Student Photographer Brings Views Of Africa To Rye

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Luke Passannante, Regis High School President Philip Judge, Randy Balleta, Christine Badi, John White, Kristen Ross, Max Dopsch and Kevin Casari at the opening of "Set the World Aflame" at the Rye Arts Center. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue
One of Passannante's photos from the Kibera slum in Nairobi, now on display at the Rye Arts Center. Photo Credit: Luke Passannante
Passannante, a senior at Regis High School in Manhattan, hopes to return to the Kibera slum one day. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

RYE, N.Y. – When Rye resident Luke Passannante returned from a service trip to Kenya with four of his Regis High School classmates, he wanted to share his experiences with others. His new gallery exhibit at the Rye Arts Center allows him to do just that.

For a little over two weeks in June, Passannante spent time traveling throughout parts of Kenya with classmates Max Dopsch, John White, Kevin Casari and Randy Balleta, as well as Regis faculty members Christine Badi, Kristen Ross and Joseph Carroll. They spent their time in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, the second largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. There they visited St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a Jesuit high school that offers free tuition for children who have lost one or more parents to HIV/AIDS, as well as the Nyumbani orphanage, for children with HIV/AIDS.

The photos in Passannante’s gallery “Set the World Aflame” show the poverty of the slum that the children live in and the hardships they face. The photos also show the joy of students going to school, and the smiling faces of a festival where they celebrate the tenth anniversary of the founding of St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

“St. Aloysius Gonzaga provides so much more than a school,” Passannante said. “It’s clear that St. Al’s provides a home for these kids, many of whom come without a real family structure.”

White, a resident of Garden City, Long Island, said, “Going to Nyumbani, we expected another heart-wrenching place, but instead we found probably one of the happiest places I have ever see.”

The photos of the orphanage show the smiling faces of children as they play with the students from Regis, a Jesuit high school in Manhattan. The students were so moved by the experience that they returned to the orphanage later in their trip to spend more time with the kids.

Passannante has always been interested in photography, and intended to take pictures to share with the Regis community. After returning and being so moved by his experiences, he decided that wasn’t enough, and wanted to open the gallery and sell prints to raise money for St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

“I wanted to pay back the people of Africa who gave me so much,” he said. “We want this experience to move on past Africa and hopefully come to the United States to affect more change and help continue their mission.”

The photos of the school, the slum, the orphanage and the wildlife of the Masai Mara reserve that the students visited is on display now at the Rye Arts Center.

The gallery will be open until Sept. 7, and all proceeds from the sale of photos will go directly to St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

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