US couple forgoes fancy wedding, donates money to Tanzanian charity

21Jan 2018
Guardian On Sunday
US couple forgoes fancy wedding, donates money to Tanzanian charity

A United States couple opted to forego a posh wedding ceremony in California to instead spread good will in Tanzania.

Instead of throwing a lavish ceremony to celebrate their lifelong commitment to each other, Meylia and Neal engaged in fellowship with Tanzanian locals for 10 days. 

The couple decided to completely forgo tradition and the typical chaos of a large wedding back home in California to do something that would make a difference in Tanzania.

Rather than spend their money on flowers and a caterer, the California-based couple decided to fly friends and family to Tanzania, where Meylia's parents are highly involved in several charitable organisations. 

They would get married, but this was almost secondary to the spirit of the journey. Along with half a dozen guests, they visited orphanages, Maasai schools, and a centre for the deaf and differently abled, all with an aim to put their wedding money toward a higher cause. And with an average American wedding costing $35,329 (about 80 million Tanzanian shillings) in 2016, according to The Knot, there is a lot of good the couple was able to do both before and after the trip for the local community in Tanzania.

And to capture their unique journey, the newlyweds brought along travel and wedding photographer BA Van Sise to capture the essence of their love, and the trip of a lifetime.

The small group of loved ones along with the couple embraced their opportunity to do as much good as possible with the pair's wedding budget, by visiting orphanages and doing charity work at Maasai schools.

Jumping in with the group as they moved between activities and the brief wedding ceremony, Van Sise had the challenge of assessing the situation and determining just what sort of story he wanted to tell. For him, it was an assignment that called upon his work as both a professional travel and wedding photographer.

“It wasn't really a destination wedding—there was so little ‘wedding'—and it wasn't exactly a travel story (nobody really went to see the sights, per se, and there wasn't really a tourism-facing component to the story). So I ended up shooting it as two different stories; first, the story of this really interesting, unique thing these folks were doing: the humanitarian aspect of it, going and meeting and helping people and sort of the positive human story of it, of which there was a lot."

"But there was also the idea that, at the end, there's a love story going on—this couple blew their wedding money to go do this crazy kindness but hey, at the end of the day I want to make something beautiful too and there's zebras running around and I've got a gorgeous bride, so let's have some fun with that, too. So it becomes a mix.”

Indeed, Van Sise's reportage is a mix of candid imagery that details the spirit of the humanitarian work going on around him, while at the same time immortalizing the joy and glow of a young couple in love. Not overly posed, Van Sise managed to use the short time he had with the couple to also valorize the grand scale of their love. 

One of his favorite images, with the couple in an embrace as zebras casually stand scattered in the background, a dust storm kicking up around them, perfectly encapsulates the coming together of these two worlds. Dramatic and elegant, it points to the emotional core of the trip.

For Van Sise, it was certainly a wedding he'll not soon forget. “I shoot a lot of weddings, meet a lot of wonderful people, and I adore the pageantry of it and the joy of it, but there's something kinda neat about the idea of using it as an excuse to better people's lives."

"We spend so much money on weddings, often with the primary motivation of showing off wealth; there's something great about the idea of saying well, maybe this could be better utilised elsewhere.”


- The Modern Met