Tag Archives: NGO

The Power of Objects: The Gapminder Project

Trip Door

When I first started collaborating with the Gapminder Foundation some months ago, it was for a one-day assignment documenting the possessions of a single family in Phnom Penh. Since then, the project has evolved into an international photo-research project covering much of Asia. I recently returned from the Nepal leg of the journey and as I prepare to face the intimidating challenge of sifting through five thousand-odd images and forming them into a coherent collection, I finally had time to reflect on this unique experience.

I posted once already about the Gapminder Project after completing the Cambodian portion of the job, but my perspective on the concept has changed dramatically since that time. For those who have never heard of Gapminder before, I would encourage you to watch this TED Talk given by the organization’s founder, Hans Rosling. Its innovative approach to understanding global poverty, as well as Hans’ talents as a public speaker have made it one of the top fifteen most watched talks in TED history – no small feat when considering the plethora of fascinating  presentations that have been hosted over the years.

Gapminder, unlike most non-profit organizations I have worked with in the past, has no direct involvement in the traditional sense of development. They have no regional offices, no permanent field staff, and no branded SUVs crisscrossing the countryside. Instead, Gapminder focuses on the collection and analysis of data, which they then present in an easily understandable format so that even the most statistically challenged among us can grasp. Where I often get lost in the chart-heavy depth of year-end reports, Gapminder turns ingesting huge quantities of data into an engaging experience. Similarly, it is nearly impossible for me to explain the simplistic functionality of the Gapminder system in so many words, so do yourself a favour and watch the TED Talk to see what I mean.

Building on the runaway success of their initial effort to create the world’s first “fact-based world view” that everyone can understand, Gapminder decided to take the project one step further. Dispatching myself to cover Asia, American photojournalist Zoriah Miller to Africa, and a string of local photographers to fill in the rest, Gapminder is in the process of compiling a comprehensive visual database of living conditions around the world.

Trip Broom

TripTools

When completed, viewers will be able to filter through thousands of photographs and video clips, sorting them by region, economic status, occupation, as well as other factors, to see for themselves what life might look like had they been born in a rural village in Nepal, or in an impoverished urban community in Uganda.Through hundreds of meticulously documented items  ranging from teeth to toothbrushes to toys, this platform, when completed, will provide a one-of-a-kind visual reference for anyone trying to better understand the world around them.

Since I’ve finally had a few free days after an extremely busy month, I decided to pull out a few of my favourite images and group them together so you can get a sense of how powerful these simple frames can be, especially when juxtaposed. As Gapminder spelled out clearly to me in the project brief, the point is not to take arty pictures of toilets but to highlight the similarities and differences between cultures and classes through the everyday objects that define our lives.

After a few months of much needed down time, shooting for the Gapminder project will continue in Bangladesh in early 2015.

Trip toys

TripDecoration

Posted in Blog, Cambodia, Nepal, NGO Work, Philippines Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

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 Also tagged , , , , , , |

Blog

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Stories

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No Build Zone: Life in Tacloban After Typhoon Haiyan

When typhoon Haiyan, referred to locally as Yolanda, smashed into the central Philippines on November 8th, 2014, it was the most severe storm ever recorded to make landfall. In the end Yalonda claimed more than six thousand lives, devastated infrastructure, rendered tens of thousands homeless, and its aftermath instigated widespread looting and chaos. Tacloban, one of the cities hardest hit, was largely underprepared for the scale of the destruction, and nearly six months later its residents are still struggling to rebuild their lives.
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Cambodian Crackdown

A violent police and military crackdown on Cambodians protesting on behalf of striking garment factory workers resulted in multiple deaths and 23 arrests.
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Leyte Gold: Small Scale Mining in the southern Philippines

From the earth to the market, gold is one of the most prized materials in existence. In Pinut-An, a small community on the island of Leyte, Philippines, gold is everything. Largely destroyed by a landslide in 2006, Pinut-An relies heavily on gold to keep it alive. Small-scale mining operations are everywhere, with tunnels carved both into the mountains and the sea floor. Workers labour with minimal safety precautions in conditions so dangerous that any accident would likely be fatal. This story traces Leyte's gold from the ocean to the markets.
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Dirty Money: Tree Planting in Western Canada

Tree planters sleep on the ground, work in the rain and snow, battle swarms of insects, and bend over thousands of times a day - all in the pursuit of money. While tree planting is part adventure and part right of passage, the ultimate goal is to earn as much as possible before the season ends. Known nationally as one of the hardest jobs a young person can do, this story follows a camp of 42 tree planters over a difficult four month season in northern Alberta.
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Born To Kill: Underground Cock Fighting in the Philippines

From the cradle to the grave, these animals are raised only to fight, and most likely die. Large amounts of money can be won on these fights, so a champion bird will most probably fight again and again until he is no longer able to win. Since the blades used are 10cm long and razor sharp, not winning is probably synonymous with death – though there is a potential for the lucky to receive only a blinding or severe maiming. This story examines the culture of underground cock fights, far from the rules and regulations of licensed fights
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March of the Monks

In recent decades, Cambodia’s Buddhist monks have been largely absent from the political sphere. Their role had been mostly relegated to that of simple preachers who were most commonly seen collecting alms or studying in their pagodas. But now, harnessing the power of social media, groups of monks are starting to rise up against social injustices in their country. This story follows a group of over 40 monks as the walk 25km through the jungle to protest environmental destruction in the remote Areng Valley.
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Leo's House: Escaping the Poverty Cycle

Leo Castellero is a 49-year-old carpenter from Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines. When his wife left him for another man, he moved to Manila with his five children looking to start a new life. This story documents his attempt to break out of the poverty cycle.
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Evicted: Borei Keila

Despite legally owning their homes, the residents of Borei Keila became victims of Cambodia's lang grabbing crisis when they were forcefully evicted from their homes on January 3rd, 2012. This story is a microcosm of a larger issue as an alarming quantity of Cambodian public land is sold to private developers, regardless of the impact on the people living there.
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Tattoos of San Andres

While the Philippines is a tattooed nation in general, in Manila's working class neighbourhood of San Andres, tattoos are everywhere. Some are meant for the sake of art and decoration, while others have gang or prison connotations. The tattoos of San Andres are representative of the people who live there - sometimes dangerous, often loving, and nearly always vibrant.
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Child Labour in Bangladesh

It is estimated that there are approximately 5 million children between the ages of 5 and 15 working in Bangladesh. Since these children start working at such a young age, they are unable to complete any formal education, and therefore get trapped in a life of low-skilled labour from which most will never escape. The nature of their work is often dangerous, working in small factories or cottage industry shops with very little in the way of safety precautions. The pay for young children is usually less than 1 dollar a day, but this money is essential to the survival of their families; quitting is not an option. This story was shot in the capital city of Dhaka.
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Dhaka Life

The largest city in the country, Dhaka is Bangladesh's chaotic capital. The economic heart of the country, the city is home to an estimated 12 million people, also making it one of the world's most densely populated cities. Every year the city grows as Bangladesh's rural population moves to the capital in search of higher wages, yet a estimated 34% of the population lives below the poverty line. This is a look at the life of the lower classes in what the Economist Intelligence Unit named the world's most unliveable city for 2012.
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Hossain's Birds

A former freedom fighter in Bangladesh’s 1971 war against Pakistan, Hossain organized an association of local shopkeepers to buy and breed Shiragji pigeons. Prized for being easily domesticated, and their ability to recognize voice commands, Shiragji pigeons are expensive at around 10 000 Taka ($125 US). By pooling their money the association was able to buy a pair, which they have now expanded to over 30 birds.
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The Guryong Shanty Town

In the shadow of Seoul's wealthiest neighbourhood is the Guryong shanty town, a place reminiscent of Seoul's impoverished past.

 

 

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Back to the House of Sharing

A "halmoni" corrects the hairstyle of an international volunteer

As I’m heading back to House of Sharing tomorrow I thought I’d share this. Proclaiming “your hair looks like a lion”, one of the grandmothers, age 92, attempts to correct the hairstyle of one of the organizations international volunteers. Feminine opinions transcend age.

 

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Same World Same Chance

A piece of promotional material I made for Same World Same Chance. Shot in Kibombomene

A while ago I wrote and article for Groove magazine to try and raise awareness for Same World Same Chance, a community development program in Kibombomene, Zambia. I spent 6 weeks at the project site last year and was truly inspired by  the work they are doing. I wanted to repost this here because SWSC is an amazing organization and deserves all the support it can get. Get involved – volunteer, fundraise, donate.

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In 2006, two university graduates from Canada landed in Africa with vague notions of making a difference in the world. Kim Hurley and Marissa Izma had no clear idea of how they would do this, but after several months they found themselves in the small community of Kibombomene, Zambia.

“We just wanted to be rural because the media portrayed such a negative image of Africa and we just needed to see it for ourselves,” says Izma. From this, Same World Same Chance was born – an independent, education based, community development organization.

Four years later, Izma still lives in Zambia while Mrs. Hurley has returned to Canada to raise funds. On the project site, a two-room schoolhouse, a library, staff housing, and an organic farm now stand where before there was only a diamond shaped plot of wild brush land.

In a time when people are becoming increasingly mistrustful of how NGOs spend their funding, Same World Same Chance is a prime example of how the compassion and drive of individuals is still the most effective force for social change.

“I have personally seen some NGOs running in Zambia that are misusing funds, [and] it makes me angry because SWSC strives on making our priority that every cent gets spent in the best way possible,” Izma states, though she makes it clear that she has also seen a lot of money being used effectively.

According to Izma, “The biggest challenge has been integrating into a rural community and into a culture that is so different from my own. It has been important though, because we knew that we had to immerse ourselves within the community to discover who the notable members were. We needed to know who could trust us, and who we could trust so that we could work together. Without the community of Kibombomene, the project is nothing.”

Education in Zambia, especially in rural areas, is sub-standard to say the least. While there was an existing primary school in the village before the arrival of SWSC, the reliability of teachers was a daily question. If and when they did show up, their effectiveness (and often their sobriety) was dubious. Local children would attend this school for years under the impression that they were receiving an education that would help them further their lives. But when it came time to write the national exams, many found that they were unable to read the questions.

Izma and Hurley hope that the free secondary education program offered by SWSC can be part of a solution. “We want people to graduate from here and move into the world and create more positive change.”

But SWSC also believes in helping Kibombomene help itself. Their goal is not simply to help students graduate so they can get a job in the nearest city, but rather give local residents the skills and education they need to so the village can thrive independently. Besides paying the salaries of two local teachers and funding an organic farming project, SWSC has established a local manufacturing industry which now makes tailored bags and blankets that are sold internationally. All proceeds from this initiative are put back into the project and, by extension, the community.

A health committee has been created to give free medical services to the village residents. Led by Candace Ngungu (a Canadian nurse who came to the project as a volunteer and ended up marrying a local man), the fledgling clinic will be invaluable for Kibombomene’s people, who have no real access to a hospital. In a country where AIDS and malaria are ongoing threats, having free professional medical assistance could mean the difference between life and death.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of SWSC is how ambitious it is in the scope of its long-term vision. When it reaches maturity, the project site will be home to six classrooms, a nursery, a trade school for continuing education, a boarding house for up to 200 students, a full health center, a community assembly hall, and eventually even roadside restaurants and shops, so that the operation can be truly self sustaining. Staff numbers are steadily increasing, with volunteers expected from Canada, the US, Germany, and Japan.

Though the future looks bright for SWSC, this project remains an intense labour of love, and it would not exist without the persistence and dedication of its leaders. “This isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t perfect,” says Izma, “but I never have to force myself out of bed in order to do it. That makes it all worthwhile.”

SWSC cannot exist without independent support. To get involved, consider a modest donation, buying some locally produced goods, or exploring the various volunteering opportunities available. Visit www.sameworldsamechance.org. for more information.

Posted in Blog, NGO Work Also tagged , , , , |

Zambia’s Compounds

Life in Zambia’s Lower Class Neighbourhoods

Kitwe is a medium sized city in Northern Zambia’s Copper Belt. With the help of my friend David Ngungu, a local resident and NGO volunteer, I explored some of Kitwe’s less affluent neighbourhoods. While multinational mining corporations like Kansanshi minerals are extracting upwards of a million dollars a day in copper from the earth, the local population sees virtually none of it. This all too common story of African exploitation is exacerbated by a government that is so corrupt, even getting a driver’s license can be impossible to obtain without exorbitant bribes. In some cases, students have been prevented from graduating high school because of test administrators stealing their examination fees.

This would not have been possible without David, whose knowledge of the city and access to transportation were invaluable.

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Same World Same Chance

This is an article I wrote for a Korean magazine about Same World Same Chance. This is a writing component to what was mainly a photographic project. Click HERE to see the image gallery.

 

In 2006, two young Canadian university graduates, Kim Hurley and Marissa Izma, landed in Africa with vague notions of making a difference in the world. They had no clear idea of how they would do this, but after several months they found themselves in the small community of Kibombomene, Zambia.

“We just wanted to be rural because the media portrayed such a negative image of Africa and we just needed to see it for ourselves,” Says Izma. From this, Same World Same Chance was born – a completely independent, education based, community development organization.

Four years later, Izma still lives in Zambia while Mrs. Hurley has returned to Canada to raise funds. On the project site, a two-room schoolhouse, a library, staff housing, and an organic farm now stand where before there was only a diamond shaped plot of wild brush land.

In a time when people are becoming increasingly mistrustful of how NGOs spend their funding, Same World Same Chance is a prime example of how compassion and drive can still be an effective force for social change.

“I have personally seen some NGOs running in Zambia that are misusing funds, [and] it makes me angry because S.W.S.C. strives on making our priority that every cent gets spend in the best way possible,” Izma states, though she makes it clear that she has also seen a lot of money being spend in the right way.

Relocating permanently to a small village in South-Central Africa has not been easy, however. According to Izma, “The biggest challenge has been integrating into a rural community and into a culture that is so different from my own. It has been important though, because we knew that we had to immerse ourselves within the community to discover who the notable members were. We needed to know who could trust us, and who we could trust so that we could work together. Without the community of Kibombomene, the project is nothing.”

Education in Zambia, especially in rural areas, is sub-standard to say the least. While there was an existing primary school in the village before S.W.S.C.’s arrival, whether or not the teachers would show up was a daily question. When and if they did, their effectiveness (and often their sobriety) was dubious. Local children would attend this school for years under the impression that they were receiving an education that would help them further their lives. But when it came time to write the national exams, many would find that they were unable to read the questions.

Izma and Hurley hope that SWSC’s free secondary education program can be part of a solution. “We want people to graduate from here and movie into the world and create more positive change.”

 

But they also believe in helping Kibombomene help itself: “It’s not about graduating and leaving the community to find a better job in the city.” Besides paying the salaries of two local teachers and funding an organic farming project, SWSC has established a local manufacturing industry which now makes and sells tailored bags and blankets internationally. All proceeds from this venture are put back into the project, and therefore the community.

A health committee has been created to give free medical services to the village residents. Led by Candance Ngungu (a Canadian nurse who came to the project as a volunteer and ended up marrying a local man), the fledgling clinic will be invaluable for Kibombomene’s people, who have no real access to a hospital. In a country where AIDSand malaria are ongoing threats, having free professional medical assistance could mean the difference between life and death.

Potentially the most exciting aspect of SWSC is how ambitious it is in the scope of its long-term vision. When it reaches maturity, the project site will be home to six classrooms, a nursery, a trade school for continuing education, a boarding house for up to 200 students, a full health center, a community assembly hall, and eventually even roadside restaurants and shops so that the operation can be truly self sustaining. Staff numbers are steadily increasing, with volunteers expected from Canada, the U.S., Germany, and Japan.

Though the future looks bright for SWSC, this project remains an intense labour of love, and would not exist without the persistence and dedication of its leaders. “This isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t perfect,” says Izma, “but I never have to force myself out of bed in order to do it. That makes it all worthwhile.”

SWSC cannot exist without independent support. To donate, buy locally produced goods, or explore volunteering opportunities, visit www.sameworldsamechance.org.

Luc Forsyth is a photojournalist who spent time at the SWSC site in April 2011. To see more of his work, visit www.lucforsyth.com.

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Contact

Headshot 1 smallLuc Forsyth is currently based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and is available for reportage, editorial, humanitarian, and travel assignments internationally.

email: luc@lucforsyth.com

phone (Cambodia): +855 (0) 92 682 197

skype: lucforsyth

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Luc Forsyth |Diaries of a Visual Storyteller

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