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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: July 3, 2014

SALT alum’s photographs capture the children living in some of Africa’s worst slums

National Geographic photographer Amy Toensing shows images of young refugees dealing with some of the most difficult challenges imaginable.

Written by: Bob Keyes

If Amy Toensing had not lived in Portland a decade ago, she might never have gone to Kenya last spring.

Toensing, a graduate of the SALT Institute for Documentary Studies and a National Geographic photographer, is showing her Kenya photographs at SALT through Aug. 8. The exhibition, “In the Shadows: Urban Refugee Children in Africa,” documents the challenges faced by young people in Nairobi, the largest city in East Africa and the place where children and families go when fleeing Somalia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

From there, refugees often come to the United States and, eventually, Portland.

Toensing, who now resides in New Paltz, N.Y., lived on Munjoy Hill in the early 2000s. Her neighbors were from Somalia.

“I got interested in what was going on in my own backyard,” she said. “And I really became interested in how young teen-age Muslim girls were adjusting to Western culture.”

“In the Shadows” is an extension of that interest. She and her husband, Matt Moyer, spent last May in Kenya. They raised $17,000 through Kickstarter, and partnered with RefugePoint, a nonprofit organization working in Africa to help refugees. One of Toensing’s contacts with RefugePoint is Cheryl Hamilton, who helped manage the migration of 2,500 Somali refugees to Maine between 2001 and 2003.

A Child’s Story from Moyer + Toensing on Vimeo.

With this project, Toensing’s goal is to personalize the children who occupy some of Africa’s worst slums. She photographed one or two families a day, mostly just spending time with the kids and photographing them in their daily lives.

“Kids are pretty easy to hang out with,” she said. “I would just talk with them about what was going on in their lives.”

The project left her aching with sadness. She has traveled widely for her work, and witnessed many horrible situations of people in poverty and need.

“It’s one thing to live in poverty,” she said. “But when you do not have a home, it’s just so sad. Not having that sense of belonging and that sense of place for me pushed it over the edge.”


WHEN: Through Aug. 8
WHERE: Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, 561 Congress St., Portland
INFO: 761-0660 or

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