannot afford traveling far and living in a foreign country without any financial support during an internship. There are programs, where food and accommodations are offered, in other internship programs travel expenses are covered, the third ones leave everything for a participant. TGL is not exactly an internship, and it does not offer fellowships, basically the payment that a participant makes is exactly what supports the workshop itself.


In this case, Arzuw Foundation internship grant was a significant fiscal support that covered the most expenses for the workshop, for what I am very grateful for. And, it takes a certain responsibility from me, too, because people believed in me and gave me such a great opportunity.

There was another grant, Step Beyond Travel Grant for Artists financed by European Foundation. Step Beyond Travel Grant covers trip for artists who take part in the conferences, workshops, or projects and who needs to travel for this purpose within the European territory and its neighboring countries, including Caucasus, where I resided at that time, and Middle East, which was my final destination. I knew about this grant opportunity before I learned about TGL workshop. At first, I  thought I was not eligible for the program, because I had a Turkmen citizenship, and forgot about it until I came across it again, timely. I revised it and gave it a try.

Arzuw Foundation: What did you learn from this experience?

It was not only about photography, that I learned, but also about life, traveling, and culture.

Yes, I developed new skills in photography, improved technical skills and learned about post-production. But as for the person who mainly takes pictures of people, I learned something more significant.

Though, I knew that photography was a way of communication in many terms, which might be about expressing your thoughts through photography, through sharing events, or through illustrating the lives of other people, I learned to view the work with people as a way of communication, too. For ten days I had an enormous practice to take pictures of people with different backgrounds. While taking pictures you want to comfort people and make them feel safe. By asking questions and learning about them, you make them trust you.

I heard a lot that people in India are very open, it is easy to approach them and take pictures. I have never been to India, but I traveled to Jordan, and people there, are very hospitable, open and kind. I think, besides the cultural factor, it is a reflection of your attitude. You are interested in people and you respect them, and they value that and are willing to tell you more about their lives. Of course things do not always work this particular way, but photographers need to learn that, it makes their lives easier.

During the workshop, I learned better ways to establish a conversation. We also talked a lot about what it takes to be a good photographer, advantages and downsides.  The most valuable lesson to remember — the goal is not a picture, but people and their stories. The goal is the experience and the feelings that bring the value to the picture. Take your time and let the camera be aside, feel the situation and only then take a picture.

Arzuw Foundation: Is there something that deeply touched your heart?

Mayya K.: People touched my heart. People with whom I travelled, especially Mike and Kate, their dedication, their openness, their kindness. They inspired me. Our guide — Mohammad and his love for his culture and his country. Shaban, a Bedouin from Wadi Rum with his love to animals. A Bedouin from Petra with his free spirit, who invited us to drink tea with him and watch the sunset, who let us take pictures of him, and who shared some philosophical thoughts with us. People from NGOs, believing in their mission and striving for the best for their community. For example, Zikra initiative, which is located in the poorest part of Jordan. The founder of Zikra discovered some important facts in the area, such as the reuse of resources and preservation of old traditions. The slogan of Zikra is “we exchange for change” which means they invite people from developed parts of Jordan to learn about the lifestyle in Zikra. This way, seek help/volunteer on what they do, such as picking up tomatoes on plantations, which we also took part in. Another NGO was Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Co-Operative Society, whose mission is to empower women, educate them with different skills, and earn money by making and selling traditional handmade souvenirs.

Arzuw Foundation: What would be your advice to students regarding dreams, passions, following own bliss? 

I haven’t achieved my goals yet to give advice and I know I have to work hard to be in the place I want to be. I am far from it yet. I am not going to say anything new, but what I know is, it takes time. Sometimes more than we want and more than we expect. Besides, you will face lots of doubts and obstacles. You will confront people who will challenge you and make you question many things about your passion. You will face circumstances that will defy you. You’ll be looking for an answer, whether you are on the right path or not, but only one person has that answer. That person is you. If you can’t imagine your life without your dream coming to life, if that what makes a huge part of your happiness, then leave all your hesitations behind and keep dedicating your time and efforts to what you believe is important. It is a hard way, but I think it’s worth it.

Mayya K. has graduated from the American University in Bulgaria with BA in Journalism and Mass Communication. Mayya K. is a freelance graphic designer.

Mayya’s story is the true illustration of persistence and determination to go after set goals. As she mentioned, it is indeed challenging to afford participation in various programs due to lack of financial opportunities. Thus, Arzuw Foundation is dedicated to supporting young Turkmen leaders who go beyond the comfort zone and seek various ways for self-development and community engagement.