POLAHS Travel Diaries #5: National Geographic Photography Expedition - AFRICA!

Tamara was selected by her Career Technical Education (CTE) Digital Photography pathway instructor, Mr. Erick Miseroy, and Career Counselor, Mr. Michael Aspinwall.


My name is Tamara Echeverria. I graduated from POLAHS in June 2019, and now I’m a freshman at Los Angeles Harbor College. I plan to major in Anthropology, and I hope to work for the United Nations in New York. I want to help the world. Some extracurricular activities that I love to do besides photography are paining, fitness, and fashion design. 



I applied for the National Geographic Photography Scholarship because I love taking photos and improving my skills. I also wanted to learn more about this world we live in. I also applied for the scholarship in 2018, but wasn’t selected. So, I dedicated loads of time on my portfolio and worked hard this year. I asked for help proofreading my application essay, and worked many hours on photoshoots to get the best product - I wanted this opportunity more than anything.

"Set out on a photo safari amid some of East Africa’s most spectacular landscapes and hone your skills while photographing an ever-changing tableau of wildlife. Learn how best to capture movement and light as you frame dazzling herds of zebras, majestic lion prides, and wildebeests on their annual migration across the Serengeti. Spend time with the Maasai and document their traditions in the Ngorongoro Highlands." THIS is the Nat Geo Tanzania Expedition! 


There were 18 students total on the trip. Most of them were sons or daughters of high class doctors or lawyers, and sometimes I felt out of place. Throughout the trip, however, I realized how happy I am to be myself. I took this trip as a learning experience rather than a vacation. My photography skills advanced significantly over the course of this trip. My National Geographic mentor looked at my photos, and told me that they were good but could be better. I needed to have more of me. I needed to explain a personal perspective about how I view the situation, the environment, or the people. He explained how everyone can be a photographer, but not all have the talent to tell a story worth listening to. His advice changed me in a way where my photos could now tell a story. Not only did I learn from that, but I also felt a connection.



One of the most touching excursions in Africa was visiting the local home of a young girl named Glory. She lived with her mother, father, and grandparents. When we arrived, she screamed and cried in fear that we were going to take her away from her family. It shattered my heart and I felt a pain I had never experienced before, because of how she felt and viewed us. I spoke to her slowly and gave her my bracelets I had from back home. She eventually became attached to me and held my hand throughout the day. My portrait of Glory is now one of my best pieces. I protect that image because of the importance behind it. I have her home address and will now be sending her as much as I can, to give her the life she deserves. This was a good example of our daily lives in Africa. We had fun, but also experienced heartbreak that I will grow from. 



Life in Africa was a completely different world, but the best way I can describe my stay was pure. Just pure. Nothing but selfless, loving, and caring people.  I fell in love with people who were just grateful for living. It wasn’t about material things for them, like a big house or car. They gave and didn’t expect anything back, and it was because they just wanted you to feel safe and cared for.


With National Geographic, we did so manyactivities like hiking, going on incredible safaris, eating different foods, and much more. We woke up early in the morning and came back late at night.The food was amazing, such as coconut rice and fried potatoes. Indian food was very popular. I came back a changed person. I feel different and ready for what the world has in store for me.



The best advice I can give to future Photography students is to apply for this program if you have a love and passion for photography, and most importantly, the lives of others in the world. Learn the culture and some language before going. Be humble and kind. It will be completely different that anything you have viewed in America and be ready to live it fully. And always keep this in mind - “Be good and good things will come your way.''

My POLAHS trip donors changed my life for the better, and my family and I will never finish saying thank you. I am very fortunate that they have inspired me to do the same for another student in my situation in the future. Giving because you want a student to grow and experience the world is something that I highly respect. They will forever be in my heart with much love and care.