This past week I went to Arizona for the Barefoot Gathering. I loved the conversations that circled around social causes, how to love people more and photographing with dignity and more. We had some incredible speakers take the stage - Dr. John Perkins, Bob Goff, Rachel Held Evans, Erwin Mcmanus -- It's so cool to see a church come together to put on such an awesome gathering of people. Dr. Perkins sitting in his chair pointed at me after I spoke and used his pointer finger to call me over. I jokingly asked him if I was in trouble for something. I got down on my knees to his height and waited patiently for what he might say. He looked at me seriously and said, "Your story, it burdened me, it affected me". He then told me a story about his Mother and how the story of the woman I talked about reminded him of her. He is a very wise man who has lived through a lot of life and I was honored that one of my stories stayed with him. I love that he is in his 80's and still speaking. He is still using his platform to share about God and challenge people.. My brother Josh Havens is the Worship pastor at the Grove in Chandler, Arizona and we decided to go for a hike in the Superstition Mountains. There is a neat hike called the Hieroglyphic trail -- I couldn't believe how much the sky changed colors in the couple hours we were walking -- reds, blue's, purple's, orange's and yellow's. The sky was like it was being painted by God. His beautiful artwork. On our walk back to the car, the rains began to pour which is apparently one of the 8 times it's rained in Pheonix this year. A rare moment that i'm so thankful for. All of the images are photographed with the iphone 5s -- if you are interested in prints you can send me an email below with the image size you want. I work closely with a great printer and will put in an order right away, sign the image and mail it to you directly.
My dear sweet cousin Karen took me on an adventure of a lifetime last month. I"ve known about Karen my whole life, but only recently have I gotten to actually know her. She is my late Father's first cousin and while he had a relationship with her, I did not. I always felt like we were a lot alike though. I kept hearing stories of Karen traveling the world to see exotic places like Machu Picchu in Peru, climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and seeing the Great White Sharks in South Africa. IT was last fall that we saw each other in India for the first time in years. She mentioned something so special to me at our dinner in India. She said one day she was walking along the beach with my dad in San Deigo and she was asking about all of his kids. He was describing each one of us and said, "Esther, well Esther I think she has my wanderlust'. I had never heard my dad say that. It brought tears to my eyes. My dad loved to travel and saw a lot of the world before he had cancer. I loved coming back from my trips and telling him all the stories I had. I remember when I had just gotten back from Tibet and he was sick, he would be in bed listening, eyes sparkling as I told him about my adventures.
I had always wanted to see the world since I was young girl, but I think I wanted to see it so badly because he would tell me stories about it and take me to see it. I was a toddler when my parents were traveling through The Alps in Europe with me. I loved growing up in a home where we learned about other cultures. We would have french night where he would put on some Edith Piaf music, my mom would cook french food in the kitchen and sometimes it would be accompanied by the family huddling in the living room to watch a french film . Other nights included Indonesian night, dutch night and Indian night. This was very normal in my house. I don't think my parents intentionally thought this would do anything to us. They just really enjoyed other cultures. -- but I know that contributed to me having a desire to travel and see the world.
One of the things i've had on my list to see for YEARS is the Gorillas in Rwanda. I have been to Rwanda multiple times now and never had an opportunity to go. When I met up with Karen at a hotel in New Delhi, India last year she said that she's been wanting to go see the Gorillas with me and wanted to take me to see them. It's something that had been on her list of things to do for years as well! What Karen didn't know about me is that i'm not a talker, but a doer. if I have an idea, I like to get it done. So I immediately invited her to join me for a trip in March. She wasn't able to do that so we settled on a trip in September. I can honestly say that in so many ways it was a dream come true. The hardest part of the day was trekking through the jungle and feeling stinging nettle attacking my legs. It was like they were on fire. I mean you couldn't get away from that stuff. There are only 80 people day that are able to purchase permits to see the Gorillas on the Rwandan side of the National Park. They split everybody up into groups of 6-10 and we then set out on a hike into the Volcano National Park. There is a group of trackers who stay near the each Gorilla family in the forest so they always know their whereabouts and also to protect them from poachers. Our guide talks with them over the radio to know which waywe should hike. After walking for a couple of hours, we had to leave our backpacks under a tree and head into the thick vegetation of the forest. I gave an extra camera and lenses to almost every one of the trackers as we walked from that point. There hands were full! I wanted to have all my options and I wasn't allowed to carry a bag. ha! We walked a short bit and suddenly there they were around us. Mama and the baby at first and then the Daddy Silverback showed up just playing with each other and eating.. Watching them just hang out in the jungle before my eyes was unreal. At one point which you'll see below, the mama started tickling her baby. We were so close to them! Our guides used Gorillas grunts to let them know we were peaceful. I tried to speak Gorilla but failed miserably. I mean by now the Gorillas have to be use to seeing a group of humans for an hour each day. They are still Gorillas though and have instincts to protect their family. I highly recommend to anyone who visits Rwanda to go and see the Gorillas. I am so thankful Karen took me on such an awesome adventure. Once in a lifetime for sure. Now to conquer the next item on my bucketlist......Antarctica?
It felt like a dream.
It’s been four years since I've seen Jean Bosco -- the shy, sturdy boy I met in Murinja Village in 2008 when charity: water funded a well his community. I have traveled to almost 60 countries capturing people’s lives over the years and his story has never left me. One day, he was filling his jerry can with murky brown water and a few days later I rejoiced with his whole village as they drank clean water for the first time. It was then that I realized that I wanted to capture that story around the globe -- the story of change.
I’ve been to Rwanda many times now working on photo stories for various nonprofit organizations. Each time I have visited, I've thought about going back to see Jean Bosco. I wondered if he still lived in the same mud home with his family, I wondered if he still walked for water. I wondered if he still remembered me. This last trip, I had to find answers to my questions.
I drove down the same bumpy road I remembered, but unsure if the driver was headed in the right direction. We met a woman under a tree with three children and I showed her the photos of the 15 year-old Jean Bosco on my phone. She said she knew where he lived and joined us in the van to direct the way. We arrived at the top of a hill and then walked down the narrow pathways lined with banana trees and maize plants. Memories flooded from years ago.
I arrived at his familiar family home, but Jean Bosco wasn’t there. There was a young boy nearby who raced down the hill with his wheel toy to go find him. I waited excitedly and talked with his father and siblings. Even though I was expecting him, when the now 22 year-old Jean Bosco arrived with a yellow jerry can on his shoulders and a huge smile was on his face, I couldn’t believe it. He opened his arms wide and hugged me.
The last time I saw him, he was a boy. Today, he is a man.
We sat in the shade of his childhood home and talked about life. He said he thought I had forgotten about him. I tried my best to explain that I could never forget about him. I told him that prayed for him often and that I had been telling his story to the whole world. I have shared his photo story at almost every conference i’ve spoken at over the past six years. His story has changed the story of so many others by raising money for clean water projects in their villages and helping them go from dirty water to clean water. I also shared with him that his photo was printed in New York and is as tall as his house. He beamed that familiar smile. We talked about what his goals and dreams were and possible ways for him to achieve them.
He was excited to share with me that he is now a father and lives next to parents house with his wife and baby girl, Jean Marie Vianey. “She is beautiful!” I exclaimed. He was very proud.
I didn’t want to leave Murinja that day, but I know I’ll be back. I’ll continue to check in with him in the years to come and stay involved in his life. I am thankful for that day I met him six years ago because it changed the way I photograph people. Jean Bosco’s story made me an advocate for others. It challenged me to not just photograph what is, but also photograph what can be. I saw what a photograph could actually do -- challenge thought and evoke action. Photos can change the way people think and see the world. I’ve come to realize that photographing humanitarian stories isn’t about getting a great shot for a portfolio; it’s about being an advocate for others so lives can continue to be changed! When charity: water provides clean water for a village, it has a profound impact on a community's health and well being. I got to witness this transformation firsthand in Jean Bosco, and it changed me too.
Jean Bosco summer of 2008
I just got back to the states from spending about 3 weeks in beautiful Rwanda.
I've been working with the organization called Africa New Life Ministries for almost 5 years now and I continue to visit them year after year. ANLM was started by Rwandans for Rwandans and now have over 6000 children sponsored to go to school ( I sponsor two of them) and I have built deep friendships with so many because of them.
This trip was extra special.... My friend Natalie led a group of my friends from IF: Gathering along with their daughters.
We went to see the Africa New Life food program and also speak at a women's conference called Scars to Stars where about 1000 women came trekking from villages and the city attend the gathering in Kigali, Rwanda - It was a beautiful night. All the ladies have all been keeping beautiful blogposts about the journey. I encourage you to click the above links and read stories from their perspectives.
My friend Natalie came to me in January and asked me to create a campaign about their Food Program. They wanted to continue feeding kids meals in school everyday but because of the cost of food in Rwanda has increased over the past years, they didn't have the budget to do so anymore. We set out to tell the story in March with my writer, Constance, and my videographer, Jordan Laessig. You wouldn't believe how many kids I sit with, listening to their stories and find out they eat maybe just one meal a day and that might just be some Rice. Even in a beautiful country like Rwanda, jobs are hard to find which makes food hard to buy. It's also very expensive since most of the food in Rwanda is exported. In 2001, Rice costs just $13 and it's now $25 a bag. It becomes more and more expensive each year, and Africa New Life will serve 1.2 Million meals this year! To ensure the best care possible for these kids and the families they serve, they need people like you to partner with the Food Is campaign. Just a few years ago I was working on a story about a woman and I asked to see how much food she had for the week. She filled hands with a handful of maize flour and told me that was all she had. She was so upset about it. My heart went out to them. This is why i'm so thankful for the programs that Africa New Life has created so that children like hers can be fed. EVERY DOLLAR GIVEN IS MATCHED UP TO $50,000! If you are still in doubt, check out the video and stories at:
Robert is one of my favorites. His story inspired me and it inspires many of the boys going to school now. They realize that they can achieve their dreams if they work hard. Robert was my driver to go see the Gorillas in North Rwanda just a few weeks ago. He has gone from herding his uncle's cows and having no hope to running a growing transportation company in Kigali.
Take a moment and read his story