Islander teaches ABCs of outreach in Africa

Along with Steve Neff’s wildlife and wilderness shots are images of a Samburu elder, and of his “A for Africa” inspiration, Gerald, shown with Neff on the page titled “U is for Us (Sisi).”    - Courtesy of Steve Neff
Along with Steve Neff’s wildlife and wilderness shots are images of a Samburu elder, and of his “A for Africa” inspiration, Gerald, shown with Neff on the page titled “U is for Us (Sisi).”
— image credit: Courtesy of Steve Neff

A Treehouse photo exhibit helps Tanzanian children’s org.

On safari in rural Tanzania in 2000, Steve Neff saw a small, frightened boy run out of a hut.

Neff picked up the child and, he says, rather naively walked him over to a nearby group of villagers to ask if anyone knew to whom the boy belonged.

“And this wonderful woman said, ‘Yes, that is my son Gerald’ in beautiful English,” Neff said.

The notion that English language could make its way even to this most remote spot humbled and inspired Neff, who captured Gerald in a photo labeled “U is for Us (Sisi).”

It’s one of 26 images in the islander’s self-published English-Swahili alphabet book, “A for Africa.”

The book, along with a series of photographs from Neff’s trip, is now on display and for sale at the Treehouse Cafe, with proceeds earmarked for the Tanzanian Children’s Fund.

Most of the photos in “A for Africa” depict in vibrant tones the majestic views and animals of the continent’s plains – giraffes, zebras and hippos among them.

A few show Samburu people as well, including a group of vibrantly dressed villagers and the long, braceleted arm of an elder.

The text and images not only invite local kids into the hues of Africa.

In the spirit of “bogo,” or “buy one, give one,” for each copy of the book he sells Neff plans to send one copy of the book to children in Tanzanian villages.

Neff’s intention isn’t merely to further expose the book’s recipients to English; it’s to show them the majesty of the animals in their own country.

“It was a way for me to give back a little to the wonder that I saw there,” he says.

Neff and his wife traveled to Tanzania and Kenya with roughly a dozen others on a tour organized by Bainbridge-based Africa Safari Specialists.

Through owner Sue Harader, Neff became acquainted with the work of India Howell, founder and executive director of the children’s fund, which in conjunction with a variety of registered, nongovernmental, non-profit organizations, provides financial and intellectual support to programs designed to improve the lives of marginalized Tanzanian children.

“It just struck me as an amazing effort by one individual spearheading it...and it had no religious ties, it was just there on behalf of the children,” he said. “That really struck me as a wonderful thing to contribute to.”

The exhibit and book, which Neff assembled with the help of his daughter Shreve Stockton in the role of art director, don’t represent Neff’s first foray into benefit art.

He’s raised funds for other causes by selling metalwork pieces at Treehouse – look for his sculptural tree hanging at the back of the coffeehouse.

But he says he’s not planning to make any moves toward professional photography anytime soon.

“I want to keep my amateur standing,” he said. “I’m just fortunate that I can sell what I sell to benefit causes.”

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