An Extended Hand, From The Heart Of A Boy

Too often, African males are characterized as being insensitive to a woman’s needs. Magazines, newspapers and even charitable organizations frequently focus on rape, child marriage and physical abuse to reveal injustices from men that women face while living in an African nation.

But there are other sides to these stories, and scenarios abound that depict men as caring and loving human beings, showing deep respect for their sisters and wives. We see men carrying their sick wives for days to reach a health post, traversing rugged terrain and selling off their cattle to pay for the bill. They realize how vital their wives are to the well-being of the entire family. Men are visibly shaken as they fear the loss of their loved one, and they will go to great lengths to ensure that she receives the care she deserves, often traveling to various health care centers before finding one staffed with a health care practitioner.

Men gather around a woman who has just had surgery to alleviate obstructed labor in preparation to carry her home. Motta, Ethiopia

Man helping woman in Ethiopia

We recently visited several schools in rural areas outside of Mekelle, Ethiopia, and we were able to talk with some of the boys to see how they viewed the topic of menstruation. In the recent past in Ethiopia this topic was taboo even for mothers and daughters to discuss and some families still view it this way. But all of the boys we randomly chose to interview had positive things to say about the time when a girl has her period. Many of them asked if the school could have a place to rest, showers for cleaning and tea for stomach cramping, just so the girls will feel more comfortable during this time.

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Dignity Period not only supplies reusable sanitary napkins to girls, but the educational component has had a great impact on lessening the mystery when a girl shows blood on her clothing. Schools now require all students to read a booklet that details why girls menstruate and how they can be supported rather than laughed at.

Older boys now teach younger boys how to react sensitively when they know that a girl is menstruating. G/Maryam Asene, a student at Adikeyh, even cites this time as being “a gift” and says that anyone who laughs at a girl is also laughing at their mother, an extremely shameful thing to do.

We ask the boys: What would you do if you see that a girl has unexpectedly started her period?  Their ready answer was energetic: We would take our shirt or sweater off and let her wear it until she could change her clothes!

Sensitive souls they are.

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Ethiopian boys Dignity Period

Ethiopian students Dignity Period

Featured in Photographer’s Forum Magazine

Many thanks to Claire Sykes for the lovely article she wrote about my philosophy and work in this month’s Photographer’s Forum magazine.

It is a humbling honor to read what she has written, and also the various quotes by people (Jim Friedman, Shelby Lee Adams and Lewis Wall) who have greatly inspired me over the years.

Photographer's Forum Magazine

Terra Magazine: Uganda Goat Milk Soap-Making

The recent issue of Oregon State University’s Terra Magazine  features a story about our goat milk soap-making project in Uganda. What an honor it has been to work with so many Oregon constituents in making this project come to life, all initiated by one gesture of gift giving from a soap maker in Fossil, Oregon to fistula survivors in Soroti, Uganda.

 

Terra Magazine Uganda

Oregon Ballet Theatre: Dancer Portraits

I love when I get to be inside the walls of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s building and watch the heat and fury that arises from the dancers as they practice. It takes enormous focus and energy to perfect those twists and turns and leaps, and to be able to witness trial after trial until they reach their aspirations is a wondrous sight.

I was there to make dancer portraits, and even though they came right from brutal practice to sit before my camera, they each faced the lens with authentic passion in their eyes.

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer

Altered Views: Lessons From Africa

For the past several months, I had the honor of traveling to Africa to document various projects for some really outstanding organizations that are performing tireless and devoted work in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. I welcomed these assignments as an offering to alter my lifestyle and challenge my perspectives, but more importantly, I wanted to set aside all other commitments to create imagery that might make a difference to people who are struggling.

Now back home as I reflect upon the past several months, I realize that I am going through reverse cultural shock. What once brought joy to me is altered. I still love meals from Portland’s creative restaurant scene and the idea of wearing a pair of sassy boots, but this trip has made me reach ever so fervently for how we touch the earth…and each other.

My days in Africa were spent in heated debate, exchanging innovative ideas, feeling the shock of human peril, learning about living a truly nomadic lifestyle. and dancing until I collapsed. My heart was so full at times that I had to shut down, fold up, and sit alone in a room to come down from this life high. And sometimes I needed a rest from the effects of my own physical and mental curiosity.

Africa is where we began. Lessons abound from the moment a person steps onto the Motherland. I have many stories to tell, but I will start by highlighting a few of the assignments that sparked a renewal of my mindset.

 

SABAHAR, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I started my journey by working on a fashion shoot for Sabahar, a collective of some of the finest weavers in Ethiopia. Their scarves are woven with super soft traditional Ethiopian cotton and silk spun by silkworms raised on their property. Most importantly, they are devoted to fair employment practices. Their Ethiopian staff are paid a great wage while working in a beautiful and supportive environment. Happy faces were seen throughout the garden-filled compound.

Sabahar

Sabahar

 

TERREWODE, Soroti, Uganda

Returning to Uganda seared my soul. Seeing friends I had met earlier in the year and getting to work more closely with TERREWODE (a reintergration center for fistula survivors) was an educating and heart-touching experience. A team volunteered services to teach goat milk soap-making to villagers and TERREWODE staff, advise on the development of packaging, develop a video about the soap-making process and document the way music, dance and drama are used to educate others about fistula.

Soroti Goat Milk Soap Making

Soroti dance drama music

 

OREGON HEALTH & SCIENCES UNIVERSITY, Portland, Oregon, USA and Mekele, Ethiopia

Some people say that a “silent epidemic” of prolapse conditions are occurring across the globe. Many women suffer from this debilitating healthcare concern while continuing to perform their physically demanding work despite the constant severe pain they experience. Medical staff from Portland joined their expert hands to repair prolapses in many women in the northern Tigray area of Ethiopia. In addition, they trained other Ethiopian medical staff how to perform this life-altering operation.

OHSU Ethiopian Doctors

OHSU Operating Room

 

DIGNITY PERIOD, Mekele, Ethiopia

Who would have thought that lack of education and support for menstruating girls and women would have such a dire effect on so many aspects of a female’s life? Lack of menstrual supplies and running water, coupled with little education about the natural occurrence and importance of menstrual cycles, has a direct correlation with how a girl can stay in school and the effects of self esteem for all women. Freweini Mebrahtu responded to this need and created a factory called Mariam Seba (named after her daughter) that makes reusable sanitary napkins and employs women. Dignity Period provides access to sanitary pads and educates students about a female body’s natural process. They also are in the process of researching latrine and water sources for schools to enable hygienic practices. In addition, they are researching the impact of this intervention on the lives of young school girls.

Watch a short video that uses my still images and video I captured while in Mekele, Ethiopia here.

Dignity Period Hands

Dignity Period Teen Girl

 

THE MEKELE BLIND SCHOOL, Mekele, Ethiopia

I am haunted in a very good and profound way from the way the students and other staff got to know me while I visited The Mekele Blind School. I was petted, nibbled, pinched and truly moved by the students, and learned many new ways of emphasizing one sense over the other. It was astonishing to see the children running freely and holding each other so closely when they were together. If only we all could experience each other more so in this manner. This school is in dire need of many improvements but they march on inspiring within each student the confidence that they can do anything they wish.

Mekele Blind School

Mekele Blind School Young Boy

 

TIGRAY ASSOCIATION ON INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES, Mekele, Ethiopia

Every so often something will shake my foundation and enrage my soul. On this trip, I found out that girls/women with mental illness are often targeted for rape because some men believe these females are unwanted and therefore free from HIV or other diseases. The afflicted female needs to have 24/7 watch over her in fear she might exit the home compound without someone accompanying her. The Tigray Association on Intellectual Disabilities, founded by a sister of an intellectually challenged girl, helps to nurture and provide activities for both women and men, as well as keep them safe.

Mental Illness in Mekele

Mental illness in Ethiopia

 

HOPE ENTERPRISES SCHOOL, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Imagine living in the most desolate of situations at a poverty level that is at the lowest shanty structure level. Someone knocks on your door, and they ask many questions about your children that are living there. After a lengthy interview process, your family has been selected to be a part of the Hope Enterprise School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Your child will be supported from the time they enter school through high school graduation and they will be assisted until they are placed in a job. This is just one of the many remarkable projects that are funded by Hope Enterprises.

Hope Enterprises School

Hope Enterprises School

 

STREET CHILDREN’S BREAKFAST, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I rarely feel the devastation of having great pangs of hunger. I can grab a cracker and know that a meal will be had soon. When I am very hungry, my senses get mixed up and I get irritable. For a young boy faced with living on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a breakfast in the morning can mean he can live a day of staving off hunger and not having to hustle or steal for food. Hope Enterprises feeds street boys bread, banana and milk each morning.

Street Boys Breakfast

Street Boys Breakfast

 

MATERNITY AFRICA, Arusha, Tanzania

Fistula is a devastating condition that affects thousands of women and the families they nurture and support. Dr. Andrew Browning is one of the best fistula surgeons in the world and after working for many years with the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, Andrew now is based in Arusha, Tanzania where he practices and teaches on a global level. Maternity Africa supports his efforts and is in the process of building a new hospital which will ensure that best practices are in place. They also are firmly devoted to fistula prevention by working with midwives to educate villagers about the dire consequences of obstructed labor.

Tanzania Maternity Africa

Tanzanian Girl Maternity Africa

Mother Admiration

My photo, Mother Admiration, was juried by Tricia Hoffman into Lightbox Photographic Gallery’s upcoming “PDX 30” show. The opening will be April 9 in Astoria, Oregon.

This print will be on display and for sale as well as 29 more amazing prints from Portland photographers. Well worth the drive out there to this quirky and wonderful coastal place!

 

Mother Admiration

Worldwide Fistula Foundation: TERREWODE and OHSU

I recently completed two projects for the Worldwide Fistula Foundation, documenting work they support.

Oregon Health & Sciences University performs and teaches prolapse surgery in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. My imagery helps to promote their work and attract donors to their cause. The project was founded by Dr. Rahel Nardos, an Ethiopian woman who came to the US during the time of the Derg and studied to become a urogynecologist.

TERREWODE is an organization that helps fistula survivors re-integrate back into village life. I have collected various types of content for edited videos, promotional materials, donor engagement activities and guest blog publication.

I love working in a way that engages what I call the “spindle effect”, where many people collaborate and the end result touches a variety of individuals and organizations. Nothing pleases me more than to be a part of a system rather than have my name be front and center.

OHSU Recivery Room Ethiopia

 

 

Dignity Period Imagery

I love to see how clients use my imagery. The Dignity Period website is full of images I captured, but the way they used this one just blows me away. Their whole focus is so inspiring!  The founder, Freweini Mebrahtu, will soon be in Portland to brainstorm an idea we both have….more to come on that!

Dignity Period will be hosting their annual gala on April 30 at the Missouri Botanical Garden, where they will auction ten of my prints from Ethiopia.

Dignity Period

Hamlin Midwife Stories

A large part of my work now entails more than just capturing the still image. I am often asked to collect video and professional sound so that the content can be edited into small video stories or other applications. Here are two examples from my work documenting Hamlin midwives in Ethiopia.

Scrolling story

Video

 

Hamlin Midwife

Copyright 2017 Joni Kabana. All rights reserved. Site by TD