Journeys to the Edge photography exhibit in Haida Gwaii

Haida-Gwaii.totem.PolesThis spring, Journeys to the Edge co-founder Tallulah travelled to Haida Gwaii in northern British Columbia to mount a photography exhibit. The event showcased photos from around the world that Tallulah has captured in her reporting travels with Roberta Staley to places like Haiti, Colombia, Soweto and Afghanistan.

The trip to Haida Gwaii was undertaken in large part to connect people living in areas like Haida Gwaii — where isolation can preclude access to artistic endeavours, shows and exhibits — with those from areas few have access to, such as Haiti or Afghanistan. As well, the trip was the chance for Tallulah to discover new individuals to photograph to include in her remarkable World People Project photography initiative.

The Haida Gwaii Observer did a write-up on Tallulah, Journeys to the Edge and the World People Project in early March, and we have included it here: Haida Gwaii Observer interviews Tallulah.

 

 

 

 

 

Article wins Amnesty International reporting award

In November 2014, photojournalist Tallulah and I travelled to El Salvador to report upon the work of the Canadian NGO Speroway, which provides dental and medical services and food to the poor. One of the stories appeared in the national magazine Corporate Knights. The story, titled “Cola Kids Need A Fix,” addressed the deleterious impact of soft drinks, specifically Coke and Pepsi, on the health of Salvadoran children. This past December, the story was given an Amnesty International Canada Media Award in the alternative print category (magazines) for addressing the issue of corporate social responsibility in the developing world. The print category (newspapers) Amnesty International award was given to Stephanie Nolen for the feature article “If I send him, he may die. But if I keep him here, he will die” about the attempt to escape from gang violence in El Salvador, published in The Globe and Mail on 29 August 2015. 

The award ceremony will be held this April in Toronto.

Orkney Islands – Travels in Scotland by Tallulah

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Orkney’s Catholic Italian Chapel was built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII. Most of the interior decoration was done by prisoner Domenico Chiocchetti, who stayed behind to finish the church even after the war was over.

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A rainbow following a squall.

This past summer, I travelled to Scotland for my sister’s wedding, then spent some time exploring the countryside. One of my stops was the Orkney Islands, an archipelago located off the northeastern tip of mainland Scotland that is often referred to as the Edge of the World. One way to reach Orkney is to take the passenger ferry from John O’Groats, which crosses the choppy waters of the Pentland Firth, landing at the small village of Burwick on the island of South Ronaldsay.

Orkney is magical. The wind is a constant presence, while sunshine alternates with rain, creating rainbows that arc across the horizon. Its coastlines have sandy beaches and the skies are thick with sea birds. I took lots of photos, which were just published online in Montecristo magazine.

Curiously, the Orkneys have a connection with 19th-century English literature. The islands were the setting for one of author Mary Shelley’s most chilling scenes in Frankenstein – A Modern Prometheus. The scientist Frankenstein secretly goes to the Orkneys to set up a laboratory to create a mate for his first creation The Creature. (It all ends rather badly, for those of you who remember your English Lit studies.)

Back in the realm of non-fiction, the history of the Orkneys dates back to the Neolithic era — the last period of the Stone Age — as evidenced by ancient villages and mysterious standing stones dating back more than 3100 BCE. In the 9th century, the Vikings ruled the Orkneys. By the 15th century, they were a part of Scotland. Today you can see the Stone Age village of Skara Brae, the Neolithic chambered cairn of Maes Howe, and the megaliths of a henge, such as the Ring of Brodgar. There is also a vibrant arts and crafts scene, lots of great local produce, and superb  whiskey.

On a heathery knoll on Orkney’s largest island, called the Mainland, sits the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic henge and stone circle. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.

On a heathery knoll on Orkney’s largest island, called the Mainland, sits the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic henge and stone circle. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.

 

 

Canada brings hope and healing to El Salvador

Tallulah and I have been on numerous international reporting trips together, the most recent being El Salvador, a country in Central America that has long endured civil unrest. The nation is no longer at war, but violence still rages, with 12 murders every day in a country of about six million people.

In El Salvador, a special department of the National Civilian Police called the Politur ensure that foreigners are kept safe from gang violence.

A department of the National Civilian Police keeps foreigners safe from gang violence.

Our purpose was to cover the work of the Canadian NGO Speroway, which was founded by Ken Dick of Ontario. One of the stories, a profile of Ken called “Man on a Mission,” was published in the September issue of CPA Magazine.

At an age when most people would be retired, Dick travelled to El Salvador to help on this medical and dental mission as well as open a Speroway-funded health centre outside the capital city San Salvador.

Ken Dick in a slum in El Salvador.

Ken Dick in a slum in El Salvador.

 

 

 

Every day, the Speroway team of dentists, physicians, nurses, technicians, paramedics and hygienists travelled to a new slum to help the poor with a myriad of health problems. Poverty prevents them from visiting physicians or dentists. Neglect of simple health problems means that things like cavities escalate into painful and sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Another reason for poor health is diet. El Salvadorans eat too much sugar and fat — largely because they have adopted a Western fast-food diet. In San Salvador, food chain outlets sit side by side — cheap and tempting. Most ubiquitous of all is sugary pop like Coca-Cola. The consequences are dire; children’s oral health declines, affecting their ability to eat and grow.

A billboard for Coca-Cola reaches into the sky in the capital of San Salvador.

A billboard for Coca-Cola dominates the skyline in the capital of San Salvador.

 

Here is an excerpt from the story:

This slum, which sits on the city’s former garbage dump, was created by the survivors of El Salvador’s many natural disasters. There is no running water or sewage system. Toilets are holes in the ground; when they overflow, a new hole is dug. Few homes have electricity. There are few jobs. Teenage girls birth a succession of babies whose prospects are as bleak as their mothers’. Come nightfall, the slum becomes a hangout for gang members. This is a place, says Dick, where hope is dim. But something as simple as a visit to the dentist or doctor can reignite hope. “If you do not have your health, you can’t do anything else,” he says.”

And here are just a few of Tallulah’s photos:

Coca-Cola branding is ubiquitous, and has become indoctrinated into holiday celebrations.

Coca-Cola branding is ubiquitous, and indoctrinated into holiday celebrations.

Children suck on cold bags of cola for hours, keeping the teeth awash in acid and sugar.

Children suck on cold bags of cola for hours, keeping the teeth awash in acid and sugar.

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A rotten tooth extracted from the mouth of a young patient.

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Glasgow Has An Art Attack

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An environmental sculpture in Glasgow.

I spent this past summer in my birthplace of Scotland, photographing the people and places of that spectacular country — a nation that has blessed the rest of the world with whisky, tartan, the philosophy of Adam Smith and David Hume and the literary works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.K. Rowling.
I spent much of my time in Glasgow, which is home to a vibrant art scene,  capturing images of this historical city, which is undergoing a cultural renaissance. I took photographs not only for my personal website, the World People Project, but captured images for a special photo essay for Montecristo, one of Canada’s must beautiful cultural magazines. Check it out: Glasgow’s Art Scene – Creation Centre.

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The Glasgow School of Art’s new building.

Coming up in a month, Journeys to the Edge co-founder Roberta Staley will also have a feature in Montecristo, about the dangers facing the iconic resident orca whales due to increasing shipping tankers in our Pacific coastal waters.

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Glasgow City Centre.

 

Mightier Than the Sword fundraising begins

 

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A documentary project by Journeys to the Edge

 Journeys to the Edge (J2E) is very pleased to announce a partnership with Entertainment Media Arts Society (EMA). The Canadian charity, under President Jacqueline Feldman of Vancouver, is supporting J2E’s upcoming project: a documentary to be filmed this summer in Afghanistan titled Mightier Than the Sword: The Emergence of Female Afghan Journalists and Filmmakers and their Impact on Gender Perceptions in Afghanistan. J2E will require $30,000 to cover the cost of accommodations, security, equipment, translators, drivers and crew salaries — most of whom are being recruited from the Afghan film and TV community. In support of this initiative, which will explore the advancements made by Afghan women in the media and their impact on profoundly conservative, patriarchal attitudes, EMA has agreed to issue charity receipts for donations that support the production of Mightier Than the Sword. 

Mubareka-Sahar-FetratThe main character in the documentary is 20-year-old Mubareka Sahar Fetrat (“Sahar”) of Kabul. Sahar is an outstanding example of Afghan youth — deeply committed to helping nurture women’s equality. Already a prolific documentarian as well as a scholarship student at Kabul University, Sahar has an impressive list of film credits, including Kabul Cards, which chronicles the lives of three young Afghan girls in Kabul, and Do Not Trust My Silence!, about Afghan women living with ubiquitous street harassment. Mightier Than the Sword will record the extraordinary challenges Sahar faces as she undertakes another documentary this summer, filming in the busy, dusty streets of Kabul. The documentary will also capture the lives of other female journalists and media professionals as well as civil and women’s rights activists and politicians. These include people like Mozhdah Jamalzadah, who has been called the “Oprah of Afghanistan” and whose show, Mozhdah, had a profound and positive impact on Afghan society during its two-year broadcast, addressing some of society’s most taboo and controversial topics.

If you have a question contact J2E Director Roberta Staley at rstaley@shaw.ca or 604.738.9251. Cheques should be made out to Entertainment Media Arts Society and can be mailed c/o Roberta Staley #108 – 975 West 13 Ave. Vancouver, BC V5Z 1P4. A tax receipt will be mailed to you within three weeks.

The documentary is expected to debut in Vancouver in 2016.  All donors will receive, in addition to a tax receipt, copies of the film and in invitation to the preview screening.

 Entertainment Media Arts Society is a registered charity No. 861280428RR0001. 

EMA President Jacqueline Feldman (604) 720-2174  steelnblues@telus.net Website: http://emasociety.blogspot.ca.

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Amazon Healer in Colombia

 

Baribú Geraga ‘Gustavo’ Mejia Makuna

 

This story ran recently in the travel writing blog Day Trips Travel Guide. It has a slightly unusual opening (me being incredibly ill), which nonetheless was the perfect jumping off point for a remarkable experience: being healed by shaman Baribu Geraga ‘Gustavo’ Mejia Makuna, pictured above. Gustavo and his family live in the Amazon, and we reached him after a long hike through the jungle outside Leticia, a border town at the southernmost tip of Colombia….

After years spent travelling to some of the more grim areas of the world without getting sick, the Patron Saint of Safe Travel, Saint Christopher, seemingly abandoned me. Here I was in a little hotel in Bogotá in Colombia, puking my guts out for the fourth day in a row.

In between throwing up, I stuffed my worn backpack with notepads, pens and camera for a trip into the Amazon to visit several indigenous groups. Was it possible to survive a trek through a steamy jungle while so ill? I was almost too weak to care.

The flight from Bogotá to Leticia on Colombia’s southernmost tip, booking into a hotel and meeting my guide and translator were all conducted in a haze of wretchedness. The guide, Elias Cuao, shook his head at my condition. The next morning I threw up again (for good luck?), squeezed into a dented yellow taxi and set out for the jungle, taking the two-lane highway out of Leticia to its end. Literally. The cab fled, leaving us staring at an oppressive wall of Amazon green.

I managed to keep up with Cuao, following him over a dozen bridges of felled narrow tree boughs, cut by the indigenous inhabitants of the forest, that provide a pathway through the Amazon’s circulatory system of streams and torpid rivers. Birds shrieked and squawked. Pendulous oropendola nests hung from tree boughs. Fluorescent blue butterflies the size of my hand flitted about within arm’s reach. About 45 minutes later, Cuao hooted: “Makuna! Makuuunnnaaa!” laughing as the words echoed through the canopy of branches. We had reached our first destination — an enormous one-room cabaña with a wall of vertical wooden planks and a steep roof made of grey-weathered interlacing palm fronds. Cuao was alerting Baribú Geraga ‘Gustavo’ Mejia Makuna, the group’s political leader (payé) and medicine man (kuraca), of our arrival. Gustavo, a 59-year-old man with a naked expanse of brown belly and genial expression, gave Cuao a bear hug then beckoned us into the “Big House.” We were directed to several rough-hewn log benches that were grouped around a tree-stump table. Cuao and Gustavo, as he liked to be called, shared a sacred ritual: stuffing enormous wads of pale green, finely ground coca leaves — the basis of cocaine — into their cheeks.

I flipped open my notepad and Gustavo began a singsong recitation, describing the spiritual and symbolic importance of plants like coca and tobacco and the gods associated with these plants. Then, for some reason — was I swooning? — Cuao stopped Gustavo and explained how sick I was, using the universal hand gesture for retching, much to my embarrassment. Gustavo spoke to Cuao who turned to me and said, “He will make you better.” Continue reading

Sahar Fetrat in the U.S. helping young Afghan burn victim

Sahar Fetrat — the focus of the proposed Journeys to the Edge documentary Mightier Than the Sword, to be shot in Kabul in 2015 — has just arrived in Los Angeles as a translator and escort for Arefa, a young Afghan girl who was badly burned last year in Afghanistan. Arefa is receiving medical help in LA through the non-profit organization Solace for the Children, which partners with medical professionals and community leaders as well as Afghans to provide medical, dental and optical care for children in Afghanistan. Solace selects Afghan children aged seven to 12 — most of whom are survivors of hostilities — and matches them with communities in the United States. Arefa is being joined in the U.S. by 10 other Afghan children who need medical care such as prosthetic fittings or surgery for war-related injuries. “I volunteer for this program with all my heart,” says Sahar. “It is a life-changing program.” During her four-week stay in Los Angeles, Sahar will not only help Arefa but assist with fund raising for Solace through public speaking engagements.

Arefa is a young Afghan girl who is receiving treatment in the United States for her burns, thanks to Solace for the Children.

Arefa is a young Afghan girl who is receiving treatment in the United States for her burns, thanks to Solace for the Children.