HUMANITARIAN PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD Issue 5
It has been a while since we released the latest issue of The Travellist magazine. Well, ... your favourite travel magazine has gone through several changes and I am excited to announce that we have now re-branded as the official publication for the NGO Photographers Alliance.
Right! It has been quite a journey to this point. I have been honoured to take on the responsibility in the role of Art Director for the NGO Photographers Alliance in 2017 and now as the managing editor for future issues of The Travellist magazine.
I am going to spare a few lines to tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Branislav. I’m a photographer, journalist and graphic designer originally from Europe but now living the dream on the west coast of Australia. I have always been a magazine enthusiast, absorbing stories and images in parallel to one another. I truly believe that life without stories is an empty vase so here I am, ready to entertain you and make you wonder!
My first contact with the magazine was back in 2015 when I was approached by (founder) Ryner St John and given the chance to showcase my skills in photography and storytelling as the featured artist in the 3rd edition of the magazine. If you are reading these lines, then that also means I have successfully finished this latest issue as the editor and I am ready to hear all your constructive feedback! This 5th issue is where The Travellist is being redesigned and re-imagined. When seeking out obscure destinations, I have come across so many travellers each with so many thrilling experiences who could clearly add positive value to our magazine, and I am excited to bring you some of their stories.
The feature article for this latest edition comes from renowned Czech journalist Marketa Kutilova, who will take you on a journey to some of the most dangerous places on earth as she recounts her almost impossible experiences working in war zones. Furthermore, we have compiled stories from a few of our great NGO photographers Alexander Michael Cave (US), Stephanie Platero (Canada) and Cédric von Niederhäusern (Switzerland), who will take your reading souls on a vicarious adventure through Bolivia and Ecuador. Finally, the simple fact that travelling always surprises us with the unexpected is exemplified in Jaroslav Jindra’s story as he attempts to cross the border from Bangladesh to India and instead ends up stuck in No Man’s Land.
Without further ado, enjoy the 5th issue of The Travellist. We will strive to keep you engaged and you, the readers, are free to engage (or reject!) us.
Have safe wanderings, my fellow travellers!
War Stories: Documenting Conflict in Syria & Iraq
Alexander Michael Cave
The Many Faces of Bolivia
No Man’s Land
Street Eats, Photography and a Mentorship Program – My Ultimate Travel Itinerary in Ecuador
Cédric von Niederhäusern
Modern Day Thoughts
Journalist and humanitarian worker. Her articles and reports from Third World countries have been published in many media outlets. She has acted as a project coordinator for foreign missions of People in Need (Iran, Sri Lanka and Haiti) and founded projects to help victims of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In recent years, she has been trying to document the war against the Islamic State. Marketa regularly runs headlines on northern Syria and Iraq, capturing the stories of people in war zones that has led to her co-authoring books about the Islamic State. She is also involved in lecturing and publishing activities.
Alexander Michael Cave
In a decade of photographic documentation, Los Angeles based photographer Alex Cave has used his camera to explore displacement and isolation. His latest series focusing on deported US veterans living in Mexico is a testament to the confrontational nature of his subject matter. Alex attempts to create a feeling of isolation using a neutral color palette, featuring one bright, out-of-place tone. Alex has also photographed melting glaciers in the arctic, sub-urbanization in the American Southwest, and childhood poverty in Bolivia.
His publications focus on extreme sports, war conflicts, travelogues and wildlife. Jaroslav has published a number of books on paragliding, hang gliding and travelling. In collaboration with Czech TV, he has also recorded several parts of the program On the Road (Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia) and documentary film Self Against The Mountains. Currently, Jaroslav is producing the documentary film Adventure Named Dakar based on the world-famous Dakar Rally, a long desert competition that has been taking place in South America since 2009. Jaroslav has visited more than a hundred countries around the world and he is also considered a pioneer of paragliding in his homeland the Czech Republic.
Canadian photographer, coffee drinker, food lover and travel addict. If not on the road experiencing a new country or environment, you can often find Stephanie working from home happily enjoying the warmth of an Alpaca blanket. Her heart is in sharing with others the beauty in tradition and culture. Most known for her work with colours and creating positive imagery.
Cédric von Niederhäusern
Documentary photographer based in New York City. He was born in Bern, Switzerland, where he worked as a photographer for several media outlets and as a photo editor for the daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. His documentary project “City Upon A Hill” has been exhibited in the United States, the Netherlands, India and Switzerland. Currently teaching at the International Center of Photography in New York, where he is a former graduate from the Visual Journalism and Documentary Practice program. His main focus as a photographer is the current political landscape in the United States and issues surrounding it.
Pond5 artists come from all over the world. Some record at home studios, some shoot on location in media hubs like New York, London, or Los Angeles, and some travel far and wide to report on what matters most — human survival. This is the case for Czech artist Marketa Kutilova.
Marketa has spent her career reporting from some of the most under-developed and dangerous places on Earth, telling the stories of those without a voice, those only concerned with surviving in the world’s harshest conditions. Kutilova is a member of the Czech journalist collective known as Femisphera — a group focused on documenting the struggles of life in developing countries and war zones, with an emphasis on women’s issues. She recently returned from her third tour of Syria and Iraq, where she was embedded with resistance fighters struggling for control of their homelands. We caught up with her to discuss her travels and experiences, including how she got started as a journalist.
Studies and Training
As Marketa started on her career path, however, she found that it wasn’t so easy to get sent to a foreign hotspot. “I started university and was studying to be a journalist the same time I started working for the same newspaper where Petra was employed. I was waiting to be sent to some war region to be a reporter, but it didn’t happen, because here in the Czech Republic, the media do not normally send reporters to war zones unless you’re working for Czech television — and even then that’s very occasional.”
Kutilova realized that if she wanted to work abroad she’d have to be fluent in English, so she went to London to work as an au pair for a year, and upon returning to Prague, she was able to listen to the BBC and read English newspapers without using a dictionary. She also realized that after working two years at the newspaper without being sent to a war zone that if she wanted go abroad, she’d have to send herself.
Worldwide Aid Efforts
Marketa went on to work as a humanitarian aid worker in Iran, Sri Lanka, and Haiti, getting her big break as a journalist reporting on the Bam earthquake in Iran in 2003. “There was a huge earthquake in Bam,” Kutilova remembers. “It was December 26, 2003. It destroyed the city of Bam completely and 40,000 people died. My coverage was on the front page of my newspaper. I met some people from a Czech NGO called People in Need and they asked me if I could stay for two weeks and work as a volunteer with them.
“I came back to Prague, resigned from the newspaper and went back to Iran to work with People in Need,” Marketa continues. “I stayed for a year, working as a humanitarian worker and then came back to Prague. Soon after, the Indian Ocean Tsunami happened, so I went to Sri Lanka, worked there for three years, then went to the Democratic Republic of Congo to report on sexual violence against women. Based on my articles in the Congo, people started to send money for the victims, and I went back there to open a humanitarian mission and stayed two more years.”
“My last mission as a humanitarian worker was when I went to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010,” says Kutilova. “Since returning from Haiti, I have worked solely as a journalist. Some colleagues and I established Femisphera, an agency focusing on war regions and female issues around the world. We make documentary movies, photo exhibitions, public presentations, and reports for Czech TV. For the last three years, we’ve been focusing on the wars in Syria and Iraq, and have published two books about the war in Syria, both of which became bestsellers in the Czech Republic.”
The Sand and the Scenario
Kutilova has just returned from her third tour into the war zones of Syria and Iraq, and this time she managed to get into Mosul. “We were some of the first journalists who went to Mosul,” she says. “All we saw in the streets of Mosul was children, a couple of men, a few horses and some cows outside to get grass, a very small store selling food, and some children collecting garbage. They were collecting plastic bottles and searching for any food they could find.” “The battle for Mosul will be very long,” she continues. “It will take many months, because the Daesh (ISIS) fighters entrenched there are ready to die there. They are operating mainly in the tunnels beneath Mosul. These tunnels are very clever, because you can’t make air strikes against them. They’re underground, so these fights can take a very, very long time. It’s almost impossible to destroy Daesh fighters in the tunnels unless you go into them yourself. They’re kilometers and kilometers long.”
“We made big reports in Manbij, a city in northern Syria that was liberated by Syrian Democratic forces in August. We were covering the victims of mines, because when ISIS left Manbij, they placed thousands of mines in the city, killing many and leaving hundreds of victims handicapped. Many of the victims are children. Foreign journalists are not allowed to go to this region, but we have a very good contact there, so we got there. We were the only foreign journalists who could get there at the time.”
“We were in Raqqa when the offensive started,” says Kutilova. “The US is playing the biggest role. They have two airports and 500 special forces in northern Syria. We were working with some refugees from Mosul who were waiting on the Iraqi- Syrian border, covering the stories there. We were also covering stories from Kobani, a city liberated from ISIS two years ago, which we’ve been following for two years.” Marketa mentions that many of the fighting forces in Syria and Iraq are allied purely out of convenience, with no love lost between them. “You can feel the animosity between them,” she says. “Especially Peshmerga — they don’t want to cooperate with the Iraqi army. And Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi — they don’t want to cooperate with Peshmerga, and the only connecting point for them is the cooperation with the US. Everybody needs the US in this fight. The US doesn’t want to lose ground in Iraq and Syria so they try to cooperate with everyone.”
“The most important videos to me are the videos from the Iraqi-Syrian border,” says Kutilova. “There’s a refugee camp in the desert where there are 4,000 people who are fleeing from Mosul. These people are living in a really desperate situation. They’re digging holes in the desert to survive. They have no food, no medicine, no water, and children are dying there.”
“They have nowhere else to go, because there is Daesh all around them, and the only way out for them is to get to Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan. But the Kurdish people feel threatened because they don’t know who these people are. They don’t want to let them into Syrian Kurdistan, so people are stuck in the desert, living on nothing. Filming in this refugee camp was very impactful for me.” “It was also a very strong experience for me to go into the tunnels of Daesh,” says Kutilova. “I visited these tunnels in Ba’ashiqah, and there was still some fresh food which was cooked by ISIS fighters. They had freezers there, and fridges. You can see how they were living in tunnels.”
A Brush with Death
“I think the most intense moment was in Syria,” says Marketa. “We were at the Euphrates River and there were huge clashes between the Kurds and Daesh. When we arrived, Daesh started to shoot rockets at our car. When you’re in a car, you can’t do anything when the rockets hit you. The first rocket fell about 100 meters behind the car and the reaction of our driver was to stop.
That’s why he stopped the car. He stopped the engine to make it cold, so that a rocket couldn’t find us. In that moment, you have to make a decision in a split second, so we told him, ‘Just go,’ because we were sure that before the engine gets cold, we would all be dead. After a brief dispute, he finally started driving again, and a second rocket landed 50 meters behind the car.”
A Very Brief Respite
Kutilova has been navigating the extremely arid landscapes of Syria and Iraq populated by ISIS, Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, Syrian resistance fighters, and Americans, all with shifting strategies and alliances. In the most difficult of situations, however, she has managed to stay upbeat and resolute. She is currently enjoying time at home in Prague with her daughter.
“Right now, I think I’ll stay in Prague a couple of days,” she says. “Maybe even a couple of weeks. We are planning to go back to Mosul soon, but I’m not sure when exactly yet.”
It wasn’t until I was crammed into the back of a 14 seater passenger van blasting traditional Andean music, hurling down a bumpy cobblestone road, when I suddenly realized, “What the hell am I doing here?”
Sometimes when I travel, I find myself in a situation where I look at it from a 3rd person perspective and realize the sheer ridiculousness of what I’m doing.
At this particular moment, I was on my way to Torotoro National Park in central Bolivia. The park is about a 4 hour drive from Bolivia’s fourth largest city, Cochabamba. I had been staying in the city for about a week at this point, photographing a local NGO when we boarded a bus bound for this neighboring park.
This wasn’t my first time in South America; I had previously traveled around Panama, Colombia and Ecuador, but Bolivia felt a little rougher around the edges. It’s not the easiest country to travel in, nor is it the prettiest. But for what Bolivia lacks in tourist infrastructure, it makes up for with its warm, welcoming people. Whether we were wandering through the markets or meeting locals for dinner, Bolivians showed us an unreserved level of hospitality.
Known as the ‘Tibet of the Americas’ (due to its situation at a high elevation above sea level,) photographers will find Bolivia has much more to offer than the predictable Instagram favorites of Salar de Uyuni and Lake Titicaca. Approximately 62% of the population claim indigenous ancestry from 36 recognized ethnic groups, creating a unique mix of pre-Spanish and mestizo cultures. On our first full day in Cochabamba, we ventured out into the nearby mercado, sampling local street food and photographing eclectic vendors. Although I found that people had some initial reservations about being photographed, Bolivia has a deeper feeling of authenticity than other countries, which was reflected in the images I brought home.
I came to Cochabamba to photograph Bolivia Digna, a local NGO working to alleviate childhood poverty. Bolivia has about 2 million children living in poverty, most of whom are expected to work to help support their families. Bolivia Digna offers local children a chance to just be a kid, removing the pressures of childhood labor for a few hours each day. The program relies on a mix of international and local volunteers who come together to offer the children a chance to play, learn, and develop skills that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them.
Photographing children living in poverty takes a great deal of empathy and discipline, so after arriving at the first Bolivia Digna field office, we spent most of the day with our cameras stowed away, opting to ask questions and play games with the children instead. As our cheesy jokes and poor Spanish began to make the children more comfortable, we began to seek permission from certain subjects to capture their portraits. Over the next week, we returned to the classroom on four occasions to shoot, each time capturing more and more emotion.
Photographing childhood poverty does take a toll on you emotionally, so on one warm Friday afternoon we joined local photographer Adrian Cardozo on a trip to the small Andean village of Tarata. The town felt like we had stepped into a time capsule, and if it wasn’t for the local school children eagerly typing away on smartphones, the decade would have been indistinguishable from the simple adobe buildings adorned with brightly colored paint and cobblestone roads winding through alleyways. We spent several hours strolling through the town chatting with locals and snapping pictures, before returning to Cochabamba. On our way back, we decided we had to stop at a bright red stand selling queso and picante huevos empanadas. Light and fluffy without a hint of staleness, these empanadas still frequent my dreams at home.
On our last visit with Bolivia Digna, we wanted to do something special for the children. We were lucky enough to have access to a small 4x6 printer, so the three of us pooled our best images together and started printing. After amassing a few dozen prints, we brought them out to Bolivia Digna and passed them out to the children, instructing them “por tu Madre!” Most of these children have no printed pictures of themselves, and seeing the joy on their faces as we passed the prints out made all of the work and travel worthwhile.
I’ve taken a lot of incredible trips over the last few years, but working with Bolivia Digna left me feeling like I was coming home as a changed person. As my flight departed the country and I began the long journey home, I spent a great deal of time looking through my photos, feeling a great sense of pride at what our motley crew of photographers had accomplished. Now only did our photography leave a lasting impression on the children of Cochabamba, but we were able to provide vital photography material for a NGO urgently seeking any outside assistance they could receive in order to help raise awareness to their initiatives.
Follow Alex on his visual adventures on Instagram @imalexcave or visit his website at www.alexcaveprintingco.com
The train journey was horrendous. In Calcutta, it had already been full to bursting point when I got on; a number of people were hanging out of the holes where the doors used to be. Only ruthlessness and sharp elbows would do the job here. So I started to push my way through, stepping on dozens of feet whilst others were stepping on mine. Inside, the air was so thick you could cut through it with a knife. Ceiling ventilators were waiting for the carriage to get on its way.
It reminded me of the prison scene from the American drama Brubaker with Robert Redford - cracked walls, pipes and hooks on the ceiling; bars, hundreds of bodies stuck one on top of the other, the stench of sweat and heat unbearable. Finally, the train moved and a little air managed to seep into the carriages. With every new stop, the bulging mass of passengers grew even more, even though right from the beginning I had thought not even a mouse could squeeze in any more; a mouse maybe not, but a few locals definitely. In spite of the stuffy air and the tight squeeze, someone lit a cigar and started to deal cards. Traders with boiled eggs, rice, chapattis and miniature bananas were floating through the carriage offering their goods. The crowd was swaying with the motion of the train like a spirited river and everybody looked content, chatting about the bargains and the profitable sales they had made in Kolkata.
A few stops before the final station, the crowd started to disperse and only a handful of passengers that were left knee deep in litter arrived at the train’s final destination. Tackling the last few miles to the borders with Bangladesh by rickshaw, I made it a few minutes just before the borders closed for the day. The customs clerk sorted out my paperwork in a hurry and crossed off my visa. They shut the wide gate behind me and started to get ready to go home to their wives and crying children. Exhausted, I was looking forward to a cozy bed on the Bangladeshi side. India had became overbearing in the last few days. Now I only needed to find the customs office to give a few polite smiles and the way forward would be free.
Finally, a little house with one room and a picture of the primary minister in a crooked frame on the wall was hidden amongst dozens of lorries. A military officer and two customs officials were sitting behind a mountain of documents. With a greeting ‘peace with you’ and a tired smile, I passed over my passport opened on the page of the visa just to make the boys’ lives that little bit easier. The one in a uniform pulled out an empty form from the pile in front of him and started to fill in my details. A small forgotten country station could not afford the luxury of a typewriter. Sergeant was writing slowly in a childlike handwriting and as he spelled each letter in his mind his lips followed in a soundless motion. I had to stop myself grabbing his pen and doing it myself. Undisturbed he continued writing his school essay and so I did the only thing I could have done and stood there soundlessly counting to ten to keep calm. When he finally finished writing he passed the form together with my passport to the two customs officials. With the importance of the creators of the world, they flicked through the pages for a long time.
What kind of a daft thing is that? During all those years I have been backpacking around the world I’ve had to organize hundreds of visas. Since when does it matter what kind of transport you take to cross the borders? Taking into account the safety of a country, migration control or any other silly reason, no way does the type of transport make any difference to anybody. Not to mention that in my request for a visa in Kathmandu I had specifically stated the crossing that I intended to use. On top of that, the agent at the embassy charged me fifteen instead of the fifty dollars specified on the visa forms and I was so naively happy that I could finally get out of the city that I failed to notice the tiny note lost in the small print: ‘by air’.
‘Gentlemen, it is only a detail. I am sure it would only take a quick phone call to your supervisor.’ ‘We are sorry but you have to go back to India’ the older official finished our discussion and walked me back towards the gates. In a moment the metal gate shut behind me with a heavy bang.
Well, now I was well and truly stuffed! The gate to Bangladesh was behind me and in front of me was the gate to India. I could not do anything but to start knocking on the one in front of me. It took forever before a soldier with a few officials popping up behind him peeked through the gate. I explained my dilemma and he went off for the immigration officer.
‘Why the hell not? I just left half an hour ago.’
‘You don’t have a visa.’
‘Listen, be reasonable, I can’t enter Bangladesh because the visa specifies entry by air only and I can’t go back to India because I left only a few minutes ago and you crossed off my visa. So now I should just build a shanty from a cardboard box in the middle of these few square meters of No Man’s Land and live here till death do us apart, is that it? Can you imagine the scandal and disgrace for both of these countries that such publicity could cause? One way or another I will have to notify my Ministry of Foreign Affairs who will notify your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and eventually in a few days or weeks someone will come and rescue me. It will cost money, effort and the time of many people who have better things to do like play golf for example.’
‘I am sorry, sir, but you cannot enter India.’
I was boiling with an urge to mess up his pretty face. I could virtually feel his jaw cracking under the knuckles of my fingers. Calm, keep calm, they cannot be serious. There has to be a hidden camera somewhere and the ‘You’ve been framed’ guy will come out any minute. Another few attempts to communicate with my fists with either side were unsuccessful. Several pairs of eyes were looking at me from behind the gates. Sun was setting quickly and I felt like the loneliest lost soul ever; without a sleeping bag, food or water, alone in No Man’s Land with only rats creeping out of the darkness for company. I should claim ownership of these few square meters of land and collect a toll to earn a living.
Eventually, border guards grew bored of staring at me sitting helplessly in the dust and went to enjoy their cups of tea. Climbing over the fence would not solve a thing; at the best, some over-eager guard would shoot a round of bullets into my back side. Until the next day, there was nothing I could do to seek help from someone who would be able to do something about this unenviable situation. So let’s just make sure you get the publicity you deserve! I set up my tripod with a reflex camera and an external flash, wrote down on a piece of cardboard ‘Nobody wants me!’ and started to take pictures with a self-release. That finally got some attention from some of the figures popping up on both sides.
‘What are you doing, sir?’ asked someone from the India side.
I had not seen this guy before. Great! At least I can have a chat with someone new to pass the time. Maybe I could ask for some water.
‘I’ve got a bit of a technical problem, sir, that none of the customs officers on either side of the border seem able to solve.’
Yet again, I explained my situation in detail; how it happened and what possible solutions I could see. The man just smiled and pulling out a badge and the ID of an Intelligence Service officer, he ordered the soldier to open the gate. He took me a few hundred yards into the barracks where he invited me to a lavish dinner. Service men were bringing one course after another and running for ice-cold water and lager. We were chit-chatting over good food and drinks well into the night. I slept like a baby tucked in a comfy bed and in the morning I was asked for my passport. My host jumped on a shiny motorbike, put customs in their place and came back with several stamps on my passport and a written note stating that the previous day’s exit from India was cancelled due to technical difficulties and therefore the visa was still valid. I got a fairing from my host and on his bike he gave me a lift to the bus stop where he literally sat me into my seat. In spite of my pleas, he paid for my ticket to Kolkata from his own pocket and ordered the driver to get me off at the airport.
And I was so harsh on these Asians.
Once again I was persuaded that the way problems are solved depends only on the people, regardless of status, nationality or colour. The Intelligence Service of India was true to its name. Their agent used his intelligence and afforded me first class service. If I had not been so lucky to come across an official with a brain I might have been still sitting there in the dust. The sun is finally shining upon me and I can toast to it with something stronger than a coke. In the afternoon, I caught a plane to cover the few kilometers from Calcutta to Bangladesh where I could complete the mission given to me by the Bangladeshi ambassador.
After having spent 12 full months on the road, tasting new foods, having some “not-so-sure-about-this” moments while buses snaked their way up mountain dirt roads, and finally deciding to live in Chile, I figured it was time to explore a new country and my interests in NGO photography.
The decision to branch off from my husband and travel on my own for a few weeks was not an easy one, but I knew it would help me grow professionally and personally. Little did I know that when I signed up for a photography course, and bombarded several non-profits with emails asking if they wanted to collaborate with me afterwards, that the response would be overwhelmingly positive! The decision to travel on my own led me to experience Ecuador in a way that I would never have imagined before.
I came across an upcoming organization called the NGO Photographers Alliance via their Instagram account as I was sitting on my balcony in Chile, watching the waves crash upon the shore. I jumped at the opportunity to contact them and learn more about what their Mentorship Program had to offer. After all, new experiences, learning and photography comprise the ultimate travel itinerary. I paced around, worked out the figures and realized that a close friend would also be in Ecuador around the same time. I got to planning and booked my tickets within two days. What did I have to lose?
Fast forward through a few bus and plane rides, an uneventful layover in Peru, before my final flight began its descent and the clouds opened up to the stunning mountain range that surrounded Quito, Ecuador. The past year’s worth of traveling helped me to easily maneuver the local bus system and soon I was on the road to my hostel. I began by exploring Quito on my own, wanting a personal taste of the country before the ‘work’ began. I ate some of the best arroz con pollo (shredded chicken in rice) with a traveler from New Orleans the night I arrived and spent the evening listening to the buzz of travelers around me talking about their itineraries in Ecuador. I had no real idea what to expect, nor the exact locations of where I was going, so all I could share was “I’m heading to Cosanga next.” Most people reacted as I expected, having no clue where that was. Not a bad reaction, since I myself couldn’t quite pin point it on a map!
Cosanga, where Sustainable Roots - the NGO we were visiting - turned out to be a beautiful village.
The people in the community were curious about tourists and elated to show off everything the town had to offer. Cosanga is surrounded by mountains, lush forests, and a winding river that is excellent for kayaking. Driving from Quito to Cosanga with the facilitation of the program was remarkable. The fog and mist among the mountain range all seemed like something out of a travel brochure. I spent the next five days learning from our mentor with the other three participants, trying out new photography techniques and best of all, getting to know the Sustainable Roots kids!
The workshops on the Mentorship Program offered the opportunity to learn how to effectively caption photos, expand on creative angles, lighting and portraiture work. During our time in Cosanga, the Mentorship group was also able to contribute in a minga, a local tradition where everyone gathers to help with a laborious project. The group helped haul rocks, dig out a gutter, and paint newly constructed steps; all with the goal to build a garden. I quickly discovered that Sustainable Roots was integral to the community. They provided kids (and adults) with the opportunity to learn English, be creative and explore new ways of being a sustainable community. Led by Toni Walters, a genuine and kind-hearted expatriate from the U.S. and a group of equally committed volunteers, it was easy to see the positive impact that this organization had on the community.
After saying my heartfelt goodbyes in Quito at the end of the Mentorship Program, I quickly moved on to the next part of the trip – Pedernales, Ecuador.
Armed with my newfound knowledge derived from the Mentorship program, I immediately put my skills to work. In collaboration with the Ecuadorian Red Cross, I documented and photographed families affected by the destructive earthquake that hit Manabi Province in April 2016.
Each photograph was taken with the intent to promote tourism in the area and to showcase to the world the human resilience that perseveres after natural disasters strike. Pedernales, all the way down to the Bahia de Caraquez, offers the most stunning opportunity to the adventure traveler with its pristine beaches, authentic people and delicious food offerings. Local businesses thrive when curious travelers come to these regions.
After 5 days, I headed back to Quito and enjoyed working with Community Hostel, a new up and coming hostel that offers trendy food and microbrews for less than $6 USD. Marco, the owner of the hostel, was keen to show me everything that made Quito a beautiful city. I ventured on their free walking tour, ate more than I could possibly imagine, and learned about the history of Ecuador through conversations with locals. In Quito, I can highly recommend the Mercado Central (Central Market) where I indulged in some unique dishes like Corvina (sea bass), and sipped on deliciously fresh jugos naturales (natural fruit juices)!
Finally, I made my way to a small town called Alausi with my dear friend, and checked in with Marco’s father who offered to show us around. Here we discovered what makes Alausi’s countryside so stunning. Access to lagoons, artisanal markets, breath-taking scenery and the Nariz del Diablo (the Devil’s Nose) are all within an hour from this small city as a jump off point.
Taking the deep dive into Ecuador and doing something out of the ordinary not only helped me with a tremendous amount of personal and professional growth, it also helped me spread the word that there are unique adventures and outside-of-the-box itineraries that are just waiting for you to join in on!
Follow Stephanie’s journey on Instagram @wheresplatero or visit her portfolio at https://splatero.myportfolio.com
What does it mean to photograph someone you barely know or have only met for a couple of instances? How do the pictures you take become part of their identity? When photography is about the other rather than being about the photographer, we inevitably become responsible for the story we tell about our subjects.
In these times where we share our work in an instant to a global audience, where we connect digitally over borders and nations, we should reflect on our motivations for being photographers and the impact of photography on those we expose, especially when the subjects we photograph experience hardships in daily life, are part of vulnerable communities, require protection, or experience a combination of all of the above.
Photographers feel the urge to apply their creativity in a field where technical proficiency is important, but also requires a sensitivity from the moment you start interacting with others. One of the cornerstones of working in the NGO field is the necessity of being human - with every frame you take. It is my firm belief that no matter your professional background, if you are working for a NGO as a photographer, you also need to be thinking as a journalist. Not that journalists are a morally superior caste of humanitarians, but rather, the basic understanding of fair representation and truthfulness is, in my opinion, essential for this type of work.
Our Mentorship Program in NGO Photography to Ecuador took place in the small village of Cosanga, located in the foothills of the Andean mountains. In the Ecuadorian jungle, we found the perfect playing field for the participants to get first hand experience working with a NGO in a relatively benign environment. Toni Walters, originally from Boulder, Colorado, is the founder of Sustainable Roots, a NGO that actively encourages the local village community to move beyond an agricultural lifestyle that ultimately leads to deforestation of the surrounding jungle to a more sustainable alternative based around ecotourism.
We were welcomed as guests at every point of the program, but because of the nature of photography and the bond it creates between us as image makers and the subjects, we were able to grow closer, to become friends, and to eventually find ourselves another home. The participants came from all over the world, had different goals and aspirations, were on different paths in their lives, but in the end they all left the program with new skills, ideas and experiences that will hopefully help them along the way.
It is through the photography of the participants that we can clearly see the love and care they put into their work. The photographs inform us about the important work being carried out by Toni and her team of volunteers; the photographs allow us to peek into a tiny village, somewhere in the Ecuadorian jungle, and see a snippet of the lives of the families who live there.
I would like to thank Sustainable Roots and the village of Cosanga for their hospitality and trust, and the participants for their hard work, commitment and the respect they have shown at every moment of the Mentorship Program.
Cédric von Niederhäusern led the inaugural Mentorship Program to Ecuador in April, 2017. You can follow him on Instagram @cvniederhaus or visit his website at www.cedricvonniederhausern.com
The Travellist Magazine
Ryner St John
Daniel Joseph Pye
Alexander Michael Cave
Cédric von Niederhäusern
The Travellist Magazine is the humanitarian publication on behalf of the NGO Photographers Alliance.
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© January 2018