Mision Gaia in Colombia

By Rida Ahmed

Misión Gaia works with rural communities, local schools, governmental and private organizations in Minca, Sierra Nevada to strengthen educational and environmental practices as well as the development of sustainable tourism. Diana Benincore Gaia, the Director of Mision Gaia, said of her experience: “When I first visited Minca in 2010, I discovered a land of beautiful waterfalls, enormous jungle trees, snow-capped peaks and mountainside farms. More than nature, it was the warmth of the people here that drew me in. My understanding of the issues they faced was what led me to stay. 

Through educative programs and animal clinics, we started by providing care for our community's pet population. Next, we focused on education as the foundation for a better future. Quickly, we understood that tourism was growing and we turned our attention there to reduce the negative effects created by this industry.”

Photographers Without Borders will be sending our Creative Director Megan Ewing, alongside photographer Michael Bednar, to work with this organization.

1.      How and why did you get into photography? 

Photography sort of just...happened. I went to college for Visual & Digital Arts then did a post grad in Graphic Design for Print & Web, and in all that time only did one photography course. I bought an SLR and was just lucky to have people believe in me and book me when I had no experience at all. I never thought that Photography would be my job, it was always just a dream, a dream to travel the world with a camera while helping others and well, I am now living that dream.

2.      What have been you most memorable experiences as a photographer? 

This is tough to answer as I think every wedding, photoshoot and trip always have a memorable "moment". There have been weddings with huge surprises or very candid emotional moments. But in regards to photography abroad/photo journalism, I can name a few. First would be the time I travelled all over Northern Ontario for 5 days by snowmobile for a tourism company, to show the sights and sounds you would not be able to see unless on a snowmobile, it was incredible. From secret Ice Caves to wildlife to meeting locals in little towns of 100 people. I also learnt what -50 feels like. But my most recent amazing travel experience is with PWB. This past July, i travelled to Casa Guatemala in Rio Dulce Guatemala, where I went to help raise awareness to their organization, via photos and video. Seeing how the children of the local villages live and still are so positive and thankful and appreciative of so little, really makes one think. I was able to participate in classes, activities, ride the daily boat with staff and locals, such an incredible experience.

3.      Why did you decide to get involved with this organization? 

I am so extremely thankful and grateful that I was hired on to the PWB staff once I returned from Guatemala. Being Creative Director I have been able to combine all of my experience in the creative world with my passion for wanting to make the world a better place. Not many people can say they have their dream job where everything they love, are passionate for and experienced in is part of their job, I can, and I am very lucky. 

4.      How has your last and latest experiences with PWB helped you prepare for your trip? 

If there is one thing I learnt from my Guatemala trip it's ALWAYS HAVE RAIN GEAR. Honestly, it rained the entire time I was there and I was a little unprepared in that sense. In regards to everything else, every trip is different so I again don't know what to expect but being on a trip before only has me more excited for this journey. I think every time a photographer has an opportunity to travel with their camera, to help others, they need to take it. Each journey, not only do you grow as a photographer but you grow as a person.

Mision Gaia

Mision Gaia

5.      Tell us about your fundraising campaign How did you come up with it and why did you decide on this approach?  

Last trip, I did a fundraiser with live music, comedians and loads of prizes and it was very successful. This time around, I wanted to be different and wanted to figure out a way I could fundraise while still helping people. I decided on hosting three days of photo sessions (2 in Alliston ON, 1 in Toronto) called "Pay What You Can" photo days. I wanted people who necessarily may not be able to afford photos on a normal day, be able to come and capture their families or baby bellies or even headshots. All are welcome and all proceeds are going to Mision Gaia. 

6.      What do you hope to gain from this experience? What do you hope the organization will gain? 

I am looking forward to experiencing another country that I have never been too. With each country you visit, you learn and see so much. I hope that myself and Michael (the photographer on this project) can capture the region of Santa Marta in a way that Mision Gaia is happy and proud and able to use our material to spread the word and give themselves even more of a voice.

7.      How has your experience been with PWB and what advice do you have for other photographers? 

My experience has been so very rewarding and incredible. So much has happened in so little time and it continues to get even more amazing. My advice to other photographers: don't hold back from applying to projects out of fear for the financial aspect. I am always scared about not being able to afford it, but if you always have that mindset, you won't go anywhere. Anyone and everyone can host fundraisers and events to help with the cost of volunteering. As photographers, there are so many things you can do to raise money and help others and in turn, help with your project. 

To learn more and to donate to Mision Gaia, click here

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