Moving Down my Bucket List: I’ve been to Prison. Now I’m going to Ecuador!

I once heard a 16-year old girl speak to a group of tween girls about her experience visiting an orphanage in South America. She talked about how easy it was to bridge the language gap with attention. She described each child having just two prized possessions: One stuff animal and one something else: A rock. A leaf. A button.

Eyes bright with tears, she told the group about the child who handed her a wrapped bundle as she got on the bus. Inside was the child’s stuffed animal. A concrete reminder of the impact she had made in her two weeks there.

That story stuck with me. And for years I have been interested in doing an international photography project. Then last week, I was photographing one of my favorite sets of siblings, the Buckles girls with their Aunt DeeDee. DeeDee was visiting from Northern Iraq, where she had been teaching English for two years. We got to talking about kids in Iraq, the impact of photographs on children and she told me about The One-Shot Project.

The One Shot Project is an opportunity to help provide Iraqi orphans with a way to tell their unique and often tragic stories, while teaching them skills that might provide them with a way to earn a living. The project leaders are looking for a range of help, from financial to professional.

By going over to Northern Iraq, I could both help teach the kids about photography and provide them with rare pictures of themselves. I enthusiastically got online to check for flights as soon as I got home.

But unfortunately, while Northern Iraq is safer than other parts of the country, the State Department does not recommend travel there at this time.

I was crushed, moping around for days as I contemplated a less personally rewarding financial donation to the project. Then a friend forwarded me information about a project in a safer part of the world.

Five photographers went to Ecuador to make a difference in the lives of orphans last October. They were touched by what they saw there. Nuns, doing their best to do right by children who have no one else in the world, with little money and resources. And children with bright eyes, simultaneously reflecting hope and hopelessness. The group donated a roof and funding for a teacher to the orphanages.

They are returning to Ecuador this March, this time with 10 photographers, hoping to have an even bigger impact. And I’m excited to be one of them.

Each photographer will pay/raise $2,000 so that the group will have $20,000 to donate to a need/needs identified while we are there. With additional donations, the hope is to get to $30,000. In addition, there is a tremendous opportunity to make a one-on-one different for each child, doing what we do. Taking pictures.

Through a generous donation from White House Custom Color professional photo lab, the group was able to send prints back to the girls at one of the orphanages after they returned last October. This year, we will travel with a printer and provide all of the children with on-the-spot, laminated prints.

These children, like at-risk children I have photographed in the States, have rarely, if ever, had their pictures taken. They don’t have anyone who considers them important enough to capture their image to have forever. These are children who are more often not adopted and spend their lives, in the best case scenarios, institutionalized.

While I’m thrilled to be part of a group who will do substantial good by making a significant financial donation, I am most excited about having the opportunity to give the children the gift of knowing that someone not only cared enough to take their picture, but who gave them a copy of their photograph to cherish forever.

Here are pictures from last year’s trip, with Lori Nordstrom showing kids their pictures on the back of her camera. The kids seeing their image captured for the very first time:

More to come when I return from Ecuador in mid-March.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the kids in Iraq. While I don’t feel comfortable going there in person now, that won’t stop me from making a donation to help purchase equipment for the kids. I hope that they will share their pictures with me online and that some day it will be safe me to meet them in person.

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6 Responses to Moving Down my Bucket List: I’ve been to Prison. Now I’m going to Ecuador!

  1. Yay! Great article, Joan. I am so excited that you are going, and I wish I was going to be there with you guys. I will expect a detailed report when you get back!

  2. Very well said Joan. I look forward to making this “life changing” trip with you.

  3. Tamara says:

    What a wonderful experience you will have! Looking forward to hearing/seeing all about it!

  4. Linda Crayton says:

    You are an amazingly giving and beautiful person Joan. You are always an inspiration!

  5. Well done…this is a great idea. I was in Ecuador in 1997 before I actually had a camera and loved my experiences with the land and peoples there. I wish for a safe and rewarding journey for everyone and may your mission there go as smoothly as possible! Look forward to seeing images from your journey and hearing those wonderful details of happy children.
    Best wishes and keep up the excellent works! Scott.

  6. Pingback: The Gift of Photos: An Insignificant Hedge against the Future of Orphans in Ecuador |

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