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EoS Book Excerpt (Elephants of Sumatra) – The Projects

Below is a sample extract from the up coming Elephants of Sumatra – The Final Stand documentary photography book being published in support of the critically endangered sumatran elephants and the various projects we have, projects we support directly in the field or indirectly by other means. The final product will be a 100 page photography documentary book created by Berdiri Founder Bruce Levick based on the back of 3 years in the field documenting  the dire situation being faced by the last remaining ELEPHANTS OF SUMATRA. The extract below is from a chapter named “The Projects”, which documents the work being carried out by various NGO’s to help conserve this amazing species. The book will be available for pre-order soon.

“Sumatra may be only one island of many thousands within the archipelago of Indonesia but the diversity of the wildlife within is second to none. With many unique species fighting for small pockets of remaining habitat on the island of Sumatra with most of these species listed as endangered or critically endangered, the elephants of Sumatra being one of those listed as critically endangered with an estimated figure of 1000-1500 left in the wild.
The main threats to the Elephants of Sumatra is habitat destruction and poaching for the ivory trade. For the most part it is the habitat destruction that is causing so many problems for the remainder of the species. As the habitat reduces the elephants are constantly on the move looking for new areas that are suitable for their herd and this causes the elephants to enter into nearby villages causing issues for the local farmers and community that come into conflict with the elephants. Thus usually ending in capture or death for the elephants. A lot of cases see elephant herds poisoned as they enter into oil palm crops where farmers have left out fruit laced with poison…” 

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GMB Akash – Photo Journalist

GMB Akash is a photo journalist living in Bangladesh and is truly an inspiration with his photography and his actions to provide change and bettering the subject he photographs. Below is an email interview we did with GMB Akash so take a look at his inspirational work.

Akash (11) Berdiri: What originally got you started in photography?

GMB Akash: I was always passionate about poking the ‘spinal chord’ of the world and treasuring all the souls within it. I discovered that I could underline our lives and our awareness by transforming suffering into photographs. For me photography became my language, to access, to communicate, to identify and mostly to be heard. I learned that I had a fanaticism for storytelling which takes me anywhere and everywhere. My searching mind was driving an innate curiosity and sense of wonder to know the world around me. My photographs began to speak for the people I discovered. Berdiri: What was your first camera? GMB Akash: A Yasica FX 3 camera. It was my father’s old camera which he did not use even once. When I was the age of 20 he brought it back from his friend’s house and my photo life began. In my environs and in the space in which I was brought up no one ever thought a boy could dedicate himself to photography. Throughout my childhood I did not have access to photographers, their work, or even a camera. Photography did not exist for me in theory or in practice. I held my father’s old camera and started taking pictures without giving it much thought in 1996. Since then I have not stopped clicking for a single day.

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Berdiri: Has the digital revolution for photography helped evolve you and your ideas and your path as a photographer?

GMB Akash: My photography did not change because of digitalization, only some processes have been changed. I don’t need to go to the lab and wait for a long time for processing my film and prints anymore but all other things remain the same. You have to study, know people, travel and work hard. Furthermore, you have to be honest, respect others and you have to grow. However, social networking, easy access to the Internet and to blogs, have really helped me a lot to get my work out to millions. It’s become easier to get quick responses regarding our work on the Internet. I cannot think about my growing without these facilities.

Berdiri: What is your favourite subject to shoot?

GMB Akash: Amongst them all – human stories are the most attractive to me. Every human bears a story. Photographers reveal the undiscovered story through the lens. Every human face tells stories; it tells about the situation of the person, and it tells the story of the place the person lives in. Wherever I go I always come across faces that are different. Eventually I tried to find characteristics of the community. Every place has its own perception, story and smell. A person bears these things in his or her appearance. I search for the story behind the face so faces are incredibly important to me. Throughout searching for the human story I find strange stories of lives of people of different places that we never have acknowledged before. My aim is to establish their frame by coding their untold stories. I want to bring positive changes to the lives of the people whom I photograph.

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Berdiri: At what point did you realise that your camera and your photography could be of positive influence on your subjects? GMB Akash: I bargained with myself to keep the arts as a passion for all those years. Now the time has appeared that I pursue it with vehement passion by involving myself in the betterment of these people whom I photograph- personally. This way I see it as not exploiting the people I photograph. But rather conveying their messages and amplifying their mute voices that have been oppressed by pathological social systems and plagued by poverty. My aim is to support people whom I photograph. I want to bring the greatest possible changes into their lives. I am continually trying to raise the volume of the voices of humanity through my photography subjects.

Berdiri: At Berdiri we are building a crowd funding platform to fund photo journalists and storytellers to help bring to light stories and causes that need attention. How has crowd funding helped your photo journalism?

GMB Akash: The crowd funding platform proved a very effective medium for me and many other photographers. My ten year project ‘Survivors’ came out in the form of a photography book with the help of crowd funding. It was a long cherished dream and my aim was to involve the general public in my dream. I realized crowd funding can be a medium to tell my tale and to connect people with the cause. The best part of crowd funding is that your backers are well informed about what you want to do and that builds a mutually trusting factor. You can get sponsors for publishing your works, exhibitions or photo projects. But an ordinary audience is your ultimate targeted receiver of your message. So my idea is always the same: to connect the people with each other. Within 26 days of the targeted 90 days, my project received 80% of the funding. I got a huge response and a memorable number of appreciative comments which made the event a dream come true.

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Berdiri: Is it true that you have started a non profit photo school in Dhaka? Can you explain your project for a non profit photo school and what are the goals?

GMB Akash: I founded ‘First Light Institute of Photography’ in August, 2013. I want to take photography door to door and heart to heart. My mission is to give quality knowledge at minimal cost to unprivileged photography students. The dream is very simple: it is ‘keeping your light alive’. First Light recently organized the event ‘Inspiring Light’, in which we bring inspiring individuals to share their unique treasures with the participants. ‘Inspiring Light’ is an event in which to exchange inspiration; where people learn, are inspired and where ideas will take shape. The event is free for everyone. We recently organized an exhibition at the nearby Narayanganj train station to make the general public aware of photography. More than 25,000 people were our viewers. At the inception of our school, we made a wish! We wished to ignite dark-velvet realities of many lives. We are aiming to educate unprivileged children: children who are living in the streets, children who are working as child labourers, children who are dropping out from schools and children who have no access to 21st century education. In short, we want to ignite the minds of the unprivileged in many different ways. Under the canopy of First Light, little angels join us and keep our world shining. We started giving informal education with basic subjects. Our groups of children belong to factories, streets, slums and villages. Besides this non-profit contribution to young children, we are charging minimal fees for photography workshops that will provide the fuel for the institute to function. Our mission is to go beyond our dreams and we believe we surely will.

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Berdiri: How do you afford to balance your personal projects with given assignments?

GMB Akash: Surviving as a photojournalist is tough and earning bread may be the toughest. It needs huge amounts of dedication and compassion to stay strict in the profession. Assignments allow me to survive and provide me with my basic needs. But it is also important to do the job I care about the most. I am fortunate that I have clients who offer me to do stories on the topics that are moreover close to my heart. So there is no big gap between my passionate work and my professional work. I always keep my personal time for building my personal projects. Oftentimes I spend a fair amount of time observing and engaging in the situation. I am now well balanced to do personal projects passionately and professional jobs accurately. This demands extremely hard work, dedication, honesty and self-esteem.

Berdiri: What is the most rewarding part about your photography?

GMB Akash: My photographs made me a better human being than before. I encountered such incredible stories that changed me entirely. It’s given me the power to reach millions of hearts. More importantly, it enables me to help hundreds of people who I meet in my journey. I dedicated my second book ‘Survivors’ to the survivors who are in my photographs. I gifted businesses to these survivors’ families which are challenging them to bring a better tomorrow. We together fight against the poverty and by my financial help 15 families won over their hunger and acute poverty. In my career I am often faced with one question which is asked by myself and by audiences: what have I done for the people who I photographed? Obviously telling their tale is my main job but still year after year of seeing their same circumstances I felt depressed and hated the situation. I am a simple photographer but still what I achieved is more than enough for me. I promised myself to change at least a few lives that I was able to change. I started helping survivors, street children, homeless people and elderly citizens. I believe it is my duty as a photographer to point my lens in the face of deprivation and also offer a hand to the people who are dying without help. This is the best reward I get from photography that opens my heart and lets me give love as well as give whatever resources I have.

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Berdiri: What has been the most satisfying moment for you as a photographer? Is there a photo or a moment that stands out above all?

GMB Akash: I have experienced broken hearts hiding so many treasures inside them. This has been the most difficult moment for me when I have not been able to evince the perpetual meaning of a photograph nor convey the message from the sufferers. The moment I am able to depict the inner realm of the story, I find my work worthy. Mutual bridging with the story I am doing is an absolute necessity. This allows me to unfold the reality in front of the viewer’s eyes. This is what makes the audience able to see through my eyes and decode it in their hearts. The most satisfying moment is when I can make that communication and derive the pleasure of doing my job as the perfect messenger. When someone in my social networking such as on my Facebook page, comments to me, ‘You inspire me every day to do good to people’, that makes me happy. When someone emails me after reading my blog that they formed a group and started helping people of Kashmir, I am inspired. When a homeless person offers to share her lunch with me, I feel complete. And when by the grace of God my photography makes me able to help those people whom I photograph by giving them a chance to live a better life, it makes me the most satisfied photographer in the world.

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Berdiri: What projects in the future do you want to work on?

GMB Akash: I aspire to do many things before my day ends. I have uncountable dreams and a long way to go. Our simple work may be our greatest inspiration to become better human beings each day. By making some effort through photography in changing the world even if just a little for the better, we can find the way to love and peace. My happiness is being able to bring a smile to a face. My book ‘Survivors’ is spreading happiness among survivors’ families as I am continuing to gift an opportunity to elevate their lives. More than 15 families are now happily working on their businesses which I set up for them. My desire is to give more. I am currently working on my recently founded school, First Light Institute of Photography. The institute will also be an educational hub for child labourers and street children. If I had a magic kit I would abolish the tears of all sufferers. But as I do not have such a thing, I will still try to wipe off tears of a few and then many tears of others. Besides these goals, my photography journey is unending and I am working on my next photography book and on my other long term projects.

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Berdiri: Do you have some parting advice for student photographers that you have learnt in growing as a photo journalist?

GMB Akash: At the beginning it may seem that nothing is happening. Never lose your heart. Hold on persistently to your passion. Forget about the profession of being a photographer. Take photography on as a passion, not a career. Try everything. You won’t know what kind of photographer you are until you try it. Always respect others’ work. Educate yourself with news of photography of the world. Invest in a good pair of shoes and travel as far as you can go with your camera. Try with something which stirs your rawest emotions. Keep your thirst alive. Do your own kind of photography. And never stop until you can describe yourself in your photographs.

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Humanidee and Hope Village

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The children of Hope Village

“To endeavour to initiate creative ways of raising awareness as well as much needed funds for causes; in particular, assisting developing nations and the unique challenges they face.”

This is the core mission of Humanidee, started by Danielle (Dee) Limpus and Michael Chin. It all started in 2010 after Dee volunteered in Moshi, a town near the base of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. She volunteered teaching English in an informal nursery school, but also worked on projects dealing with Women’s empowerment and AIDS initiatives.

Dee discovered that education is the key to helping Tanzanian children progress in life. Unknown to most westerners, the majority of children who do not get a formal education in Tanzania end up homeless on the streets; in street gangs where brutal initiation rituals, sexual abuse and violence are a part of everyday life.

Children who are able to attend local schools are taught all classes in Swahili; yet if they graduate and proceed to secondary school, the syllabus is taught completely in English. As a result the majority of these children fail and drop out of school, falling back into life on the streets with very little chance of a future without poverty.

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The children of Hope with founder Cecilia

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Dee with one of the children at Hope Village

For most poor children, their only meal each day comes from their school or orphanage, which can only afford to feed them ugali, a dough-like porridge made from maize flour and water. It is heavy and starchy and fills their stomachs, but has little nutritional value for developing minds and bodies.

Upon her return home, Dee knew she had to do more to help. She and Michael set to finding a means to continue to support a project from Australia, although they were frustrated that they found they could not find a reliable means through which to send resources, nor a project they could trust to ensure 100% of their funds went to the children who most desperately needed help.

In 2012 Michael and Dee returned to Moshi with the primary purpose of finding a local organisation they could trust to be their agent on the ground and an orphanage with children that needed their help. After a month of research and volunteer work at a number of projects, they found Hope Village; a small orphanage run by Cecelia, a 26 year old teacher with a passion for caring for children. She currently receives no financial assistance from locals or westerners, although is the carer for 5 young children who are either homeless or vulnerable, meaning their situation at home is so bad they may as well be on the streets.

Humanidee have committed to using 100% of all money raised to pay the school fees for the children attend a formal English speaking primary school from grades 1 through 7, and ensure the children have nutritious food to eat at the orphanage.

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Michael and Dee with the children of Hope Village

A local charity Path to Africa, run by an Australian women, monitors the children’s progress at school, and when able, places independent international volunteers for short periods of time to help with the children’s studies outside of schooling.

Michael and Dee will endeavour to travel back to Tanzania every couple of years to visit the children and to find other projects that need assistance, with the aim of one day purchasing land and building their own orphanage or school for homeless and vulnerable children.

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Michael connects with the children of Hope Village playing football.

 

 

 

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