Behind the Camera: Ethiopia Service Trip

Britney Howard works at UK Athletics as a staff photographer. From time to time, she puts her camera down to reflect on some of her favorite photos and the moments they capture. Today Howard writes about her experience documenting a UK service trip to Ethiopia.

Since this is the time of year that many of us sit down and reflect on what we are thankful for, I wanted to highlight an incredible experience I’ve had at UK that has forever filled my life with gratitude. 

Twice each summer UK leads a service trip of student-athletes to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I have always loved to travel, so a few years ago when Executive Associate Athletics Director Jason Schlafer called to ask if I’d be interested in going to photograph one of our service groups, I said yes without hesitation. Unknowingly I’d agreed to 10 of the most life changing days of my 26 years. 

Our ten days there were filled with tasks to complete for people, but it became obvious to us a few days in that our most important purpose there was just to talk to people; as trivial as that sounds. After we’d walked a pretty good distance to take a sweet old lady a bag of rice, her eyes filled with tears as she said, “I know that you came all the way from America just for me.” She said she had been praying all day for someone to come make her feel like she wasn’t forgotten about and worthless. She, like many others, was grateful for the food, but was even more grateful that we gave her our time. 

Two years later, my heart still immediately softens when I think about the people I encountered there, people who are so warm, giving and joyful despite having nothing. I can still close my eyes and see their easy smiles filling my camera lens, so eager to have their picture taken. 

I’m also so very grateful that such an experience gave me a look into the heart of some of our student-athletes. Now, when I photograph each team I see a passion and bravery that extends beyond the court. I watch Tiara Phipps fearlessly giving her all in a floor routine and am reminded of all the little Ethiopian kids that she patiently taught to do cartwheels. Documenting Angelica Whaley making national headlines with the track and field team is even sweeter after seeing how big her heart is. 

So this week as we celebrate thankfulness, among many other things, I am grateful for the opportunity that photography gives me to broaden my perspective, and wonderful people both here at home and abroad.