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The Power of Storytelling

Introducing Sauda Alkebulan, a talented upcoming photographer from South Africa

Imagine a storyteller.

For many of us, our minds travel to thinking of famous individuals - authors, filmmakers, photographers, musicians. We think of people that have changed the course of literature, such as Charles Dickens, or filmmakers that have redefined the art form, like Spielberg.

We see these people at the end of their careers and often neglect to consider the moments of quiet humility it took to get there. Storytelling begins in the community. Some of the most powerful stories don’t have a spotlight on them at all - they are the humble memories shared among family members, the moments of loss within a community, or the simple magic of everyday life. The beauty of storytelling is the freedom of expression it allows. You don’t have to be famous to tell powerful stories in your community - you only need to be authentic.

We recently heard from a storyteller local to South Africa. After looking through his images and learning more about his identity, we were absolutely blown away. Today, we want to use our platform to share some of his stories and bring light to the power of humble storytelling.

Text by Jordan Mehling, Images by Sauda Alkebulan

Introducing Sauda

Meet Sauda Alkebulan.

From a young age, Sauda was immersed in the world of storytelling. Sauda recalls some of his earliest memories being with his mother, listening to her share old folk tales. Sauda was enchanted. He felt drawn to the way each of his mother’s anecdotes was able to tell lessons and inspire positive action. When asked why he fell into the world of storytelling, Sauda credits it to these simple and magical moments as a young boy.

His introduction to photography began only 5 years ago. Documentary photographers like Kevin Carter, Ernest Cole, and Daniel Milnor served as his inspiration. He felt moved by the way these men could tell profound stories of life through the limited space of a single image. It was this introduction to the power of humanitarian photography, along with a childhood filled with his mother's storytelling that ignited Sauda’s dream to become a documentary photographer himself.

Sauda began his photography journey using his mobile phone back in 2015. Shooting everything he saw on his small device, he soon realized it was time to upgrade to his first camera. Skipping dates to save money and putting every bit of spare change aside, after years of saving up, Sauda was able to purchase his first DSLR in 2018.

To say Sauda is talented is an understatement. We are seriously blown away by the beauty and authenticity in the images Sauda shoots. As a self-taught photographer, who only purchased his first camera only 2 years ago, he is absolutely brilliant. Sauda is a storyteller that carries himself with humility and passion - he allows the powerful stories of his images to speak for themselves.

We are so thrilled to use our platform to share some of his stories! Below is a selection of images of some of his shoots. Alongside each image is an attached excerpt describing the context of the photograph.

Sauda's Stories

After discovering how his friends could magically appear on the screen of Sauda’s camera, a young boy living in Phumasilwe, Thembisa beamed with joy. His joy turned to pure enchantment after Sauda captured this image, showed it to the boy, and he was able to see the magic in himself.

Her eyes mark a lifetime of tenacity. Originally from Mozambique, she was brought to South Africa by her sister in search of a better life. Now, her only source of income is doing laundry for the residents of Phumasilwe. She doesn’t speak the language. She isn’t from this community. Yet she completes her task with a quiet humbleness and steady determination.

A childhood in Phumasilwe, Thembisa is marked with creativity. Like most informal living spaces in South Africa, there are not any designated areas in which children can traditionally play. Instead, they improvise. They find inspiration and adventure in what their surroundings have to offer. The boys in this image are found playing outside an un-used restroom, sewage water flowing freely alongside their play.

A group of young children had only moments before been fully immersed in the excitement of an impromptu tire race. Their childlike wonder soon turned to Sauda, the peculiar man with the strange camera who was peacefully watching nearby.

“Everyone calls him Mdala, meaning, "Old man". He is a friend of my mother. Recently, my mother had shown him a photograph of his late uncle. This image was used on the day of his funeral. He was moved by the power of the image. With quiet confidence, he requested I take a portrait for his funeral. This is that portrait." In the words of Sauda.

On a journey to Makambako, Tanzania, Sauda passed through Morogoro. Here on the side of the road, there was a small Maasai village. While some men in the community had developed new elements of modernization into their daily lives, others had maintained their traditional ways. The beauty and tranquility of the village remain to be untouchable.

The Power of Being a Local Storyteller

Sauda’s journey into photography is inspiring. He does not have sponsors, his work isn't featured in world-renowned magazines, and he is not a household name - he simply tells stories where he finds them. Humility makes stories shine.

Stories have the power to change the world. Time and time again throughout history, we’ve seen the impact of improbable individuals making a big impact by simply sharing the world around them. One photograph can spark a movement.

The good news? You don’t have to be a professional storyteller to change the world! Take it from Sauda. Simply start where you are at.

Sauda only began his journey into photography a few years ago. Since then, he’s become an avid and powerful storyteller in his community. Sauda is now making the bold (and incredibly exciting!) choice to pursue a formal education in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism. Considering his talent this early in his career, we are incredibly eager to see all the exciting places his passion for storytelling will take him.

Your Turn

If you are new to the world of photography, let this be your inspiration - you don’t need years of experience to make an impact. Any image, taken with a mobile phone, a disposable camera, or a DSLR can tell a story. What would it look like for you to embrace that?

Start telling the stories of the world around you. Use your camera to document the magic of casual everyday moments that often go unappreciated. Go get involved in sharing the stories of people impacted by issues affecting your community. (If you are keen to get involved in using photography in the climate movement, check out our blog post on Penda Photo Tours about Climate Stories here!)

You don’t need a spotlight. It’s not achievements that make people successful, it’s authenticity. So be brave! Don’t wait for the right time to start following your passion for photography, now is a great time to start!

You never know the kind of impact your images could make.


If you are interested in following Sauda on his photography journey, check out his Instagram here!

If you are keen to become a humanitarian photographer and bring positive change to society, check out our Non-Profit Photography Volunteer Program in Cape Town!

Follow us on Instagram Penda Trust to learn about our new photography projects.

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