One of the things I love best about my job is collaborating with other talented storytellers. Late last year, my friend Crystal Randazzo and I worked on this video for Grow Movement, a nonprofit that gives free business consulting to entrepreneurs in Rwanda, Uganda and Malawi. Crystal filmed two cool entrepreneurs in Rwanda, and I directed and edited. Enjoy!
Is it too late to share my 2015 video reel? This is my first one, and it actually encompasses work from 2013-2014 plus a couple clips from before then. I enjoyed editing this and remembering all these wonderful people, their stories, and the fantastic friends and colleagues I worked with on these stories. The music is from Podington Bear’s Sound of Picture library.
Years ago, a photo editor who had just reviewed my portfolio showed me a beautiful picture of a golden wheat field. He said that one of his staff photographers had shot it. “See, that’s the kind of photographer we like to hire here,” he said. “Someone who can make a wheat field look gorgeous.” I remember thinking it couldn’t be that hard to shoot a lovely photo of a wheat field. In fact, I thought, fields of corn or even tall grass would be low-hanging fruit as far as pretty pictures go.
I’ve now shot plenty of fields of corn and tall grass and tomatoes and passion fruits. I was right back then: it’s not so hard to make a pretty photo of any of these things. But it sure is fun. It’s also nice to add some beauty to the world through my pictures. My most recent “pretty photo” assignment was to photograph the Sorwathe tea plantation and factory in Rwanda for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Nothing beats working outside in the mild sunshine, walking in tea fields and learning about tea-making. The most interesting thing I learned (which may also show what a dunce I am about tea) is that green tea and black tea come from the same leaves. It’s the processing that makes one green and the other black.
The children roam everywhere at Noel Orphanage, Rwanda’s largest institution for orphaned kids. They wander the grounds outside the main dormitories, opening random doors and kicking around broken toys on the ground. They run to strangers for hugs, tugging at hands and refusing to let go no matter what the staff say. They play and run around the ubiquitous laundry hanging from washlines and drying on grass.
I was at Noel to photograph for Hope and Homes for Children, a British charity partnered with the Rwandan government to close orphanages. Their goal is to reunite children with any living family members (aunts, cousins, etc.) or put kids in foster homes. It’s a delicate task and one that’s part of a worldwide trend of closing orphanages, as The Economist reported in August 2013. According to their story:
In order to close institutions governments must bolster the alternatives. Small homes housing around 12 children are better than huge ones, at least for those with no living relatives or very severe disabilities. Long-term carers work in those places, not a large staff on shifts. Mother-and-baby groups and day centres for struggling parents reduce the likelihood that youngsters will need government protection. When it is unavoidable, foster and adoptive care are the healthiest ways to supply it.
But that requires authorities to vet prospective parents, and to check up on them. This is difficult where social-care systems are poor. In countries such as the Czech Republic social workers are valued mainly for handing out benefit payments, rather than as mentors and monitors, says Ms Mulheir. Teachers and nurses who work in institutions sometimes resist reform.
During my visit to Noel, we started in the infant room, where the youngest baby was just a couple days old. Next we stepped into the courtyard and walked to a small room, where about 20 toddlers live, some of them still learning to walk and most still learning to talk. As soon as the little ones saw me, all of them started crawling and stumbling my way, crying out “Mama! Mama! Mama!” I just about lost it. Later, someone from Hope and Homes told me the children are taught to call all women “Mama” and all men “Daddy” or “Dada.” I’m still not clear why.
The main challenge on this shoot was not showing identifiable faces of any children in the orphanages. I’ve had a lot of experience with not showing faces such as filming an undocumented immigrant in the United States and photographing North Korean refugees in South Korea. But kids are more wiggly, and there were so many of them, and a lot of them wanted to play, and who can resist playing even a little bit with a playful kid? The best part of this shoot was photographing children who have been reunited with their families or put in what appear to be loving foster homes. The children seemed genuinely happy and truly loved by their families. I hope this will be the case for all kids being moved out of closed orphanages.
A road in Katanga province, DRC
When you’re working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), you have to leave plenty of time for getting around. Infrastructure is poor, bordering on nonexistent in some places. And since the country is the second largest in Africa – slightly greater than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway, according to Wikipedia – it takes an extra long time to travel anywhere.
During a recent 10-day work trip to Katanga province in the far southeast, I spent nearly half the time on the road. It was a great way to see the country, actually, but it was tiring. We drove on sand roads for hours, rode in prop planes, and crossed a river via a car ferry made of two canoes lashed together and planks laid on top.
The DRC has an estimated $24 trillion in untapped mineral wealth in the eastern provinces. But due to weak governance, a succession of conflicts and outright plundering, that wealth hasn’t translated into paved roads, widespread electricity or comfortable living for ordinary citizens. It’s actually a much more complicated situation than the sentence I just wrote makes it out to be, so if you’re interested in understanding something of the DRC’s history and how it got to its current state, I highly recommend reading “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa” by Jason Stearns.
This was my second work trip to the DRC, and quite enjoyable. I met wonderfully gracious people, heard some great stories (about pit latrines, no less!) and had some unforgettable experiences (see above: car ferry made of two canoes). The following pictures are not from those work stories, though. These photos are my iPhone pics from the places my fellow travelers/workmates and I saw over our 10 days together.
President Joseph Kabila election poster in Manono, Katanga province, DRC. Kabila was elected for a second term in 2011. He has been president since 2001, when his father and former President Laurent Kabila was assassinated.
The bridge was too dangerous to drive across, so we drove around it during the journey from Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province, to Kilwa. The 345 km (214 miles) trip took seven hours, about five hours of it driving on sand and uneven packed dirt.
Handwashing station in the dining room of a guesthouse in Kilwa, Katanga province, DRC. I think these stations are genuis: they use very little water and they’re a visual reminder, right there in the eating area, that you’ve got to wash your hands before chowing down. Nothing like a little peer pressure to maintain hygiene.
Waiting area for the United Nations flight from Lubumbashi to Manono, Katanga province, DRC. The U.N. has been in the DRC either as observers or peacekeepers since late 1999. Most recently, one peacekeeper was killed and 10 were wounded during fighting in August in a province far north of Katanga.
Since the U.N. flights carry only about a dozen people and their luggage plus fuel, people as well as bags are weighed to ensure the prop planes aren’t overloaded. One of my traveling mates said that once, his co-worker wasn’t allowed on a flight because he weighed too much. Ouch.
For some remote parts of the DRC, U.N. planes are the only flights and definitely the fastest transport for getting to a city. The flights are reserved for official use by U.N. workers, government officials, visiting dignitaries and NGOs, but judging by a letter I saw hanging in the Lubumbashi U.N. airport, there was/is abuse of this system. The letter warned that there would be repercussions for people trying to get their friends and family members on flights.
Passengers on U.N. flights pay for their seat just like on a commercial flight. However, all those payments don’t come close to covering the costs of operating the flights. Donations from countries including the United States help pay for operating costs. Interestingly, the U.N. planes I rode in were not owned by the U.N. but leased from a South African company. The pilots were South African, too.
The plane I rode from Lubumbashi to Manono (left) and my boarding pass for the flight (right). That particular plane ride was incredibly bumpy for all 1.5 hours. I thought I might get sick, so I tried to focus on making pictures instead.
Crossing the Luvua River near Kiambi, Katanga province, DRC. This car/moto/people ferry consisted of two long canoes lashed together and laid across with wood and iron planks. The ramp for loading and offloading vehicles was not very safe: two long and wide iron planks hooked to the ferry and then laid in the sand near the river. I saw one vehicle drive trying to drive onto the ferry actually slip off the “ramp.” Somehow the car made it aboard, I don’t remember exactly how. I just remember thinking, “Am I about to see someone’s death or serious injury?” And then I hoped our vehicle would make it onto the ferry without incident. It did.
Over 1,000 attendees and pretty high energy marked the first day of the Transform Africa 2013 summit on Monday, Oct. 28. That afternoon there was an interesting panel discussion about using technology to eradicate poverty in Africa and create wealth, not just alleviate poverty. Jean Philbert Nsengimana (above, far left), Rwanda’s minister of youth, information, communications and technology, makes a point during the discussion.
I was at the conference with Africa Digital Media Academy, where I’ve been volunteer mentoring for the past several months. A small group of ADMA students is livestreaming Transform Africa under the guidance of Alex Lindsay, ADMA’s founder, and Ryan Yewell, one of ADMA’s instructors. They’re working all hours of the day (arrived at 5:30 a.m. on the conference’s second day) and doing a great job.
The second day of the conference, Tuesday, was the day featuring seven African heads of state. The picture above is from several minutes before all the presidents arrived. Security agents marched in and looked all around the stage before taking their positions.
There’s a special kind of terrible lighting found in conference centers around the world. It’s not their fault. It’s hard to light a space for a thousand people, all of whom will be sitting, maybe taking notes, and likely looking at huge screens on one side of the room. But the Serena Hotel ballroom is an especially challenging light situation because of all the mixed lighting: 1) a couple gigantic window-doors were open the first two days; 2) the carpet is yelllow (which means light reflects off it yellow); 3) the huge screens are often turquoise – the conference theme color – which cast a turquoise glow on everything); 4) and the overhead fluorescent lights give off a reddish tint.
From left to right: President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan; President Ali Bongo Ondimba of the Republic of Gabon; President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (notice his trademark hat just peaking out from under his seat); President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; and President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso. In all there were seven heads of state at Transform Africa. The picture below shows the other two not fully seen above: President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (second from the far right) and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of the Republic of Mali (far right).