Faces of Sri Lanka

So here’s a second post with a few shots from my recent assignment in Sri Lanka for Outreach International. It was an incredibly beautiful country with lush scenery which sometimes masked some of the poverty I encountered there. Before my visit I wasn’t fully aware of the level of poverty in much of this country and was saddened to hear of  the unrest which has affected so many people. To be honest, I struggled to see how such a friendly people could have serious disagreements with each other, hopefully many of these issues are starting to be resolved.  I forgot to mention in my last blog post that Andy Betts, Director of Communications and Marketing accompanied us on this trip, it was great to be able to work with Andy again.  The highlight of the trip for me was being able to visiti a Tamil displacement camp on the outskirts of Puttalam where I saw 2,000 muslim children who now have access to clean drinking water at the school, thanks to the work of Outreach International within the community.  Hopefully, some of my photos from the trip will find their way onto Outreach International’s website and I’d encourage you to regularly head over to their site to keep updated on their work.

I hope you enjoy the photos and get a feel for the amazing people of Sri Lanka.

All photos by Wayne Rowe / Visioning Images

Sri Lanka – A Trip of Two Halves

I was looking forward to this particular assignment in Sri Lanka for Outreach International, firstly because my wife Linda was accompanying me on this trip and secondly we were going to tag a week’s holiday onto the end, hence the title of this blog post ‘A Trip of Two Halves’. It was so good to have Linda with me, partly as it meant she could see some of the amazing things I am privileged to experience with my work but also because she could help me record some of the information gathered from the field. The first week was spent around Puttalam on the western coast of the country, visiting three different communities where Outreach International have been working. To be honest, I didn’t know too much about their work in this particular place before I went but I was amazed at how much had been achieved in such a short period of time.  As always, the highlights of the week were meeting some of the individuals who have participated in and benefited from their work of pulling themselves out of poverty.

Here are a few photos from that first week, more will follow soon.

After our time in the communities around Puttalam we travelled south to a small coastal town of Hikkaduwa near Galle for a relaxing few days. In many ways it was difficult to reconcile the two aspects of the trip, the first being spent amongst the poor, listening to their stories and seeing the conditions of their difficult lives whereas the second week we were at a comparatively luxurious location, living a life that those people we met only a few days before could only dream of. It was however, an opportunity to see more of this gorgeous country and meet some other Sri Lankans.We decided to travel south just as the locals would…by train. It was certainly an experience but it was well worth the extra time it took. The train journey itself took over 3 hours and cost us a whopping £1 each!! Okay, the train was basic and we definitely wanted to stay clear of the so-called toilets but it cruised just a few metres away from the coastline enabling us to take in some fantastic views. If anyone is planning on going to Sri Lanka I would seriously recommend using the trains. There’s not much else to say about the second week as we spent the vast majority of the time relaxing beside a pool except for the day we headed out in a tuk-tuk to Galle and some surrounding sites. We certainly relaxed and enjoyed some wonderful Sri Lankan hospitality, hopefully it won’t be too long before we can return to Sri Lanka.

I purposefully didn’t take too many photos that second week but I couldn’t resist firing a few shots on the train and also the stilt fisherman and Japanese Buddhist Temple around Galle.

Humanitarian photography by Wayne Rowe / Visioning Images

 

Haiti – through my lens

It’s so easy for photographers such as myself as well as other journalists, to swoop into a country, stay for a week or two and come away pretending we are experts on what we’ve seen. Yet there are so many factors contributing to a countries culture and circumstances that it takes years to even start to have the breadth of understanding to be a credible authority on such things. So, I think we have to be very careful about what we report and make sure that the reader comprehends the limited exposure and understanding we have on the subject. That said, I also feel it’s important to inform people of what we’ve experienced even though it’s through our lens, how we saw it. So it’s with that proviso that I share about my recent visit to Haiti.

I first visited Haiti back in March last year, soon after the earthquake hit the capital city of Port-au-Prince, devastating the whole region on a scale rarely seen before. UN officials stated that it was the worst disaster they’d ever had to confront. I’ve already documented here on my blog some of what I experienced during that trip but suffice to say I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. From the moment I walked off the plane and entered the cataclysmic area of Port-au-Prince it seemed as though I’d entered a war zone, all of my senses felt as though they’d been hit by a bowling ball at 100mph and I came away thinking that there’s no way this country is ever going to get back on its feet again, the task was too great.

In the few months leading up to my recent trip to Haiti the news agencies seemed to be reporting that there had been very few improvements since the earthquake hit last year. So although I went out there hoping to see improvements, in reality I wasn’t expecting many. However, what I saw didn’t align with the reports I’d heard from the news channels. When I first visited Port-au-Prince it was extremely difficult to get to places by car as many of the roads had rubble restricting access but this time I hardly saw any rubble on the roads at all, if only 10% of the debris has been cleared (which some organisations are quoting) then they must be hiding it somewhere. One of the more difficult situations I found last time was the amount of people begging for food and water yet this time not one person approached me for this type of assistance. Previously, there were only a handful of children in the temporary schools which had been assembled but this time these schools were full of children engaging in their lessons. I sensed a feeling of optimism from the people I met and  I hesitate to say this but it seemed as though things were getting back to normal. But let me make things perfectly clear here, ‘normal’ for the people of Haiti is not as many of us in affluent countries would consider normal and I certainly don’t want to give the impression that everything is fine now in Haiti and that they no longer need any assistance as that also couldn’t be further from the truth. We need to remember that even prior to the earthquake Haiti was the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with 80% of the population living in poverty (earning less than $2 per day).

Before leaving for Haiti this time around I heard many comments along the lines of “what has happened to all the money we’ve given and where are the results of that giving?”. Well, from what I saw the money has been going to ensure basic needs are met, providing food, water, shelter and treating the cholera outbreak. I travelled to Haiti on behalf of Outreach International and visited numerous schools where temporary classrooms have been provided along with educational resources, enabling the children to continue with their all important education. I met one visionary teacher who fervently believed that education is the answer to Haiti’s problems, he said “students from this school have gone on to become nurses, engineers, teachers and have studied at university, they are the future of Haiti, they will lead us out of poverty”. Hearing words like this gives me hope that they are on the right track but I know that we’ve got to continue in assisting them in whatever way we can. Many residents of Port-au-Prince are still living in tent communities and are suffering from the lack of security. Cholera continues to spread around the country, UN officials told me that this disease still hasn’t peaked yet. Turmoil surrounds the governmental election process resulting in protests and uncertainty over the leadership of the country. These problems and many more continue to hinder the country from healing yet I returned from Haiti with an optimism that things will get better.

I know I may sound like a stuck record but I want to mention the workers on the ground in Haiti, those people who are living the relief effort day in, day out; these are the ones that are also having a huge impact on the future of Haiti. I had the privilege of visiting various communities alongside Mary Jo, Ellis, Alex and Erick, all workers for Outreach International, I simply couldn’t do what they do and I’m so grateful for their dedication and expertise.

I’m not sure when I’ll next get to visit Haiti again but until I do, I’ll continue to remember them and support them in whatever way I can. I encourage you to do the same.

Children happily playing at school in Cote Plage, Carrefour

Students preparing for their final exams in July (Cote Plage, Carrefour)

Student in school at Cite Soleil

Kindergarten class in Cite Soleil

Children enjoying a nutritious meal through the school’s feeding program at DeMichel

1 year anniversary of the earthquake – people continue to hurt

Photos by Wayne Rowe / Visioning Images

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