Let???s get Real in 2012

 Unbelievable it is another new year, a traditional time to look back and also look forward.  It is perfect really as we crest out of the shortest day of the year, hopefully have a few days off  work, and distress from the last of the hustle and bustle of Christmas.  I could write a post about all of my accomplishments in the past 12 months, a litany of positive outflowings, but life is more than just our positives.  I just read an article on how Facebook is actually making us miserable as people typically post only the good things, which we then all compare ourselves to.  I am all for seeing the bright side, but I have to admit, that at times I have wondered if it almost creates a false placebo not much better than some kind of diversion to reality.

 

I have had an incredibly successful year if I only consider half of my life and look at only my accomplishments, all of the high points.  I realize I might be really letting myself open to conjecture on this topic, but I am going to be real, so here goes.  I have also had a lot of really low points, in the gutter, on my knees, kind of stuff.  I can only speak for myself, but I am sensitive, and perhaps I worry too much (most of the time!).  There is some ugly stuff that goes on in this world, and no matter how many daily quotes I get telling me that the answer to the woes are to see the bright side, focus on the positive, see a different reality ahead, it does not take away from way too many facts of truth about our society, our communities and ourselves.

 

On the other side, experiencing, no really, experiencing and really feeling the lows and working your way out of them can give you a gift, a tool of “how to” if you will ride the waves and the troughs of life; because we need to be able to cope with both ends.  When we really feel both the ups, the downs and the in-betweens, that is the fabric of life, and that is beautiful too.

Photos below from Ale España for Isla Urbana in DF Mexico

Isla Urbana installed rainbarrel harvesting systems for the Huichol, as the work was happening, they also created artwork with the children in the community! 

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I just got news yesterday that Cameras4Change is partway through the registration to Non-Profit, yaay.  I am scared to death, but also allowing myself the time to feel that and continue to move forward feeling what it is all about.  I am researching programs to add to our C4C workshops, things that will enhance the process, and in that flow I am learning, growing and adding which feels fantastic.

 

PS  my resolution is to spend more time with real people, doing less on the computer, do more yoga and more handson art, and continue…

Let’s get Real in 2012

 Unbelievable it is another new year, a traditional time to look back and also look forward.  It is perfect really as we crest out of the shortest day of the year, hopefully have a few days off  work, and distress from the last of the hustle and bustle of Christmas.  I could write a post about all of my accomplishments in the past 12 months, a litany of positive outflowings, but life is more than just our positives.  I just read an article on how Facebook is actually making us miserable as people typically post only the good things, which we then all compare ourselves to.  I am all for seeing the bright side, but I have to admit, that at times I have wondered if it almost creates a false placebo not much better than some kind of diversion to reality.

 

I have had an incredibly successful year if I only consider half of my life and look at only my accomplishments, all of the high points.  I realize I might be really letting myself open to conjecture on this topic, but I am going to be real, so here goes.  I have also had a lot of really low points, in the gutter, on my knees, kind of stuff.  I can only speak for myself, but I am sensitive, and perhaps I worry too much (most of the time!).  There is some ugly stuff that goes on in this world, and no matter how many daily quotes I get telling me that the answer to the woes are to see the bright side, focus on the positive, see a different reality ahead, it does not take away from way too many facts of truth about our society, our communities and ourselves.

 

On the other side, experiencing, no really, experiencing and really feeling the lows and working your way out of them can give you a gift, a tool of “how to” if you will ride the waves and the troughs of life; because we need to be able to cope with both ends.  When we really feel both the ups, the downs and the in-betweens, that is the fabric of life, and that is beautiful too.

Photos below from Ale España for Isla Urbana in DF Mexico

Isla Urbana installed rainbarrel harvesting systems for the Huichol, as the work was happening, they also created artwork with the children in the community! 

I just got news yesterday that Cameras4Change is partway through the registration to Non-Profit, yaay.  I am scared to death, but also allowing myself the time to feel that and continue to move forward feeling what it is all about.  I am researching programs to add to our C4C workshops, things that will enhance the process, and in that flow I am learning, growing and adding which feels fantastic.

 

PS  my resolution is to spend more time with real people, doing less on the computer, do more yoga and more handson art, and continue…

Today Brought to you by Hope and Determination!

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A few days before Christmas and I can feel the steam running out on me.  I don’t exactly know why I am not feeling giddy with delight.  I have everything to be happy about, and I could really ramble on right now about the doldrums.  Instead I am going to write a different story, one that is better-feeling about what is important to me.  The experiences from the past year have actually been pretty magical, and involve a lot of hope, determination, and transformation!

 

It was really about one year ago after working in Haiti that I wondered if I could actually take an idea and turn it into an organization in it’s own right?  Could I take the experience of working with youth in Haiti and teaching them digital camera skills, creative writing, and create a not-for-profit around that idea?  It has been just over a year, and based upon where I am now I would say YES.

 

I have mentioned Cameras 4 Change before in this blog, but for the record, I think I would like to really lay out exactly what it is about.  We offer arts based programs utilizing digital camera skills, creative writing, and specific educational components to individuals in challenging situations that would otherwise not have the opportunity to tell their own stories in this way.

 

After working the previous few years as a humanitarian photographer, I wanted to give back to the communities I worked with in an even more focused way.  I was offered to help structure and run a camera workshop with youth in Haiti, which was pretty much a dream come true for me.  That experience was pretty awesome, and I saw some key transformations in those that participated.  I saw pride, accomplishment, and sense of self take form; I witnessed excitement as the spark of creativity was ignited; I saw a coming together of the participants, family and community in ways that were relevant only because of our work.  I saw the capacity for so much more hope and opportunity, gifting individuals with new skills, stronger self determination, self reliance and capability that they can take forward in their lives, skills that offer new ways of coping with extreme situations, offering emotional support.  This is the beauty of Arts-Based-Programs.

 

I had an idea, but really needed to streamline it, build it and allow it to take shape.  I began by writing and talking about it.  Miraculously certain people presented themselves to me at key times to aid in the process.  Now I have a group of amazing women that are all willing to help take Cameras 4 Change forward.  We have a vision, a mission and a methodology all laid out on the blogsite. 

 

 

Our goal is to raise funding to run projects that are tabled for the next one to two years.  We have projects planned for Kenya, Soweto, and Mexico internationally, and are excited to make plans for working locally in Vancouver as well. Each project deals with issues aligned with the United Nations Millenium Development Goals, specifically we are working with people affected by Gender Violence, HIV/AIDs, Poverty, and Education.  We want these projects to run in places where capacity exists through our ground partners, and create sustainable programs.

 

In the long term we have a dream for an online platform that will create a digital bridge between all of the participants, showcasing imagery and stories, sharing lives, learning from each other, and connecting humanity. 

 

In order to do this I have spent many hours writing, thinking and talking with others.  I am so grateful to the generosity others have had in contributing, their excitement, shared wisdom, experience and genuine willingness to engage!  Thank you!  Yesterday I began the process of registration, which was a huge step, but it feels timely and “right”.

 

So as 2011 draws to a close, I am excited and tingly to think of what can happen in another year, and I have lifted my spirits as I finish writing.  I really want others to know that I am ultimately pretty selfish, I do all of this because it makes me feel so amazing.  I want everyone to feel this way, and I want to invite you to take a step if you have never taken it before.  I will be making plans for an event here in Vancouver sometime in the new year to raise funding to get at least one of our programs off to a start.  I invite you to join me in this journey together.  Stay tuned, have a Merry Merry Holiday Season and keep the hope and determination even when you don’t feel it.  Because when you reach out to make change in someones life that you don’t know it will feel like magic as your life too begins to transform right before yours eyes.

 

Besos….Cate

Nilakottai Girls

“How Circumstance and Chance Change Lives”

 

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I am been known to be enthralled with HIV + women in places like Kisumu Kenya, women community activists in Haiti, and women micro loan entrepreneurs in India, but, I do have some heavy career crushes on people like Stephanie Nolan and Adrienne Arsenault who are often reporting from the front lines on world changing issues.  I became hyper aware of Stephanie the year I began working in Zambia and then on to South India.  She had recently written “28 Stories of  AIDs in Africa” and had been sending us dispatches from South India where I had just spent a month working.  I was transfixed by Tamil Nadu, in a country I had long had on my list of “must-get-to” places.  Her reportage from the very region I had become bewitched with struck a real chord and I was thrilled to see her recent report on a unique school in India that supports girls affected by the Caste System.  The stories, the faces and the photos brought back so many memories.

 

During my last week in India I traveled to a small village about an hour from Madurai.  Nilakotai was home to what I was to discover an unlikely jewel, the Karunai Illam, an orphanage for boys and girls. The Illam was founded by Jean Watson, an octogenarian from New Zealand.  When I met Jean in 2009 she was 85.  Lovingly referred to as “Auntie” by the boys and girls she provides refuge for, Jean has actively worked to create an amazing hybrid of a home, which was amazingly holistic in its delivery of day to day life.  Her work although not revolutionary, is very evolutionary.  Illam translates as home, and Karunai means Grace, and this is very much in line with the essense of life here.

 

The children that are living here are divided by gender and living in 2 different areas.  The boys occupy an acreage on the edge of the village, where there is a large vegetable garden, deep well, and a number of buildings.  The girls all live near the center of the village in a large dormitory. I stayed at the girls dormitory which had a number of extra rooms to house us, along with a small courtyard, a kitchen and other rooms that the girls could collect in for study, meals, prayer and play.  The Illam is located next to a primary school and an adult learning center both operated by the DHAN Foundation, I was surrounded by the girls as they went about their daily activities, and it was such a joy to see the rhythm of their day and their lives.

 

I arrived with my co-worker Melanie Jones, a writer, and 2 guides from the DHAN Foundation.  We explored the facilities and met Jean and the Illam’s house mother as all of the children were at school.  Around 3.30 they began to arrive back at the dorm, and the girls were delighted to have 2 new strangers to meet.  They crowded around us, calling us Auntie and asking if we wanted a cup of tea with them.  I was taken by how they all set to work with their school books, or cleaning the dorm, the older girls assisting the younger ones, some doing laundry and others doing simple chores.  It was a synchronicity I hadn’t expected.  They were all eager and dutiful, not one complaining, and the energy created a delicious hum.

 

That evening Jean, an ex College English Professor, had prepared scripts for the girls to read and perform.  They loved to take turns playing roles in made up scenarious, practicing their dramatic arts as well as their English.  As I sat, one of the younger girls,    had taken residence next to me.  I noticed she had a pretty good skin eruption both on her hands, wrists and around her mouth.  When I talked to the head mistress, I found she was a student of Homeopathy and that they used homeopathic remedies to treat both the physical and the emotional ailments of many of the girls.

 

This all after dinner and prayers.  Then the girls seamlessly prepared their bed rolls on the cement floors and retired for the evening. I had my own room, but could hear the gentle din of their voices as they went off to sleep. Early in the morning around 5.30 I could hear the girls arise, and as I peaked out the door many of them were beginning their day with Yoga led by the House Mother.  Breakfast was prepared for all of them, and they were all scurrying around, some helping others with braiding hair, last minute checks to their school uniforms and such.

 

I felt such love for the Illam, in how it provided for these children.  Not only a place to lay their heads, meals and an education, but more importantly, a sense of belonging, love and community.  Support for the mind body and the soul, a humanistic interdisciplinary lifestyle approach, gifting the children with so much.

 

I managed to do a portrait session of all but a few of the girls who had left early for exams.  Then we got into a tap tap with Jean to take us over to the boys dorms for a quick tour.  Only a few minutes away, we drove up a long lane where some very small homes had been erected, housing without water, sanitation, and in many cases barely held together, this was a familiar face of poverty I was becoming accustomed to seeing.  A group of women were waiting with their brightly colored plastic water carriers for the water pump to work.  Various animals wandered the muddy road, where many were openly defacating or urinating, sometimes alongside children.  The same women were still waiting 45 minutes later when we drove back to the girls dorm.  Life was obviously very difficult for many in this region, and it solemnly reminded me of how much time women wasted without a choice. 

 

Jean explained the premise of her vision as we walked around the acres of land she had been able to acquire through the Karunai Illam Trust which is based in New Zealand. The Trust provides home to the 33 children living in the Illam, but also runs the primary school across the road, and an Adult Skills Education Center. Jean lives half of her year here at the Illam, and then returns to New Zealand where she is actively involved in fundraising for the Trust.  She had come with a friend to see India 20 years before.  She saw a need in this community with the level of poverty and children that were affected by it. Her response was to find enough money by selling her home, and buying some land.  Since then she has provided home, education, love and support to the children that end up in her care and much needed hope and support to the community.

 

I found the compelling story to surround the girls in the orphanage.  I saw a resourcefulness in their character, a strength and surety.  I asked what happened to the girls when they finished their schooling here in the village?  Jean told me that sometimes they would be married.

 

“The problem is, that normally girls in this community would be married, but these girls often have no family to provide dowry or introduction for an arranged marriage.”  Most of the girls had nothing but a school uniform, a sari, and sometimes some ankle bracelets or a bangle, and their bedding, let alone a dowry.  Yet they all considered themselves fortunate to be acquiring an education.  Some would go on to college if funding was secured for them, this was something that Jean saw to. 

 

The difficult challenge for them to marry in a society where women often become “someone of status” through the culture of marriage, can present a problem.  The only way to provide opportunity is for them to become educated, this way they can at least work and provide for themselves, and it will give them some status allowing the possibility of marriage.  I however felt that by default that these girls may have a better opportunity in life than many of their community peers with a dowry and a family, who may marry into the same life their parents had provided, no education, and no way up and out of the extreme poverty.   We know that girls that are educated, even though they may end up marrying, make much better decisions about number of children they have, usually ensuring that their daughters receive education, and better opportunities overall in life. Many of the girls from the Karunia Illam have gone on to study in the fields of B.Com, Information Technology, Computer Science and Engineering., thus providing themselves with a much better chance for the future.

 

After returning from the boys dorm, I was about to say goodbye to a group of children I will never forget.  A final line up of the girls along with the freshly arrived boys as the role call was taken before they climbed on the bus that would take them to their school.  I keep in touch both with Jean and receive the Illam newsletters.  Please check out the website, and if you ever wander or find your way to Nilakottai in Tamil Nadu, you must take the chance to spend some time, you never know, it may change your life too!

 

International Volunteer Day 2011

It is International Volunteer Day 2011.  We are constantly being asked to give of ourselves, money, time, energy.  Here in our western world, it may feel like we are bombarded with requests, and it can be overwhelming when we feel we already have so much to deal with.  Years ago when I began my journey working with meaning, and pursuing a career as a photographer working in development, it never occurred to me how much it would change my life.  I really understand that I cannot do all that is asked, but I do choose to look at the requests as opportunities, because when I give it actually benefits me too! I began by working internationally and will always be involved now.  I have recently began to work locally here in Vancouver, using my skills as a homeopath working in Vancouver’s DownTown East Side (DTES)

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For the past 6 months I have been volunteering with Side by Side, a homeopathic not-for-profit clinic that operates through the Portland Housing Society, a Non profit housing society that provides supportive living space for the hardest ‘hard to house ‘ people in the DTES for those with no other options.  I am happy to work there and find it gives me so much and is in tune with my international work. All of this has parlayed into a way of life and put me on the road that I am most grateful for.  It has enriched me beyond my belief and encouraged me to keep on believing in the world and in humanity.  Cameras4Change is developing because of my wish to continue to make a difference and give a gift to people in the form of finding their true direction and in opening the door to creativity.  I have also had so many amazing people come forward to help me with this, and I am sincerlely in awe of others.   Thanks to all of the people that volunteer the world over, we appreciate your heart and hands and all of the hard work you do. 

3 of my favorite people to volunteer with! Heidi Hurst, Sol Garcia and Christina Gomez in Kenya as we meet with girls at a local school

I want to personally thank the following people that have personally helped me:  Sandra Van Den Brink, Barb Briggs, Becky Mear, Thea Grivakes, Gillian Harrow,  Sol Garcia, Christina Gomez, Andrea Kennedy from Logic Pony, Lynn Slobogian.  These are only a few and forgive me if I have left anyone out, but I am indebted to all that work to make a difference!

GET ON YER BIKE FOR WORLD AIDS DAY 2011

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In the past year alone I have witnessed both throughout the world and right here in Canada amongst friends and through work how big a swath HIV/AIDs creates when it effects someone’s life.  Yes is can be catastrophic, but more and more, HIV/AIDs is becoming a way of life for all those that are affected by it.  There are many different faces and in reality it is part of our world and ultimately we are all changed and effected by it.  That is why we should all be a part of the equation when it comes to supporting organizations that work to help in the HIV crisis.  Sure, we can all buy jeans from the GAP, or other products, but sometimes it is good to be a little more direct and really reach out.  I am asking my friends and readers of this blog to give a donation, no matter what size to one of the following organizations in honor of WORLD AIDs DAY:

These are 4 organizations working in amazing ways that I have personally had contact with, visited and know people that work for them, and I know they all need help.  You can choose to make a difference at a local or international level.  I have also provided you with links directly to the donate page to make it even easier.  And for everyone that provides me with a proof of any size donation, I will be happy to send you something special, a prepared file to download, print and frame of the above image (without the text!) in honor of World Aids Day 2011.  The image is from a recent trip working in Mexico Just let me know what size you want, 8×10, 11×17 etc.  Much love….xxx…Cate

SWAP – Safe Water and AIDs PROJECT in Kisumu Kenya

http://www.swapkenya.org/home.php?p=donate

Partners in Health – ZANMI LASANTE – In Haiti

https://donate.pih.org/page/contribute/donate

AIDS Vancouver

https://www.canadahelps.org/DonationDetails.aspx?cookieCheck=true

AIDS Calgary

https://dnbweb1.blackbaud.com/OPXDONATE/AddDonor.asp?cguid=63E01E74-C140-42AE…//dnbweb1.blackbaud.com/OPXDONATE/donate.asp?cguid=63E01E74-C140-42AE-BD82-FAA7D51B1873&dpid=5080&sid=28BBD03F-2C9E-445C-A331-40E2FC6E9C99