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An Indian motherA mother in a village served by the Eko/- finance system peeks past her house to look at the commotion we were causing. Once I began taking photos in the village, all of the children of the town rushed to us, this lady’s sons included.

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I am currently exhibiting in the UTS Tower gallery, with BUiLD, and I have a spread in the latest issue of Vertigo (see pages 22-23).  These are all photos from my trips to India and Sri Lanka.  If you can, check it out, some of the prints in the UTS exhibition are massive (A0 size), so you can really experience them!  Let me know what you think.

My Vertigo spread "South Asia through the lens"

Click through for the PDF of the issue of Vertigo!

Since the beginning of  February, after spending the summer in Sri Lanka and India, I have been living in Copenhagen, and studying at the University of Copehnagen, Denmark, on exchange.

Finding home

When I arrived, in clothes more appropriate to Goa than to Scandinavia, I immediately caught a train to the city and wandered around, somewhat uselessly, trying to find my Kollegium (residential college).  I found the cool new modern one – Tietgen – I found the university’s main campus, I seemed to find anything but my place.  Finally, giving up, I jumped into a cab, who could at least  ask strangers in Danish where we were going.

So, the sun was beginning to set on this beautifully Baltic day and I arrived at my college … only to find that my residential contract didn’t start for a few days yet!  I dropped my bags off at the rooms of some random, but awesome, American mates I made on my way to the College, and, in a panic, I called Sarah, my awesome friend from Australia, who would also be my roommate in college.

She told me of a “Generator Hostel” in town which had a few rooms to spare, and off I was!  A bit of negotiation with the lady at the front desk and I was put in a 6 bed dorm that was empty, a private room for a fraction of the price!

A few days later, after the contract started, after a tour around the college by this massive creeper of an Argus Filch type character – our college’s caretaker, I got to see my room.

When you walk in the door, there is an awesome modern kitchen/living area filled with top class appliances and wonderful things.  Everything built-in seems to be great quality.  Everything that is replaceable seems to be Ikea.  There is lots of light, and the place looks really promising!

My room is a little spartan, a snug single bed, a small desk and a dresser, that is it.  No ceiling lights, just a lamp – quite dark, but quite big.  Good enough for me, especially after my time in the subcontinent.  One thing though, the lack of light has me studying much more in the common areas than in my room.

My roommates are spectacular:

  • Sarah – my awesome friend from Australia
  • Paul – a tank American both from New Jersey and Texas
  • Nanna – a Signalhuset veteran who is Danish

We cook and eat and party together, and we are a really great bunch!

The University

University of Copenhagen

Image via Wikipedia

I am a student at Copenhagen University, an old university built right into the centre of the city.  Where UTS has it’s ’70’s brutalist tower, CPH U has its more than 100 year old buildings, and annexes where we study.

This semester I am studying three subjects, each taught in a seminar style (do lots of readings before class, discuss and apply them in class – no “lecture” to give you all the info if you are lazy).

The first is World Trade Organisation, easily my favorite class so far.  The professor has practical experience in the WTO, and is extremely dynamic and inspiring.  WTO law is different to most international law – its cases make it exciting! And, the cherry on top, each week we moot the case we read, giving us an even greater insight into the reasoning and judgments.

The second class is States of Emergency, Emergency Powers and Liberal Democracy.  This class is intense – three hour lectures after reading approximately 150 pages a week, each week dealing with many models and at least a few examples of the application of these models.  Although it is quite a hectic subject, it is also extremely fascinating.

Finally, I also study Rights of the Child in International Law.  This class, like most basic international law classes, is quite obtuse.  It teaches us why we have the conventions we do, how people are still breaching them, and why we can’t do anything about it.  It is a little depressing and filled with cultural relativism, but I hope that once we got onto the topics that have been litigated – namely Child Soldiers, that the subject will improve.

I’ll keep you all posted!

My time in India

oatsandsugar —  February 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

I spent the month of January this year in India, hopping around trying to learn as much as I can.

I spent a bit of time in Chennai with OfERR, one of Palmera Projects’ partner in Sri Lanka, to visit their head office and view some of their projects.  I jumped over to Bangalore to visit my lovely friend Douglas and tail him to a few lectures in the National Law School in Bangalore (the “NLS”).  Whilst there, I learned from Douglas a little bit about the fascinating world of Indian Constitutional Law, and I had the opportunity to interview a lovely professor about the impacts of the Indian Micro finance Bill, which I will be publishing on this site very soon.  After that, it was off to New Dehli, where I met up with the people from Eko/- phone banking.  I saw some of their projects and interviewed some of their people: I will be publishing a full write-up about their system as soon as I can.

Finally, I head to Hyderabad with some people from my university to participate in the UTS-ISB (University of Technology, Sydney and Indian School of Business) study tour.  We had professors from throughout the uni deliver us hand-picked lectures, we went to whatever classes we thought sounded cool and we had visits at some of the premier businesses in India.  This isn’t at all to mention the awesome people we met – our roommates, our classmates – and the awesome stuff we did outside of class – partying mainly.  We headed to Goa to check out a new social venture called “Culture Aangan” – it was an amazing trip.

I am going to write-up a few articles about some of the most significant stuff I learned on my trip, but until then, here’s a little teaser: my India trip in photos.

Chennai

Solar lantern

OfERR's solar lanterns for refugee students

Chennai Licquor

A pub in Chennai

Temple sounds

Temple musicians

Bangalore

Jessica and Douglas

My friends Jessica and Douglas

Hijras in Bangalore

Hijras in Bangalore

Sunset at the Hanuman temple

Sunset at the Hanuman temple

New Dehli

Mister Charles

Mister Charles of Eko/-

A village mother

A lady in a village where an eko/- branch recently opened

The owner of the Connought Pl. branch

The owner of the eko/- branch at Connought Pl.


Hyderabad

Tea and awesome

Tea drinkers at Charminar

The group!

UTS-ISB crew

Cracking open a coconut

Cracking open a coconut at culture Aangan

boy

A boy in his village

After Mannar, the rest of my trip was less formally related to Palmera Projects’ work in Sri Lanka.  Here is the rest of my trip, in photos:

Trincomalee

Beneficiary in her mill

A beneficiary of an OfERR rice mill working

Lighting the Chanukiah

Lighting the Chanukiah in the village

Siriyungal!

Siriyungal (A girl who lives in Mutthur who I met last year)

Oh! the Places You'll go

Oh! the Places You'll go

Jaffna

My wonderful Jaffna Tour Guide, thanks Shams!

My wonderful Jaffna Tour Guide, thanks Shams!

singer in Jaffna Town

A singer and actor (he's famous, he told me, seriously) in Jaffna Town

Fly a kite in mum's carrot field

Fly a kite in mum's carrot field

Small-scale carrot farming in Jaffna

Small-scale carrot farming in Jaffna

Colombo

Temple mural

Mural of the Buddha coming to Sri Lanka

Man watching parade

Man watching a Buddhist festival parade

Crossdressing dancer

Crossdressing dancer

Dancer #2

A blue peacock dancer!

Devil Dance

Devil Dance

Yesterday’s work was quite draining, and I got back to the hotel room exhausted. Before I could even have dinner, I collapsed onto my bed and was asleep within minutes. It was only about seven in the evening. I woke up the next morning at about eight: I guess it turned out that I really needed that sleep. As soon as I woke, I ordered a milk tea (or, as it should more appropriately be called, a glass of sugar with a spot of tea and milk in it) which is more effective than Red Bull at keeping my eyes open. Then I started to write all the stories from the day before, and all the progress reports that were to be written.

About four thousand words later, I hear a knock on my door. I am still in my pyjamas. It was my friend from Colombo here to pick me up. It was eleven in the morning. Time flies when writing!

A quick, maybe 5 minute motorbike ride and I am at the office. I eat my usual Mannar breakfast: slightly stale bread and coconut sambal, and then its back to work. More writing. Lots of photo editing (I had to get from about 1300 photos down to less than a hundred, and edit those 100 photos), a touch of video editing. In a blink, everyone had left the office for lunch. Having just eaten breakfast, I kept editing and writing.

When the crew came back from their lunch, I had a few meetings planned, so I had to tear myself away from the keyboard and monitor and get questioning.

My first meeting was with OfERR (Ceylon)’s Mannar Office general council, the absolutely lovely Ms S. Sivalingam. She sat opposite my desk in her pink sari and her long, platted black hair that was frizzy at its ends (made me think it had never been cut) and asked what I wanted. I asked her to try to explain to me the land title system (woohoo, Real Property!) of Sri Lanka and its implications for our Mannar projects.

The Bore Well and Toilets were on the private land of the beneficiary (who had their interests registered [thank you Ms Dorsett]); their interest was protected. The Rice mill was a little more complex: it was on the commons, but had been granted to the local Women’s Rural Development Service (WRDS) by the local Assistant Government Agent (AGA) and Environmental Agency. They had title over the land, and, thus, as beneficiaries of our Mill, our project was safe.

Afterwards, Ms Sivalingam and I chatted about Sri Lanka’s Legal system – it turns out she is an active barrister! She invited me to see one of her cases (which, thankfully, are mostly in English) when I next come to Mannar. How exciting!

I had my lunch at about three in the afternoon (plastic bag of rice and curry, two plastic bags accompanying, “gravy” and “soup”) and began to type again.

The rest of my afternoon was spent planning the rest of my Sri Lanka trip (prospective itinerary goes something like Mannar to Kilinochchi to Mannar to Jaffna to Mannar to Vavunia to Trincomalee back to Colombo). It seemed that I needed to travel all over the country a bit, but that was fine, because even the horrible bus rides are exciting!

Sri Lanka Travel Map

My proposed traipse through Sri Lanka

I also planned to meet with a few other Australian volunteers from different organisations (Diaspora Lanka, Empower, and more) and I am excited to meet Jeremy, Shanil and Shyamika over the course of my trip!

By this time, it was ridiculously late (almost midnight), and the videos I was trying to upload were still uploading, so I left my laptop in the office, hopped on the motorbike and got back home to my lovely hotel room.

Since today was almost solely an office day, and, thus, there weren’t any photos, here are a few of my photos from the last couple of days that didn’t fit into the stories I was telling, but I still loved.

A gang of schoolchildren with their Unicef Backpacks

A gang of schoolchildren with their Unicef Backpacks

The son of a beneficiary outside his house (2)

The son of a beneficiary outside his house

A water-lilly in a pond supplying water to the paddy fields

A water-lilly in a pond supplying water to the paddy fields

A strange oasis in the rice field

A strange oasis in the rice field

Out trishaw driver "Driver Master"

Out trishaw driver "Driver Master"

A soldier (shot this photo so he would let me through his checkpoint -- a vanity bribe)

A soldier at a checkpoint who didn't want to let me through until he saw my camera and asked me to take a new "Facebook Name Picture" for him - a vanity bribe

A kid resting in his field

A kid resting in his field

The road home, over the bridge and on to Mannar island

Mannar Causeway

English lessons

English lessons

A cute baby in the village we are building a bore well in

A cute baby in the village we are building a bore well in

A man in Nedunkandal

A man in Nedunkandal

A boy and his akka

A boy and his akka

 

A beautiful flower in a beneficiary's garden

A beautiful flower in a beneficiary's garden

A kid who is getting access to fresh water through our bore well project

A kid who is getting access to fresh water through our bore well project

A boy and his father in the village where our well is being built

A boy and his father in the village where our well is being built

The orphan nephew of one of our beneficiaries (3)

The orphan nephew of one of our beneficiaries of the toilet construction project

The morning commute

The morning commute

1 month, 7 cities

1 month, 7 cities

In my university break (July 2011) I went to Sri Lanka.  With the help of Palmera Projects I was able to volunteer my time with a local charitable organisation called OfERR (Ceylon).  During my stay in Sri Lanka, I volunteered in the head office in Colombo, where I applied wrote a report on how the charity might use social media to increase exposure and interact more with interested persons.  Then, my sister came to visit from Germany, and we toured around the country, visiting Trincomalee, Jaffna, Sigiriya and Kandy, taking in as much of the country as possible.  After my sister left, I went to the Trincomalee field office to get as much information about the projects there as possible, focusing on the rice mill, which Palmera is currently seeking to replicate in Mannar.  Finally, I made it to Mannar to see the site of the proposed rice mill, and met the people from the village (including the priest, the government officer and the potential beneficiaries of the project).

Colombo

Meeting Mr. Chandrahasan, working on OfERR’s web-presence in their Sri Lanka Head-Office

Mr Chandrahasan, Ms Navamohona and Mr Perinbanayakam at the Colombo Head Office

Mr Chandrahasan, Ms Navamohona and Mr Perinbanayakam at the Colombo Head Office

Before my trip, I had read “The Cage” by Gordon Weiss to get a little bit of context about the country I was coming to.  To say that the book was eye-opening, as well as horrific, is an understatement.  I came to Sri Lanka  expecting desolation and hopelessness.  What I found was something else entirely.

Hours after I arrived in Colombo, definitely before I checked in to the hotel, I was able to meet with Mr. Chandrahasan, the son of a major Tamil politician, the founder of OfERR and quite possible one of the most inspirational people I have ever met.  Within minutes, he had interviewed me and ascertained my skills (photography, economics, general nerdiness) and had told me what I can do to help.  He reminded me that the reality in The Cage was real, but what the displaced persons were doing now was searching for hope, not pity, and that it was our job to empower them and to allow them to grow, to recover.  This was to be a recurring theme in my trip, a hopefulness beyond anything I had ever seen.

I spent the rest of the week working with the head-office trying to work out how the charity worked (it seemed more like a family than any other type of organisation), figuring out how the Trincomalee rice mill was going, and how progress is going on the Mannar rice mill.  Further, I wrote a little report about how OfERR could use the web to their advantage (I am pleased to say that my recommendations are being implemented, with OfERR already having a Twitter and a Flickr account to help show the world what they do).

My sister’s visit

Travelling around Sri Lanka: to Trincomalee, Jaffna, Sigiriya and Kandy

My sister and I in a Jaffna Ice-Cream Parlour

My sister and I in a Jaffna Ice-Cream Parlour

Although my trip was mostly a volunteering trip, I did traipse around the country as a tourist with my sister: snorkelling in Trincomalee, climbing Sigiriya rock, exploring markets and temples in Kandy and playing with baby elephants in a cute temple we found in Colombo.

We did go one place where tourists don’t usually go: Jaffna.  After a 10 hour bus ride (not a coach, a dodgy, doors/windows open crowded bus) and a 20 something minute interview with the Ministry of Defense (I think the captain was just practicing his English, he was chatting to me about the fruit he grew in his garden whilst the bus was waiting) we made it to Jaffna.  Awesome food! There is this stuff called “cool” which is this delicious and spicy seafood concoction which I definitely recommend.  We went to the giant, magnificent and colourful temple.  But the most special thing we did, in my opinion, was visit Mr Chandrahasan’s father’s home.  After thirty years, his land was returned to his family, and now the land was being rebuilt.  It was very inspiring.

Trincomalee with OfERR (Ceylon)

One of the girls at the Batik Dyeing Centre

One of the girls at the Batik Dyeing Centre

After my sister left, I went back to Trincomalee to more closely look at the projects that OfERR was involved with.  I saw livelihood projects like the Batik Dyeing Centre which employed young girls who would otherwise have no jobs.  I saw a weaving vocational training program.  I saw so many projects that everywhere I looked I saw smiles, and hope.  I saw schools that were filled with smiling children, I saw OfERR’s documentation program get documents to displaced persons, to allow them to work legally and to get their children educated.

What a smile!

A girl with a magical smile comes home from school to the IDP camp in Mutthur

Sadly, I also saw some IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, specifically, four camps in the area south of Trincomalee.  This camps were filled with people struggling to find employment, and reliant on WFP food handouts.  There were people my age, there, there were people younger.

One of the most inspirational things I saw on my trip, however, was the rice mill in Trincomalee and the attached savings clubs.  With OfERR’s help (in Trincomalee, and with Palmera’s help in Mannar) a rice mill was established, and was run by women — mostly widows.  The mill reduced costs for those who made money through paddy cultivation, saved time for people in the community (who would otherwise have to carry rice to a town almost 10 km away, and spend the day milling their rice) and provide a source of income for the women in the community (both for charging for milling, and from selling the husk and bran by-products of the milling process).

The Rice Mill

The rice mill: The benificiaries places flowers on the rice mill as if they were offerings on a shrine

In the first year, the mill broke even, by the second year, because of decreasing repair costs they made a profit.  This profit was enough for them to purchase a rice flour grinder, a chilli grinder and packaging equipment: all of which add value and revenue to the milling facility, and all of which are a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of the women who run the mill.

The machinist operating the rice-mill

The machinist (the son of one of the "Savings-club" women) operating the rice-mill

The women all had home gardens.  Within two years of moving back into the land they had been displaced from, each family had a lush garden which provided them with enough food for the year.  Each family had cows, chickens and goats, where two years ago there were only 8 cows in the whole village (of more than 40 families).  The savings clubs (where each woman saves 20-100 rupees a month) allowed the families to take out loans to buy paddy seed, to rent paddy land, to buy sewing machines and to supplement their livelihood through entrauprenership: the empowerment that Mr. Chandrahasan spoke of was evident: this was definitely a model to be emulated.

A benificiary in front of her home garden in a villiage by Trincomalee

A benificiary in front of her home garden in a villiage by Trincomalee

Mannar

Meeting the villagers and prospective benificiaries of the Palmera rice-mill project

A massive bus journey over bumpy non-roads, and a couple of checkpoints later, I was in Mannar.  The villages surrounding this city were only recently resettled, and the conditions were much worse than in Trincomalee.  Young people complained of only being able to work 4-6 days a month, there was no electricity or running water, this area was in need.

The priest, the government officer, and I, outside the church

The priest, the government officer, and I, outside the village church

Again, Sri Lanka managed to surprise me: where I expected these conditions to bear down on the spirit of the affected persons, and where I expected these conditions to compromise the quality of life of the people, especially the children, I was wrong.  The people there were optimistic.  The children were schooled (there was even pre schooling facilities).  When I spoke to the villagers about the rice mill, they showed the same entrepreneurial spark: they spoke of ideas for the future: grinding herbs, storing paddy and chilling milk.  It was absolutely inspiring to be sitting on the floor in front of the church with people with such hope.  For the first time in years, they had there land back, and they were all so hopeful for the future.

The benificiaries (the local agricultural society) of the future rice mill

The benificiaries (the local agricultural society) of the future rice mill

Thanks

I would like to thank Palmera Projects and OfERR (Ceylon) for the most wonderful opportunity.  I hope to be back in Sri Lanka as soon as possible to continue my work (December!).  For more photos, check out my two Flickr sets from my trip: Part 1 and Part 2.