Help support photojournalism at one of the very few truly independent journalism organizations!

For those of you who are already readers of the Global Press Institute’s news wire, or who have read our reporters’ stories on outlets who syndicate our work like the BBC, Reuters or on NPR, you know that the women reporters of GPI, highly trained local reporters in 26 developing countries around the world, are doing nothing less than changing the face of the news that is coming out of their communities and their countries.

As I wrote in my last post, GPI is committed to being a platform for independent, community-based journalism created by highly trained reporters, but as a non-profit, that isn’t always easy and has meant at times turning down money from companies that expressed interest in having a say over the content of our reporting, something we won’t allow.

Now we are hard at work bringing photojournalism training and cameras to our news desks so we can provide our more than 5 million readers a month high level photography to accompany our reporters powerful stories, and we need your help.

Aliya Bashir, one of our reporters in Kashmir, did an in-depth story on the high rate of infant deaths at a local hospital, over 500 infant fatalities during a 6 month period.  Her story, in part due to her powerful photography, moved many to action included those who stepped up within days to donate new incubators and equipment to the hospital, and it spurred a government investigation.

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by Aliya Bashir, Mother and Grandmother mourning an infant who died at the local hospital

Sri Lankan GPI reporter Anuradha Gunarathne completed the photojournalism training with me just last month and took her new skills down to cover the deaths of 50 fisherman and the impact on their families from a powerful storm on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka.

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by Anuradha Gunarathne – A death notice hangs on a wall, a Sri Lankan tradition to inform the community of a death.

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by Anuradha Gunarathne – Sriyani Fonseka, 35, sits with her three children in front of their rented house in Dehiwala, a village on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. Her husband died while fishing during the June 8 storm.

Your support of our Kickstarter campaign, to provide this photojournalism training and bring cameras to reporters at 10 more GPI news desks will enable dozens more women photojournalists to be able to cover important stories like these.    Their words and now their pictures are doing no less than changing the balance and the quality of the news that the world gets from these countries.

Please join us today!   We are down to the last 5 days of our Kickstarter campaign and very much appreciate your support, both donating and sharing this campaign with your friends and on your social media networks. $100 will provide the photojournalism class and a year of visual mentorship to one of our journalists!  $1000 pays for all reporters at one of our news desks to receive the photo training and mentorship, and makes the donor a sponsor of that desk’s photo program!   Every donation helps towards these goals!

Together we can train and support these 135 women photojournalists around the world.   We will also be creating a photography book telling the story of GPI,  as well as a portrait exhibit of all of our reporters so that people can see the powerful network of women journalists who make the Global Press Institute what it is and who work fearlessly and tirelessly everyday to bring the world stories from their communities that would otherwise go untold.

Sparking a passion for photography among GPI reporters in Sri Lanka – and their first photo essay!

My work with the Global Press Institute, as the photojournalism trainer and photo editor, continues to be extremely rewarding as I get to see that spark of excitement in the  reporters as they start to see the power of a strong photograph, and then the thrill when they take an image that captures what they have intended.   Having just returned from another training, this time at our news desk in Sri Lanka, I am filled with much gratitude for the experience and with excitement from watching our reporters develop an understanding of and passion for photography and how it can bring greater impact to their stories.

Manori having fun as we experimented with shutter speeds

Manori having fun as we experimented with shutter speeds

I had a feeling from the start, as soon as I met Cristi and I pitched her the idea of this photography project, that this had the potential to be transformative, for GPI but also for me.  It is a privilege to get to bring another tool, visually storytelling, to these 135 talented journalists working in 26 countries across the developing world.  Perhaps what has taken me by surprise the most is how it has touched me on a personal level to connect with so many brilliant, brave and fun women around the world.   I count myself fortunate that with every training I come away with such amazing new friends, women who inspire me, challenge me and renew my faith in the role of authentic journalism to change the world.


The brilliant reporters of the GPI Sri Lanka news desk


Kumala, a GPI reporter in Sri Lanka

One of the greatest learning opportunities for me has been sitting in on the editorial meetings we have at each desk and listening as the reporters pitch their stories and have discussions with each other about the various aspects of the stories and the issues they face in their country.    I come away with a much better understanding of their communities through the insightful and often vigorous discussions they have around story ideas.  This illustrates one reason why the GPI model works so well, because no outsider would know about half of these things, or have the contacts they have to try to get information to flush these stories out.

It has also been exciting and gratifying to have such an enthusiastic response from the world-class women photographers I have reached out to help me with this project.  I have a list of photographers whose work I very much admire ready to go teach a training when we find one that works with their schedules and when we hopefully get the funding we need from the Kickstarter campaign!  Newspace Center for Photography and Pro Photo supply sponsored a great event for our project in Portland last week, and photographer Joni Kabana spoke about her experience teaching the class to our reporters in Argentina last month.   She came away with a profound appreciation for the importance of the work GPI reporters are doing and also a lasting bond with the women she had taught.  How fantastic it is to have a group of women photographers and journalists around the world coming together to teach and support each other!

Many people have remarked to me that this seems to be what I was meant to do, and I can’t disagree.   I have been able to bring together things I am deeply passionate about, journalism and photography, to help expand the platform women have to tell their stories and make their voices heard.   Most of all I get to share my love of photography and see that spark lit within others.  Within 24 hours of finishing the class, the reporters in Sri Lanka created a group photo essay about the celebration happening that weekend for the Buddhist holiday Vesak.   As they develop as photographers through practice and ongoing visual mentorship, I look forward to the impactful photographs that they will continue to create.

Traveling to our news desks around the world, I have come to understand that GPI attracts truly exceptional women in these communities.  They are often from different backgrounds, religions or castes, and they bring with them differing degrees of formal education and experience, but they share a strength, bravery, and intelligence that is truly inspiring to be in the company of.  These women also share a commitment to working hard to become highly skilled journalists, and now photographers, with a profound passion for their craft and for the vital role they can play in telling the stories of their communities that the world isn’t hearing from other media outlets.

During lunch one day, a reporter thanked Cristi for walking the walk and talking the talk, for staying committed to high level ethical journalism and for making the choices time and time again that keep GPI in very limited company of news organizations that are truly independent and will do whatever is necessary, even sometimes turning down much-needed funds, in order to stay that way.

discussing the importance of ethical journalism with the reporters at the GPI desk in Sri Lanka

discussing the importance of ethical and independent journalism with the reporters at the GPI desk in Sri Lanka

Cristi teared up, something you won’t see often from this hard charging entrepreneur and seasoned journalist, but it is truly very moving to hear our reporters talk about what GPI means to them.   Global Press Institute is the result of 7 years of Cristi’s unceasing hard work and dedication to make her vision, one that many people told her would never work, a reality.  She believed based on her own experience as a foreign correspondent, that the people who were best suited to tell their stories were people who lived in those communities, and that all they lacked was high-level training and a platform, two things she could give them.

Cristi’s vision of a new model for international journalism has been so successful that our reporters stories are read by more than 5 million readers a month and are picked up by newswires such as the BBC, NPR and Reuters among many others.  Our reporters’ stories have had a direct impact in their communities, including prompting two law changes, in Nepal and in Rwanda.  GPI is creating and keeping alive meaningful and balanced journalism in these countries, and delivering unique content to readers around the world.  The addition of photographers at each desk will elevate the impact of their stories even more.

Do you believe in the power of photography to help people to connect with and understand a story in the most fundamental ways?  You can be a part of this effort and help to insure the reporters have the visual tools they need to bring the world images of stories that otherwise might go unseen.  Please consider joining us on this mission by donating to our Kickstarter campaign.   We are in our final weeks and we must meet our goal to be able to provide photo trainings and cameras for reporters at 10 more news desks.   Will you help?  $100 will provide the photo classes and a year of visual mentorship for a reporter!    If you share the campaign on your social sites and with friends, it will help us reach our goal and you will have played a critical role in empowering women photojournalists in the developing world.   How great is that?

And be sure to become a regular reader of the Global Press Institute website to access the reporters’ award-winning stories and see the images they are taking.   A photo gallery went up today by one of our most promising photographers, Comfort, who took the training last month in Cameroon.  Imagine when we are able to bring cameras and photo training to all of our 133 reporters around the world, It’s so exciting to think about the impact that will have!

Be a part of helping to arm GPI reporters with photography training and cameras! Check out our Kickstarter page!

Every where I go people ask me about what they can do to get involved and help support my project and the work of the Global Press Institute.  I am thrilled to say that our Kickstarter campaign is up and running and you can directly support our efforts in bringing cameras and photo training to our amazing women reporters around the world, as well as in the creation of a photo book and exhibitions to showcase their work and the story of GPI.

I felt the same way when I met Cristi Hegranes and learned about GPI, realizing that she had created that elusive thing, a program that brings long-term positive change to the lives of women in the developing world, and on top of that is creating a new model for international journalism.   On both the global level and in the lives of the women it employs, GPI is a changemaker.


Nakinti – GPI reporter in Cameroon

That is why I got involved as the photojournalism trainer to bring the power of visual storytelling to the talented GPI reporters, which we have now done in Nepal, Haiti, Cameroon, Kashmir, Argentina and later this month I will be going to Sri Lanka.  Help us arm the GPI reporters at 10 more desks with new cameras and photojournalism training to give them additional tools to tell the powerful stories in their communities.  And please consider sharing this with your friends and posting the link below on your social media pages.   With much gratitude from the reporters and the entire GPI team!

Our project is also featured on the International Center of Photography curated page

The spirit and resilience of two amazing young women

Today I had the privilege of going to the home of one of my students, Diane, to create images about her life as a girl in Rwanda.   As is often the case, I could not have predicted the experience that awaited me and the emotions that the day would bring to all us, myself and my Rwandan friend and translator Dida, as well as Diane.    I left with a greater understanding of their lives, and about how people sometimes have to bear unimaginable things, as well as how strong the human spirit can be as it tries to endure and even thrive.

Behind Diane’s house

I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and love that Diane and her mother showed me, giving me hugs and big smiles, as they welcomed me to their home.  She told us that some of the other girls in our class asked how she could have me over to her house, wasn’t she embarrassed by being poor?  Not at all she told them, she was proud of her house, her mother and their life.    Her pride was evident as she eagerly showed me around and I saw the neatness and the care with which they treat their home.   It is a simple house, Diane and her mother share a bed, but as with many things in Kigali it is striking how clean and organized her house was.   Their beds are made to almost military standards (whereas I can’t remember the last time I made mine).

Diane and her Mom serving a snack

They served us a snack of fresh fruit, apples and these tiny bananas that they have here, that are much more flavorful than the ones in the US.  Diane, ever observant, said she had noticed me with une pomme at class one day, an apple, and so had gotten some for me.   Her mother brought us a basin of water, some soap and towels to wash our hands before we ate.   Dida explained that travelers in Rwanda, anyone who was making their way across the country, used to be able to stop into any home and be offered a place to stay and food to eat.  That has changed a lot since 1994,  but they still treat their guests with enormous generosity and kindness.

As we walked around the house, talking about some of their daily routine, I was taking pictures, and talk turned to how many brothers and sisters both girls had.    I knew instantly from the look at Dida’s face that this was not an easy answer for her.   After a deep breath and a pause, she went on to tell me that there had been 10 siblings in her family but that she had lost 7 of them along with her mother and father in the Genocide.  While this should not have surprised me,  I was unprepared for hearing that my friend had personally been through such pain and horror.    What I had until then only read about, and had tried not to focus on since coming here so that I could experience the country for what it is now, was hitting me with such force that I felt it was hard to breathe and could only reach out and hug her.   It’s okay she said, we are used to this.   But it’s not okay, it was not okay to me what she had to endure as a six-year-old girl, and ever since.

I liked both Dida and Diane as soon as I met them, they are in their early 20’s, and give off an infectious positive energy, curiosity and confidence.   As we are working towards teaching them to be photographers, and looking forward to the opportunities this could bring them, I had not yet allowed myself to think too much about the past they carried with them.    There are moments on the street or during an interaction with someone at the market, especially if a person is old enough that you know they were around in 1994, that you are struck by wondering what their story is and what burdens they carry with them from the Genocide.   You of course don’t want to pry with those you don’t know well and honestly it’s hard to think about it too much without feeling weighed down by the sadness of it, so you move on.

I think that many Rwandans are struggling to figure out how to  bear such pain and heartache, yet try to move forward as they work hard to help their country heal.    They are asked to remember what happened over and over, on national anniversaries like the one coming up in April,  in part to help make sure it never happens again.  Yet they are trying to move beyond it as well to find a way forward, as they are working at a reconciliation, a peace with something that most of us could never imagine having to make peace with.  You feel sometimes like they are giving everything they have, every last bit of energy, trying to will themselves and their county forward to a better place.

As you can imagine, it is not an easy path.  Every day they choose to be optimistic, they fight to push past any depression or despair, but it isn’t always enough.   Yet they have fierce determination, and I can tell you that if these two girls are any indication of the people who will be determining Rwanda’s future, the country has great reason to have hope.     I am in awe of their strength, work ethic, bravery and most of all the capacity they still have for joy and laughter .

Dida and Diane

The three of us sat on Diane’s bed for hours, like any girls would do, talking and laughing about life.    She sang us a song she had written, and then proudly showed me her school books, as they both talked about how much school means to them.  It is a chance to make a better life for themselves and their families and to try to make a difference in their country.   Only a few references were made to the genocide or to moments that they feel overwhelmed or discouraged in their lives.   Mostly it was about their optimism and how hard they wanted to work to create opportunities in their lives, to help other people, and to be part of Rwanda’s progress forward.

Eventually Diane also wanted to talk to me about her family, to let me that she had lost several of her siblings as well.   It was another blow to absorb, and I realized that as awful as it was, I needed to get used to the idea that this was a common experience.    I asked if her mother, who was sitting and singing in the other room,  ever talked about that, the loss of her children in such a way.   As a mother myself that really is beyond anything my mind can grasp.   “No”, she said, they don’t really talk about it.   It is something that everyone holds in their own space and in their own way, and some people do get to a point where they just breakdown from it.

the girls, talking about their lives and their hopes for Rwanda

As we laid on her bed talking, Dida translated from Kinyarwanda to English and back again, sometimes with a little French thrown in.   I was still trying to absorb what this must be like for them.   The experience of the genocide that so many carry with them, is something I know I cannot, and should not ignore, but nor do I want to dwell on it too much either.   I will find my own way to include the reality of it in my experience here while still choosing most of the time to focus on the present and the future, on the amazing love and hope that I am seeing everyday on the faces of people I meet in Rwanda.   I know that is also what Rwandans want, to be known for the beautiful country that they are,  not just for one dark period in their history.

This day has without a doubt stirred something profound within me, as I have come to know these amazing young women who are forging ahead with through so much difficulty, yet with so much spirit.   I was incredibly moved to be embraced by them in such a trusting way.   We reflected on how special the afternoon had been for all of us,  Diane telling us she loved us and asking Dida and I if she could come to us for advice.   What an honor to even be asked to offer wisdom to someone who probably could teach me far more about life.   We made an important connection with each other, a sisterhood, and to me that is what it is all about.   Women supporting other women, and younger girls, to be sure they have opportunities to grow and succeed, and to know that they are not alone, that someone cares.   After all, isn’t that is what we all want, no matter where we are from.

I am very much looking forward to getting to spend more time with them in the months ahead and to taking Diane up on her offer to come back for a traditional Rwandan dinner.

Diane and her Mom