Monthly Archives: February 2014

Gapminder: A Fact-Based World View Everyone Can Understand

A man stands inside his home, where he squats with his twin children. After his wife passed away, he was forced to move into a run down and half-ruined apartment with no running water.

A man stands inside his home, where he squats with his twin children. After his wife passed away, he was forced to move into a run-down and half-ruined apartment with no running water in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Taking a break from political coverage, I’ve spent the last two weeks working on a series of nine assignments for Gapminder – a non-profit organization based in Sweden. Gapminder is a unique organization in the sense that their approach to development is not focused on field operations, but rather on gathering detailed information on global inequalities in wealth  – and presenting it in visually interesting and educational ways to encourage a better understanding of poverty around the world.

When Gapminder first reached out to me about working together, I have to say I initially found their project specifications unusual. Unlike a typical development-oriented job, the focus of these assignments is not on people, but on the objects they own. In fact, other than a single family portrait of each of the nine families, there are no human elements in the images whatsoever (In the material I submitted that is. These photos are just a behind the scenes look at the locations visited, not the finished product). For someone like me, whose work is almost exclusively focused on people, the idea was surprising.

A translator works with a vegetable farmer on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to gather information about his family's income.

A translator works with a vegetable farmer on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to gather information about his family’s income.

A woman near her home in Borei Keila, a neighbourhood heavily affected by land grabbing and the extensive development underway in Cambodia.

A woman near her home in Borei Keila, a neighbourhood heavily affected by land grabbing and the extensive development underway in Cambodia.

 

I was given a list of nine different types of households to find – some rural, some urban, some suburban – and a detailed shot list of items to be documented. But apart from these loose guidelines, Gapminder gave me total freedom in terms of people and locations – a rare and welcome opportunity. As long as the households in question met a few basic criteria, I was free to focus on anyone I wanted, anywhere in the country.

If I am being honest I should say that after finishing the first of these projects in Phnom Penh, I didn’t really see the utility of these images. Photos of doors and brooms and plates of food aren’t things that I normally would think of as telling stories about people. But after doing several more (I’ve completed six of the nine), the beauty and simplicity of the idea has become obvious. By comparing these everyday items across a variety of socio-economic contexts, a much larger portrait of poverty emerges. Whereas a single photo of someone’s kitchen may not tell a strong story, viewing six side-by-side (or, even more impressively, the hundreds that Gapminder is collecting from countries around the world) is decidedly more powerful. From these comparisons, inanimate objects paint a vivid portrait of life and hardship in a country where nearly a quarter of the population lives below the global poverty line.

My experience with the Gapminder project has been more informative than I could ever have imagined. Even though I have worked extensively in developing regions and much of my work focuses on impoverished areas, these last few weeks have given me a more personal and intimate understanding of both Cambodia, and the effects poverty has on household life. I’m glad to be a part of Gapminder’s mission to “fight ignorance with a fact-based world view everyone can understand,” and I’m looking forward to the assignments to come.

A woman helps her husband with his mosquito net in their small shack in Phnom Penh. Though he normally works as a construction worker, recent illnesses have rendered him unemployed and the family does not have enough money to meet their daily needs.

A woman helps her husband with his mosquito net in their small shack in Phnom Penh. Though he normally works as a construction worker, recent illnesses have rendered him unemployed and the family does not have enough money to meet their daily needs.

A young boy eats lunch outside their home in Phnom Penh.

A young boy eats lunch outside his home in Phnom Penh.

 

Chicks being raised in an abandoned apartment in Phnom Penh. The owners do not have access to any agricultural land, so they must raise their animals indoors - creating potential sanitation and health issues for the family.

Chicks being raised in an abandoned apartment in Phnom Penh. The owners do not have access to any agricultural land, so they must raise their animals indoors – creating potential sanitation and health issues for the family.

*Note: These are not the photos for the official Gapminder project.

Posted in Blog, Cambodia, NGO Work Tagged , , , , , , , |

Commemoration on Veng Sreng Street

A monk looks inside a medical clinic that was destroyed by protestors during clashes with police early in January. When clinic's doctor refused to help a wounded protestor, an angry mob forced entry, smashing and looting the interior.

A monk looks inside a medical clinic that was destroyed by protestors during clashes with police early in January. When the clinic’s doctor refused to help a wounded protestor, an angry mob forced entry, smashing and looting the interior.

A small ceremony was held yesterday near the Canadia garment factory complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. A group of around fifty people, a mix of monks and citizens, gathered to show their support for the six dead and the twenty-three detainees still being held by the government after deadly clashes early in January.

The group gathered as the sun set, lighting candles and incense. Though bail hearings for the detainees are scheduled later this month, little is known about what fate awaits them.

Candles and stickers are arranged to spell "Free 23", in support of the six dead and 23 detainees resulting from deadly clashes early in January.

Candles and stickers are arranged to spell “Free 23”, in support of the six dead and 23 detainees resulting from deadly clashes early in January.

Monks and citizens arrange candles before the ceremony begins.

Monks and citizens arrange candles before the ceremony begins.

A monk lights incense before the religious portion of the ceremony begins.

A monk lights incense before the religious portion of the ceremony begins.

A monk lights sticks of incense.

A monk lights sticks of incense.

A man lights a stick of incense before the ceremony begins. The small group of roughly 60 people was comprised of both monks and citizens.

A man lights a stick of incense before the ceremony begins. The small group of roughly 50 people was comprised of both monks and citizens.

A young man hold his hands in prayer while listening to Buddhist prayers.

A young man hold his hands in prayer while listening to Buddhist prayers.

A man delivers a speech, commemorating the dead and supporting the 23 detainees.

A man delivers a speech, commemorating the dead and supporting the 23 detainees.

A small shrine of candles and incense.

A small shrine of candles and incense.

The ceremony ended as the sun set. Bail hearings for the 23 detainees are sheduled for later in February.

The ceremony ended as the sun set. Bail hearings for the 23 detainees are scheduled for later in February.

Posted in Blog, Cambodia Tagged , , , , , , |