Today I witnessed a miracle, at least thats what it felt like, the kind that brings your emotions right to the surface and makes you tingle. We were visiting communities about an hour and a half outside of Mombasa Kenya with Greg Algood of P&G's Children's Safe Drinking Water. CSDW is also turning their attention to those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and we had been talking about that all week as I have also seen the big connection between water, women and HIV/AIDS. Hearing the story first hand from Greg was cool enough, but "seeing it" embodied made my soul explode. Conversation enroute to Gotani turned to talking about a woman they had met last May while in this region working with World Vision. We were attempting to visit her but she had left to go to St Lukes hospital to get her medications; so we made our way along the bumpy red dirt roads of Gotani. Upon arrival the world vision crew found Zeineb Karissa, a 38 year old woman who was diagnosed with HIV 4 years ago. Since that time she had been on anti-retros for treatment, but when they met her last May, Zeineb was not looking good. Water born disease in the form of diarrhea and vomiting is a scourge to those with HIV, not only are they more susceptable, but the symptioms can be magnified and ravage them, starving them of much needed nutrients and meds. Zeineb was underweight, not eating due to the diarrhea, had open lesions on her face and no energy. Greg and the others despaired at her chances but introduced PUR to her.
The transformation was immediate and amazing. Within a month she was feeling better, had more energy and no diarrhea, and was able to find employment as a home help. She has put on weight, and due to her new income was able to eat better food. This in 6 months! Greg and the others were jubilant at her transformation and I could tell by talking with her that life had been put before her again. She was the last person I was to interview in Mombasa before we left for Nairobi and then on to Kisumu this afternoon, but I can't get her smile out of my mind, and I will never forget her.
"IT TAKES" safe water to transform the life of Zeineb Karissa in Gotani Kenya
When I heard that I was going to go to Mombasa, imagery of sitting beachside sipping a long tall cool drink with pool dipping came to mind. But that was my preconceived idea of Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city which is nestled alongside the Indian ocean. I am having a great time here working on Give Health, the P&G initiative for CSDW (Children’s Safe Drinking Water), but it is completely different from relaxing poolside.
Instead I have been working 14 hour days in a convoy winding our way through some of the most challenged villages in this part of Kenya with Dr Greg Algood, Pam Crane of Blood Water Mission. It is hot and humid here, and I think my clothes could walk away on their own accord at the end of these days as there is so much of my DNA in them. Working in a team we arrive at households in communities that have been using PUR as part of their household water treatment and management. Most of the people living in these areas have to walk to get their water, and when they bring it back home it is really not ready to drink. That’s where PUR comes in.
Greg Algood has been working with several in country partners including World Vision, the Agha Khan Foundation, and SWAP. I am here to bear witness to that and to meet and speak with more people about water and life – they do go hand in hand. I am continually amazed at the challenges and the resilience that humans have. I have seen some difficult lives lived but also the grace and joy that also co-exists.
Signing off after an amazing day.
FANM YO BLUE HILLS
In late August I arrived at a small rural community on the edge of Cap-Haitian in northern Haiti. Nothing could have prepared me for the reception, we arrived to a room of 90 women, they clapped and sang beautifully to us, bringing tears to our eyes right away. They had been waiting most of the day in the hot Haitian sun, our plane was delayed and then our drivers got lost on the way to Blue Hills. But when we arrived it was all worth it, the drama that unfolded matched the moody skies as dark heavy storm clouds, lightening and thunder danced around us. We were there to talk to them about their lives, their worries and sorrows, and how water played a part in all of that. I quickly decided to do a mass portrait session with them, and this poster is a tribute to the women of Blue Hills.
At one time or another we all walk a fine line between 2 opposing realities. Working as I do with some of the worlds most challenged people I feel and see it in a big way. Walking around places like Sellur in India, or Shada in Haiti is a big cultural slap on the side of your head. There you are, walking through small narrow sidestreets, literally looking into the homes of the "have-nots", there are no Wiis, computers or walk in closets here, they don't even have running water. Walking around with $10,000 worth of photo-equipment, more money than they may earn in a lifetime, how can you balance that out in your head. When I return home for a while it is almost like reverse trauma, how did I get so lucky? Another slap in the face, forget about it, stop wasting your time on feeling sorry for yourself or guilty because you are lucky! This is where many people might tune out when they hear the stories of the poor, because it is the easy thing, instead I wanted to do something about it instead.
I decided that because I don't have a degree as an engineer, I'm not a trained medical worker, the best thing I could do is do what I do best, that is connect with real people, and tell their stories through imagery. REAL FACES is born from that, I am always drawn in by a photograph of a person, it grabs me and pulls me in, I want to know more. I am insatiably curious about how others live thieir lives, I love to hear their stories, like the cab drivers, the water delivery woman, the mother of 10. These are the people that are living the lives we want to familiarize the rest of the world with. The one thing I have found with everyone I have met so far, they are just like me, they have joy, happiness, struggle, and they all want to do better. I don't know what the magic key is to ending the imbalance in the world, I only know I am going to keep on trying to change the perspective of people here, to partner with the people there. Little by little it is happening.
The image attached is of a girl with 2 water containers, she was going out in the early evening before dark to get some water and stopped by a street exhibition I had organized with a youth group in Haiti, she stayed for quite a while but was very shy.
This Friday October 15 is a big day. I will be covering the WE DAY events here in Vancouver with humanitarian activists Mark and Craig Kielburger. I will be behind the scenes photographing all of the days activities and then doing unit coverage on the “shameless idealist” interviews with special guests Al Gore, Martin Sheen and the Reverend Jessie Jackson Sr! This should be an amazing event bringing highlight to some great causes. Also happening on the 15th via Change.org is the annual Blog Action Day. This year they are focusing on the cause nearest and dearest to my heart and my work….WATER. I have been asked to participate through Changents and so I will be writing about the UN General Assembly’s declaration this past July that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right. This will be posted on my blog at changents.com/cate-cameron
image: the “beach” in SHADA, an urban community in Cap Haitian, Haiti
Sometimes it makes me crazy, it makes me lose sleep, or awake early in
the morning anxious. So many thought processes, about them and me,
about their world and mine. How can I help, what can I do. I have
already traveled to Ndola, Mapalo, Mackenzie, George and Mandia in
Zambia; to Madurai, Chettinad, Ramanathapuram, Nilakotai,
Nagapattinum, Sellur and more in Tamil-Nadu, and recently to Blue
Hills, Vertieres, Petite Riviere de l’artibonite, Shada, Cap-Hatian,
Cite Soleil, and Port-au-Prince in Haiti. I could keep on going,
going, going. There will always be more to see. This is not the
issue. It is what goes on in my head, tapping away.
So much of what my mind is chuntering away on is trying to reconcile,
life death, what happens, what doesn’t happen, and why. Trying to
reconcile my world with theirs. Hoping that others who see my images
and hear the stories will magically awaken, and some “one” will make
another difference, and then another, until we all realize that it
isn’t about reconciling their world with ours, it is to undertake the
reality that it is “one-world”, and that we share the exact same time
I have been back from Haiti for 3 weeks now, and the fissure between the life here and there seems a little narrower, but it has definitely left a mark. I am working to put together a new program based on the Youth Education Project I rolled out in Petite Riviere de l’Artibonite in Haiti, and somehow, that is what is giving me solace. I am so happy that since my return there is already some energy being created around this, as I always say, one step at a time.
Changents have hooked me up and I am going to be interviewed tommorrow at the P&G sponsor booth at the MASHABLE UN SOCIAL GOOD SUMMIT in NYC. The interview is taking place in real time via Skype by a journalist from Patch.com, gotta love technology! I will be talking about Cameras for Change, the program I am developing and how it fits in with the UN Millenium Developemnt Goals of ending poverty, gender equality and combating HIV/AIDs. The program will utilize cameras to teach photography to youth in HIV afflicted families and communities, and will build in education around water, sanitation, HIV awareness and allow people to tell their own stories. The idea is to connect with people, teach new skills, build in confidence, responsibility, leadership and help to transform communities and lives. A huge bonus with a program like this is that it also offers support and recognizes the burden placed on caretakers in HIV/AIDs afflicted families.
This just in! I am going to be joining the CTV Crew again to photograph at WE Day in Vancouver on October 15th! Guests include Al Gore, Martin Sheen, Craig & Marc Kielburger, Reverend Jesse L Jackson Sr, Phillipe Cousteau, Hedley, and Michel Chlkwanine. I photographed last year when the Dalai Lama, Jane Goodal and Mia Farrow were guests. It is an awesome EVENT that really engages all those involved and I am thrilled to be asked back!!
I am thrilled that a piece I recently wrote when I returned from Haiti has been published on Care2, the largest online community empowering people to lead a healthy and green lifestyle while taking action on important causes such as human rights, here is the link…http://www.care2.com/causes/human-rights/blog/ghost-dreams/
I am a humanitarian photographer currently blogging about world water issues for NGO’s. This past year has taken me to Zambia, India and Haiti. This November I will be working in Kenya. I recently worked with youth teaching them how to use cameras to portray how thier lives are effected by access to clean water. I want to develop this program further using cameras to connect with kids, working with youth and especially within HIV afflicted families. Please follow my story here and on www.changents.com/cate-cameron
I appreciate you help,
1. A family looks out from thier modest home in Petite Riviere de l’Artibonite in Haiti as the rain pours down. August 2010
2. A pig is oblivious to the smell and state of the inlet banks in Shada, a slum in Cap-Haitien, northern Haiti. August 2010
3. Men shower under bullet riddled water towers in the center of Cite-Soleil, Haiti. Tension and violence is rising in what is considered on of the most dangerous parts of Haiti as the elections draw closer. August 2010