Ve’ahavta supports homeless photography contest

Maria Santos, who was homeless 25 years ago, was one of the participants at this year's MYTORONTO photo contest. (Warren Wagner Photo)

Ve’ahavta distributed 109 disposable cameras to Torontonians for its second annual MYTORONTO photo contest at the Ryerson University School of Image Arts on May 10.

The program provides people who have experienced homelessness with a disposable camera and invites them to participate in a photography contest. The top 13 photographs will be featured in the MYTORONTO calendar.

“It’s a chance for people to express themselves creatively, which often for people who haven’t had a chance to express themselves, doing it creatively is particularly impactful for them,” Cari Kozierok, the executive director of Ve’ahavta explained.


MyLondon, a social enterprise developed by Café Art, started the program in London, England, in 2012. The program has been replicated in Manchester, New Orleans, São Paulo, and Sydney.

This year’s theme is strength. Participants must take pictures of things that represent strength to them.

“I’m going to take a picture of my daughter,” Maria Santos, a first-time participant said. Although, she lived in a women’s shelter approximately 25 years ago, the experience never left her.

Santos lined up outside the school at 9 a.m. to get her camera. The contest doors opened at 11 a.m.

She attended Ve’ahavta photography workshops leading up to the event, which taught contestants how to successfully take photos and cultivate creativity.

Participants register at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts. (Warren Wagner Photo)

Participants must return the cameras by May 15, and their work will be judged by a jury of artists, photographers, and politicians. The jurors will select 40 photographs to be featured at a gallery exhibit in October.

The advisory committee will then select the top 13 pictures to be featured in the MYTORONTO calendar. The calendar cover winner will receive $500, the calendar photographs will receive $200, and 27 of the photos selected to be in the exhibit will get $50.

One of last year’s participants stopped using drugs when he got involved with the contest. He felt he had reason to get up in the morning because he had somewhere to be, Kozierok explained.

“When we say words like marginalized by homelessness, I don’t think we realize that it’s marginalized on the very level of them as a person, that they don’t matter. And the MYTORONTO calendar program helps them to feel like they matter,” Kozierok stated.

When the contest is over, Ve’ahavta will run sales and marketing workshops from October to December to teach participants the skills needed to sell their calendars. The City of Toronto will grant participants licenses to sell MYTORONTO calendars. Last year 1,710 calendars were sold, making over $14,000 to be shared between the participants and Ve’ahavta.

MYTORONTO promotes positive change in the lives of people that have been affected by poverty and connects them with members of the Jewish community. Ve’ahavta’s objective, to bridge these two communities, was strikingly visible at the camera distribution. Approximately 30 students from Leo Baeck Day School volunteered at the event.

Thirty Leo Baeck Day school students volunteered at the event. (Haider Almudaweb Photo)