Kate Cummings

Kate Cummings (Vital Voices in Kenya): Kate was born in the North Carolina mountains, and received her BFA in photography at Sewanee (The University of the South) in 2004. Kate co-founded a meditation group at the Hampshire County Jail in North Carolina where she led meditation sessions with inmates each week. Upon graduation, Kate was awarded the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. This allowed her to spend a year photographing in India, Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, and France. During this year, she photographed Zen Master and international peacemaker Thich Nhat Hanh's first return to Vietnam since his exile 39 years before. Her images were published internationally. She returned to Vietnam in 2007 with Nhat Hanh and his International Peace Delegation to photograph healing ceremonies. Kate moved to western Massachusetts and began teaching photography to at-risk girls. At the time of her fellowship, Kate was studying for her master’s degree at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston. After her fellowship, Kate wrote: “Best experience? This is an impossible question! I think, that by spending so much time with Kenyans in their homes and families and in the community setting… I gained a deep understanding of their successes and their significant challenges...I look at myself now as having the potential to be as strong and caring as the amazing women I met in Kenya.”

Before departing or arriving

27 May

I have just returned from India two days ago after a whirlwind pilgrimage to the source of the Ganges, only to find I am at the beginning of another footpath, this one into a place I’ve never been – I have, actually, no idea what to expect once I begin this journey.  Africa is a completely unknown continent to me, despite my studies of its people, culture, and politics this year.  What I don’t know are the most important aspects of daily life – how do people bargain in the markets (stern face? with overt gentility?), are there a lot of bicycles or do people mostly walk or drive, do people smile when their eyes meet, or almost always stare or look away?  Without any of this ground on which to stand, I already feel wobbly about my entry to Kenya, less than two weeks away.

new journey beginning

new journey beginning

I’ll be working with three amazing local organizations, all of which are partnered with AP’s partner, Vital Voices (VV).  The Umoja Uaso group is a community of women who have banded together to provide each other with a place of refuge and support after being forced out of their homes because they were raped.  The Empiris Women’s group includes individuals like Kakenya, who turned a fate of arranged childhood marriage and planned genital cutting into one in which she made her own choices – going to school, raising funds in her village to go to college in the United States, and now has returned to her village to give back by building a school for girls so they, too, may have other choices – some of their own.  And finally, I’ll be collaborating with Ripe for Harvest, that empowers young people by providing life skills and job training to them while also helping to transform society’s perceptions of youth as more likely to be destructive than to be positive leaders in their communities.

I am very moved by the mission of each of these organizations, and that each one is operated by Kenyans and is not dominated by international interests or staff.  I am still uncertain what role I will be with each organization, as I’m still learning what each one is currently doing and where they would like to continue to go with their projects, but I feel so motivated by the inspiring work they are doing that I am eager to offer the best of my self.  Sometimes it is easier to leap than to wade in, and it seems this new direction is asking me to leap; I’m quickly learning there is so much more to gain when I stop resisting the truth that I know so little.  Letting go of this ego-heavy attachment, I’ve got the space to explore, to learn, and to offer a more fresh and creative side of myself for each person I photograph, and each entry I write.  This is what I hope to do, and who I hope to be, for the people I meet in Kenya this summer.

Posted By Kate Cummings

Posted May 27th, 2009


  • david holt

    June 14, 2009


    There used to be a wonderful mask store in Nairobi that had masks from all over Africa…each one so different and soulful and descriptive of the country that made them. It is definitely worth a visit if you can find it. (be sure a take some photos). David

    • Kate Cummings

      July 8, 2009


      I will have to develop some urban bravery and find this mask shop! I am so used to being in rural, less populated areas of Kenya, I am sometimes overwhelmed by Nairobi (and certainly it’s reputation for insecurity). I plan on at least going to a giraffe sanctuary there and an elephant orphanage when I return — I hear you actually get to touch the sweet animals! It’s wonderful to hear from you, and somehow makes me feel like I have company here knowing you were in Nairobi.

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