Smartphones and social media have allowed any tourist to become their own self-published National Geographic photographer – for better or (more often than not) for worse. Among the more benign effects of this phenomenon are boring and predictable photos, while more harmful effects include photographing local inhabitants without consent or the use of sacred sites as trendy backgrounds for an Instagram story. Upsetting trends aside, photography is still a worthy art form to pursue and travel is an experience people want to capture with beautiful images. How can conscientious, sustainable travelers ethically develop their skills in travel photography? Triple F Photo Tours– a mission-driven travel photography company with curated trips to Uganda, India and more– may be the answer.
Triple F’s Origins: Funding Ugandan Female Empowerment with Photo Tourism
Amina Mohamed, the founder of Triple F Photo Tours, was born in the UK and spent her early life in Uganda. However, her family migrated to Canada in 1972 after the military dictator Idi Amin initiated the expulsion of the country’s Asian minority. In 2007, Mohamed returned to Uganda for the first time to shoot a documentary and rediscover the home she had left behind – the poverty she encountered there, and the toll she could see it took on women’s lives, affected her deeply.
Mohamed returned to Canada with a desire to help young Ugandan women in some fashion and when life allowed her the time, she began researching and scouting Ugandan schools for girls where she could offer training in digital photography. Finding the right way to make an impact was not easy, as some schools lacked the electricity necessary for working with digital tools and in others, girls’ attendance was too low to create an effective workshop.
After some trial and error in finding the perfect way to give to the community, Mohamed’s friend, a journalist in Uganda, suggested she work with aspiring young women journalists. This suggestion was the key to her success – in August 2018, Mohamed partnered with a media school in Kampala, and led a successful two-day workshop with 14 aspiring young women journalists. Following the success of the workshop, Mohamed formed Cameras for Girls, to create a more robust, year-long training program for young Ugandan women journalists. Alongside the nonprofit, she launched her photo tourism business, Triple F Photo Tours, to help partially fund her philanthropic efforts.
Photography for All – Bridging Cultural Gaps with Shared Learning
The company’s name originates from its motto – “Where Fun, F(ph)otography and F(ph)ilanthropy Meet.” Although imperfect in terms of spelling, the motto perfectly captures the matrix of relationships created by Mohamed’s business and philanthropic model as a tour operator. Triple F Photo Tours offers curated tours for enthusiast and amateur photographers to develop their skills through travel to a variety of destinations, with proceeds supporting the endeavors of Cameras for Girls. Travelers on the company’s tour to Uganda not only develop their own photography skills in the field, but they also get a chance to interact with the individuals in the Cameras for Girls cohort, bridging a cultural gap through the mutual experience of developing photography skills.
This shared experience addresses a frequent problem in travel photography: that it is often one-sided. Western travelers assert a gaze upon the terrain or people of a “developing” country, attempting to capture the “other.” Triple F Photos changes this dynamic in that photographers on the tours are directly supporting young women to take ownership of their stories through photography. And what’s more, the field is level – everyone is a student, both the Triple F Tour customers and Cameras for Girls participants alike.
Itineraries Tailored to the Discerning Traveler
Although only the tour to Uganda directly crosses over with the Cameras for Girls program, the tours to other countries are likewise curated to follow principles of respect through informed cultural and natural immersion. These trips are designed to be “anti-tourist” experiences for the “discerning traveler.” In essence, this means that the company crafts its tours from relationships with local guides in order to find the most authentic and unique experiences for its target customers, who generally understand what it means to get off the beaten path.
How this shapes up depends on the tour destination. In Uganda, travelers get to meet coffee growers in the Rwenzori mountains and visit little-known places like Semuliki National Park and Amabere Ga Nyina Mwiru. In northern India, participants go on a heritage walking tour of Udaipur and have the opportunity to sleep on a machan, a raised, outdoor bed in the fields, which villagers have used for generations to watch for animals eating their crops. No matter the location, Triple F Photo Tours distills the best experience with a mind for respect, social responsibility, and sustainability.
Business Practices Tailored to the Sustainable Traveler
Beyond its clear commitment to social responsibility, Triple F Photo Tours has an impressive docket of sustainability descriptions for each trip, educating potential customers about how each tour has been created with sustainability in mind. As an evolving movement, sustainability in travel is messy and imperfect, but Triple F presents its sustainability practices with honesty and transparency, keeping in mind the specific context of each country.
As travelers may well know, sustainability is much easier to practice in some countries than in others and Triple F clarifies this in its descriptions. For instance, in its upcoming tour to Costa Rica, they highlight the fact that the country uses 99.2% renewable energy and is set on being carbon neutral by 2020. Furthermore, in this destination, for every two dollars spent on eco-tourism activities, a dollar is used to plant trees. While sustainability is inherent to Costa Rica as a destination, Triple F candidly highlights the fact that sustainability can be hard to maintain in East Africa. However, they do their best by using fuel efficient vehicles, hiring local drivers, and where possible, staying at locally-owned accommodations powered by solar and elephant dung fuel.
For India and Thailand, the standards for maintaining sustainability practices are diverse and range from supporting local, mission-driven businesses to practicing “Leave No Trace” and staying at plastic-free camps. For example, in India, Triple F partners with organizations like the Salaam Balak Trust, which supports street children in Delhi and Jamatra Wilderness Camp and Kanha National Park, which both support Tiger Trust India. In Thailand, they work with a trekking partner that uses biodegradable soaps and shampoos and in village stays, they make sure to eat local, avoiding foods requiring long distance transport.
As a business vetted by ecomadic, Triple F is acting in good faith and its sustainable and philanthropic practices are more than marketing tools. Beyond its current practices, the company hopes to maintain its philanthropic efforts for the foreseeable future and is actively looking for ways to ensure its trips maintain and improve sustainability practices in the long term.
As the World Reopens for Travel, Make Your Trip Count
As with all tourist and international organizations, Triple F and Cameras for Girls have felt the effects of the pandemic, but Amina Mohamed has worked hard to ensure both organization’s continued success. About a year following its first workshop, Cameras for Girls started a second photography program intended to be a year-long course in partnership with KelbyOne. With the onset of the pandemic, they quickly adapted and transitioned to online training with zoom, private Facebook groups, and bi-weekly video tutorials. Despite the obstacles of closed borders and societies on lockdown, the program has still managed to teach 42 girls, 40% of whom now have full-time jobs. This has all been made possible by the resources and professional development provided by Amina Mohamed with Cameras for Girls.
As a disruptive force, the pandemic has given everyone, especially travelers, the time to pause and reflect on how we want to move forward in sustainability and social responsibility. With its demonstrable success in philanthropic efforts and nuanced approach to sustainability, Amina Mohamed’s Triple F Photo Tours is definitely an organization worth the time of conscious and sustainably-minded travelers. We can all take a lesson from this business as an example of how to practice sustainable travel in a genuine way, open to growth and always striving to meet a higher standard of respect and sustainability.
Want to learn more?
Passing on a passion for photography – Ovation: Sheridan College Alumni Magazine
Training Uganda’s Girls in Photography with Fujifilm X Series – FujiLove Magazine
A Case for Travel: Where Fun, Photography, and Philanthropy Meet in Uganda – A Case for Travel Tuesdays with Charlotte Tweed