BORONGAN CITY – Graduations may be an important milestone for students but poverty stops many of them from having their photos taken for posterity.

But in Eastern Samar, a group of professional and amateur photographers have banded together to take graduation photos of students from the most disadvantaged communities for free.

In partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) Eastern Samar Division, members of the Borongan Digital Photography Forum visit remote communities in the province to take the graduation pictures of school children – class portraits and individual photos that they can keep for years.

The initiative called Project Dagway (“Dagway” is a Waray-waray term for image, reflection and light) also brings together members of Sinirangan Pageants, a group of professionals from various fields who assist the students with their make-up before the photo shoot.

Alren Beronio, an award-winning photojournalist who contributes photos to national and international publications, said the project started in 2020 but was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic when classes shifted to blended learning and border restrictions were imposed.

“The Borongan Digital Photography Forum initiated this program in order to assist underprivileged youngsters in remote places who cannot afford a graduation photograph and who can share memories with the free pictures and serve as an inspiration,” Beronio said.

He said their group has also previously raised funds by selling photos of Borongan and Eastern Samar tourist attractions and setting up a mobile photo studio where the proceeds were used for disaster response.

“This led to our idea to offer free graduation pictures to kids in rural areas,” he said.

“We want to continue our advocacy in helping through the lens,” adds Miguel Voloso, a known photographer and the administrator of the group.

On Friday, March 31, the group trekked to a remote village in Balangkayan town to take the photos of 68 graduating elementary pupils of Cabay Elementary School and adjacent village schools.

They set up a small studio with lights and strobes inside a classroom, photograph each student individually while they are wearing a toga, then print the images out as A4-sized photos for each student. In the coming days, the group is set to sail to the historic island of Homonhon in Guiuan town to take photos of 300 students in the whole island who are set to graduate in April. Other places in the line-up include the upstream town of Maslog, Hinolaso village along Dolores River and in Matarinao, Salcedo. By Elmer Recuerdo (EV Mail April 3-9, 2023 issue)