By: Christine Hogg
Ron B. Wilson had recently completed an online college course in Spanish when he came across the Long Way Home organization. Long Way Home is a non-profit organization in Guatemala which commits itself to using sustainable design materials through recycling programs in order to promote education and environmental responsibility in its local communities. Since its inauguration, LWH now boasts a local community park, Parque Chimiyá, and established an elementary, middle and vocational school complex in 2008--all from eco-friendly resources.
Excited at the prospects of practicing a new language and the allure of helping out with a sustainable educational project, the award-winning wedding and lifestyle photographer headed to Comalapa, Guatemala to document the efforts of LWH on behalf of Photographers Without Borders. Upon landing after a short 2.5 hour flight from Jacksonville, Florida, Ron was picked up from the airport by Genevieve and Donal, the host family father and soon immersed himself in the everyday life and culture of his new surroundings.
On most days, Ron could be found at the school, where days started early and were filled with a wonderful morning light. "They had just started a 'smoothie program' at the school, so each day 5 or so mothers would arrive on campus to cut fruit and veggies and make the smoothies for about 120 kids before they arrived for classes at 7:30," Ron said. Quickly after settling in, Ron and Genevieve immediately knew how the story of LWH should be told, or framed in imagery. "I could see the connection and outreach the school had on the local community and entire town," Ron said. "Many of the workers and even teaching staff were related to each other and related to the students. For lack of a better phrase, I keep thinking "It takes a village".
In his collection of images from the trip, Ron notes that it was very important to try and capture that sense of community, which was an incredibly strong and central theme to the organization and its local people. "We decided to try and photograph some of the family grouping and define some of the connections in the photographs," Ron said. "We also identified some interesting families and asked we we could go home with them and learn more about their lives outside the school. This turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip; gaining access to real people in their homes and natural environments."
Despite the importance of capturing the environmental aspects of this project, some of Ron's most cherished memories and favourite photography opportunities from the trip came naturally and without planning. One in particular was with a boy named Miguelito, a radiant young boy with a contagious smile on his face whose father faithfully walked him to and from school every single day in his wheelchair. "One day after school I decided to follow a few people as they left school and I just happened to get behind Miguelito and his dad going down a hill," Ron said. "I was shooting in from behind at the top of a hill. There were some students in the foreground and all of a sudden some of the workers appeared from the bottom of hill on their bikes (they would ride home quick on their lunch breaks to eat) with a great view of a lot of rooftops of Comalapa. To me that moment defined 'Long Way Home'. Seeing how "long" it took for people to get home from the campus."
Overall, the experiences were unforgettable for Ron, who, as a lifestyle photographer and avid traveler, has seen many people and places all around the world. "The experience was more than I could have imagine or hoped for," Ron said. "Everyone on my adventure made me feel welcome and part of the family. Not one person ever passed by without saying, "buenos dias or buenos tardes". It was so great. I promised to return, hopefully for the grand opening of the school next January."
To donate to Long Way Home, please visit Ron's fundraising page by clicking here.