After more than two months just before Summer arranging meetings with international and local Ngos working in Ethiopia and organising the logistics of my trip, I spent about three weeks in the Tigray area around Mekelle, Adigrat and Aksum and two weeks in Lalibela and the Omo Valley. The plan was to document different development projects to try to understand how international aid works in one of the poorest countries in the world, or rather if it is really working after thousands of millions of dollars invested during more than 50 years. Today more than 80% of people in Ethiopia still live on less than US$2 a day. One in ten children die before their fifth birthday. Many children suffer from malnourishment and even in a good year, when the rains or crops don't fail, around 5 million people need help to get enough to eat. Of the country's 81 million people, half are under the age of 18. More children are now attending primary school, but numbers remain very low in the poorest areas of the country, and girls often don't go to school at all. The extent and quality of healthcare provision is limited. As a result, children still die every day from preventable diseases such as malaria, and many women still die from complications during childbirth. Only 13% of the population have adequate sanitation facilities and large numbers don't have access to safe drinking water. International aid is a huge operation in Ethiopia, with lots of different interpretations depending of your point of view,complex situations and difficult answers. The only way to explore in depth the subject of my final project was to try to capture the honest and intimate thoughts of aid workers and the beneficiaries of some representatives projects. With the help of International Ngos like Oxfam America and Ngos controlled by the government like Relief Society of Tigray, I was able to document schemes dealing with water sanitation, agriculture development and environment issues. Local Ngos like Operation Rescue and Addis Development Vision gave me the opportunity to visit hospitals and orphanages and understand how private enterprises like Fitsum Birhan Hospital are still absolutely necessary to fight poverty. Every person portrayed in the project is somehow interconnected and the different stories are layers of the same reality. I have already started editing the different chapters of the story in separate galleries and I am planning to create a multimedia presentation/web documentary with images and audio recorded during interviews to show the narrative of the project in detail, and probably a small book to present in a less conventional way some of the main ideas and unanswered questions behind the project.
Lesotho, a small country landlocked by South Africa, was established in 1824 as the mountain fortress for tribes united together against the attacking Zulu and is now home to 2.2 million Basotho. Proud of its African heritage, few people in the highlands of this beautiful and rugged country speaks English or Afrikaans. Despite a long struggle for freedom and independence, Lesotho’s economy and politics still depend heavily today on some of the more powerful countries in the area. The use of the traditional legal system in the tribunals is based on the social structure established during colonial times; the investment of foreign companies in local factories goes back in history to the European domination; the arrival of Chinese population to control through chains of supermarkets the food and clothes trade is yet another relatively new global trend to increase dependency, and the development of the overwhelmed health system wouldn’t be possible without international support. With 29 percent of the population believed to be living with HIV and less than a quarter knowing they are infected, the rate in Lesotho has risen to the fourth highest in the world. Less than 15 percent of those in need of treatment are receiving it, resulting in thousands of preventable deaths. With high rates of infection, malnourishment, and death, the life expectancy is rapidly approaching 40 years of age. Young women constitute 75 percent of all reported HIV/AIDS cases between the ages of 15-29 years and only five percent of infected pregnant women receive medication to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to her child, a medication that costs $5.00 per pregnancy. All Basotho women are considered legally the child of their husband, and must obtain their husband’s approval to have surgery, take contraceptives, take out a loan or run for public office. The government of Lesotho was initially slow to recognize the scale of the crisis, and its efforts to date in combating the spread of the disease have had limited success. In 1999, the government finalized its Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS, a diagram for addressing the education, prevention, counseling, and treatment needs of the population. In 2005, plans for the distribution of anti-retrovirals were initiated. However, such programs remain limited in resources and have relatively few participants. The economic, social and cultural impact is huge and affects everyone and everything in the community, since 80 percent of Lesotho’s population lives in rural villages and is dependent on subsistence agriculture for livelihood. In places like Mokhotlong, a remote and isolated village with big hopes and challenges, poverty, drought, high unemployment, a dependence on migratory work, and recurring food crises continue to worsen the life conditions of the whole population. Once known as the loneliest place in Africa, Mokhotlong lies at the end of the tarmac and still gets cut off from the rest of civilization for days or weeks at a time in winter. It began life as a police outpost at the beginning of last century and gradually evolved into a trading centre for the region, but even today continues to get the bulk of its supplies by pony from South Africa. Volunteers working with organizations like Touching Tiny Lives take care of HIV positive orphans who contracted the virus at birth or from breast-feeding. Other Ngo's like The Louis Gregory Foundation work with local schools to promote different activities within the community to improve their education and awareness regarding AIDS. One of the main goals is to teach young people in developing countries the moral responsibility and accountability of every individual regarding the destiny of the world. Those living in disadvantaged communities learn to use their skills as potential vehicles for change. Each community adapt the learning plan to the community needs, education standards, human resources and cultural complexities of the society. More than 800 children in Mokhotlong participate now in the development of their own neighbourhood, addressing big problems in the area like unemployment, alcoholism, ethnic and cultural prejudice and HIV/AIDS infected orphans.
I have been editing on Photoshelter most of the images I got last month in Lesotho, a small country landlocked by Southafrica established in 1824 as the mountain fortress for tribes united together against the attacking Zulu and now home to 2.2 million Basotho. I am at the same time trying to figure out how to present and put together the stories of the people of Mokhotlong for the Borders project. The original idea still is to portrait all faces of everyday life and death in a remote and isolated village with big hopes and challenges. Volunteers working with organizations like Touching Tiny Lives told me about HIV positive orphans who contract the virus at birth or from breast-feeding. Other Ngo's like The Louis Gregory Foundation took me around the district to witness different activities organized for young people within the community to improve their education and awareness regarding AIDS. Most of the stories in the project focus on children and women in one way or another because all Basotho women are considered legally the child of their husband, and must obtain their husband’s approval to have surgery, take contraceptives, take out a loan or run for public office. Other stories I am considering to introduce in the final multimedia presentation tackle the use of the traditional legal system in the tribunals, the investment of foreign companies in sheep factories, the arrival of chinese population to control through supermarkets the food and clothes trade and the development of the overwhelmed health system.
Full Circle Learning is an educational program applied in schools working with Ngo's all around the world (Lesotho, Ethiopia, Zambia, Panama, Japan, China, India..). An American non profit organization based in California developed the model over a decade as a response to community need following the civil unrest of 1992 in Los Angeles. One of the main goals is to teach young people in developing countries the moral responsibility and accountability of every individual regarding the destiny of the world. I was able to document for my Borders project how about 800 children and youth in Mokhotlong, a small village in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, participate in the development of their own neighbourhood, addressing big problems in the area like unemployment, alcoholism, poverty, ethnic and cultural prejudice, orphans and HIV. Many stories interconnected and great potential to create a complex multimedia presentation, but still not sure about how to put them together. I am now both tempted and worried considering the advantages and disadvantages of working with this organization again in Ethiopia for my major project. I have already some contacts and easy access to the One Planet School in Addis Ababa, but still not enough information about their activities and the potential to portrait them in appealing and meaningful images. Most probably I should start exploring another loose idea that have been at the back of my head for a while, the life and fun of Hispanic communities in London (Mark suggested the big and famous Carnaval del Pueblo for instance), and maybe work on both projects in parallel and play it safe.
Working with family in Southafrica for the Borders project wasn't such a good idea after all (conflict of interests!), so I decided to set everything up quickly like being on a real assignment for ten days. Next morning I was going overland straight to Lesotho and contacting some Ngo's on my way. A country within a country. Travelling at the back of a police van full of sheep through the beautiful landscape of the Sanni Pass, I arrived to Mokhotlong, a remote village in the highlands of the country and the last place in the road from the capital. The initial idea was to show the different faces of life in the middle of nowhere. Patients suffering from TB at the local hospital, kids running for food on a sunny Sunday, workers building cheap coffins and neighbours fighting for a piece of land in the tribunal. Everything was possible and smooth thanks to the helpful people of the Louis Gregory Foundation, an American non profit organization developing an educational program in the area called Full Circle Learning. The aim was to promote through schools the sharing of skills of all members of the community, as Maureen kindly explained to me while providing me easy access to clinics, factories, orphanages and bars. There are many different stories in parallel and I am still thinking about the best way to present them and put them together. Inspiration was always right in front of you. A constant flowing of stories was easily at reach. No need of headaches to get close and natural to the situations. This time for the final project I may try to do something similar in Ethiopia with a bit more of organization and research in advance instead of going backwards, but there will always be space for improvisation and luck.
I was born in a small university town called Salamanca in the middle of Spain in 1968. It was almost unavoidable for me to study a Degree in Literature and Linguistics in my hometown and then I started travelling and working as a lecturer through the years until I landed in London and somehow my life changed.
For the last eight years I have been working at Cervantes Institute, a public institution from the Spanish Government that was founded in 1991 to promote Spanish language teaching and culture of Spanish-speaking countries throughout the world.
After having completed an MA in Cultural and Creative Industries at King's College London in 2005, my professional ambitions and interests started to shift. I undertook different projects of academic research about the Tourism Industry and then I went off travelling again to see everything I was reading about through the lens of my camera.
Since my last return to London, I have been teaching and helping to organize different exhibitions, conferences and Film festivals at Cervantes Institute in London.