“Your Eyes” or “Rant #105”

Recently someone in my family made the reference that they could no longer support any financial aid to African countries due to the fact that the money and effort previously poured into the continent has not done a thing!  I was astounded by this attitude, as I thought that this way of thinking was really something of the past!  I am also sure there would be millions of people living and working there that would be surprised too, as they are likely proof of the changes that have made positive transformation in lives and communities there.  Further investigation shone light on the fact that my family member had been involved with an organization where the in country ground partner absconded with donated money and equipment.  I can understand how as volunteers and donars they would feel angry, but this is such an out of date sentiment in this day and age.  I think fear stops many from actually taking action, maybe of doing the wrong thing, or wanting to shut out the pain that others may exist in.  We cannot bury our heads in the sand. Its like saying, we have poured millions into healthcare, but people still get sick.  I myself have experienced the wrong end of the stick in the Zambia, Kenya and Haiti, but I don’t want isolated incidence’ to color the page for every person and thing that happens there. We all have eyes and we can all see that life can change in an instant, we have all been helped and supported in some way in our lives, and we have a responsibility to others too.

I am thankful that as a human being I have come to the realization that there will likely always be huge divides in the world, but that does not mean that we should not be caring, compassionate and make effort to do something.  We are all given chances to help others every day.  Missed opportunities happen all the time, but don’t worry, there will be another one just around the corner!  If you have never taken action, please try it sometime, you will be surprised as to how “you” feel afterwards, and how it will change the way you “see” things.  We are all actually “one” and if you don’t see that then you are part of the problem, be part of the solution instead.  Nuff Said!eye4aneye

Lives change every day for the better
Lives change every day for the better

It works both ways,  Jennifer was one of the first girls Sol Garcia and I worked with in Kenya on the subject of Child Marriage and FGM.  She changed our life, and hers was changed too by a sponsor who has allowed her to educate herself and move forward.  This meeting was 2 years after our first introduction, and she is a changed girl!

Community LeadersThese Kenyan women work hard in their own communities to exact change on the lives of girls in the community by saving them from child marriage.  The risk and sacrifice to their own lives is extensive, but they work to do it,  very often with the support of others from outside of their country that allows the work to continue.


 I have definitely thought about it, the risk that I have put myself in when I work in field with some of my partners.  There have been occasions when I felt I was in danger, like putting a plan into place about how to deal with abduction, like the time we were robbed in Haiti, which sounds worse than it actually was, or the time I was being dangled over a 3 foot wide 50 foot  deep hole in the ground in Kenya by a very inebriated man.  Point being, I was putting myself into situations that were potentially putting me at risk.  The upside of that was the experience I had, giving me a better understanding, the people I connected with, and my connection to the world.  Beats staying home and watching tv!

So now here I am, the creator (along with some very dedicated people) of a non-profit, ready to put more endless hours of planning and creating a program overseas in Kenya for girls affected by fgm.  This is going to require many more hours of making plans, creating budgets, more meetings, planning travel, creating schedules,  more asking, more redefining plans, taking time from our families homes, and jobs.  Cameras4Change is not just a thought or a dream anymore, it is a full blown reality, a full time job that takes up a lot of space in my heart, head and life.  We all took risks putting the event together, would people come? Would they buy tickets?  Would they stay and participate in the silent auction? Would we run a great event that people will come back to next year? We believed in it, we got others excited, we got corporate sponsors excited about us, we got everyone willing to participate, donate time, services and money so that we can go forward and take even more risks. 

Every step of the way was a risk, but one that we were all crazy enough to believe in, one that we visualized and made happen.  Sure we spent countless moments of nail biting, and many sleepless hours of anxiety too, but we just kept on doing it anyway. We ignored the nagging voices in the back of our minds, the ones that we would never make a move with if we actually listened to.  I know it will be the same going forward, running a project will take huge tenacity, we will have to take many risks, albeit calculated, as we forge forward.  We are doing it because it is the right thing to do, and in life there is no such thing as “risk free”.  Every breath we take is a risk, every time we walk out the door, get in a car, fly in a plane, there is nothing that is certain except uncertainty.  We will learn more about ourselves, others, and, our world. We will feel better that we are active, that we are participating, that we are alive, that we are breathing and that we are living, really living.  That is life friends, take a risk, I’m telling you it beats watching tv.


 In Haiti there was a healthy respect for the potential risks, we were told point blank before we arrived.  It is interesting to note however, that the largest cause of deaths among humanitarian and aid workers is traffic accidents.  In the short video below from India where it is common to enter highways and have to travel a good distance on the wrong side of the road…you’ll see what I mean!  I was in the car with @calamityjones’ Melanie Jones!

Watch on Posterous

You will note a stunned silence, that is Melanie and I speechless after a near death experience!  Then my saying “good idea Ravi” when he returns to the correct side of the road.

Without People you are Nothing


You never know where or who you are going to learn something from.  I have learned the most amazing things working in the most remote villages; even perhaps my biggest life lessons and that is the truth.  I love this quote by the iconic musician Joe Strummer, lead singer of one of the all time great bands, the Clash.

“people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks – I am one of them. But we’ve all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything – this is something that I’m beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That’s because they’ve been dehumanised. It’s time to take the humanity back into the center of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain’t going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you’re nothing. That’s my spiel.”

This quote resonated with me in a big way, and so I wanted to share it.  I watched the documentary “The Future is Unwritten”, a film by the enigmatic Julian Temple.  I grew up with the clash, my early 20’s, then living in central London, he was part of my musical map as a young adult.  I had forgotten what a force Joe Strummer was, but equally as important as his creative endeavors, was his mean streak of humanity, which seemed to match his equally strong quality of antiestablishmentarianism.  I love that, an artist with true passion for the human being, and the guts to stand up for it.

Joe if he were still alive, with his love of life, amazing creative force and love of humanity, would likely have delved even deeper into causes close to his heart; but the wisdom in his words still remain to remind us of the succinct truth that people can and are capable of anything, and that without people, we are nothing.  So when our society realizes this and perhaps puts people ahead of money, we will attain something worthwhile. 

I have said this before, and I will say it again, until we get off of our little tracks and look around, we will never get to where we think we need to be going, because, alas dear friends, we are here, right now; and if we can then attach this feeling to humanity, reach out and do something for someone else, then we are truly where we need to be.  Honest, just try.


1.  Although we did not speak the same language, we still communicate, I loved meeting this young girl who sacrificed much to help her mother.

2.  This puppy in the south of India taught me about trust, in a country where many dogs are mistreated, he was willing to trust me.

3.  It can be challenging to stay open to others, especially when you see them come towards you in the middle of a field with an axe, but it was worth making the connection, he was kind and happy to meet me!

Nilakottai Girls

“How Circumstance and Chance Change Lives”



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!



Last night I had a premonition that all things are possible.  That we don’t have to suffer our way through life, or struggle towards joy.  That maybe we can simply “be” joyful, and be happy in life.  I am choosing this right now.  I love my life, I love the work I do, and on a daily basis I choose to meet interesting, inspiring people, and guess what, that is what happens.


This past weekend I gave a presentation at DIGITAL EXPO 2011 in Calgary, an amazing weekend for photographers with guest speakers, trade equipment and most importantly, community!  I spoke about my work as a humanitarian photographer, defining what it means from my perspective, how it differs from photo-journalism, and the direction it is taking me. 


Crucial to the way I operate, is the theme of connection.  That is how I work in field, by truly connecting with others, looking past the situations and circumstances that separate us, and aligning myself with them on a human level.  In taking photos that tell their story, my intention is to reconnect others to them.  What I often find is that despite their often extremely challenging lives, underneath that I am meeting interesting, inspiring people.  That the more severe the situation, the more uniquely brave, amazing and rewarding are the individuals I work with.  Here are a few, and I look forward to many more that I will never forget.


#1I met these women by getting up at dawn to walk around the village of Karikudi in the Chettinad region of India to beat the heat of the day.  They were on their way to wash at the lotus pond!

#2 These children were all set to have fun, love the superhero poses!

#3  I love animals and saw many in sub-Saharan Africa, India and Haiti, but this guy was the most friendly, it was hard to leave him.



I need to believe that I am in the perfect place right now, for where ever it is I am meant to be going.  Sometimes that can be a hard pill to take, but I take respite in this meditation whenever I feel the frustration of where I am at, especially if things are not moving fast enough for me – which is…always!

I have been working away at organizing Cameras 4 Change in a succinct, patient and organized way, so that when it does finally come together it will be solid.  It is taking some time, but I am learning so much along the way, and things are unfolding perfectly.

As I have kept this thought in my mind so much of late, I have also wondered how it relates to those that are struggling, both in my world and the many people that I have met in Kenya, Haiti etc.  Their lives are so vastly different, some unimaginably so, and it makes me wonder how that could be the perfect place.  This is a philosophical question and I am not exactly an expert, but still, here it is.  I guess my place in all of this becomes simple, to accept where I am, and know that I can make a difference in all of it.  It may only be a small difference, like that of one ant.  It seems to me it is the consistency of the heart that matters, and the continuation of belief that will resonate with life and others to fuel the change that needs to happen.  There, I think that is a good answer!


1.  The Perfect Place to talk on your cell phone!  Rural Coastal Kenya

2. I never had difficulty finding the perfect place in India, here morning prayers at DHAN Foundation, or…

3. Meeting Women doing laundry at The Lotus Pond!


*I wrote this on Tuesday, the day after the death of Jack Layton, an astonishing human being whose beliefs and life will continue to teach us for generations!


Yesterday one man lost his life in a battle with Cancer.  His last words to the world in a letter to Canadians were succinct, simple and synonymous with the way he lived, “My friends, love is better than anger, Hope is better than fear, Optimism is better than despair.  So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic, And we’ll change the world  I have seen this posted a multitude of times already on Facebook and Twitter.  Jack Layton, the leader of the NDP politico and the official leader of the opposition party here in Canada had values that I have not seen in other political leaders, actually, they were values that I don’t always see in everyday people, but they are values that are so important.


I choose to live without fear, and with optimism and love, perhaps that is why I accomplish the things I do in my life.  Today I spoke with David Vargas, chief operating officer with Isla Urbana, an amazing organization working in the barrios on the edge of Mexico City.  Tlalpan, the city delagacion where they operate is home to some 1-1.5 million people who have no water infrastructure.  Isla Urbana harvests rainwater and implements cisterns to keep the water in.  They have done this in a very cost effective way, and in the past 2 years since they began operating have implemented 500 cisterns and plan to facilitate another 1000! 


 Clean Safe Water is what makes the difference between living and surviving in many cases.


I love the work they do, because at the outset, it could seem daunting to take on such a dense area, but this is how change happens, how transformation begins.  Simply by beginning, 1 person, 1 family, 1 community, 1 cistern at a time!  They are revolutionizing rainwater harvesting to create a sustainable and environmentally stable solution to answer many of the water related problems that exist in Mexico City.  Isla Urbana is really taking the same values that Jack Layton had during his 3 decades of public service and putting them in action, a passionate, courageous man who fought many times for the rights of those that could not, refused to be affected by despair, hopelessness, or negativity, and simply making it happen because it is the right thing.  Thank you for the work that you do!


 It makes the difference to being able to work and make money to feed your grandchildren every day, Casey Kasoma‘s  children are dead and she is left alone to care for their children, waterbourne disease is responsible for 88% of diarhea cases worldwide, leading to death and loss in ability to work.


 In the developing world (that is most of the world) clean safe water is hard to come by.  Here in Haiti I visited SHADA, a slum in Cap-Haitian. Ancient Romans had better quaility of life than half the people alive now *Water.Org