This photographer gives a face to international displaced persons

This photographer gives a face to international displaced persons

For many of us, photographs of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are a common daily occurrence on our laptop screens and news feeds. Thinking of refugees, one conjures up images of families fleeing conflict overseas, in backyards nothing like our own. We read article after article about the atrocities, highlighted by the impending urgency of these situations. However, forgotten are the refugees and IDPs in countries whose conflicts have been become outdated and no longer make headlines in Western media.

Peter Schön is an award-winning photographer from Germany. His passion for photography is fused with his lust for travel and adventure, resulting in a portfolio of images stretching from Norway to Georgia, Canada to Japan. Schön has experienced first-hand the effects of the forced migration of people due to conflict while travelling in the South Caucasus. This region, in the crossroads of Europe and Asia, straddling the Caucasus mountain range, has a colourful and rich history, influenced by the clash of cultures and wild terrain. The nations of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia have been shaped by religious conflict, ideological and political differences and the aspirations of larger, more powerful neighbours such as Turkey and Russia. Marred by separatist movements, highly combustible nationalist sentiments and ethnic identities, there are many reasons as to why this region suffers such high levels of refugees and IDP’s.

Marred by separatist movements, highly combustible nationalist sentiments and ethnic identities, there are many reasons as to why this region suffers such high levels of refugees and IDP’s. “I was first introduced to displaced people during a ski mountaineering/climbing trip to Svaneti, a mountain region of Georgia, South Caucasus," Schön said. "Svaneti borders Abkhazia, a separatist region from Georgia. Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia after the 1992-93 War in Abkhazia”, explains Schön. “During and after the short, but violent and complex conflict, almost the entire ethnic Georgian population left Abkhazia. Thousands went over the mountains into Svaneti, in desperate conditions, terrain and weather.”

Schön talks about the driving forces behind his work. “In 2008 a conflict erupted between Georgia and Russia over the break-away region of South Ossetia," Schön said "The war had been over for more than three years, but there were still traces of it everywhere – not only on the houses and infrastructure but also in the minds of the people living here. One scene struck me in particular: a lonely, elderly woman walks down a muddy street as winter arrives in Ergneti, a town almost completely destroyed during the war. The losers of this political power game are the people living on either side of the buffer zone – people who lost wives, husbands, sons or daughters, who lost their homes and livelihoods amidst the shelling, burning and bombing of villages.”

The collapse of the USSR left a vacuum, according to Schön, which made the eruption of conflict and violence inevitable as nations attempted to forge their borders. “Under Soviet rule Armenians and Azerbaijanis lived peacefully together until 1988 when the USSR lost strength and national sentiments built up in the Soviet Republics," Schön said. "Clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis turned into pogroms. Azerbaijanis started to flee from Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh, Armenians began to leave Azerbaijan. In Baku, Azerbaijani refugees that fled Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh mixed with the remaining Armenians in Baku, which proved to be a volatile mix and more violence followed. This was the context under which, in 1991, the conflict turns into a full war between two countries that had just gained independence.”

This mammoth movement of people was unprecedented and has had a lasting effect on the population of the region. Ruined villages and dilapidated infrastructure, dot the landscapes of border regions, reminding people of the horrendous nature of war. Schön confesses that it was his curiosity which encouraged him to investigate further and fully immerse himself in this region. And despite the pain and hardship that he has photographed here, Schön stresses the resilience and kindness of the people of the South Caucasus.

“So much hospitality and warmth in the cold Armenian winter," Schön said. "Of all things, the hospitality stood out. Armenians and Georgians make you feel at home quickly. Everywhere I went, I would be invited to a house for food, drink, and shelter. Later that was even the case working with the refugees – they hosted me with whatever little they had.”

Schön hopes to return to the South Caucasus once his project in Norway is complete. He wishes to continue to document and photograph the journey of IDP’s and refugees in the region, so that these people are not forgotten.

For more of Peter's work, click here

Powerful portraits from a pow wow in unceded territory

Powerful portraits from a pow wow in unceded territory

PHOTO: Danielle Da Silva 

PHOTO: Danielle Da Silva 

Sacred One,
Teach us love, compassion and honour
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other.
— Ojibway prayer
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Believe it or not, the last federally-funded residential school in Canada was shut down as recently as 1996. Funded by the Canadian government's Department of Indian Affairs and administered by Christian churches, Canada's residential school system was a network of far-flung boarding schools intended to remove First Nations children from their parents/communities and thus the influence of their own culture. Well in place before Confederation in 1867, the system became official after the Indian Act passed in 1876, and in 1884 an amendment to the Indian Act made attendance at these schools compulsory for First Nations children. Many now describe this as a "cultural genocide," whereby First Nations cultures were systematically exterminated by depriving children of their ancestral languages, beliefs, and their rights as humans. More than 6,000 children died while reports/stories of sexual abuse are rife. The end result has been mass transgenerational trauma that manifests in various ways including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide and substance abuse.

It was in 1961 that band member Rosemary Odjig raised the tradition of the "pow wow" in her hometown of Wikwemikong after witnessing a pow wow in another community and realizing the importance of practicing and remembering the teachings of her community's ancestors. What started as the "Wikwemikong Indian Days" gathering almost 60 years ago is now known as the "Wikwemikong Annual Cultural  Festival" and is revered as one of the largest and longest-running pow wows in North America. 

Chief Duke is smudged with sage before the "Grand Entry," a ceremonial procession that honours and acknowledges the community elders, service people and mother earth.

Chief Duke is smudged with sage before the "Grand Entry," a ceremonial procession that honours and acknowledges the community elders, service people and mother earth.

Wikwemikong is "unceded territory" on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada, which means that the land has never been surrendered in a treaty or otherwise. It also means the land is entirely governed by the First Nations community. "Manitoulin" means "spirit island" in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway language)and it is the world's largest freshwater island, making it an ideal location for First Nations communities to settle away from the encroaching colonisers more than a century ago. 

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Rosemary Odjig's vision of an annual pow wow in the spirit of reviving teachings, stories, language and traditions seems to have become a success. Today the Wikwemikong Annual Culture Festival pow wow is a fun way for families and friends to get together, to dance and sing to the hypnotic beat of the drum in the Sacred Circle, eat local food, and share stories, language, knowledge and crafts with each other. Talented drum groups and dancers partake in friendly competition for cash prizes, offering mesmerizing and educational entertainment for spectators. Everyone from all walks of life are welcome to watch, support and participate.

These powerful portraits and images taken just a few days ago at the 2017 Wikwemikong Annual Cultural Festival honour the Wikwemikong Heritage Association, which "is a non-profit organization committed to the preservation and enhancement of Anishinaabe culture through education and the participatory cultural opportunities with both Native and Non-Native people." 

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Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others.
— Sitting Bull
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danielledasilva_photographerswithoutborders
The only thing necessary for tranquility in the world is that every child grows up happy.
— Chief Dan George
Mother and daughter.

Mother and daughter.

Father and son.

Father and son.

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Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may not remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.
— Indigenous proverb
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The Circle has healing power. In the Circle we are all equal. When in the Circle, no one is in front of you. No one is behind you. No one is above you. No one is below you. The Sacred Circle is designed to create unity. The Hoop of Life is also a circle. On this hoop there is a space for every species, every race, every tree and every plant. It is this completeness of Life that must be respected in order to bring about health on this planet.
— Dave Chief, Oglala Lakota
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danielledasilva_photographerswithoutborders
Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried across the sky by beautiful clouds.
— Ojibway proverb
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The 2017 "Iron Man" champion. To win this category a dancer must outlast their fellow dancers without stopping or missing a beat of the drum.

The 2017 "Iron Man" champion. To win this category a dancer must outlast their fellow dancers without stopping or missing a beat of the drum.

When the flesh is gone, the spirit forever remains. Their voices speak to those who know how to listen. Wisdom is born in the heart, and then spoken.
— Wolf Clan Song
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Images and story by Danielle Da Silva.

To find out more about the Wikwemikong Heritage Organisation, visit: wikwemikongheritage.org

HIV education through soccer has reduced the risk of this disease in Africa

HIV education through soccer has reduced the risk of this disease in Africa

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Soccer is a sport loved by many around the world. In Africa, it is the most popular game on the continent, with the passion shared amongst all of its countries. But, what if, besides being a contributor of entertainment and active lifestyle, it could also help to deliver HIV, sexual and reproductive health rights and empowerment education to young people? Through the work of TackleAfrica, this very such notion has been happening in many African countries since 2002.

According to Aids.gov, at the end of 2015, around 36.7 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. Of those alarming numbers, 1.8 million were children under the age of 15 years old, and the majority living in low to middle-income countries, most notably in Sub-Saharan-Africa.

TackleAfrica is a UK-based non-governmental organization founded by a group of young British entrepreneurs that all lived in Africa during a certain period of their lives. TackleAfrica currently has projects in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Their partnerships with local organizations utilize the love and popularity of soccer in the continent to spread health messages, that are given by trained African football coaches, peer educators, and schoolteachers.

The coaches receive regular training and total support, which enables their educational messaging to be accurate and up to date. Since HIV continues to be the biggest killer of adolescents in Africa, the focus is on the disease, but the coaches also teach a range of related sexual reproductive health rights messages such as contraception, family planning, relationships and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation and child marriage. "The idea is to provide all the skills, support, access and understanding required for young people to increase their resilience to risk, and make safer, more informed decisions," said Tom Colborne, Head of Business Development for TackleAfrica.

Often, kids and teenagers feel uncomfortable talking about sensitive issues with their family or teachers. For these reasons, the coach's character is so important. The selected individual works as a role model and mentor, offering a safe space for discussion. "A good football coach can develop this kind of relationship with young people by developing their football skills and providing fun and interesting sessions," Colborne said. "We use that platform to train coaches on how to include interactive information about HIV and sexual health into football drills, and lead discussions about key issues."

Photographer Kenya-Jade Pinto visited Uganda to photograph the work of the organization. She says that once there, she could really understand the importance of the sport in Africa, and how the work of TackleAfrica is effective. "I learned the impact of football in Uganda and I didn't have to venture far to find a pitch or a football," Pinto said. "They're everywhere. And sure, some are properly manicured with the requisite goalposts and grass, but my favorite ones are tucked behind alleyways where mums are hanging their washing and where only toothy smiles can interrupt childhood chatter. These are the football pitches that shape the lives of children and adolescents in Uganda."

The organization works with an impressive number of about 12,000 young people each year. As an example, "...In a recent project in Nairobi, over 1,000 young people engaged with pitchside HIV testing and counselling sessions in a year. In Kilifi in Western Kenya, 77% of girls were able to name a local place to access contraception after taking part in TackleAfrica sessions compared to just 32% beforehand," explained Colborne. "We measure increases in things like young people engaging in HIV testing and counselling, and comprehensive knowledge of HIV prevention as well as some softer outcomes like confidence, leadership and life skills, which all combine to help protect young people from HIV."

Colborne explains that HIV has dropped dramatically on the global agenda recently, but recent cuts to family planning aid will make things harder for women in the developing world. "TackleAfrica continues to grow steadily, but we always need to keep demonstrating the impact and importance of our work and find the right partners to make the biggest difference," he said. 

Seeing the efficiency of their work with young people is what keeps the staff motivated to go on. "Being part of a small but growing and innovative organization means the work is varied, challenging and ever evolving," Colborne said. "Plus, we all love football!"

To know more about TackleAfrica and support the institution, please click here.

 

 

'Arts to End Slavery' brings discussion about human trafficking into the open

'Arts to End Slavery' brings discussion about human trafficking into the open

Avoiding eye contact. Being submissive. Losing the sense of time. Having no freedom to leave or come. Being in poor physical health. Working excessively long hours. These are only some, of the many signs that a person in forced labor conditions could demonstrate or develop. In order to increase consciousness of the problem and to promote and protect the victim's rights, the United Nations chose July 30th as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, by a resolution adopted in December 2013.

According to the United Nations, human trafficking can be briefly defined as a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation, that could be sexual, slavery or practices similar to slavery, forced labor or services, servitude or the removal of organs. In other words, this is a modern way to enslave someone, and it happens in all of our backyards. Human trafficking has risen to become the world's second largest illegal trade worldwide.

If we consider the area of Central and East Africa, Kenya has the highest rate of human trafficking. To fight against this brutal reality, a passionate group of lawyers, missionaries, and humanitarians founded in 2010 the Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART), a non-governmental organization that works with the purpose of ending human trafficking in the country, with base in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. 

"30th of July is World Day against Trafficking in Persons and we think creating awareness with the pictures and case studies would help drive the message of a public campaign," says Sophie Otiende, one of HAART's staff who is facilitating the event. Sophie is a survivor and advocate as well. She says it will be "an outdoor exhibition that will include the stories of victims to familiarize people with the issue of trafficking and the fact that it is close to them. The exhibition will be held in front of the Kenya National Archives in the city centre from Friday to Sunday."

PHOTO: Rehema Baya "Borders of Time," 1 of 6.

PHOTO: Rehema Baya "Borders of Time," 1 of 6.

Rehema Baya is a talented Kenyan photographer and HAART staff member who is participating in the exhibition this year.  "For the story this year, I first chose a triangle to represent origin from my mathematical background. I chose a girl within my age bracket who was living with albinism. I wanted to feel what my life would be like if I was her. And I knew that life would go on as usual but it would be constricted by society. Constricted because she is a target. People see her and they see profitable pieces of flesh and not a human being. This would be at school, whilst practicing her craft as a photographer, at work, in her place of worship, on her wedding day and when she finally has a child with the same condition as her. It is a very lonely constrained life full of insecurity but she doesn't stop living. She lets herself experience everything that life has to offer her even though it is in her own little world.''

Composed of six images that form the series "Borders of Time", the project depicts a girl who lives with albinism "where she has a baby who has the same condition as her, but she loves and enjoys life all the same despite security/death risks," explains Baya. "I wanted to feel what my life would be like if I was her. And I knew that life would go on as usual but it would be constricted by society. Constricted because she is a target. People see her and they see profitable pieces of flesh and not a human being", said Baya. "It is a very lonely constrained life full of insecurity but she doesn't stop living. She lets herself experience everything that life has to offer her even though it is in her own little world."

PHOTO: Mattie Simas "Faces Behind Atrocities" 1 of 7

PHOTO: Mattie Simas "Faces Behind Atrocities" 1 of 7

PWB Photographer Mattie Simas travelled to Nairobi recently and came out with her own body of work. The project called “Faces Behind Atrocities” are portraits of seven women from 13 to 16 years old, coming from four different nationalities, who have been rescued from trafficking and are in the healing process. The survivors were photographed with colored Carnival masks, an interesting contrast between their pain and the joy of a party like Carnival. Simas says that the objective was to hide their identities because of the fear of their perpetrators finding them, and also for the stigma that surrounds human trafficking. The photographer also provided the victims with a forum for healing through art, by having each woman recording a written testimony of how they were lead into trafficking and the barbarities they faced.

"The idea that a direct human connection can be made through the windows of someone’s soul was a concept that I felt was important to capture. The survivors and I agreed that their eyes needed to be revealed", she explained. Each survivor was given the choice as to which mask best represented them best. I provided the lighting concept and all survivors agreed the representation of darkness was important to execute (...) Everyone was given a platform to exercise their voice, opinions, and their right to decide. I believe the whole process was a successful therapeutic exercise".

PHOTO: Mattie Simas "Faces Behind Atrocities" 1 of 7

PHOTO: Mattie Simas "Faces Behind Atrocities" 1 of 7

Art breaks barriers both in creating awareness and healing. It is a simple tool that people enjoy interacting with. We hope that people will start talking about human trafficking more and be able to identify that it is happening around them. Most people always believe trafficking happens somewhere else including here in Kenya. Awareness is key and simple. Everyone can take a minute and talk about trafficking in their own space. You can also join the movement by promoting and supporting organizations that work to fight human trafficking.

If you or someone you know is a victim or survivor of human trafficking, you are not alone and there are resources available to you. HAART's helpline: +254780211113

To learn more about HAART Kenya, please click here.  

Turning teens into agents of change amidst conflict

Turning teens into agents of change amidst conflict

Back in 2004, Ayyaz Ahmed received a piece of news that would change his life forever.

At the time, his school received a call for applications for an organization called Seeds of Peace, and it was then that Ahmed found himself, transported from Lahore, Pakistan, to a summer camp in Maine, USA.

Ayyaz Ahmed, photo by Maggie Svoboda

Ayyaz Ahmed, photo by Maggie Svoboda

Composed of an exclusive network of more than 6,400 alumni scattered throughout the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, and the United States, Seeds of Peace is a not-for-profit organization that works tirelessly to educate and inspire youth from around the world to transform conflict. Founded in 1993 by author and journalist John Wallach, the vision of Seeds of Peace is simple--equip young people with the technical skills and relationship building capacities they need to disengage from politically-charged stereotypes that promote violence and stagnacity in conflict zones. Like a sowed seed itself, the journey to cultural enlightenment starts from the root of the cause.

The innovative program in Maine takes place over three and a half weeks in Maine, U.S. Participants are youth that feel the desire to act as leaders, seeking to make a difference between present or previously known rival countries and cultures. It amerces opposing conflict-area specific campers in bunks and dialogue sessions. For example, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan share a bunk and participate in dialogue sessions; as do Americans and the Middle East. There are dialogue sessions for 110 minutes a day between the conflict areas where sensitive topics are raised that focus on prejudiced, racial stereotypes, and tensions understood through anecdotal descriptions. Disagreement is taught to be accepted and faced with a respectful communicative manner. The qualities of communication are the essence of the philosophy that leads the participants to their graduation day.

Ahmed grew up in Pakistan, where the effects of the Indo-Pakistani wars and conflicts are still largely felt. In school, Ahmed remembers learning about India's history, but that it was always through a negative and biased lens. When he was selected to attend a conference by Seeds of Peace, everything changed. "Almost 13 years late, if I were to think about what the camp experience does is that it shows possibilities that perhaps one isn't aware of at that age," Ahmed said. "Yes, you can have a conversation. You can talk about some really difficult things and try to still have a respectful relationship with the other side. You can even become friends."

The organization relies on the contribution of the Seeds — recent graduates of the program — to spread awareness of the organization as alumni and influencers, and to communicate to other young people in their home communities how important communication skills are to change the world around them. This awareness occurs through social media and at events like Seeds of Peace's event GATHER in Jordan, a summit that involved past program participants and various believers and contributors such as social entrepreneurs, politicians and, members of the United Nations.

Now working in the publishing industry, Ahmed reflects back on the lessons that Seeds of Peace instilled in him. "Getting this sort of exposure at such an age had an impact on where I went to college and it made me a lot more confident in my interactions," Ahmed said. "That was my first interaction with the rest of the world. Yes, we were focused on talking about the India-Pakistan conflict, but it was at Seeds of Peace that I interacted with PalestiniansIsraelis, Indians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Americans, Moroccans for the first time. Suddenly, the world was far bigger than I had ever realized and at least beyond that point, I didn't hesitate when it came to interacting with people from other cultures."

With the rise of flourishing of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, that is most crucial to emphasize an opening of minds, an understanding of bias, and the willingness to reconstruct our behavioural patterns of responding from the perspective of compassion and the shared goal of a peaceful life. Seeds of Peace plants hope and a practical procedure in how this can be approached, presenting peace as a realistic achievement.

For more information about the organization, click here

 

 

A passion for social work empowered these women in India to speak up

A passion for social work empowered these women in India to speak up

India is a country rich in culture and traditions. However, factors like ethnic, gender and caste can influence people's access to education, opportunities, and health.

According to an article from Devesh Saksena, from the Faculty of Law of University of Allahabad in India, more than 260 million people worldwide are affected by caste-based marginalization, most of them residing in India. The Scheduled Caste system marginalizes those that belong to a lower caste, breaching essential human rights such as economic, social, political, civil and cultural boundaries. Individuals assigned to a lower caste have high numbers of illiteracy, and physical segregation results in unhygienic and inhabitable living conditions.

The Scheduled Tribes are other groups that face structural discrimination in the country. With a population of around 84.3 million, this group suffers from ethnic marginalization, which results in reduced access to healthcare services, intense poverty and low levels of education.

Anima Baa, founder and chief functionary of Ashray South Vihar Welfare Society for Tribal, says that the existing caste system is filled with diversity, rich culture and traditional practices and everyone has great respect for each other’s traditions. As Amina explained, each caste system has its own traditional system. Those residing within the system practice the challenge of fighting against injustice and social discrimination, but they also practice finding a solution, using what she describes as the 'we feeling' of togetherness.  "There are traditional social leaders in every particular group and they take a lead with the support of others to fight against injustice and social discrimination if any situation arises," Baa said. "However, if the situation gets out of control then the help from Indian law enforcement has been accepted. Otherwise, community-related problems have a solution within the community itself."

Ashray is a non-profit social organization located in Jharkhand, India. Since 1998, it advocates for the rights of tribals and vulnerable communities, with special concern focusing on combating human trafficking, child and women rights, women empowerment, education, health and nutrition, food insecurity, agricultural development, capacity building, natural resource management and tribal rights and also tribal identity and culture. Baa explains that the Hindi word ashray means a type of supportive shelter home that works to provide an opportunity along with the basic necessities required to live a dignified life. "The word has been chosen because ashray speaks to each of our activities, such as sensitization, community mobilization, capacity building through education and skill enhancement, life coping skills, vocational training, rescue, and rehabilitation," Baa said.

Everything started with a group of young professionals. Armed with a passion for social work, and the realization that injustice, social discrimination, and economic inequality did in fact exist, the group got together to address the tough life struggle of these groups in order to help. Ashray has many programs that address all of its concerns, through community mobilization, skills enhancement, networking and collaboration, lobby advocacy and research work. They encourage women and children to build the skill sets necessary for playing a role that removes inequality and injustice from society. The organization has accomplished many great achievements since its foundation, including more than 500,000 people sensitized on human trafficking through meetings, seminars, conferences, and other programs. 

Baa says that Ashray works as a facilitator within the community, with its work adding value to the existing system. "We do believe that people's participation is equally important for high social impact," Baa said. "Neither we nor society stands alone to face the challenges." The most popular projects are the ones that support sensitization and mobilize the community. They also have two new projects coming soon, Education and Skill Enhancement for Urban Livelihood and Shelter for Homeless in Urban supported by Government of Jharkhand.

The biggest challenge that the organization faces is to collect donations as well as fundraising for social causes, and often require support to continue their work. To learn more about Ashray's current and upcoming projects, please click here

This fashion enterprise transforms old plastic into wearable, sustainable products

This fashion enterprise transforms old plastic into wearable, sustainable products

Most people are aware that plastic pollution is a huge problem for the global community. While countries such as Germany and Belgium have developed successful recycling programs in efforts to minimize the amount of waste disposal, Ghana suffers from serious plastic waste management problems. Thousands of plastic bags bottles can be found in the streets and drain pipes; polluting and clogging drainage sewers.

Urban poverty is another significant problem in Ghana. According to a Unicef report, slightly over 10 percent of households in Ghana’ s urban areas experience poverty. Where education and health care are limited, a lot of people from slum communities lack the skillset to take on jobs and earn a living wage. Even worse, women and children are more likely to experience poverty at a higher intensity than men.

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Concerned with the growing number of children and plastic waste on the streets of Ghana, Kwaku Kyei took a bold step in 2011 to form RECNOWA Initiative, a non-profit social enterprise based in Kumasi, Ghana. The organization sells high-quality fashion-driven goods ranging from raincoats to bags; to furniture made from recycled plastic waste. Any and all plastic is taken out of landfills, neighbourhood streets, and anywhere else that its existence causes serious environmental havoc in the city.

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“Every product sold by RECNOWA reduces land pollution, keeps people employed and serves as a very visible reminder that plastic waste can often be put to good use long after its initial purpose has expired,” Kyei said. “People get excited [about our products] and wonder how we have been so creative to make our products from plastic waste.”

Since their establishment, over 20 million of plastic sachets and other material waste have been removed from the waste stream and up-cycled into useful products. 270,000 plastic water bags were manufactured into 2,000 solar powered backpacks for school children without electricity. Theses backpacks are designed to provide cheap energy sources to help children study at night. They also work to reduce the use of kerosene used at home, which can cause accidents and illness.

While the concept of turning waste into pieces of art is not new, it can be a life-changing opportunity for some street youth in Kumasi, Ghana. As one of Ghana's largest metropolitan cities, Kumasi has a competitive street market scene. Apart from solving plastic waste problems, RECNOWA also focuses on the rehabilitation and vocational training of street children and local artisans. RECNOWA trains and employs people with physical limitations, as well as street youth from disadvantaged communities, in the hope that this opportunity could help build up their future lives and lift them out of poverty.

Photographing a fashion component of the Recnowa Project in Ghana was a task that could easily have been shot in a park amongst some buildings at the university, or in a lush forest of palms. In fact, this was the idea being pushed on photographer and founder of PWB Danielle Da Silva  during discussions of the project, but in fashion, we've all seen something to that effect before. "I wanted the setting to be as interesting as the clothing and designers that we were showcasing, all the while emphasizing the beauty and history behind the traditional Kente fabrics, from the Ashanti region, Da Silva said. "Once I had the vision, I had to be un-waivering in its execution, or else it would come across as un-original and stale. We had to find a location that was intriguing and surprising to the viewer. I was adamant that we shoot in was a mechanics shop or a junkyard, in order to have a stark contrast between the subjects and my background. Lucky enough we found such a place, just one hour before the intended shoot. Talk about down to the wire."

RECNOWA has created employment opportunities for more than 130 people who are representing a household with an average of five family members. The domino affect sees approximately 650 people benefiting directly from the profits. In addition, the organization is also teaching people that plastic waste can have an inherent value of its own and should be saved rather than discarded indiscriminately.

Moving forward, RECNOWA wishes to replicate this model across communities in Ghana to benefit more people. However, financing is a huge obstacle. “We need financing to scale up our activities," Kyei said. "We are also looking at a partnership with business, foundations, corporate bodies, bilateral and multilateral institutions who would be buying our solar backpacks for school children in need.”

In the battle against waste and urban poverty, RECNOWA continues to help improve our living environment and contribute to the welfare of the residents in Ghana.

To learn more about RECNOWA initiative, click here

The Peruvian Hearts uplift girls through education and mentorship

The Peruvian Hearts uplift girls through education and mentorship

Education is an integral part of youth empowerment. Unfortunately, it’s an untapped privilege in many areas of the developing world, making it inaccessible to a large majority.

Students in North America often see schooling as a right, as opposed to a benefit that they have over millions. In the most recent Global Education Report, almost 263 million children worldwide were out of school. Countries in South America face this issue on a day-to-day basis, with Peru racking up the title as one of the countries with the highest ratio of children who are out of the classroom.

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Although school enrollment rates have improved, youth still continue to temporarily, or permanently, leave school to assist their families. Kids aged between six and 14 are forced to work long hours in dangerous circumstances.  

Girls, in particular, have a challenging time stepping foot into the classroom. In rural Peru, only 5 percent of girls attend college and only approximately 36 percent graduate from secondary school. For girls who face disparity in education and lack empowerment, the Peruvian Hearts are here to help.

In 2003, what originally started as a trip back to her birth home, founder Ana Dodson encountered several life-changing experiences that paved the way for the ongoing work of the organization. During her stay, Dodson visited orphanages with books and teddy bears as gifts for the children. After creating a connection with one of the girl’s and saying goodbye, Dodson realized her bigger purpose in life.

“I wanted these same advantages for the girls in Peru," Dodson said. "They needed more than books and bears, and I believed that if I tried, I might be able to really help them.” Born in Cusco, Peru and adopted as a baby, Dodson strives to empower young women and girls through various programs. Working out of Colorado, USA, the Peruvian Hearts works to end poverty and gender disparity by educating young women and creating leaders in Peru.

Not only are millions affected by the extreme poverty within Peru, but machismo is also a highly prevalent existing idea that affects women in their day-to-day lives. Machismo is the belief that males are more powerful than their female counterparts, resulting in an aggressive masculine pride that is prominent throughout South and Central America. the concept of machismo consistently reinforces the idea that women's rights are less valid in society.

Peruvian Hearts currently supports a local orphanage called Hogar Mercedes. Home to about 15 girls, each suffering from archaic circumstances, malnourished and limited to education, the Peruvian Hearts supports the emotional and socio-economical needs of each girl so that she can dare to dream. The organization continues to support the Hogar Mercedes by sending groups of volunteer visitors and in-kind donations.  

In Peru, girls are also facing many medical challenges. Too often, they’re walking two to three hours to school, receiving little food throughout the day. The Peruvian Hearts participate in the Nutrition for Change, which helps the children get the food that they need for the success they deserve. By providing a nutritious lunch, Peruvian Hearts ensures that young children are channeling their thoughts towards education happening in the classroom, and not focusing on thinking about the next time they will have access to a meal.

Danny Dodson, the Executive Director of the Peruvian Hearts, is inspired by not only the scholars that come through - but by the organization and how far they’ve come. “The successes that I have seen thus far, after almost six years of running the empowerment program have been dramatic,” Dodson said. “The personal development of our girls has been by far our greatest success and the transformation within their families has also been dramatic.”

Peru (756 of 732).jpg

Girls who faced sexism and inequality are being seen as their own individual. “Fathers, who were at one time not supportive of their daughter's education, now ask for their daughter's opinions and respect their daughters," Dodson said. "The families of our girls now understand that their daughters are the key to breaking the cycle of poverty for the entire family.” 

Peruvian Heart’s first group of scholars graduated in April 2017.

To learn more about the Peruvian Hearts and to donate, click here

Amazon's indigenous communities sustained by planting seeds

Amazon's indigenous communities sustained by planting seeds

The Amazon covers over seven million square kilometres, touches nine South American countries, and represents half of Earth's rainforests. It's also home to an estimated 390 billion trees. 

Despite concerns spanning decades,  fears of the impacts of deforestation, illegal mining, and droughts on the Amazon are resurfacing. Around 60% of the rainforest is in Brazil, 13% in Peru and 10% in Colombia; the remainder lies in smaller neighbouring countries.  

Unbeknownst to many, deforestation in the Amazon affects climate in other regions of the world. However, those affected most are the indigenous tribes that have called the forest home for centuries and still do.

Fortunately, one organization is working to reduce the impact of deforestation and its effects on the communities and the ecosystem.

Founded by Jorge Hirofumi Shigematsu in 2007, Green Hope is a Colombian non-profit that operates by recovering damaged forest land in Colombia. The organization was featured in Photographers Without Borders' debut print magazine, with coverage by photographers Sienna Clough and Artem Nazarov. Having worked with different indigenous communities, Green Hope helps rebuild deforested land by reforestation. This is achieved by facilitating conservation projects and sharing knowledge.

“After Photographers Without Borders visited us, the media and video coverage we gained has been very important in showing the world what we do," Shigematsu said. "Making people want to help us get, get involved and get closer to what is happening in the Amazon is crucial. People feel that the Amazon is closer to them.”

The organization’s work has been impactful and continues with plans to spread their message in different regions across the Americas. “We are expecting to open Green Hope in the United States and get support from companies interested in supporting us," Shigematsu said. "Also, this year we are expecting to open Green Hope Mexico and begin a reforestation project."

Though Green Hope has been successful, common political barriers like a lack of government support make paths a little harder to cross. “Nowadays, it is still difficult because a lot of corruption exists and often governors, mayors, and politics in general always want to support us if we follow their party," Shigematsu said. "However, Green Hope doesn’t accept help because we are not a political party and we do not get involved with specific political parties.”

Improved quality of life can be as simple as access to safe and clean water

Improved quality of life can be as simple as access to safe and clean water

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

In Thailand, water purification issues plague both local residents and visitors. When the water is not treated it can cause serious illness because of bacterias, parasites, and viruses. Many people living in rural areas and hill tribes rely on scarce water sources. In comes the Rain Tree Foundation is an organization that provides Bio Sand Filters (BSF), a water treatment system that removes pathogens and solids from water, as well as hydraulic ram pumps, that provide a steady water supply for households, farms, and irrigation systems. 

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

Thomas Singer, Technical Advisor at The Rain Tree Foundation, explains that a single household BSF delivers up to 80 litres of drinking water which is an ideal amount for schools. Some families also share it with their neighbors. "The idea is that each family is taking care of their own drinking water needs instead of having a centralized system which, once dirty, all of the people in the village are affected," he said. The pumps are mostly used to support a whole village and in rare cases, for irrigation on farmland. In the past 7 to 8 years, the organization installed about 1.800 BSF and 30 Hydraulic Ram Pumps. Now they install around 300 to 400 BSF per year.

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

Singer explains that if any family member gets sick from drinking contaminated water, there is a chain effect that affects the entire household. "The child is sick and can't attend school, and the mother or father need to take care of them, while buying medicine which means high costs," Singer said. "If the mother is sick, then who takes care of the kids, the food, the firewood and the household? Plus the additional cost of medicine. Same happens if the father is sick, he can't work on the farm, therefore no time for planting, harvesting or taking care of crops." If the medicine from the village is not enough, the family has to visit the next hospital, thus adding extra costs of transportation, accommodation, food and finally hospital bills.

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

The organization was founded in 1992 as Program Thai Care, and was committed to helping children in need. Presently, the organization has offices in Thailand and in Germany, running projects that support children, initiatives for local coffee farmers, and even organizations that distribute eyeglasses for those who cannot afford them. Singer says that one of the secrets of handling so many different programs is to have a strong, committed team. "Projects being newly implemented rely on the community and their willingness to continue if they see a benefit and need for it," Singer said. "It will be useless if we try to implement something we think is good but doesn't fit in the people culture, environment or idea of life."

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PhotographersWithoutBorders

Australian photographer Kate Buechner went to Thailand to photograph the work of The Rain Tree Foundation and replays that the limitation of services caught her attention. "The area of the Children's Home project, that is run by Rain Tree Foundation, is very isolated.," Buechner said. "It was a difficult 3-hour drive via four-wheel drive to get there, and a long way from a hospital. The support the Rain Tree Foundation is giving them is life changing for the families. The water filters mean they no longer have to boil their water for drinking, cooking, and even brushing their teeth (...) I really enjoyed meeting the kids, and how positive and happy they were, despite living under difficult conditions. They were all so excited to have the opportunity to go to school and learn."

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

PHOTO: Kate Buechner

To see all The Rain Tree Foundation projects and help the institution, please click here.

Training for Ghana's midwives leads to more than 50,000 healthy births

Training for Ghana's midwives leads to more than 50,000 healthy births

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

"The still night was pierced by a shrill cry; a person rushed out of her home to see what was happening. Sadly, a 24-year-old woman had died giving birth to her first child. I grew up with these screams in the Akpafu mountainous region of Ghana," reported Pewudie Emmanuel, Programmes Coordinator at Akpafu Traditional Birth Attendants Women’s Association (ATBAWA). He comes from a district that spans about 870 miles and is comprised of 171 villages with a population of over 260,000 people. However, they have only 15 qualified midwives there.

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

According to the Ghana Health Service (GHS), the Greater Accra Region has registered the highest number of maternal deaths in the country, mainly because of bleeding and hypertension. 197 maternal deaths were recorded in 2016, and 100 of them were associated with bleeding. Women in childbirth can loose enormous amounts of blood, and the regional blood banks sometimes cannot supply the demand.

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

Emmanuel explains that there are some vital factors that lead to the high maternal deaths in the country: the lack of trained or skilled attendants at birth in the mostly rural areas of the Greater Accra Region; the scarcity of emergency transportation for pregnant women, and the paucity of timely referrals to the hospitals/health centers in the region, are only some of them.

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PhotographersWithoutBorders

After Emmanuel became a registered nurse and midwife, he decided to do something about this issue and realized that the problem could have been avoided if the Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) could receive a proper education and training. "When the Ghanaian government dubbed our high maternal and infant mortality rate a 'national menace', I knew I had to do something," Emmanuel said. "Thus, ATBAWA was born." That year in 1992 in Hohoe, Volta Region, Ghana, ATBAWA rose with the objective of diminishing maternal and infant mortality rates and to improve the health situation of pregnant women and children in the area.

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PhotographersWithoutBorders
PhotographersWithoutBorders

The organization targets untrained midwives and gives them the necessary training and equipment to lower pregnancy complications. The TBAs are then able to provide instructions about family planning, contraception and the prevention of HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, birth, hygiene, among other information. Their work is a voluntary contribution. There are no charges for their services, but the families that are not so impoverished are asked to make a small contribution. "But everyone is entitled to their support, whether they can pay or not," Emmanuel said.

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

Atapani Paulina and her daughter Adeh Philomena are mother and daughter and are both TBAs with ATBAWA. Paulina has been a respected TBA for over 55 years. Her daughter Philomena received her training in 2010. According to Philomena, when she started to work they only knew what their mothers had taught them. "Now we understand even about where malaria comes from. We tell mothers about keeping water covered and not having loose water around for the mosquitos to breed in. We give out mosquito nets and when we visit the homes we can make sure that the mother and baby are both sleeping under the net, not just the husband. Not so many young babies die of malaria this way," she explained.

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

The importance of the organization can be observed by its numbers. “About 50,000 and above women and children were reached by the training programs of ATBAWA; each TBA assists 25 to 120 births every year. Moreover, 118,000 people in the communities were reached by awareness raising events about sexual and reproductive health provided by TBAs,” Emmanuel reported. ATBAWA also has a dialogue with the locals to know about their priorities. "Without the organization, the people in the communities may be denied access to even government programs because of political and or ethnic reasons," explained Emmanuel.

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PhotographersWithoutBorders
PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

Despite its huge support to the local community, the institution is facing some big challenges. Emmanuel shares that the organization is lacking office equipment and materials such as computers, printers, photocopiers, laptops, a digital video camera, a projector, and office supplies. They also have scarce of potential funders for the maternal and child health care programs. "Lack of funding makes us not been able to organize programs periodically for community-based midwives," he stated.

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

Another obstacle is that the organization does not have its own transportation, which prevents them from visiting the trained midwives monthly to collect report on their work. "As an institution, we don’t have even one motorbike to use for our work. All attempt to get a pick-up vehicle over the years has proved futile. We have to rely on public transportation and hiring of vehicles/motorbikes before we are able to do monitoring and supervision," said Emmanuel. "The motivational aspect for ATBAWA is like a passion that we have developed for the women and children in our communities."

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

PHOTO: Amber Kissner

Photographer Amber Kissner photographed the work of ATBAWA and believes that they are filling a gap in the country. "They are providing information down to the basics of 'how to wash hands properly," Kissner explained.  She believes that creating a human connection is important while photographing people in such delicate conditions. "I didn't take out my camera until I developed a comfortable level of interaction with the women. It's important to have a friendly demeanor and to know when to also not take photos." 

To have more information and to support this amazing work, please click here.

From working in a biomedical lab to helping children in Cambodia

From working in a biomedical lab to helping children in Cambodia

Photo: Gina Orlando

Photo: Gina Orlando

Gina Orlando found her calling in Cambodia. From Santa Cruz, California, and passionate about photography, she jumped at the opportunity to a part of a Photographers Without Borders School workshop, which would take place in the kingdom of Cambodia. "Once I saw the workshop I knew I had to go," Gina explained. 

Sisters. Photo: Gina Orlando

Sisters. Photo: Gina Orlando

On the last day of the trip, Gina and her workshop colleagues decided to explore the city of Sihanoukville. On their way to a temple, it started to rain so hard that the roads flooded and the tuk tuk transporting them could not move. "We stopped and were surrounded by children (...) On my side was a half-clothed, trembling girl", Gina said. "When I got home and looked at my pictures I was so taken by her expression. She looked so tired and fragile. It haunted me. It was a joyful time but it saddened me to know how little they had."

Once back in California, Gina decided to contact the tour guide to learn more about the children. He put her in contact with Sok Mong, a young man that founded The Sihanoukville Family English School in 2013, where he teaches English and provides food to the children for the rainy season. "The more I learned about these kids the more I wanted them to have a chance or even the choice to just be a kid," Orlando said. 

Teaching cleanup at the beach. Photo: Gina Orlando

Teaching cleanup at the beach. Photo: Gina Orlando

According to Gina, the village is isolated, what makes travelling for schooling difficult. "It's outside of town and without a car or a scooter, and many are stuck there," Orlando said. "With the school in the village, they can walk over. The kids that don't attend any kind of schooling at all have no understanding of things like basic hygiene (brushing their teeth or washing their hands). This is a good opportunity for them to learn more than just English. It might be the only opportunity for them to learn anything." 

Photo: Gina Orlando

Photo: Gina Orlando

Last February Gina returned to Cambodia and spent a week with Mong and the children, founding an activity called "Kids with Cameras." The project is run by Gloria Upchurch, who also attended the PWB School Cambodia workshop. "She had mentioned her program and when I decided to go back she offered me some of her cameras to take with me. The idea behind the program is to give the kids a new skill and a tangible item (photos) to print and sell to raise money," Orlando explained.

A student in her family's kitchen. Photo: Gina Orlando

A student in her family's kitchen. Photo: Gina Orlando

"It was so great. I didn't really know what to expect but I showed up and all these kids are holding a welcome sign and I just wanted to cry," Orlando said. She states that the experience demonstrated the solidarity that exists amongst the children, acting as a prudent team-building exercise. "We would have a basic lesson of how to use the camera, go out for a couple of hours, then have a review of all the work on my laptop. It was fun to see how much their work changed over a couple of days from blurry selfies to thought out, composed images. We gave lots of compliments and everyone would clap." 

The kids love to play soccer. Mong coaches a boys team in a different town but wants to start a girls team in the village. Photo: Gina Orlando

The kids love to play soccer. Mong coaches a boys team in a different town but wants to start a girls team in the village. Photo: Gina Orlando

Gina is organizing an exhibit on July 7th in her hometown featuring the work that she produced with the children in Cambodia. She also launched a website where people can donate money to help the community with immediate needs and to contribute to long-term goals. Gina will do as much as she can as long as they want her help. "For now, I would love to raise enough to have two functioning classrooms with computers and a bathroom. I want Mong and any other teachers that come on board to get some pay for their hard work. I want to find solutions for the trash and water pollution problems."

Group shot of the students and Mong in front of the Family English School. Photo: Gina Orlando

Group shot of the students and Mong in front of the Family English School. Photo: Gina Orlando

According to Gina, the workshop in Cambodia helped her to make the final decision to open up a photography business in 2017. "It's a good feeling to finally have that confidence in my work and I got a lot of it from that trip," Orlando said. "The experience was definitely eye opening. I had never heard the term 'responsible tourism' before and traveling and supporting NGO's, giving back to those who need it the most, is definitely the way I will try to travel from now on. I will also try and be an advocate for this. About the workshop itself, I felt like I was such an amateur when I got there but I left feeling like a photographer."

To know more about Gina's work and support the children, please click here.

To sign up for a PWB School workshop this fall, please click here.