Global orphan prevention: a photographer’s perspective
Everyone assumes that, because I’m a photographer, when I travel I must have my camera strapped to me at all times, photographing everything. But that’s definitely, definitely not the case. Sometimes I just like to be present and experiencing things. Having a camera puts a distance between you and what’s happening around you.
Guys…Nepal is hard. Is it okay to say that? It is, it’s just HARD. Nothing is easy, everything is logistically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. Coming from what I now recognize more than ever as the peaceful, beautiful, safe paradise that is America (full disclosure- I’ve made a deliberate choice to not stay abreast of American politics while here), it’s definitely a face plant.
There’s nothing that could ever possibly prepare you for traveling 5+ hours by small plane and rickety van over potholed roads through shantytowns to a remote village in the Nepali jungle, staying with local family in their home on stilts over a flood plane. Nothing could prepare you for their kindness and hospitality, and nothing could prepare you for the harsh reality of their life from sunrise to sundown in the heat and humidity of the jungle where access to basic first aid is nonexistent, let alone hospitals, running water, or any sort of modern amenity.
In Koshi Tappu we were welcomed to the school founded by Global Orphan Prevention like heroes. After about an hours worth of speeches and blessings and marigolds being strung over our heads, we got to take a look at what this school was working with. Bare minimum books and supplies, an empty supply closet, and only one of the four classrooms has actual desks and chairs.
This was a vast improvement from how it started when the charity founder Katie Hilborn first arrived, as basically just an awning and not even an actual building. But there’s far to go. The teachers are unpaid, the resources are next to none, and the secondary school is about an hour away, across a flood plane, and is therefore pretty unaccessible for large chunks of the year. But these kids get up everyday, walk a half hour or more to school everyday down winding roads through rice paddies.
So, umm, here’s what’s up: Nepal kicked my ass. Simply put. There was beauty and gifts of it, but it really taught me what my threshold for breaking down was.
And as much as I want to spoil you with stories of picturesque Himalayas, colorful characters, idyllic country life and teahouses and mala beads and all that stuff, I think the most potent version of this story is the accurate one. Life here isn’t pretty. Trekking the Himalayas, sure, but really living the life, it’s almost (really) dystopian in nature. That word came to me today whilst riding home on a 9 hour bus ride in which I vomitted into a bag about 15 times, coughed my lungs out, endured a strange brown liquid dripping on my face and clothing from overhead, and looked at all the busses just like ours that had recently gone off the road and flipped within feet of a cliff.
It found its way into my head while I descended back into Kathmandu and looked at all the plants that are so covered in dust they are almost unrecognizable, and certainly not green. That dust coats everything, creating a monotone landscape of deteriorating buildings, cars, and honestly, humans. Eking out an existence in an environment and atmosphere designed to make them suffer, struggle, and fall victim to illness.
So yes, I’m gonna share the good, and there was goodness. But I think the only way I can tell this tale from an authentic place, and a place that most highlights Global Orphan Prevention’s important mission, is to tell it like it was. The version of it that exposes it for what it is, and exposes me for what I am. So, buckle up. This journey was harrowing, and it’s not going to be always rosey to hear about.
Well, it happened. I finally finished editing these photos. When I came home from Nepal I was inundated with finishing up wedding season projects, and didn’t even really get a chance to look at these before the new year. I had almost forgotten what all I had shot.
Going through these again with fresh eyes, having recovered from the wedding season and the trip itself, I was grateful for having a break between the shooting and the editing because it allowed me to really retell the story to myself and formulate the story I wanted these images to tell.
These kids here were probably my favorite part of the whole trip. Just curious little sweethearts who wanted to follow me around and take pictures all day. These kids live hours of off-roading and hiking into the Himalayas, and it’s painful to realize that these little girls are some of the most at risk of being trafficked into India and sold into sex slavery. These children are smart, funny, the most capable kids I’ve ever met, and well loved and cared for by their families.
Several of the girls from this community had gone missing in the months before our arrival, and it’s entirely possible that some of these girls could or have already gone missing since. This is why the work of Global Orphan Prevention is so important. We need to keep these girls with their families, educate them, and give them a means to provide for themselves and their communities so they can’t be lured into Kathmandu under false pretenses of jobs or education by predators.