Tuesday, August 15, 2017

One Child at a Time

There are subjects I love to photograph and subjects I don’t love to photograph, such is life.  Humanitarian photography with complete artistic freedom ranks up there as one of my favorite gigs, while “can you take a group photo of us?  Where is the sun?  Ok let’s all stand here squinty eyed facing the sun.  Ok we’re ready… 1… 2… 3… cheese!”, ranks down near the bottom of my list.  Now imagine my joy when I was asked to accompany Touching Tiny Lives Foundation’s (TTL) outreach team on a few nutrition corners.  Needless to say, I was thrilled and jumped at the opportunity.  

Lesotho has a huge problem with HIV and AIDS.  In fact, Lesotho currently has the second highest prevalence rate in the world at 25%.  25%!  I’ll let that sink in for a second…         While there are plenty of organizations out here working to reduce that number, very few organizations work with those most affected by HIV and AIDS, children and babies under 5 years of age.  

I’ve written about TTL and their nutrition corner project in my last blog so I won’t repeat too much here.  A nutrition corner is a monthly gathering of caretakers (mostly mothers but often grandmothers and even siblings) and their babies.  

Photo credit:  Melinda J. who nailed this with a manual focus lens.

The women help with the preparation of a large and nutritious meal.  

A class about nutrition and child development is presented, although not everyone is interested.

Then everyone eats!

With such a high HIV and AIDS prevalence rate combined with the low adherence to the life saving antiretroviral (ARVs) therapy medication, there are a lot of single and double orphans in Lesotho.  Often grandparents must assume the responsibility of the parents.  

TTL is a great organization.  They don’t have a lot of waste (a huge problem with many NGO’s in my opinion) and they produce real results.  

'M'e Matelo of the TTL outreach team plays with a former safe home baby.

TTL has a safe home where they adopt malnourished children for a period of up to 6 months, and in some extreme cases, even longer.  They take the children in and provide them with excellent 24/7 support until the child is healthy enough to return home to the parents or guardians.  Before the children are returned though, the parent or guardian must undergo a training on nutrition and childcare.  

This little girl came into the safe home at 9 months old and 4.3kg (9.5lb).  I took this photo back in November of 2016  when I photographed the TTL staff and safe home babies. 

Photo credit:  Melinda J.

This is her today!  A happy and healthy little girl.  

This isn’t a one time story either.  TTL has helped over 2000 children.  

In a country where 1/12 children never live past their 5th birthday, TTL is working hard to change that alarming statistic.  

TTL outreach team member ’M’e Mamosa filling out some much needed paperwork.

According to the World Food Program, 56% of deaths in children under 5 years of age are related to HIV.  ARVs are free in Lesotho but children often have lapses in treatment because of many factors, a major of which is the parents knowledge of proper HIV and AIDS related care.  There are many myths surrounding HIV and AIDS in Lesotho.  TTL is working to dispel those myths and provide proper health care education to parents and guardians.  

TTL also works with special needs children and babies who need life saving medical procedures.  

This baby boy was born last November at 24 weeks, in a mud hut, to an HIV positive mother.  He also suffers from hydrocephalus, a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid deep within the brain.  This causes swelling of the cranial cavity, which leads to an unusually large head.  

TTL arranged the life saving surgery, which involves the insertion of a flexible shunt.  The shunt allows the fluid to drain into the body where it can be reabsorbed.  As he grows, the shunt will need to be replaced a few times.  For the most part, people living with hydrocephalus live long and normal lives.  

Through the help of donors, TTL is able to support this young boy’s family for all future medical costs.  

If you’re interested in helping Touching Tiny Lives out, please check out their Facebook page or website for more information.  

Working with Touching Tiny Lives has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in Lesotho.  It has been an awesome and eye-opening opportunity being able to tell the story of this fantastic organization through my photography.  

Thanks for reading!


- Joel

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Back to the Roots

It’s been a while and for good reason.  Don’t think I haven’t thought about the dereliction of this blog.  I’ve opened the blog, checked and rechecked the blog analytics, worried as I watched the numbers drop and drop and drop.  The neglect was a necessary reminder.  A reminder that this is mine, my creation.  For too long I’ve posted what I thought people would want to see and read.  This lapse has been refreshing.  
My silence doesn’t imply I’ve been dormant or lazy, on the contrary, this has been some of the most productive time I’ve spent in Lesotho.  There are several projects on the horizon, which I’ll talk about in a moment.  
My focus remains the same, documenting life in Lesotho candidly and honestly.  I want my photographs to tell a story, to answer questions, to break barriers, to intrigue, and hopefully to inspire others to serve our beautiful world.  
Somewhere along the way, as it often happens, I veered.  I began following a detour from my original intentions of this blog.  
The numbers began to matter more than the actual content.  My thinking changed from “what do I want to share to the world with this blog post” to “I wonder how many page views this particular blog post will generate?”  The answer to the second question is a lot but I wasn’t happy with this new direction.  
I used to take a lot of photos of things I found interesting.  Being a naturally curious person, this meant I took a lot of photos (thank God for digital cameras).  But something went wrong along the way.  I found myself bringing my camera with me less and less.  
My thinking transitioned into a “if a photo isn’t worth being shared, it isn’t worth taking”.  It got to the point where I would hesitate to snap the shutter, then to lift the camera up to my eye, and eventually to bring it with me at all.  I stopped bringing my camera with me everywhere.  
But creative images are all around.  It is the photographers job to turn the mundane into a story.  I was passing up opportunities to improve my craft and to share stories.  
Some of my favorite photos are ones which were taken on my walk home from school.  That 15 minute jaunt through the corn fields and across two ravines has become so familiar with me that I honestly think I could make it with a blindfold on.  But every day is a little different because every moment is different.  Instead of capitalizing on the opportunities that a new day affords, I was blowing it off as just another day, just another walk to school, just another trip to town.  
I won’t be in Africa forever and I don’t want to leave Lesotho with photographic regrets or missed opportunities.  Instead of falling into the routine of life I want to embrace the differences that each day brings and capture those moments with my camera.  
This is what Paul meant when he wrote Colossians 3:23 which says “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  Or in the words of the Lebanese writer Najwa Zebian, “Whatever you do, do it with purpose.”  Even Walt Disney weighed in on this point when he said “Whatever you do, do it well.”  In other words, work hard for what you believe in, be it a noble cause.  
This brings me back to those projects I talked about earlier.  Recently I had the opportunity to do some scouting work with Eric and his colleague Andre.  They are finalizing plans to escort the humanitarian photographer David duChemin through the highlands of Lesotho with the aim of creating a book.  I’ve been following David’s work for about a year and all I can say is I really like everything he does.  

With the help of Eric’s coworker ’M’e Mamacue, we travelled through the Khubelu region of Mokhotlong.  While the main purpose was to scout out photo opportunities, we took quite a few photos as well.  It was an incredible experience.   
I’ve worked with the wonderful child malnutrition organization in Mokhotlong town, Touching Tiny Lives Foundation (TTL) in the past HERE but I finally got to travel with them on an outreach project.  Their outreach team travels to remote areas in the Mokhotlong district with the purpose of teaching nutrition classes to mothers, checking on malnourished infants, and spreading food aid to those most in need.  They have a wonderful team and it was amazing to work with them.  We will team up several more times in the coming months and I’m excited to continue working with them.  You can find out more information about TTL HERE.
In the meantime, I’m spending the winter break with my lovely girlfriend Melinda, my Fuji just passed 20 thousand shutter actuations, and my life is wonderfully fulfilling.  
Thanks for reading.


- Joel

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Meeting the Family and More

I’ve been traveling a lot these past few weeks.  Three weeks ago we had a five day weekend, where I travelled to Quthing.  This was followed by a party in the lowlands.  Which was followed by a vacation in Mohale’s Hoek and a conference in Thaba Bosiu.  In summary I’ve travelled to the lowlands every weekend for three consecutive weeks.  

This past weekend I headed down to Morija to see the Rieds.  They threw me a surprise birthday party, which was a lot of fun.  The following day I met Melinda and her family at the Morija museum.  We had some fire grilled pizza, took a very very thorough tour and aimed the van south towards Mohale’s Hoek, where we stayed the night.  
The following day the family, Mike, Sue, Eric, and Michelle, the do it all driver / guide extraordinaire Hayden and his wife Jackie, Melinda, and Myself all headed to Melinda’s site in Quthing.  Her rondavel is on the right.  
Lots of photos were taken, a bucket of water was fetched, and enough food to feed a small village was dropped off.  
After the site visit, we drove down the road to Melinda’s school where we were greeted by hundreds of excited children.  
The teachers decorated the staff room and we had a nice little sit down.  
The school put on a cultural dance for us.  It’s difficult to take a photo without Sue smiling in it.  First the boys did a stick / stomp dance.
Then the girls sang a cute little song about the countries founder Ntate Moshoeshoe. 
Some introductions were made.
The trip was a lot of fun, it was nice seeing Melinda’s school, meeting her teachers, and seeing the kids.  
On our way back we stopped in Moyeni for a legendary grilled chicken lunch.  
Nothing went to waste…
I wish I could have continued the trip into South Africa with Melinda and her family.  Words can’t express how wonderful the whole experience was.  Her family is amazing.  I really can’t thank everyone enough for their hospitality, generosity, and making me feel like one of them.  I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again in December.  

***************** Changning Gears ******************

After parting ways with the family I headed to a peer support network conference at the base of the beautiful Thaba Bosiu. 
I arrived a few hours early so I hiked up Thaba Bosiu.  Thaba Bosiu is a historic stronghold of the first leader of the Basotho nation, Ntate Moshoeshoe I.  He travelled all over Lesotho and unified the people with a common language, Sesotho and encouraged them to fight for their land together.  
Qiloane is a famous monolith, which is rumored to be the source of inspiration for the Basotho hat (mokorotlo).  The Maloti Mountains are in the distance. 
There was a beautiful sunset.  Thaba Bosiu is in the background.  

***************** Changning Gears ******************

There was snow in the highlands during the conference and I was left stranded.  Moteng Pass is notorious for icing over in the winter.  I was stuck in Botha Bothe for a night.  
Rachel’s friends from Philadelphia were in town and she invited me out to Liphofung.  The pass was still closed so I figured I would rather hang out with some friends than sit in a hotel room by myself.  
Liphofung has some really interesting overhanging (cave) features and there are petroglyphs on one of the walls.  
Luckily after two days of above freezing temperatures, the pass opened up and I got a great hitch back.  
Tlaeng Pass at 3251m (10,666 feet) above sea level.  


- Joel