Nonprofit Photography – The Underdog Project
Building young lives: Working with vulnerable children and dogs in Cape Town
As part of our nonprofit photography program, we collaborated with Mischke Bosse to facilitate a photo shoot at The Underdog Project in Hout Bay, Cape Town. Our Penda intern Marlena Conen joined the shoot.
-Written by Marlena Conen, Images Mischke Bosse
On March 11th, I joined photographer Mischke Bosse to the Underdog Project in Hout Bay, Cape Town. The Underdog Project is an NGO, which trains shelter dogs from the Domestic Animal Rescue Group to assist in non-invasive group therapy sessions with children from the townships. ‘The welfare of children and animal in South Africa are of equal importance to us and we believe we have found a way to provide mutual benefits to both these vulnerable groups.’ As soon as Mischke heard about this project, which seamlessly combines animal welfare and community work, she was keen to offer her time and services.
Day of the Nonprofit Photography Shoot
We have arrived there a bit before 2 pm on Wednesday afternoon. We walked down to the little wooden cottage situated right next to the DARG in Hout Bay. I took the 2 creaking wooden steps, which lead into the room where the project welcomes the children who participate in the workshops.
I met Nina and Michelle, the heads of the program and qualified facilitators of today’s workshop. While they were preparing the workshop and cutting the treats for the dogs, I took the time to look at all the photos and paintings in the room. The program’s aim is to reach as many children and dogs as possible, ‘to help create a better life for them and bring them more joy’, they explained.
Mischke and I sat down with the kids, who had arrived in the meantime. They got picked up from school and shuttled down to the DARG. Over some snacks and drinks, everyone drew a face on little prepared cards to tell the group how they felt today. This way, everyone had time to settle in the group properly and to be fully present at the project.
The children were all frequent visitors of the program and knew the ropes perfectly. As these children were familiar faces and have worked with a number of different dogs, they could choose which dog they wanted to work with this afternoon. With the help of Nina and Michelle, the project allows the children to take responsibility for their four-legged partner and to teach them basic skills and agility.
Armed with a clicker and a pocketful of treats, they each took their dog for a small walk to check in with the animal; starting off the session. Afterwards they all found themselves at little assembled stations consisting of a step, a hurdle, a hoop and a tennis ball.
Every child started teaching their dogs different things. Mischke and I were surrounded by dogs climbing steps, jumping through hoops and over hurdles. Every duo had a unique spirit and operated in its own pace. The workshop was filled with laughter, the sound of dog-clickers and children bursting out in excitement over the accomplished exercises. You could tell how proud they were by their wide smiles and glowing eyes.
After roughly an hour of training, brushing and playing with the dogs, the children gathered back inside of the wooden cottage. Nina and Michelle provided them with lunch and started humane focused work. The creative part began; painting, drawing and kneading. With this additional offer, the program provides a safe, stimulating extra-mural activity for young children.
While the participants were all super busy showing Michelle their artworks, Nina took us up to the DARG. She told us about the round about 130 dogs, which they feed, walk and care for every day. Let that sink in for a second. 130 dogs. Everyday. Just imagine how much work one dog alone is. And they managed that workload times 130. For me, the people facilitating all of this are true heroes.
I felt truly inspired by their way of dealing with issues. Their Public Benefit Organization took two vulnerable groups and designed a program that gives both groups mutual benefits. Empathy and various life-skills to the children and joy and care to the dogs. What a beautiful way to assist both- the dogs and the children of our society.
Inspired to Contribute?
In case you find The Underdog Project as inspiring and moving as we do, then please feel free to spread the word or even volunteer, donate or adopt a dog. More information on their website.
Here is a selection of the pictures from the shoot: