Unity Women’s Village by Darryl Richardson
How did you discover Unity Women’s Village?
A few years back I saw a Vice documentary on the original Samburu Women’s Village, Umoja. From that moment I knew this was a place I wanted to experience with my own eyes when it came time to plan my trip to Kenya earlier this year. I conducted endless amounts of research on Samburu tribes and Umoja. That research eventually led me to Unity’s website. They provide a chance for visitor’s to stay within the village and experience the Samburu womens way of living with all the proceeds going directly to the women and their children’s education.
Unity is a village populated mostly by women in a rural region of Northern Kenya. It was formed in 2011 as a refuge for women escaping oppression, abuse, and countless other inequities women face within traditional Samburu villages. The majority of the women within the traditional villages are voiceless. Their culture is deeply patriarchal. Men own all the land, all the livestock, and in most cases, they have multiple wives as well. But at Unity, things are different, women rule the land. Unity Village is a safe haven for women to provide an education for their children and lead a fulfilling, peaceful life free from suffering.
Most tourists visiting the Samburu area spend an absurd amount of money to stay at fancy resorts inside the game reserve. They completely bypass the single most important thing that makes this area so special. The people! Don’t get me wrong, a trip to the wildlife reserve is a remarkable experience. But, you’re missing out on life long experiences if that’s the only reason you’re visiting the area. For me, traveling is all about connecting with the local people. Every experience outside of that is an added bonus. What better way to connect with the locals than actually living with them. But this experience wasn’t solely for me. I wanted to give back and support the village any way I could.
What were your first impressions?
After the first couple of days in Samburu, I was amazed at how resourceful everyone was and the simplicity of life was beyond inspiring. It really showed me that all you need in this world is each other. Within Unity Village and Samburu County there was a real sense of community. Everyone did their part, everyone is cared for and everyone is loved equally. It was also amazing to see how a tribe of people so far removed from modern civilization were so similar to my community of friends and family back home.
What’s in your camera collection?
My camera collection is constantly changing. Right now I have a Polaroid land camera, Polaroid SX-70, Olympus XA, Canon Canonet, Mamiya 7, Canon 1v, and a Canon 814 Super 8mm video camera. It’s tough picking a favorite. They all serve a different purpose. The Mamiya 7 is great for portraits. That’s the camera I used to create the images from this series. But, if I had to choose a favourite it would be the Polaroid SX-70. Simply because it allows me to give something back to the people I cross paths with during my travels. The image of self isn’t that prevalent within most of the places I visit. So providing them a snapshot of themselves is my way of saying thank you for opening your doors and allowing me inside your community.
Before stopping in Kenya, I travelled to Zanzibar and Machame (a small village in Kilimanjaro). I wanted to shoot a lot of polaroids during that trip so I purchased around 12 packs of film before I left. On day 2 of this month long journey, my SX-70 stopped working while I was shooting in Zanzibar! I went online later that evening to see if it was possible to fix it. Luckily the issue was an easy fix, I just needed to find an extremely tiny screwdriver. I searched almost every market in Zanzibar, no one had the screwdriver. Once I arrived in Kilimanjaro I looked around a bit, no one had it. I gave up fixing it at that point. Until I arrived in Samburu. It was the last leg of my trip and my first day at Unity Village. I began talking to the coordinator, Apin, about cameras/photography and I showed him my broken SX-70. He took one look at it and was pretty sure they had the tools I needed to fix it. One of the guys (Peterson) from the village went to his home to grab a few tools. Within minutes after he returned we had the SX-70 spitting out polaroids like it was never broken. Their reactions to their image coming out of the camera was priceless. Kids were calling their friends from the next village over to come and get their photo taken. Them seeing their image on this small piece of photographic paper really showed me the power of photography.
Why do you travel what does it mean for you?
Traveling is life. To me it is the greatest source of inspiration. It really shapes who I am as a person and photographer. It allows me to form my own opinions about the world. Which I think is very important in this day in age. The media constantly bombards you with one sided views. Ultimately instilling fear/hatred towards certain people, cultures, and places. Through traveling I’ve realised how similar we all are. At the end of the day we’re all just human beings trying to figure out how to manoeuvre through this complex thing called life.
Another important part of traveling for me is being able to change the global narrative created towards people of colour and to inspire black people to get out of their comfort zone and expand their horizons. The black traveler is underrepresented and misrepresented in media around the world. Because of this most people of colour believe that seeing the world isn’t for them. The more diversity we have amongst travellers the better of the world will be. We will ultimately become better citizens, better neighbours, better humans beings. Traveling teaches us respect and instills a certain level of sensitivity towards cultures outside our own.
You’ve recently moved from NYC to Mexico City, what inspired the move and how has life changed?
The more I travelled to Mexico City, the more at home I felt. NY is an amazing city, but it didn’t feel right for me. I needed the head space to focus on the work I wanted to create and Mexico City made the most sense for me at the time. Plus, I’ve always wanted to live abroad. In NY a major emphasis is placed on cultivating a workhorse mentality. That living to work state of being is not healthy. I felt like I wasn’t really living. The citizens of Mexico are some of the hardest workers on Earth. But, they also know how to enjoy life. I was inspired by their hands-on approach towards their craft. They are true artisans at heart. A continued goal of mine is to take more of my work off the computer screen and have it exist in the “real world”. Mexico City is the perfect arena to do just that. Now I can shift gears. Instead of working constantly just to pay rent or upkeep those imaginary standards put in place in NY, I can focus on my craft and comfortably learn new ways to grow as an artist and human being.
What’s on the horizon for Darryl?
The biggest thing on the horizon for me is my first exhibition. I’m currently working on a solo show that will take place in Mexico City at the end of August. Outside of that I’m continuing to explore new printing methods and ways to present my work. And I’m looking forward to working on an upcoming personal project on the Afro-Mexicano citizens of Costa Chica.
Where’s next on your Trippin next?
India, hands down. I would love to spend a month or two there to explore the many landscapes India has to offer. That would be a soul cleansing journey for sure.
Name: Darryl Richardson
Passion: exploring the world