By Alyssa Hetterich | Photography by Maya Wells
When the sun begins to peek out over the horizon, he steps out with his camera in hand, prepared to spend the whole day waiting for the perfect shot. Whether it’s standing under the blazing Moroccan sun or amongst the crowded, bustling streets of India, the subjects of his images spring to life in his camera lense and in his classroom.
For Liberty Junior High School (LJS) social studies teacher David Schreier, both teaching and photography hold a special place in his heart. His first experience with taking photos came from a photography class he had taken in high school. While it didn’t catch his attention then, 15 years ago, he caught the bug.
Walking into a camera shop in San Francisco, Schreier purchased his first film camera. From there, he and his wife travelled to Yosemite to try out the new camera.
“We went and took all of these pictures, and I thought, ‘This is amazing, and these are beautiful [photos],’ and then I went to get them developed, and I said, ‘These are the most awful pictures on the planet. This is not what I saw,’” says Schreier. “From that point forward, I learned how to take pictures through trial and error and slowly but surely became a photographer.”
Since then, Schreier has embarked on a multitude of trips to places including Peru, Morocco, India, Kenya, Mexico and Papua New Guinea in order to try and capture the essence of a faraway land. For Schreier, photographing hippos while on a safari or bears feeding in Alaska allows him to embrace the natural world, yet it is people he enjoys photographing the most. However, due to limited time to travel, getting the best shot comes by chance, often because of his location and timing.
“The thing about my photography is that you’re sort of looking at one to two-week glimpses of my life,” says Schreier. “I might get one day at the Taj Mahal, so really it kind of depends on the lighting and the people there.”
Exhibiting the different cultures around the world in his classroom allows for the students of Liberty Township to see a broader range of diversity.
Teaching seventh grade world history and eighth grade American history, Schreier works to incorporate the tales of his travels into each of his lessons. This “unique, first-hand experience” is something that friend and fellow LJS social studies teacher Rick Cooper has been able to see in working with Schreier.
“Through his travels, [Schreier] is able to take something the students are learning and bring it to today, so the students are able to see the relevance and make real-world connections in their learning,” says Cooper. “For years, we as a social studies department would have Dave come into our classes and do presentations on the ancient civilizations of the Mayas, Aztecs and Incas. He is able to really bring to life with his pictures what these places are like.”
Schreier’s classroom hosts dozens of photos that he has taken, each vividly depicting the country and life behind his most recent adventure. But, look for one second longer and notice behind the colorful scenery and smiling faces are images depicting the harsher realities of life beyond United States borders.
In 2009, Schreier travelled to Papua New Guinea and was struck by what he experienced in an orphanage in Mount Hagen. The children were living in the streets, displaced from the poor conditions of the orphanage where rats loitered around the garage as kids slept on the floor or benches. Disease and filth made for a sickening image.
Since then, Schreier has made it his mission to support the orphaned children of Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea and other countries around the globe, often claiming that “God called him halfway across the world”.
“It literally takes me 36 hours to get there, and it’s one of those things that I yell at my students all the time that if they only knew—it’s night and day [between schools in Ohio and schools in Papua New Guinea]. Their school in [Papua New Guinea] is very corrupt,” says Schreier. “The schools are there, but it might just be a room shared by all different ages. Even if you go through school, there may not be jobs—poverty is off the charts.”
According to Oxfam Australia, 37 percent of people are living on less than a $1.25 while 60.3 percent live without clean water. Because the children cannot sustain themselves financially, Schreier uses his website, dlsimages.com, to send 100 percent of the proceeds from his photo sales to orphanages in India, Mexico, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea. In addition, Schreier has created a non-profit website, orphanlist.org, to support the widows and orphans of Papua New Guinea.
Because Schreier spends the majority of his time in Ohio, he uses the internet to connect him to the workers at the orphanage. One longtime friend is Rosa Kepo, who is “passionately called Aunty Rosa,” a native of Papua New Guinea and director of the Bible Faith Orphanage Outreach (BFO). Aunty Rosa works to better the conditions of the children while also enforcing the importance of education.
According to Aunty Rosa, because of the fundraising Schreier has done in the United States, the BFO was able to purchase a large piece of land, provide school and college fees, shoes and clothing, medication, blankets and food money for the children. Also, a truck for school runs, market visits and land development was purchased thanks to Schreier’s fundraising. The BFO now plans to build a fence around the new property to keep the kids safe in addition to dormitories for the girls.
“Dave Schreier is a great mentor and motivator of Bible Faith Orphanage Outreach,” says Kepo. “We thank God for this special friend. On behalf of [the] management committee, children and staff of BFO and my family, [we] are so privileged to have come to build a long time relationship and friendship with Dave Schreier.”
Being able to aid children abroad is part of what makes Schreier a unique teacher, but it is his dedication to the students he mentors overseas and at home that makes Schreier the person he is.
“I was kind of a crazy kid, but that changed between my sophomore and junior year of high school,” says Schreier. “I decided I wanted to be a teacher, and I knew i wanted to make a difference in the world.”