2015 has taken me from Lesotho to Nepal and from clowns to Eurozone crises, so, as much for myself as for anyone else, I've identified several of the year's highlights.
Paleng Children's Centre is barely a year old. The only thing that betrays that fact is their unstable facility situation - the tiny office/library is on loan from the school and their bad weather option, the school hall, is often unavailable to them.
The mission is to improve literacy (importantly, mother tongue literacy) and general child well-being through stories and play.
Already they are a test site for a pilot scheme by the African Storybook Project, have already published and printed several storybooks, and are on the verge of launching a health storybook campaign.
As always with such small projects, the struggle for funds is constant. You can find more information at www.paleng.weebly.com
Cheshire Homes, Swaziland
Cheshire Homes is the only centre in Swaziland providing rehabilitative care for adults and children; services that include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, assistive devices, education & information on disability and HIV/AIDS & TB.
Tasked with creating a video that would be used both for raising public awareness of the services and for raising funds, I spent a month visiting the centre, getting to know the patients and staff.
The principal theme of the video is the principal philosophy of CHESWA, small successes. There is no promise of miracle cures, simply that through hard work, dedication and support, mental and physical well-being will improve and patients can learn to live with their condition.
More info on their Facebook page.
Left with an empty space in my calendar after a job in South Sudan fell through (security), I was on the lookout for another exciting project. Then the Greek ruling party Syriza decided to call a referendum on whether to accept bailout conditions imposed on them by the ECB, EU and IMF. The framework of the European Union seemed under threat. I felt that this was one of those "living History" moments and not an opportunity one gets too often, especially when you're available. With no specific project planned, I left for Athens.
Upon arriving, I was struck by the huge contrast between what we were hearing in the media and what was happening on the ground. The country was, and still is, enveloped in grave social and economic issues. However, we were being sold a story of Armageddon-like proportions. It was, effectively, the end of the world as we knew it.
So why did it seem like a lot of people were simply getting on with their lives?
The idea for the 2Photographers project came out of this desire to show two societies, Athens and Berlin, that were currently the focus of huge amounts of attention for very specific reasons. So, instead of showing protest and hardship, myself and Berlin-based photographer Ben Chislett had a go at widening our field of vision a little.
You can see the results on the 2Photographers website.
Clowns without Borders UK, India
People need to eat. But they also need to laugh.
Which one takes priority is not usually the subject of any serious debate. Until you watch the clowns.
I worked with Clowns without Borders South Africa back in 2010 but this time it was the UK chapter that took me to India for their first solo tour since their foundation last year.
The response of children and adults alike, often in very different ways, is magical. But magical in the sense that you think to yourself "If the magic from the fairytales doesn't exist, this is probably the next closest thing."
Over two weeks, the clowns performed to thousands of children, with audiences ranging from 1200 to 12. They put on shows for schoolchildren, orphans, refugees, children rescued from human trafficking (often not mutually exclusive categories) and the joyous response was universal.
Don't take it for a joke, however. These clowns are professionals and making people smile is serious business.
Taking advantage of my proximity, I nipped over to Nepal from India once the CWBUK tour finished. It was the same interest that had taken me to Athens earlier in the year. Nepal was six months on from a huge earthquake that had, as far as I was concerned, razed the country to the ground.
It turns out that for the most part it had. Although I was still fascinated by the overwhelming bias towards scenes of destruction and misery in international media. What I found was a place full of community initiatives, many involving young people, that had seemingly done far more to bring the country out of disaster than the Nepali government and international aid agencies had. I confess, this is a very superficial judgement of a complex issue but there was undoubtedly a strong sense of community and solidarity among the Nepalese I met.
Unfortunately, Nepal was now in the grip of a fuel crisis due to a border blockade due to a constitutional disagreement with India. The most obvious result being that fuel was five times the price. That being if you could get hold of it at all.
For me, this meant being more or less restricted to Kathmandu. However, events in Paris made me consider a second 2Photographers project, Aftermath: Paris & Kathmandu
Du Sa Makha, Nepal
And last, but not least, a return to the Azulejo Art series. This time, in Patan, Nepal. A spur of the moment street art collaboration with local artists Aayush Bajracharya and Pranav Joshi.
Du Sa Makha (There is but you do not see)
Paleng Children's Centre in rural Lesotho works to improve child literacy and one of the ways they are doing that is through a storytelling form called Kamishibai. Kamishibai means literally "paper drama" in Japanese and originated in the 12th century, although had a renaissance in the depressions of the early 20th century as a way of providing an income to unemployed men.
The story is narrated through images, with the corresponding text written on the reverse (however it can get confusing because the text for the image must be written on the back of the previous card, not the current one).
Paleng have been using it as a fun way of encouraging reading for older children and an entertaining story for the younger ones.
For more information about Paleng and the work they do, see their website at www.paleng.weebly.com
For more information on Kamishibai, see this website.
I spent April 2015 working with Cheshire Homes Swaziland, a rehabilitation centre for adults and children with disability, to develop a video that would raise both awareness about the work they do and hopefully funding with which to carry on that work.
I had the privilege of getting to know the patients and staff, a group of truly inspiring individuals.
I encourage you to take ten minutes to watch this video, feel alive and spread the word.
Every so often I delve back into my photo archives to reminisce and, occasionally, dig out photos with fresh eyes. Here's one I took in Aquié, Niger in 2009 while working with the Spanish NGO Alas Solidarias.
ArtReach is a non-profit organisation working towards the development of the arts in Swaziland, and the lack of overall arts education and creative opportunities. By providing a platform for expression and learning through creativity and the arts, ArtReach aims to particularly address the personal and social issues faced by youth and other marginalized groups in Swaziland.
I was fortunate enough to get invited along to one of the Yebo! Artreach mural projects with the hope of applying some azulejo (tiles) techniques.
We spent two days painting four walls surrounding a butchery in Lobamba, Swaziland. The butchery resembled a prison to begin with so the colour explosion we left behind was a pretty dramatic change.
Hordes of children leaving school also presented me with the opportunity to whip up an impromptu stencil workshop, with varying results but certainly enjoyment all round.
I'd like to think that this kind of intervention is given the attention it deserves when it comes to aid budgets. If only the arts, or creative expression, were seen as a priority in the "development" sector.
Yebo! are doing a fantastic job and from small acorns grow big oak trees.
Big, bright blue and pink ones...
"'Indzawo Lenkhulu Lene Makhona Lamancane Lamanengi", or 'A Big Place With Many Small Corners' - a piece I did for the Swaziland Now! exhibition run by Yebo Contemporary Art Gallery in Swaziland.
The concept was an artist's representation of their vision of Swaziland. Using my new azulejoart approach, I created a composite piece of 11 "tiles", each themselves made up of single images captured along the road, out in the country and around town in Swaziland.
Here's a quick visual overview of the journey...
A bus stop (or waiting room) on the old Mbabane bypass road.
Part of my Swaziland Now! exhibition piece - "Indzawo Lenkhulu Lene Makhona Lamancane Lamanengi", or 'A Big Place With Many Small Corners'
Desperate for some sort of mini-project on a recent visit to the islands of Cape Verde, I ended up with this series of "street-fronts".
There are some really colourful houses in Cape Verde. The rate of growth seems to be skyrocketing though, so there's also a lot of bare concrete houses yet to be finished.
Avideo for KitAid to show their work in Malealea, Lesotho at their 15th anniversary celebrations.
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