I’ve been working on a bunch of photos from my trip to Liberia and Sierra Leone. While editing these photos, I came up with a new Lightroom 4 preset to use as I start working with images. I’ve been pretty happy with it for most of the images I apply it to. A few of the photos need a little tweaking of exposure, but this has been a great start to pull back blown highlights while making the photos pop. The above photo is from a past trip to Niger that I decided to try the preset on this evening. This is without any tweaking to the preset. I originally called it Portrait HDR because I use similar settings to push shadows and pull highlights, but I decided to change the name to Portrait Drama because some of the changes I made for portraits tend to crush the shadows. If you downloaded it right away, the name is different but the settings are the same as the Portrait HDR – I only changed the name for the sake of selection in my presets.
- Download the TCece_Portrait_Drama preset
It’s not everyday that you get to jump in a rickety canoe, cross floodwaters, and deliver relief supplies to a community that is surrounded by water, but that is exactly what I did with members of the Operation Blessing Niger team. After months of drought throughout the Sahel region of Africa, the people of Niger were suffering due to poor harvest. For the people of Moli, it was compounded by 2 days of hard rain that the dry ground could not handle. It caused the Niger River to overflow it’s banks and flood the village – destroying all of their crops, killing their cattle, completely destroying over 75 homes, and leaving other homes in need of major repair.
After a disaster like this, the first needs are food, clean water, and medical attention. Operation Blessing delivered food to the community after the floods and purified their well because it had become contaminated by the floodwaters (we had previously dug in their village). This particular trip was to distribute additional seeds to supplement seeds we had already distributed after the floods. I sat down with several women that are part of agriculture programs in Moli and asked them about the effect of the flood. One of those women was Mariama, a mother of 9 children.
This is what Mariama told me:
“Millet and beans make up our whole life. Everything revolves around our crops. Normally when I wake up in the morning I go out and work, but now because the flood destroyed my crops, I don’t have anything to do. The flood totally surprised us. We didn’t know it was coming. And when it did come, we didn’t know where to go, where to sleep, or what to do because our crops where destroyed. Our source of life was taken away. Now our men don’t have work and we don’t have any food. My only hope in life is to be full, to be able to feed my children, and for them to be able to live a long life. When you don’t have food, that’s all you think about – ‘How will I get food?’ I was worried about what we were going to eat and what we were going to do next. When we were able to get food, we were afraid to eat it because we were worried about when and where we would get more.”
She then added, “These seeds are a blessing. We will plant them in the nurseries as a community and when they grow, we will divide them by family and take them to our nursery. When they grow, I will be able to make food for my kids and still have some to sell, and it will help us meet our needs.”
It is overwhelming to see and hear the strength these families muster in order to survive when everything is lost and seemingly hopeless. I am thankful that people care about Mariama and the people of Niger enough to help Operation Blessing support them in their time of need.
THANK YOU GIVEAWAYS
I hinted at this earlier this weekend, but here are the details. I am giving away an 8GB Eye-Fi Mobile X2. These cards cost more than the average memory card, so I waited a long time before I actually gave one a try. It has changed the way I shoot and share images from my cameras, because they are sent straight to my phone for editing and uploading. It doesn’t have to go to your phone, it can wirelessly sync to your computer, iPad, FTP, etc. To thank you all for your support, I wanted to give one away with an 8×10 of my photograph, Fulani Weathered Wisdom. I am also going to draw two other winners who will each receive an 8×10 print.
HOW TO ENTER
All you have to do to enter the drawing is like this Facebook page, or subscribe to this blog.
You will be entered twice if you do both.
The winner will be announced on February 2nd. If the winner does not claim the card or chooses not to receive it, I will draw another winner. To be fair, the other two winners of the 8×10 prints will be added to the list. To receive the prize, all you have to do is send me a valid mailing address and I will ship it to you.
Thanks again for taking the time to observe the photos on my site and learn about their stories.
- At January 09, 2013
- By Tony Cece
- In China, Clean Water, Community Development, Creativity, Disaster Relief, Egypt, Featured, Guatemala, Haiti, Human Trafficking, Humanitarian, Hunger Relief, India, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Medical Aid, Microenterprise, Niger, Operation Blessing, Orphan Care, Peru, South Sudan, USA, Videos, West Bank
As a non-profit or NGO it is really important to have videos that describe who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why people should invest in the work you do. There are several different ways that you can accomplish this, but a popular way is an overview video that highlights all of your goals and efforts. I just finished putting together a comprehensive overview video for the NGO I work for, Operation Blessing. It has been in the works for over a year now because it is pretty easy for priorities to change on a dime when one of your core competencies is disaster relief.
My goal with this video wasn’t to make a short video, because Operation Blessing already has a lot of great videos that show the impact of our individual programs and the lives that have been changed around the world. I wanted this video to really let the viewer see the magnitude of our efforts and the life-change that comes as a result of the people, churches, and organizations that support Operation Blessing – without it feeling long and drawn out. It is carefully crafted and weaves our programs together at a pace that allows viewers to engage and forget about their time investment. The music is a core part of the structure because of the relationship between the footage and music styling as it builds, adds impact, and changes to enhance the emotion of the video. These elements are very important if you want build a corporate video like this but still make it feel personal and intimate for the viewer.
Have you created an overview video that you’d like to share with other readers of this blog? Do you need an overview video and have questions that we can help answer? Leave a comment below.
Today I received a very cool email. One of my photos was selected as a finalist in the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) Best Shots competition. They are the organization behind the International CES expo taking place right now in Las Vegas. The photos were selected by judges Dave Johnson, PC World’s Digital Focus; Mike McEnaney, Photo Industry reporter; and Steve Tiffen, of the Tiffen Company.
It is now up to you – friends & family – to vote for the winner. I’m happy to be selected and won’t feel slighted if I lose to someone with more friends than me, but competitions is fun. If you like my image and think it is worth a vote, go here and vote. If you like something else better, by all means, vote for that photo.
Download the desktop: 1680×1050
I turned 34 today and on my Facebook wall, a friend said I should post a birthday self-portrait so that people could “like” it. In many ways, this is a pretty accurate account for most of my online storytelling – photos. That’s how I see and share the world and how people interact with me. So it was a fitting request and an idea that spawned a self-portrait with that in mind. An image of me as many people see me. It has my two of my favorite lenses – my iPhone and a Canon 50mm f/1.4.
Below is me and my boys blowing out the candles on my delicious home-made birthday cake.
Christmas is past, but I have a fun idea that you can use next year. My wife decided to start getting our Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving this year. At first I thought it was crazy, but it really helped bring back some of the childhood excitement that surrounds Christmas. That isn’t the idea, this is —> Create a Christmas countdown calendar with photos for the following year. This year I decided to create a new image every day of December and post them on Instagram, culminating on Christmas Day – 25 days total. It was a fun creative exercise that helped me get into the Christmas spirit. I love the twinkle of Christmas from the lights, garland, glitter, ornaments, to sun shining through falling snow (unfortunately I don’t see that very often since moving to VA) and wanted to capture it.Read More»
The fifth video of this series features a photo of four-year-old Hadiara and one of her family’s goats. Operation Blessing gave her dad 3 goats to provide their with milk and start a small business breeding and selling goats. This extra money along with the money he makes building souvenirs allows him to send his children to school. Hadiara’s older brothers and sister are already in school and she will be starting when she is old enough.
The fourth video of this series features a story of Saley, a woman I met in Niger while capturing stories about Operation Blessing food security projects. See why Saley is able to stand proud in a field of fresh vegetables when the country has been facing a drought.
See Charles’ full story at the Operation Blessing blog: Reflections Of A Heart Weathered By Tornadoes
As a husband and father, my heart breaks for single mothers that work hard and still struggle to feed their children. I met a woman named Mary from the Fulfulde tribe in the village of Mbsowan whose husband left her and their three daughters because he couldn’t provide food for them. Now, Mary must try to care for her children by growing millet on a small plot of land she owns. She is able to sell some of the millet she grows and uses the rest to feed her three young daughters for months after harvest.
Because everyone in the village was working the same kind of system of farming and selling, they would completely run out of food and have to travel farm to neighboring villages and sometimes other countries to find food. Mary told of times when her daughters would come to her crying because they were hungry and she didn’t have any food food to give them. It is painful to imagine having to tell that to my children, but even harder to think about my wife having to tell them because I am not there.
But this year crops did not produce well across Niger because they didn’t receive enough rain. Because Niger is landlocked and primarily made up of smaller subsistence farmers that don’t have irrigation systems, they rely on the rain to produce crops. No rain = no crops. No crops = no food.
Thankfully, Mary has food to feed her children because Operation Blessing built and stocked a food bank to help villagers keep a source of food within community. After harvest, they are able to sell their excess crops to the bank and during times of need, they can use that money to buy back food from the bank. Because the banks start completely full, there is capital to invest in more millet as the supply depletes. The food banks are working and families are being fed.
Operation Blessing has 17 food banks in Niger that are helping thousands of families, but for villages without a food bank, the food crisis still remains. More food banks are needed to help keep villages stocked with food and prepared for season ending dry spells that wipe out crops and threaten famine.
I’ve seen it first hand and want to be a part of the solution for other mothers like Mary. If you want to help be a part of the solution, you can help feed families in need with a donation to Operation Blessing: bit.ly/donate2OB
SEE RELATED POST: “Helping Families Overcome The Food Crisis In Niger”
(Canon 5D MkII, 16-36mm f2.8 @ 1/2000 sec, 25mm, f2.8, ISO 100, Flash Fired)
The past year has been difficult for the people of Niger as they have had to battle a drought that killed most of their staple crops – millet and sorghum. The UN’s World Food Programme, OXFAM, and other NGOs have stated that this drought, coupled with the extreme poverty found through the Sahel region of Africa, and increased food prices suggests that these families are on the verge of famine. I was in Niger a few months ago and the people I met all mentioned that their crops had not survived the drought and that tough times laid ahead because there will not be enough food in the country to feed everyone.
That’s why Operation Blessing is helping families store up seed in food banks that will be available to the villagers when it is hard to find elsewhere, but we are also teaching them to grow crops during the dry season. It is really helping the families where we are working, but there are many more that need our help as well. We’ve seen the effects of famine in the Horn of Africa this past year and we want to support as many families as we can in order to keep children from suffering. You can be a part of protecting these little ones. To make a donation to help fight famine, visit: http://bit.ly/fight_famine
You’ll be hearing me mention Niger more and more in the coming weeks as I talk about the families that benefit from dry season farming and the food banks.
(Canon 5D MkII, 50mm f1.2 @ 1/200 sec, f2.2, ISO 100)
The trip to the Operation Blessing projects in Kimana was amazing. We were greeted by song and as we entered the school Operation Blessing built in the village. They had been in class for 3 weeks and the children were already learning Swahili, English, math, science, and social studies. I immediately noticed a 6 year old girl named, Nairiamu. She was sitting front and center and was smiling ear to ear as she sang to us and showed her grasp of the English language.
After talking to her teachers, I learned that she is always the first child to arrive at school and loves to sing and dance. She is also excelling in her studies and helping the younger kids with their english charts. Kiamuru’s mother said that she lives to go to school and wakes early to do her chores so she can get to class early.
In Masai culture most girls do not have the opportunity to go to school unless they are close enough to their home. Much of Nairiamu’s excitement is the privilege she now has to go to school because Operation Blessing built one in their village.
One of Nairiamu and her bother’s chores is to fetch water for her family. It is a 4 hour round trip carrying a little 5 liter bucket on her back with a piece I fabric on her head holding it up and bearing most of the weight. This also limited her ability to go to school. Operation Blessing also built a well in their community near the school, so Kiamuru and many other students can go to school and still bring water home to their families without having to make an extra trip.
My heart was overjoyed as I watched her take her first sip of water from the new well through her beautiful smiling mouth. May her vibrance, potential, eagerness and smile continue to flow with as much life as the water that sprung from the well.
I absolutely love my job and the ability that I have to share people’s stories, but it is something that deserves to be handled ethically and with great concern for details. This is a start to a dialogue about storytelling and the way a camera/photograph has the ability to present different truths about the same scenario depending on our framing. It might even be that a stronger photograph is also the most misleading and present an ethical dilemma. Find out a few of my thoughts on Humanitarian Photography and lets start a dialogue about how we can use story to change lives.
I keep this on my wall as a reminder…
Connect with me on Twitter: @tonycece
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This past week we launched a new 316 Valentine’s campaign at Operation Blessing. It was an incredibly fun process of collaboration by our media team. It started with a brainstorming meeting where we came up with the idea to make 316 a symbol of love. This symbol came from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.”
From that dialogue I created a script that developed the concept seen in the finished video. There were a couple levels of adaptation as it went through editing and approval processes. Once it was approved, we had about 48 hours to get the physical money in multiples of 316, shoot the stop motion, draw the cartoon intro, edit, animate, find music, record the voice over and upload for distribution.Read More»
I have looked at lens options for my iPhone since 2008 when Apple released the iPhone 3G. The release of this new phone and iOS, the app store began to fill up with wonderful photo editing and sharing apps. My fascination with iPhone photography started with the original iPhone I purchased when it was first released. I liked the LOFI look of the images. Because I was also shooting with Lomo film cameras, in 2008 I created a site to showcase what I called iPhonelomo. Quirky photographs shot without the intent of perfection and focused more on creativity. It pushed me to think differently about photography and what I see around me.
This fascination made me look for ways to do more creatively with my phone. I started my iPhone lens search with a Griffin Clarifi case that made close-up (not quite macro) photography possible with the 3G and 3GS. It also allowed me to create artistic images without anything in focus. I got a lot of use out of this case because it served two great purposes and didn’t require me to carry any accessories.Read More»
All images contained in this book were taken with an iPhone 4S. It was my first trip to New York City, so the images captured reflect my desire to see as many popular spots as I could during my brief one day and a half in the city. They are wide shots that show the larger context I was seeing as I took it all in. I’m sure that my photographs will be completely different the next time I visit the city and zoom my focus to show more of the people, lifestyle, textures and movement of New York City.
As a photographer, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see and capture as much of the city as I hoped to if I was weighed down by all my professional gear. I also knew there are already thousands of stunning shots of the city taken by photographers who live in the city and can shoot when the conditions are just right. I decided to focus on taking stylized images with my iPhone and SX70 with Polaroid film. This book contains the photos from my iPhone.
All but seven of the photographs were taken using the Hipstamatic app using the Loftus Lens and Rock BW-11 Film. I did not use a flash in the app. Because I was in the city and wanted to capture the huge buildings that were right on top of me, I was using an Olloclip lens that slips on the iPhone to give me wide angle and fisheye lens options. I am totally enamored with the Olloclip and the settings I was using in Hipstamatic.
I have seen the beauty of iPhone photography since I boought my first iPhone when they were first released. You can see more of my work at www.iPhonelomo.com
I hope you enjoy the artwork contained in this book.
This Christmas, as we begin to celebrate the gift of God’s love, I can’t help but think of the ways that Operation Blessing shares the gift of love on a daily basis all around the world. A few weeks ago I was in Niger and met a 4-year-old girl named Hadiara.
She and her sister were playing with a crude little toy that their father had made for them out of a scrap piece of plastic that had a nail through it and hair that was sticking out of the top that the girls sat and braided.
I was amazed at the joy they found in this simple little toy. I couldn’t help but think that this toy represents the poverty they live in every single day.
But there is hope for them because Operation Blessing partners gave them two goats. To us, two goats doesn’t seem like much, but for her family it is milk that the children can have on a daily basis.
Even more important than that, the gift of a goat becomes the gift of an education. Their father is able to raise the baby goats and sell them at market, and the money they make through this repeated process allows them to send their children to school.
It is exciting to see that something as simple as a goat can become the gift of an education, and the gift of an education gives them hope for a better future—that they’ll be able to rise out of the poverty that their family has lived in for generations.
Every 30 seconds, a child under the age of five dies from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. Learn how something as simple as a bed net can prevent this tragedy.
Imagine that 9 month old Aichatou is your baby daughter. Now imagine that she was just bitten by a mosquito. What would you do? Are you worried? In the comfort of my home in Virginia (where we happen to have a lot mosquitoes), I would put hydrocortisone on the bump and forget about it until it needed more ointment to keep her from itching it. That, however, is not the reality for Aichatou’s mother, Chafa. They live in the small village of Moli, Niger – a country where Malaria is endemic. Her village is blessed to be along a river where they can fish, bathe, wash clothes, have rice fields, and irrigate their gardens. This branch of the river, however, gets cutoff from its main source during the dry season, causing the water to stand stagnate – becoming the perfect breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
While talking to the mother, I learned Chafa had been diagnosed with malaria just over a month ago, was treated at the hospital, and is now taking medication. That led me to realize that Aichatou easily could have been the one to get Malaria. She is usually strapped to her Mother’s back, in her arms, or lying down next to her on their single mattress in a small home that has unscreened windows opened to let in a breeze. Did I mention how hot it is here?
As I held little Aichatou in my arms, I started imagining the fear a single mosquito bite would bring me if I were her parent. My boys get bit by mosquitoes while they sleep all the time and we don’t have to open our windows because we have central A/C in our home. What would I do?
I stated that malaria is endemic in Niger, that knowledge came from the Operation Blessing Niger’s Medical Director, Dr. Idi. He has worked for the World Health Organization, and was the countries Health Inspector before coming to Operation Blessing. Dr. Idi also told me that the people of Niger are becoming resistant to the medications that doctors have used to treat it. For babies, it can be especially hard to treat because mother’s wait too long to bring in their sick child. They assume their baby is only sick and will get better soon. When they do finally go, it is too late and it can turn into cerebral malaria which can cripple or kill the baby. Malaria is curable, but best solution is to find ways to keep from getting it. There are many ways to keep from getting bit by a malaria-carrying mosquito – one simple solution to combat this complex infectious disease is a mosquito net. An that is what we gave to 126 mothers of Children under the age of 3.
It was a privilege to be a part of the mosquito net distribution that Operation Blessing held today in Moli, Niger. I am honored to have the opportunity to personally give one mosquito net to Chafa and Aichatou on your behalf so that they will have a shield of protection from malaria. I am thankful for Operation Blessing donors that give to our “Join The Net” program because they are making a difference in the lives of children like Aichatou.
Today I met a woman that I will call Elena to protect her identity. She came to Israel from Eastern Europe more than 10 years ago and was forced into sex slavery. At first she refused and was beaten and stripped of all her earthly possessions. Eventually she made the difficult decision to stop fighting because she feared she would be killed.
As she spoke, I couldn’t help but think about her horrifying scenario—leaving her homeland to enter a foreign country with no friends, unable to speak the language, having everything taken away, and without anyone to turn to. Her identity was stripped from her and Elena became a commodity for people to buy and trade.
After entering the sex slavery industry against her will, Elena was bought and sold by many different men and moved from one place to another. She told us that she was very close to committing suicide until a man claimed to have fallen in love with her. He asked to buy her from her owner but was unable to come up with all the money he needed.
Yesterday I had the privilege of interviewing Michael Pritchard, the inventor of the Lifesaver Bottle, for an upcoming video that Operation Blessing is putting together to show how we are using his technology to bring clean water to remote areas of the world. Not only was it great to be able to interview him, but it was also fun to create an atmosphere for the interview in our office space.
I had a few ideas going into the shoot about using black and the striking yellow Lifesaver jerrycans, but creative juices started flowing as I inspected the space. One piece in particular caught my eye and changed our “set” for the better. It was an old light table that is usually unused and in our way. It became my third light source and put an interesting aura under the jerrycans. But lighting aside…let’s talk about the Lifesaver technology.
As an employee of Operation Blessing, I spend quite a bit of time out in the field and have had the privilege of using and distributing Lifesaver bottles and jerrycans. Their ultra filtration system removes viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other waterborne pathogens. It was great to hear his story about the creation of the Lifesaver systems and his goal to end water poverty. I thought I would use this inspiration to talk a little bit about my hands-on experience with Mr. Pritchard’s Lifesaver systems.
I carry a Lifesaver bottle with me on every trip I take because I never know what situation I will be in where I won’t have access to safe drinking water. Even when I have access to water in a hotel room overseas, it isn’t always safe for drinking. I’ve saved a ton of money by avoiding the expensive bottled water provided in hotel rooms. In disaster scenarios, it can be even more crucial. I used it daily when our team was in Haiti right after the earthquake and helped distribute Lifesaver jerrycans during the cholera outbreak. Operation Blessing was able to deliver safe water to the hardest to reach places because these systems are small enough to pack into 4 wheel drive SUVs that can handle the worst terrains.
Because the Lifesaver jerrycans are so portable, we were able to give one to every family in the water-locked village of Luben. They were completely surround by the cholera-infested water and these systems were a real “life saver” for this and other communities in the area that were unreachable with larger purification systems. Having been back to the village of Luben, months after the outbreak of cholera, I heard firsthand from villagers, like Wilna, who are using their Lifesaver Jerrycans daily to protect their families from the cholera that is still in the river where they get water. (See her video story below.)
Even though I am currently in the US and don’t personally have to worry too much about the water I am drinking, I don’t forget about the people who are less fortunate. It was truly great to hear the passion that Michael Pritchard brings to his innovative technology because he cares about others and wants to bring a solution to this water crisis that over 1 billion people face.
Waterlocked Village In Haiti Battles Cholera With Clean Water
Wilna’s Story – Surrounded By Death: Cholera in Haiti’s Waters
I’m very honored to have been a part of John & Debbie’s story as a producer and videographer of this story for Operation Blessing. As I listened to their story and talked to people that had worked with them or been blessed by this family, it was very apparent that they were more than deserving to be blessed. The Operation Blessing disaster relief team worked for 7 days gutting and rebuilding this home that had been ruined by the tornado that struck Joplin. On the day of the reveal a large crew of volunteers from Home Depot and Joey Logano and his pit crew came in to help pull it all together for family. Watch and see how it all came together.
“Summertime Roses” is a triptych series I shot on a Polaroid SX-70 on Silver Shade film from The Impossible Project. It has idiosyncrasies and imperfections that make the photos have vintage character minutes after they eject from the camera.
I love art. I like looking at photography and filling my home and office with fun images of my own and other photographers. My blog is usually a place to talk about the work I’m doing or the fun I’m having with my kids and my camera.
I’m going out on a professional limb and offering to sell some of my art so that one of you can hang it in your home or office. It has already been a tough new road – once I saw it framed, I wanted to keep it and hang it in my dining room.
I am offering this framed fine art piece to one buyer who will take ownership of the one-of-a-kind original images for only $150. Readers of my blog have the first chance to purchase it. Payment will be made via Paypal. Please contact me using this form and be the first to let me know that you are the one who is hip enough to hang this in your home, office, or place of business.
See a larger scan of the images below to see the softness, warmth, and imperfections that give these photos character:
Yesterday I was finishing up projects around the house and saw my new picture frame sitting the floor in my closet. While I worked, I started thinking about photos that would look good in this oval frame. I bounced between the idea of a clean letter “C” or an aged looking photo. My mind started visualizing an older part of town that has rusty factories, fences, peeling paint, and overgrown weeds. I thought it could be a potential photo location for this frame or at least give me some new stock images and prints.
With my camera slung over my shoulder, I jumped on my Vespa and headed out while the rest of my family took naps. In my head the shot called for limited dept-of-field (DOF), so I put the 50mm f/1.4 on the camera and my 85mm f/1.8 in top-case of my Vespa. As I drove the streets around the factories, I came across this particular fence and set off weeds that really grabbed my attention.
I struggled with a series of apertures and settings on my 5D, but really wasn’t getting the look I wanted. It didn’t feel like the image I envisioned in my head. I packed up with several shots I liked, but was a bit disappointed. I had a scene I really liked, but wasn’t able to capture the image in my head. As I strapped my helmet on, I got a call from my dad saying that he was on his way to my house. Just before I put the phone in my pocket and headed to meet him, I decided to grab a few shots with my iPhone to use on my iPhonelomo site. I looked at the screen and realized that this was the image I had been trying to achieve. After snapping it, I used PicGrunger to give it a vintage feeling and Photogene to slightly crop and enhance the levels. I may not use it for the frame, but I was able to walk away achieving the vision that I had set out to capture. Many thanks to David DuChemin for publishing great e-books that have helped me refocus and get beyond the gear and shoot with vision.
Before & After Editing.
I’m excited to announce that Operation Blessing International is giving away one of my best photos when you give a gift of $25. It is a limited time offer and only available from the Bless The Children donation page. With your gift, you will receive 3 8×10 prints of Yerramma and Lalitha’s Water Burden. Keep one for yourself and share the other two with family or friends (or be somewhat selfish and put it in your office). It can be a conversation starter to let people know that you are passionate about changing lives around the world.
To make a donation to help bless children around the world, visit: www.ob.org/BlessTheChildren
Thank you for helping me make a difference by telling their story.
About the photo:
I met Yerramma and Lalitha in a very remote village in the Khammam District of India. Operation Blessing International was installing multiple wells in the region and their village of Angargudem happened to be one of them. Soon after we pulled in, the team was busy inspecting the well site and I happened to wander down a few paths in the village with my translator and saw a group of women gathering their metal buckets to go fetch water. Several of us from the team wanted to see their current water source and how far the women walked retrieve it. We walked down narrow paths following the women carrying their empty pots on their heads and children on their hips. At the end of the path there was a small area where the small stream pooled and the women washed their pots and clothes. Next to that was a smaller area where they skimmed water for cooking and drinking. They were very skilled at skimming the dirty water so that it appeared clean – though we know the real problem isn’t visible to our eyes and was actually causing sickness in the village. After they gathered the water, the heavy pots were stacked on top of their heads and again the children rode back on their hips. After walking the narrow and winding path back to the village, Yerramma ducked into her house and the small bowl used for skimming the water clanged against the inside of the pot as she struggled to set it on the shelf. Wearily she looked down as baby Lalitha stared at me and I snapped the picture.
Yerramma knew that the water wasn’t good, but didn’t have any other choices. She told us that it was very hard for her to carry the heavy pots such a long distance and it gave her pain in her neck and back. Not only was there the sickness caused by the water, but there were also villagers who lost their lives from snake bites and scorpion stings as they walked the path – something I’m glad I didn’t know before walking the path and standing ankle deep with them in the water. As we told her about the new well coming close to her home, she was overjoyed. Three days later, she was there to greet us with a big smile as we dedicated the new well and she filled her first pot of clean water.Read More»
When I asked Randy, a 51-year-old Joplin resident, how he would move on after the tornado, he simply answered, “You’ve just got to live it every day, and the next day will be better than the day before and it will get better.” This is true both physically and emotionally. Each day in Joplin, progress is being made in the cleanup process as compassionate volunteers swarm the streets and lend their hands and hearts to the survivors of this terrible tornado.
We first met Randy on Friday when teams from Operation Blessing were walking the streets of Joplin looking for survivors who needed help and having them fill out work orders. He was proudly flying an American flag and had his windows boarded up warning would-be looters to “Keep Out.” When the tornado hit, Randy was at Walmart. Having seen the pile of debris that used to be Walmart, I asked him what happened and how he walked out. He said it sounded like a freight train rolling into town… shelves started shaking like an earthquake, and the building and items around him were lifted and dropped. He was in the back of the store near a concrete wall, but was knocked over onto debris that broke several ribs and a vertebrate in his back. As we talked, his movements were visibly stiff and painful.
He lifted his shirt to show a large, dark bruise on his back. He told me that as he left the store, the scene was like being in “a combat zone in Panama. It looked like an atomic bomb had gone off,” he said.
The devastation left behind by this tornado is visually the most unreal thing I have seen. I flew into Haiti 3 days after the earthquake and spent weeks in the hardest hit areas of Port-au-Prince and the actual destruction and injuries were worse, but to stand in the middle of where this tornado hit Joplin is frightening. Having been at ground zero of the tornado for several days, I pictured it much the same way as Randy described it – like an atomic bomb had gone off. As a film major who studied movie making, the city was reminiscent of scenes Hollywood uses to depict Armageddon or the end of the world. I literally cannot imagine what went through the minds of survivors who crawled out of the debris to see nothing but devastation all around them. It would’ve been terrifying. That’s what makes Randy’s statements so powerful – while it will never be erased from the minds of these survivors, each day they find hope in a day better than the one before.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – As I drove through the debris of what used to be Smithfield Estates, a suburb of Birmingham, Ala., I was shocked by the power a tornado has to destroy both homes and lives. The wreckage evokes a sense of awe at the power of nature, but also stirs fears of uncertainty and the lack of control we have over it. My mind began imagining different scenarios of what each family had been doing to protect themselves as the storm swept past—and the prayers that must have been prayed. Then I thought of what I would do to protect my family during such an event and it began to overwhelm me. I gained control of my thoughts as I arrived at one of the Operation Blessing work sites, but little did I know that these emotions would quickly resurface in a very real way as I met Charles, a husband and father like me, who began to tell me the devastating impact tornadoes have had on his life.
That isn’t to say that my heart isn’t continually with the people of Haiti as they recover. Rather, it serves as a constant reminder of why I talk so much about the people of Haiti and do what I can to share their stories with the hopes of promoting life change. Every time I come to Haiti, there is always a personal story that really touches my heart or absolutely amazes me. This time I hadn’t even left Miami when a story began to unfold before me. It started with a woman that happened to be in my seat. She thought she was in seat 25d but she was actually in 24d. I offered to switch seats with her, but she wanted to be in the seat on her ticket. I’m glad she did because then I was able to sit down next to an American man named Aaron and a 10 year old Haitian boy, Ermane, who was looking out the window. Trying to be friendly while settling it, I asked Aaron where he was going in Haiti. It was at this point that Ermane turned his head and smiled at me, revealing a large scar on the left side of his face that ran from above his eye down to the middle of his cheek.
Aaron responded to my question, telling me that his family had hosted the young boy for a year while he had multiple surgeries to reconstruct his eye socket that had been broken during the earthquake. He laid trapped under the rubble for several hours and had severely damaged the left side of his face. A team of doctors recognized he was an extreme case that needed to be treated in the US and found a hospital in Columbus that was willing to do the work for free. Aaron still hadn’t mentioned where they were going in Haiti, but he started telling me about how smart Ermane was and how he had been going to school while he was in Ohio, quickly learned English, and was excelling at his work. It wasn’t hard to sense how proud he was of Ermane – like a father is proud of a son. While Ermane fixed his gaze back out the window, Aaron told me that he was bringing Ermane back to live at the Love A Child orphanage in Fond Parisien.
At that point my heart was melting and I felt a bit sorry that I had made him have to talk about leaving this 10 year old boy who had lived with his family for a year and had really bonded. But I had to ask why he was going to an orphanage in eastern Haiti, when he had been in Port-Au-Prince when the earthquake had struck. Ermane was still looking out the window when I quietly asked Aaron if he was the only survivor in his family?
He responded by telling me that Ermane’s mother was not in a place where she would be able to take care of him. She was in a dangerous area near Cite Soleil and didn’t have accommodations to keep him fed and safe. There are several ways that this can be viewed. Sure it must be tough for a child to face an earthquake, be seriously injured, move to another country to undergo multiple surgeries, live with another family, and then come back to your home only to go through the difficulty of unfamiliarity again – but this time in your own country. The other side is to look at the doctors that cared enough to help, a family that loved and continues to love him, and a wonderful organization that is willing to help him receive an education that will offer him a better chance at life. Is your glass half full or half empty? The hardest part for me was talking with and watching Aaron spend some of the last moments with a child he’d met and grown to love as his own. He was very strong throughout the flight and shared many wonderful stories.
Ermane now has nearly 20/20 sight and enjoyed watching Megamind on my iPad as his in-flight entertainment while Aaron and I talked. After several cosmetic surgeries, his eyelid is working, but his face will always bare scars that remind him of the pain and desperation of the earthquake. It will also remind him of the love of complete strangers that he now considers family. Aaron’s love touched Ermane, who in turn touched Aaron, and their story touched me. Aaron and his wife are looking into ways to possibly adopt him, but it is a potentially very expensive, long and hard road ahead with no guarantees. I have not stopped praying for Aaron and Ermane since I arrived in Haiti. Tonight is the last night they will physically be together and I know that some of the hardest times are still ahead for them.
The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.
I’m still going through video and photos from my trip to Israel, but was struck by how black and white things appeared in the Old City of Jerusalem. Even though there was a lot of color surrounding me, I decided to do this series in Black and White to show the disparity between religions, classes, and what is considered holy and unholy. These images are varied, but tell their own stories and don’t need my thoughts and opinions getting in the way. Enjoy.
I’m really excited to be sharing this video and photoblog about a wonderful livelihood project that Operation Blessing is helping with near Bethlehem. Why am I excited? Because the project started because a young man named Samer decided to put others before himself. How, you ask? Samer is a very talented mosaic artist who decided to leave his job at a shop he had worked at for 9 years, take a pay cut, and with the help of Operation Blessing, start his own shop that teaches disabled people his craft and offers them an opportunity for employment that is, otherwise, very hard for them to find. An older man, Ahmed, has a Master’s Degree in social work, is a skilled watchmaker, worked as a teacher, and for the UN before finding himself unemployed for 7 years. One young man had received a business degree that would allow him to work in hotels but couldn’t find work and a woman had been a teacher before needing to have hip replacement but lost her job while she was recovering. Listening to the stories of each of his workers and seeing the beautiful pieces of art they are now creating was very inspirational for me. What a testament to the heart of compassion that God instills in each of us.
I was so inspired by their work that I came home with several pieces for my home.
See more of their work at www.bethlehemmosaics.com
During my week in Israel I saw men, women, and children each facing different types of poverty and hardship. I’ve never been one to think that life is easy, but it pains me to see just how hard it can be for some people. When I first arrived I visited a Bedouin tribe that live in tents under the sun of the Judaean desert, then spent time with families that lost their homes in the Carmel fires, and finally made my way to Isfiya, Israel where I met a young mother of two named Yasmin. This 22-year-old was married when she was just sixteen and now has a 3 year old daughter, Lily, and 2 year old son, Haiman. The Operation Blessing Israel staff learned from a dear friend that the electrical wiring in Yasmin’s home was very dangerous for her and the two children that spend most of their day at the house. Our team visited the house and were greeted by a mess of wires just inside the door. We also learned that the electrical system could not power a heater to keep them warm in the winter, water heater, or portable stove top burners which makes their lives even more difficult. The house is only comprised of three small rooms – a main living area, bedroom for the children, and a bathroom that doubles as a wash room and kitchen. There are no kitchen appliances and all of their food has to be cooked by their nearby family or friends. The house looks larger from the outside, but it is really two homes – the other section is occupied by her aunt. It was evident that Yasmin and the children needed OBI’s help. The electrician that we hired to work on the house confirmed our suspicions when he told us he had never seen wiring so unsafe and he significantly reduced his rates to help because he felt that no one should live in this unsafe environment and wanted to be a part of the solution.
But enough about the house, the real story is Yasmin and her children. There are times when you meet people who you can’t help but like, and she was one of those people. Yasmin has a very gentle spirit and a beautiful smile that has not yet been hardened by the difficulties she faces on a daily basis. It is the type of vibrance we want to preserve because we know that it will be passed on to others when we leave. Yasmin asked us, “Why are you doing this for me? Not even my mother or my father would do something like this for me.” It is a question that I hear often, but it always catches my attention. I asked myself, “Why do I choose to help others?” Over and over the resounding answer is, “Because I am imitating the life of my Savior who demonstrated the love of God to others.” I was reminded today how blessed I am to be able to work for an organization that is able to pour out this love because of people all around the world, who just like me, love enough to give up something to bless others. It is people like Yasmin that inspire me to continue to shower love on people facing difficult times because it really does change lives now and forever. Her new electrical system will be finished by the weekend, a water heater will also be installed once that is finished, and I was so moved by the family that I chipped in to purchase a portable stove and pots to make life a little less difficult for Yasmin, Lily, and Haiman. You can’t help but be touched when you see the impact Operation Blessing is making in lives that matter to God.
This past week I had the privilege of working with our Operation Blessing teams in Israel and the West Bank. My first experience was a food distribution, dental and vision clinic for a Bedouin tribe from Msafer Bani Nayim in the Judean Desert. The tribes roots are Arabic nomadic shepherds that live in tents, but because of modern day ordinances, they have lived in and worked this particular part of the desert since 1967. Visually, the village was stunning – not in a Beverly Hills kind of way, but in a way that put me back with the shepherds of the Bible stories I’ve read about near Bethlehem. Unfortunately, the 7 year drought that has plagued this region has forced the shepherds to keep smaller flocks because there isn’t enough vegetation for their livestock to graze. Operation Blessing delivered food supplies and offered dental and eye exams through volunteers from local medical offices. They checked 67 villagers’ eyes and 60 for dental problems. By far, the dental problems were much worse than their vision. Many had never visited a dentist before and only one of the women brushes her teeth – no men. This is compounded by the really sweet tea they drink (I had some and liked it…and I don’t normally like tea) and for the men – chain smoking. The next phase of the project is to provide toothbrushes and teach basic dental hygiene to help combat the tooth decay that most of the villagers face.
I can’t believe that my first-born son is almost 2 years old – just 10 more days. Every time I see a new picture of him, I realize he is no longer a baby but has grown into a little boy. As much as I love humanitarian photography because of the stories I get to tell through photos and video, I can’t imagine anything better than photographing my own children. The other day we were at the park and I had my camera, flash, and a moon that intrigued him. It is really fun to see him take in his surroundings. He looks to the sky and says, “ah moon…ah moon.” It is really adorable. I love capturing these memories for him to have as an adult.
After all this talk about elephants and my logo, I decided to take my family to the zoo today. The elephants were awesome and definitely a favorite, but this peacock was strutting his stuff for us. Enjoy a colorful wallpaper, compliments of my son who we took to the zoo today.
8 of the 9 art pieces are complete. I’m really happy with 6 of them and am ok with the other two. They could be someone else’s favorite, because we all have our own style that we prefer. This has been a really exciting project that has brought me out of a creative mold to try new things. It is a new way to look at the photos I take and a hands on way to manipulate an image without Photoshop. Because this is all an experiment, I feel like there is not a right or wrong outcome – they are just new techniques to use or avoid on following works. And really, it is the imperfections that help convey the stories of each of these children I photographed around the world. Their lives are rough around the edges and they have been through so much in their short lives. I look forward to unveiling them if/when I find a local gallery, coffee house, airport that will accept the exhibit for a short period of time. After that I will work on getting the display online as well.
I just finished editing this video together this morning as we remember the beginning of Haiti’s journey to recovery this past year. Though I do not have to face many of the hardships that the average Haitian faces daily, my colleagues and I have been a part of this journey with them. Though things are far from great for the people of Haiti, it is amazing to see their resilience in the face of every hardship they continue to encounter. We look forward to a day when they recover and move forward as a nation filled with the strength and hope that led them the entire way.
Today was extra special for me because I had a firsthand look at the impact that LifeSaver jerrycans had on the village of Luben, who had been hit hard during the early stages of the cholera outbreak in Haiti.
The villagers of Luben were literally surrounded by cholera when the contaminated waters flooded the rice fields surrounding their village. Find out how Operation Blessing was able help this village turn the source of their disease into a source of life.
Read more about the amazing rescue of this village: bit.ly/9FMd9r
We had another beautiful day in Seguin. The sun shone brightly and burnt our necks, but it allowed the rain catcher installations to go very smoothly and quickly. The first house that our team stopped at was a 25 year old woman named Sogan. She moved to Seguin 4 years ago when she was married and now works their farms with her husband to provide for their 2 children. While we were working on her house, I talked to her as she worked the garden. The produce that she grows provides food for the family and is sold in the market to provide income. On a good year they can bring in upwards of $600 US dollars, but most years is $350 US or less.Read More»
Stories – I love stories. Today I found myself at 20,000+ feet sharing stories with an Army Chaplain named Scott as we flew to Atlanta. He was great company and shared his personal story about the journey that led him to become a chaplain and the unfolding story afterward. He talked of his tours with the Army as a soldier and places that it had taken him. Now as a chaplain, he shares in stories of both joy, pain, sorrow and hope (none of which he went into specifics about). It didn’t take him long to ask me about my faith. I then shared my story with him about the many different paths that God has taken me down and how I feel that I am right where he wants me right now – being an advocate for His children who have stories to share, but need a voice – a mouthpiece. Every time I get involved in someone’s story, I get excited and want to tell it.Read More»