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What More Can I Do?

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There are two kinds of people: those that grumble “Haven’t I done enough?” and those that question, “What more can I do?”

In early December 2014, I was invited to photograph a group of young adults… OK I have trouble writing that description, because this group of people although chronologically youngerrrr…. than me, demonstrate the maturity and self awareness that should be envied by many, twice and thrice their ages.

The Ontario Council for International Cooperation (OCIC), annually accepts nominations for Global-Changemaker Youth-Ambassador Awards, and recognizes a select group of nominees, at a reception to mark International Development Week. The 2015 event was held on February 3rd, in the Rotunda of Metro Hall in Toronto, and showcased a photographic exhibit by Allan Lissner Transformations: Stories of Partnership, Resilience and Positive Change in Peru. This collaborative photojournalism project is intended to increase dialogue, and further understanding of International Partnerships that address complex global challenges. You will find all the details describing this exhibit and where you can view it, at http://ocic.on.ca/transformations2015

OK, enough with all the hard facts, what I really need to get off my chest is how inspiring these opportunities are to me.

As a photographer I have had the great privilege of witnessing, contributing to, and participating in several great causes. Whether it was accompanying a plane-full of children participating in a Sunshine Foundation sponsored-trip to Disney World, my work for CUSO International or now meeting this great group of young people, I’m inspired to contemplate the potential we all have for doing good. It’s not enough to say we’re good people because we do no harm – and indifference counts as harm – but to actually apply the natural talents, which we all posses, to make a positive difference in the quality-of-life, of others. Investing time and applying creative problem-solving in the Non-Profit sector, benefits all of us.

By being curious and aware of the needs of The Other, we help to improve the standard of living of those less fortunate, where ever they may be and regardless of gender. Improving health and basic education standards, unleashes the human potential by helping to reduce crime and allows all of us to focus on opportunities, beforehand, out of reach. Hope is priceless and the dividends are immeasurable.

Volunteering isn’t something we do because we have time to spare, we do it because someone has to stretch out a helping hand. Ask yourself, “If not me , then who? If not now, then when?”

My personal congratulations to all the inspiring and very worthy 2015Global-Changemaker Youth-Ambassador Awards, recipients for demonstrating a willingness to put their passionate words into actions.

While you’re here, why don’t you leave a Comment and visit my Galleries.

Contact me to discuss your photographic needs.

This Collection of Environmental Portraits was produced prior to the Awards Presentations.

La Huamanga Turistica

For those of you that caught my previous posting, today I’m going to walk along the sunny side of the street. Our days typically revolve around scheduling interviews with volunteers and their beneficiaries, and the rest of the time is ours. My priority, after finishing our interviews, is always to download the flash cards to my Epson P5000 Viewer then to my laptop, process my images using Lightroom and finally generate a backup onto a small 2.5 External Hard Drive. That gives me three copies of the photos, which means that other then when I’m travelling between communities, there is always a copy somewhere that I’m not, with an extra level of redundancy for safe measure.Nothing would be worse than to spend all this time, effort and money and have the images, either stolen or lost, due a technical malfunction with any one of those three devices. So, after taking care to secure my work, I’m free to stroll the streets, soak in the sounds and of course photograph whatever catches my fancy.

It was while strolling the streets of Huamanga, Peru that I was approached by a young man, who upon seeing my rather large Nikon camera, cozyed up to talk photography. I had been warned about people approaching on one side to distract me, while another would sneak-in on the blind side to liberate anything of value, so I casually secured my bag and tripod and politely answered his questions, but it quickly became obvious that he had a sincere interest, without any ulterior motives.

It turns out that John – ya I know but it isn’t that uncommon for people to have English names because parents will name their children after well known movie and TV actors, and as it turns out his full Given Name, is Johnn Rhys – who at only eighteen and with a high school diploma, rents a small office in the beautifully restored Centro Turistico Cultural San Cristobal,where he has a small graphic design business, producing signage, brochures and restaurant menus for local businesses.

Most of the architecture in Huamanga, and the Centro Turistico is no exception, follows the southern Spanish formula of an austere fa’ade facing the street, with a very large, solid door through which one passes into a sun-drenched Andalucian courtyard. It’s like stepping into another, secret world where lazy cats stretch out on cool stones and the trickling water from a simple fountain sooth the commotion just steps away.

John’s space although on the dark side, has just what you would expect to see in any similar business back in Canada a desk for his computer, monitor, printer and book-case to store reference materials and office supplies. He also has enough room for a small studio to photograph table-top product or portraits. I’d be tickled pink to have his space as a studio / office. I’m viscerally inspired by well designed spaces and beautiful architecture and just being on the second floor of this cloistered courtyard, made my head spin.

Although John does have competition, when I asked him how he manages, he emphasized the importance of Customer Service, noting that it’s not a concept that is ingrained in to the Peruvian culture, but that helps distinguish him. What ever it takes. Not a bad philosophy for everything in life.

We spent around three hours together talking and walking around with our cameras, taking photographs and comparing notes, after which we returned to one of the handful of little patios in that beautiful Andalucian courtyard, where I invited him to lunch. Although not nearly as poor as Bolivia, the exchange rate in Peru is around one Canadian Dollar to two and half Soles, making it very inexpensive to travel here. I of course am not travelling with Canadian Dollars but rather with Soles, just as every other CUSO Volunteer, but we none-the-less, both had a wonderful home cooked meal, and by that I mean that it didn’t come out of a bucket or re-heated frozen package, for approximately $3.00 CDN each, while sitting in that priceless, beautiful courtyard.

Annie and I stayed in Huamanga for three days and three nights, in yet another beautifully restored building, come the Santa Maria Hotel. Nothing luxurious, but quaint and appropriate under the circumstances in any location. We arrived on the Wednesday before Palm Sunday and everywhere we went we could see that preparations for Holy Week, were in full swing. Soon there wouldn’t be a vacant room for rent, anywhere in town and beginning on the Thursday, small processions leading up to the big event on Good Friday, began to meander through the narrow streets, at some point passing through the main square, La Plaza de Armas.

However, there was another nationally significant event scheduled for Friday night that no one could ignore, a FIFA World Cup qualifying game being played in Lima, between Peru and their arch rivals Chile. Annie and I arranged to meetup with a few other volunteers in the central square and then made our way to a local watering hole, Restaurante Nino, to catch the game. I didn’t have a favourite team in the contest, but I thought it prudent to cheeeeeer and ohhhhh in tune with my hosts. However, it wasn’t long before I too was infected by the ebb and flow of the game and grimacing at the near misses in favour, and sighing in relief at the close calls against. The final score was Peru 1 Chile 0 and everyone went home happy.

In the three short days that we were there, Huamanga grew on me and Saturday rolled around way to soon. I became familiar with the streets around La Plaza de Armas, had been charmed by a handful of the townsfolk and wanted desperately to spend more time photographing the architecture and street scenes.

Saturday, woke up warm and sunny and since our flight didn’t leave until mid-afternoon, I hurried back outside for one last walkabout. I wasn’t disappointed. Along all the balconies surrounding the main square, were hung intricately, handmade, palm-leaf motifs in anticipation of Holy Week and the plaza had definitely taken on a festive mood. Walking about were hawkers selling everything from balloons to religious trinkets, and sunglasses to windup flying-birds-of-paradise. An overdose of sights and sounds, but what caught my attention most, was a line of woman in traditional folk dress, strung along the west side of the plaza making fresh ice-cream… by hand. What a send off. I couldn’t resist, so after discreetly photographing some of the woman, I shuffled over to try some for myself. It was delicious.

Till we meet again.

Old Wounds, Not So Old

I returned to Lima last night after having spent 3 days in Ayachucho, also known as Huamanga. Located in the Andes at about 2,700 metres, it is best known for it’s 33 churches, which represent one for each year of Jesus’ life, as well as their Holy Week celebrations. But enough with the Wikipedia details. Huamanga is a lovely small city and though it may sound clich, the people I met, both on the street and in relation to our CUSO assignment, were very friendly. Oh, and yes the weather was wonderful. On the dry and hot side during the day, due to the altitude and clear skies, and just cool enough at nights, to put on long sleeves.

Much of CUSO’s work in this part of the world, revolves around Social Justice and Capacity Building. In simple terms, that refers to empowering people to use the existing institutions to claim their rights, and transferring skills so that once the volunteers have left, the local people can implement best-practices and better fend for themselves.

Our purpose for travelling to Huamanga and Huanta, a smaller village a short distance away, was to visit volunteers working for La Defensoria del Pueblo ie. Neighbourhood Ombudsman. There is a heavy emphasis on woman’s and children’s rights, but can and do encompass institutional issues such as licensing and regulations.

We interviewed a woman with a claim dating back 30 years to a disturbing period in Peruvian history when a very violent Marxist terrorist group called Los Senderos Luminosos, known in English as the Shining Path, waged war against the Peruvian government. As often happens during internal conflicts, atrocities are perpetrated by each side and in the end it is the innocent who pay the highest price. Helena recounted how government forces entered her village accusing them of supporting the terrorists and as a result both her parents, a brother and her husband went missing, never to be heard from again. Her home was destroyed and after being held in a prison for a few days and personally subjected to the ultimate humiliation that a woman can endure, was released as a demonstration of mercy, so that she could attend to her children, which had been left alone, on the condition that they leave their village.

Overcoming the daily struggles of the human condition require that we learn to put our personal challenges in perspective and move on. Most hardships are easily and quickly forgotten, others, not so much. From personal experience I know that some events in my life, although not nearly as traumatic, can and do generate strong emotions, so much so that they feel as real today as if they had just occurred.

Thirty years ago, may sound like a long time ago, but to Helena it was clearly something she could not get over. Seeking justice requires her to keep the events alive. Hearing her story, put the three of us listening, in that village with her and keeping our emotions in check was very, very difficult.

Despite the horrors of her ordeal, Helena, who is now in her early sixties, walked with poise and grace, and spoke without any sign of personal shame but rather strength. The strength required to flee her village with young children, travel the long distance by whatever means to Huamaga, and with what little money she had, purchase trinkets to sell on the street so that she could feed her children. The strength required to rise from that level of destitution, to see her children attend university, and even though publicly funded, provide them with all the associated costs like books and materials, not to mention food, clothing and shelter.

La Defensoria del Pueblo, has taken on her case, under an existing law intended to settle damage claims against the Peruvian government, dating back to those dark days. The process is long and complicated, as they establish the validity of her accusations and negotiate the extent of her pain… When asked, after reaching the end of her tragic story, if she had anything more to add, she insisted on drawing attention to the support she has and continues to receive from La Defensoria, fully aware that what she was sharing with us, would serve a greater purpose by helping CUSO International to put a face and a voice to the good work it does and, thereby, providing material to use in it’s Fund Raising efforts.

Here but by the grace of God go us.


Bolivia – Faces

Difficult to believe, for me anyway, that I’m closing in on one year since my return from Bolivia. Despite the passing of twelve months, memories of the experience haven’t faded much. The first few weeks after my return were taken up with all the Christmas preparations and immediately after ward, I had to pick through a few thousand images to edit down and process the bank of photographs from my assignment, before passing them along to CUSO International.

For anyone reading about my trip to Bolivia for the first time, in the dyeing days of the summer of 2011, I had the wonderfully good fortune to be chosen by CUSO, to participate in a project to visit one of several countries where they provide Development Aid. As one of six teams of journalist and photographers sent to various points around the world, I was assigned to Bolivia, where we visited several projects to meet with CUSO beneficiaries and volunteers and to document their projects, through words and photographs.

I learned a lot from the experience, in terms of packing equipment, scheduling visits and assertiveness to maximize the days and opportunities available in a relatively short period of time. Looking back through the images, a year later, I find that I’m able to be less critical of what I produced and take pride in what was accomplished

As photographers, we are a pretty insecure and self critical lot. That probably works in our favour, when it comes to pushing ourselves to do better next time, always searching for a unique perspective and turning on the charm to befriend a subject, on their turf.

I’ve added a Gallery of images in my Photo Essays that I’ve given the Title: Bolivia Faces. These are my favourite People Photos from that trip and maybe as soon as next week I’ll add another Gallery: Bolivia Places. Kinda has a nice ring to it don’t you think, Some of the images maybe familiar from my Blog Posts while in the field, but regardless, they are worth gathering together for a second look. Enjoy and don’t hesitate to provide any feedback: good, bad or ugly.

Woman entrepreneurs.

International Woman’s Day Reception

Canadian Development Aid OrganizationMarch 8th, is International Woman’s Day, originally called International Working Woman’s day, and is celebrated worldwide to focus attention on issues of respect, equality of opportunities and an appreciation for the positive contributions of women, in every aspect of the human condition.

In the fall of 2011, I had the unique privilege of participating in a Photographic Assignment, as one of seven, two Volunteer Teams assigned to locations around the world, where CUSO International supports Development Aid projects, designed to build human capacity in the spheres of education, health and governance, as well as entrepreneurial skills.

CUSO International invites you to join me and Journalists Maureen Littlejohn and Giselle Portenier, fresh from oWoman entrepreneurs.ur visits to Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Honduras, for a reception to mark International Woman’s Day. The images and stories we will share with you, will illustrate the strengths and struggles of women in those countries, who are sowing the seeds of a better future for us all.

When: March 8th, 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Where: Julie M. Gallery, 15 Mill Street, Distillery District, Toronto

This is a public event, so please share this information with friends – especially all the important women in your life!

Please RSVP online to provide numbers vis a vis light food and refreshments, and I look forward to seeing as many of you, as the gallery will hold.