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Connected.

131207 Beyond The Wire (Tom Perry) 1793If things have seemed a bit quiet on here for the past while, it’s not because I’ve been sitting on my hands. A few months back I joined the team CARE Australia.

For much of the first part of this year, however, I was working on a project for the World Bank to tell the story of their work to help connect the Pacific Islands.

131207 Beyond The Wire (Tom Perry) 1798To call this work revolutionary may sound like a bit of hyperbole, but it’s not far off. This is the most dispersed, most disaster-prone region on the planet. Imagine you live on a tiny island in northern Vanuatu, hundreds of kilometers from anywhere else. For years you’ve been virtually cut off, and then almost overnight, you have mobile phone reception, can afford to buy a phone, and you are now texting friends on the other side of the country.

Likewise, imagine you are a nurse in Tonga, working from a clinic in the remote north of the country. You rely on an oft-disconnected landline to order new supplies from the capital, and beyond providing basic care and medicines, you are fairly limited in the support you can provide to the thousands of people that rely on your clinic. Suddenly, hi-speed internet arrives, you can order new medicines straight away, and can have internationally-trained surgeons providing live-feed consultations to your patients.

These are the types of stories I’ve been lucky enough to help tell, which have culminated in Beyond The Wire, a film about how technology is changing lives in the Pacific.

If you do like Beyond The Wire, you can see some photos from the shoot, and I’d encourage you to check out the work of Rachael Patching, Ollie Lucks and Laura Keenan, the other hard-working members of the team that made this film happen. Behind-the-scenes, this film was one of those rare jobs where everything – planning, scripting, shooting and post – all worked beautifully. But that didn’t happen by accident; it happened through hard work by a great team with shared ideas, skills and a commitment to make a something good.

I hope you like it. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Tangio tumas

Students from San Isidro Care Centre sign 'tangio tumas' (thank you) to all those who have supported the Centre by purchasing a copy of 'SOLO: life in the Solomon Islands'

Students and staff from San Isidro Care Centre sign ‘tangio tumas’ (thank you) to all those who have supported the Centre by purchasing a copy of ‘SOLO

About a year ago, I put out a book called SOLO: life in the Solomon Islands. Publishing SOLO gave me a chance to pull together some of my photos from the 900+ islands of the Solomons, and to create what I hoped would be a positive collection of images of the country I’d called home for three years.

Students from San Isidro see their photos in 'SOLO'

San Isidro students checking themselves out in print

More importantly, the book was a good excuse to help raise a bit of money for the San Isidro Care Centre, a small school in Aruligo, on the north-west coast of Guadalcanal, which is home for around a hundred young Solomon Islanders, primarily from the deaf community.

Hearing and speech impairments are higher in the Solomons due to the prevalence of malaria. Being unable to communicate means that many kids find themselves struggling to be part of their communities and families. San Isidro Care Centre provides a home, a school and a place to come together for the country’s large deaf community. It also provides sign language training for families and friends, helping to break down life-long communication barriers. In short: it’s a very inspiring place.

The good news is the response to SOLO was sensational. We’ve now sold more than 1000 copies, and raised nearly AUD$3000 for the kids at San Isidro.

San Isidro will soon have 24-hour running water, thanks to your support.

San Isidro will soon have 24-hour running water, thanks to your support.

A year after I left the Solomons, I finally had the chance to return this month to catch up with old friends, and return to San Isidro to deliver the profits from SOLO. The money will be used to purchase a new – and much-needed – water pump, meaning the Centre will now have access to water 24-hours a day, and students will no longer have to make the nightly trek to the nearest river, buckets in hand, just to access clean water.

From third year student Lisa Meery: “washing, showering, cooking – this will make a big difference for us, every day. From all of the students here: a big thank you to everyone who supported the book. It means so much to us.”

As Lisa said, an almighty tangio tumas (‘thank you’ in Solomons pidgin) from me and from the students and staff at San Isidro, to all of those who purchased a copy of SOLO and helped let people know about it.

Tangio tumas!

Tangio tumas!

You’ve done a genuinely great thing, supporting a wonderful place and some special young Solomon Islanders.

Three years on an island

A little over three years ago, I was given what I now understand was a sort of Golden Ticket to an extraordinary experience. Taking a job in the Solomon Islands, a country I knew very little about – beyond the fact that it was north of Australia, and that the Australian and New Zealand military and police had gone in a few years earlier – felt like a scary step, a complete unknown.

My initial few days were hardly the perfect start. Out on a police patrol boat within six hours of being in the country, I was involved in a rescue of 13 people, whose fibreglass boat had sunk in rough seas. Thankfully, all survived, but the faces of those freezing, terrified children is something that still makes me wince whenever I think of that bizarre first afternoon in the Solomons.

And a few days later back in the capital Honiara, I was checking out the shops in my new town, and was put in a headlock by a spakamasta (the pidgin word for a drunk), whose equally-spaka mate then tried to take my wallet. While I pushed them off and got away, it was a bizarre entrance to a country that I was supposed to be calling my home for the next 12 months.

In the end… I’ve stayed in the Solomons for three years, two years longer than I’d planned. Maybe this is the point where those wiser than I will talk about ‘baptism by fire’, etc and talk about the symbolism of those tough first few days. Who knows. All I know is that while that headlock was definitely not a reflection on the warmth and generosity of Solomon Islanders, the rescue of those 13 people was definitely a reflection on the adventure that would lay ahead.

And these past three years have been a pretty extraordinary existence. I worked for two and a half years as the on-staff journalist/photographer for the Australian-led peacekeeping/aid mission known as the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The job gave me the chance to travel to some of the most remote parts of the Solomons, and throughout the Pacific: to Samoa, Vanuatu and Kiribati, countries I knew almost nothing about.

Early on I came to realise just how special the opportunity in front of me was. The Solomon Islands are, in many ways, a photographer’s dream. It is beautiful, it’s incredibly diverse, and it is completely unexplored. There are thousands and thousands of stories just waiting to be told. As a result, I’ve carried my camera every day, nearly everywhere I’ve gone, for three years. During these three years I’ve seen some extraordinary things, some truly stunning places, and met some inspiring, genuinely unique people. And (the key reason for somewhat self-indulgent blog post), I’ve been able to photograph a lot of this stuff too.

The result? It’s called SOLO: life in the Solomon Islands.

It is my first book, a 68-page book of my photographs that document of life in the ‘modern’ Solomon Islands, the country that I’ve called home for the past three years. In SOLO I’ve tried to showcase the Solomon Islands that I’ve seen and come to know: as much a tropical paradise in the South Pacific as a country with more than its fair share of problems, where the balance between kastom (tradition) and the realities of modern life often do not sit well together.

Be sure to take a look at the PDF sample (2.2MB) to get a sense of the book, and if you’re keen to get hold of a copy, head on over to PayPal to order a copy and I’ll get it over to you quick-smart.

For those who are keen, there’s also a Facebook page where you can leave your comments, suggestions and ideas for Solomon Islands photography. Or if you’ve got any comments, feel free to leave them below.

So whether you’ve lived in the Solomons your whole life or are just looking to discover a bit more about a special part of the South Pacific, I do really hope you enjoy SOLO, as I can promise you that putting it together has been a pretty wild adventure.

‘Voluntourism’

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Call me a cynic, but – like most people – it takes a special kind of ad campaign to have much of an impact on me these days. So when a friend sent me a link to the When children become tourist attractions campaign put together by Cambodian NGO Friends International, and it had an immediate, lasting impact, I realised it had struck a nerve.

The campaign essentially encourages tourists to Cambodia to think twice before ‘helping out at an orphanage’. As the campaign helps inform, the reality is that in most cases, a ‘voluntourist’ is going to be of limited value to the organisation they are supporting, and more importantly in the case of orphanages, may actually have a detrimental impact on many of the kids they are there to help.

For me, one of the reasons the campaign hit home is because I’ve been that guy. So have many of my friends. We’ve been on a gap year / sabbatical / year off – and thought, “I’d really like to do something helpful, something that will help others” and turned up for a week or two thinking I can make a difference. And the reality is that voluntourism is now big business, with many people forking out thousands of dollars for the chance to build housing, teach English, or help out at an orphanage in a developing country.

With that in mind, for Get Lost mag‘s ‘Responsible Tourism’ section I decided to take a bit of a look at voluntourism, its impacts – and suggest some potentially more helpful alternatives. Have a read and let me know what you think.

(Image courtesy Friends International)