By Bre McGee
Visiting Bre McGee’s website, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that she is a Minnesota-based photojournalist. Her images of snow-covered hills and trees, hockey rinks, concerts, and a Vikings player going head-to-head with Jordy Nelson of the Packers give a good overview of what it is to live in Minnesota. But for her most recent project, McGee decided to focus on a subject a bit farther from home: Nigeria.
McGee’s series, “Stolen Lives: The Lost Futures of Nigeria’s Trafficked Youth,” is made up of photos from a trip she took to Nigeria last spring with the nonprofit Basic Institute for Zonal African Advancement (BIZAA).
BIZAA was founded in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, to identify and rescue child-labor and trafficking victims. Once identified, BIZAA works to enroll the children in private schools. The group, using donations and sponsorships to help youth from around Africa, is currently focusing on Nigeria.
The goal of the photo series, McGee says, is to show the difference education makes in the lives of Nigerian people. During the trip, McGee took more than 9,000 photos of children and adults. About a third of her photos feature adults and the elderly, many of whom were working on the streets or standing in line for medical aid. “I couldn’t help but wonder how their lives would be different if they would have had the opportunity to receive an education,” McGee says.
One of the most moving photos McGee took shows an elderly woman who had suffered a stroke two weeks before the team of volunteers arrived. The woman did not have the income to pay for medical bills, so she just lay on the cement floor of her home.
Most of the photos in the series are of children. The mission group that went to Nigeria last spring met with more than 100 children from different towns to find those who were either victims of or vulnerable to child labor and sex trafficking. The volunteers asked the children if they were in school, if they had jobs, and if their parents were alive. Children from surrounding areas would stand in line to tell their stories to the volunteers, McGee says.
While members of the group spoke with the children, McGee photographed their interactions and the people in need who passed by. She captured images of a 20-year-old girl who worked as a full-time caretaker for her grandparents; children and young adults selling items on the street; and others just sitting in the doorways of their homes with nothing to do.
But McGee also spent time photographing children who had sponsorships to attend private primary and secondary schools. According to the UN’s guidelines for sustainable development, quality education is vital for the improvement of people’s lives worldwide because it reduces inequalities between genders, helps build understanding and tolerance between peoples, and results in healthier and more sustainable living globally.
McGee will show her series 3:30–5 p.m. at the Golden Valley Country Club on Friday, November 3. The images are on sale and funds will go to BIZAA.
“The world is getting smaller each day,” McGee says. “We need more people to help others that were dealt a hand much more difficult from the start. Those who were lucky enough to be born in a society that gave them a chance to receive an education need to help.”