Category Archives: Central America
Travel is like an intensified version of normal life. We take ourselves out of our comfort zone to situations where the ups are higher and the downs take us deeper than we have ever been. This is why we often return from travelling feeling like a new person: so much more experienced, wiser and even enlightened.
After a year or so travelling through South America, I’d been confronted by many lows (and many more highs, thankfully). One thing that irritated me was how long things took. I’m pretty chilled out and enjoy taking my time, but on Latin American time things can be excruciatingly slow. The border crossing from Colombia to Panama is one example of this. The whole process of travelling by boat from port towns to port towns took days. I understand that authorities in this Darien Gap region are wise to watch their ports for drug smugglers, but anyone who has spoken to locals knows that the authorities are aware of the traffickers and allow certain offenders to slip through the cracks.
On arriving to Panama, at the tiny village of Puerto Obaldia, the immigration officer sitting inside his sweltering hot cement block informed us that for no particular reason, it would take 4 hours to process our papers. I decided to get my Taoist on and make the most of the situation. A little girl sat outside the office. She was the officer’s daughter. We started chatting and soon two of her friends came to join us. I gave them stickers and showed them through my Panama guide book – they were fascinated to see photos of their country, places they never knew existed. They were adorable and I absolutely had to take their photographs. They loved being in front of the camera and hours later when I needed a break, they didn’t want to stop posing for the camera.
I entered some photos of my amigas into a Unicef Panama photo competition. I was one of the winners and was so happy to see my photo, captured thanks to a slow immigration officer, blown up in an exhibition in Panama City, helping raise awareness of children’s issues.
My photos and I are being featured on fivepointfive.org and I think you should check it out, here. You’ll gain an insight into my project Portraits of The Disappearing Amazon, a 3 month journey which will changed my life. You can also get the background story on some of my favourite portraits from the project, and the beautiful people within them.
Five Point Five is about inspiring you to do those things that you will remember with satisfaction for the rest of your life. They are all about travel, lifestyle and making a positive difference in the world – 3 things that are really important to me too. The website offers information and mini documentaries on volunteering overseas, as well as travel resources and inspiration. So go get inspired…
Working as an NGO photographer and documenting the work of not-for-profit organisations that are improving people’s lives, inspires me endlessly. More than anything, it brings a sense of hope. I have witnessed so many seemingly hopeless situations turned upside down, resulting in thriving human beings and optimistic communities, all thanks to the committed work of everyday people . These people show me that any one of us can be a hero, a lifesaver, even an angel.
I’d like to share with you an excerpt from a book I am writing, about my three year journey through Latin America. This passage describes an experience I had in Nicaragua, while working with the amazing grass roots organisation, Empowerment International. The organisation was formed by an extraordinary North American woman Kathy, who couldn’t walk away from a community in need, so she moved to Nicaragua to work day and night to change their situation.
I volunteered with Empowerment, teaching photography classes to the children and creating a photo documentary of their projects.
On my first day volunteering with Empowerment, Anielka led me into the barrio of Villa de Esperanza, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Granada. Many of the families there were surviving on less than two dollars a day, and the desperation was blatant. The barrio was a single dirt street, deeply corroded by rain and grey water.
As we walked, Anielka asked a young mother what she was up to, and the girl replied, “Cooking and cleaning, like always”. Her shack was one tiny room surrounded by a small dirt yard. I could see that even in the poorest areas of Nicaragua people are obsessive about hygiene and appearance. Most people’s blocks of land were smaller than my parent’s barbeque patio, and majority of that land wasn’t even officially owned.
The homes were even more piteous than those I’d visited with Opportunity International (another NGO I’d volunteered with), constructed of scraps of wood, metal, and cardboard. The people we passed seemed fairly happy, but when Anielka stopped to talk, each person weighed her down with their worries. None of the four women we were scheduled to visit was home. The neighbours of each told us the women were busy dealing with some problem that had just arisen, involving either their children or abusive husband.
We stopped outside a well-built wooden shack to talk to a girl bouncing a baby boy on her knee. I guessed that it was her brother. I was wrong. She was older than she appeared, at eighteen years old, and her first child was born four years earlier. The next home we stopped at was of a woman, about my age (of 28), who had nine kids. She wasn’t sure if she wanted more. On our way out of the barrio two pretty teenager girls with babies greeted Anielka and she introduced us. The mothers smiled proudly as they talked about their babies, one of them giggled coyly behind her hand when she told me she had her first baby at thirteen.
As life in the barrio presents the girls with little opportunity or hope, being mothers seems to be the best and often the only thing to which they can aspire. Intoxicated with romance, they often fall pregnant in the hope that a baby will enkindle a commitment from their equally young boyfriend, even as they see families fall apart around them every day. In Nicaragua the infamous Latino Machismo dictates that a manly man can get all the girls he wants and getting girls pregnant proves that he is a real man. If your girl isn’t pregnant, there’s something wrong with you.
If things continued on the same course, by the time the thirteen and fourteen year old mothers were my age they would be grandmothers. With no jobs other than selling wild fruit for a few dollars a week, they would continue to live in overcrowded houses and perpetuate another generation of poverty, with a rapidly increasing number of sufferers.
It was evident to me how important the work of Empowerment was to this community. Poverty isn’t just about missing out on comforts and pleasures: it spawns powerlessness, breads domestic abuse and leads desperate people to criminality. Through education, the cycle of poverty can be broken in a single generation, but you don’t just have to convince the children to go to school. The hardest part can be convincing parents how important it is to allow the children to stop working in order to learn.
Kathy looked heartbroken as she told me the story of one of her most successful student’s struggle. With the support of Empowerment, the girl had completed primary school and high school. Her mother was uneducated and became jealous of her daughter’s success. The woman felt worthless in comparison and accused her daughter of thinking her mother wasn’t good enough and that was the reason she wanted a different, better life, and she expressed her feelings through abuse towards her daughter. At times the abuse got so bad that the girl had to stay in the Empowerment office, where Kathy kept a bedroom for students from rural areas to sleep.
The Empowerment staff spent time communicating with the mother about the importance of education and how it could make life better for the whole family. Eventually she came to understand and the girl returned home, continuing on to University education. It was one of the many struggles that I would hear about during my two weeks with Empowerment. I was overwhelmed with the change that was happening everyday in the village, thanks to one human being’s commitment to help others.
The following day there were three police cars blocking the muddy street into the barrio. Heavily armed officers concealed by balaclavas scrutinized the home where four Empowerment kids lived. Anielka explained to me that they were narcotics officers, and they wore balaclavas to hide their identities from criminals. I followed her closely, not sure if I was allowed to watch the commotion and nervous that we might be about to get caught in the middle of shootout.
It was all the barrio women could talk about that day. Our home visits were enlivened with gossip amongst the mothers who were all relieved that the cops had finally busted the drug dealers. Each one assured us that they didn’t inform the police, and that it could have been anyone because everybody knew those people were dealing. They told us that buyers would turn up at all hours looking for the house where you could buy cocaine and marijuana. The mothers hated their children being around that kind of activity. The community was safer now, but Anielka was worried about what would happen to the kids now that their parents would be going to jail.
Drugs were a big risk for kids in the barrio. Cocaine was available on their doorstep for $1, money which they might steal or earn by selling fruit or sweets. Glue was also easy to get and Anielka knew kids who were addicted to sniffing. In that environment even the most promising kids were at risk. Some of Empowerment’s most successful students were suffering anxiety and depression.
When we returned to headquarters after the home visits, Kathy invited me into her office to talk about our plan for the rest of the week. She looked worn out. Two teenage girls were in the room sobbing. They both had bandages around their wrists and were cradling each other. I sat down in the spare chair and looked at Kathy, unsure what to do or say. She told me in English what had happened, that the girls had slit each other’s wrists. My heart broke at their desperate cry for help. For Kathy, it was just another day.
Photos by Alicia Fox
Words by James Galletly
Cuba may not be well known as an eco-travel destination, but its eco-credentials, like its musicians and cigars, are first class.
In 2006, the WWF’s Living Planet Report named Cuba the only nation on earth achieving sustainable development. This big claim was based on Cubans having a high standard of living (assessed via levels of health, education and GDP) and at the same time maintaining a sustainable Ecological Footprint….
To view more of my published work please go to www.aliciafox.net/published
Cuba Pobre : Poor Cuba
Cubans showed me that in some ways their country is one of the richest places on Earth. The music, the culture and the spirit of the people are so strong. So alive!
But economically, many Cubans are struggling. Even with food rations that the government provides for the population, people are struggling to survive on wages which average just $15 per month.
In March 2012 I shot a photo essay for Newsmax, documenting the poor side of Cuba. Completing this assignment lead me to meet and spend time with some outstandingly wonderful human beings whose spirits actually shone stronger because of their hardships. It lead me into buildings that were literally crumbling where families still lived and into a world where I got a brief sense of what life is like in a city where food is so scarce that a cup of rice or a couple of bananas are hard to come by.
And all these hardships just make Cubans stronger; more unified and more positive. They are people who live for the moment, enjoying life simply because they were lucky enough to be born Cuban!
To see more of my published photos please visit www.aliciafox.net/published/
A photo essay of women weavers in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, shot for Vision Guatemala.
Lake Atitlan is a magical part of Guatemala that draws many tourists who want to experience its reputed energy. But for many women and families living in this area, life is tough and money is very scarce. I shot this photo essay for Vision Guatemala, a small non-profit organisation that is working to help women find a source of income, offering micro-finance, training and community development. In doing so, their tradition of weaving beautiful textiles can be kept alive.
Being fortunate to enter their homes and witness this amazing art gave me a deep appreciation for their skill in weaving. The women I met have amazing talent and beautiful spirits.
I was looking for a place to stop and do a bit of work and I wanted to make it a kind of retreat, to get my creative juices flowing. Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is the perfect place for a photography and writing retreat. I spent time at some beautiful hotels in Panajachel, San Pedro and San Macos – three different villages, all tranquil in their own way. I was doing work for hotels while also working on my own projects.
Here are a couple of shots from one beautiful sunrise I spent in San Pedro la Laguna.
Lake Atitlan has risen dramatically this year and buildings, shelters and lakeside recreational areas such as the one above have become submerged. Some of the local Mayans think the rising water is related to The 2012 Shift, some just blame the rain.
These are the traditional fishing boats used by Mayan fishermen each morning on Lake Atitlan. They spear the fish with reeds then take their catch home or sell them in their villages. It’s beautiful to watch and a wonderful example of slow, simple living.
To see more of my travel photography, check out my website www.AliciaFoxPhotography.com
This week I have been shooting photos of women weavers in Guatemala, for an organisation called Vision Guatemala, a grass roots NGO that provides micro finance and support to women around Lake Atitlan and Guatemala.
Above: Cecilia is weaving a table runner in the style typical to San Pedro. She spends a few hours weaving each day in between cleaning and making tortillas which she sells to her neighbours at lunch and dinner time. In Guatemala tortillas sell at 3 for Q1, which is about 13 cents. When she finishes weaving after 3-5 days, the table runner will sell for about $4.50.
Camera Settings: 1/50sec, f/4, ISO 400, 28mm lens
Above: The weaving loom, used by Guatemalan women.
Camera Settings(Above): 1/50sec, f/2.8, ISO 800, 50mm lens
Camera Settings(Above): 1/50sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 50mm lens
Camera Settings(Above): 1/60sec, f/4, ISO 320, 24mm lens, flash (bounced off wall)
Camera Settings (Above): 1/60sec, f/4, ISO 400, 65mm lens
Take a look around my blog to see more of my NGO & Humanitarian photos. I’ll have a new folio on my new website dedicated to the humanitarian projects I’ve been shooting over here in Central and South America.
“You have to ask before you take a photo of anyone here. A Japanese woman didn’t ask and she got stoned to death.”
That was my introduction to Comalapa, a small town, unmarked on the Guatemalan tourist map. I usually ask before I take someones photo, but sometimes that ruins the moment and I (respectfully) want to get a shot before they are aware that I even exist. After the above advice though, I got the feeling that the locals here aren’t really into being the subjects of documentary photography, so I’m going to ask everybodies permission before I take photos of them.
This morning my friend Loren needed to do some washing and asked me if I wanted to go to the public laundry with him. A lot of people around here don’t have the water or facilities to wash clothes in their own home so the women come together and wash communally. It’s such a wonderful and unique cultural experience and I’d been attracted to Guatemala’s outdoor laundries since I first saw them.
I got chatting to this beautiful lady, Chejina (above), while Loren was washing his clothes. Chejina told me she goes there most days to wash. I asked her three times (just to be sure that the question wasn’t getting lost in translation) if it was okay to take her photo. All the ladies around thought it was really funny that I would want to take a photo of their friend washing clothes. I guess they’re right.
This gorgeous little boy has four brothers and sisters. He spends most of his days on his Mums back. She told me that he is very heavy and Thanks to God she is very strong.
I am thrilled to have an article printed in SURFGIRL Magazine, the raddest womens surf mag in The UK.
EOS magazine is a great photography publication coming out of the UK, focused on the technical side of photography and specifically of Canon EOS cameras.
I wanted to write an account of my experiences volunteering in Latin America, thinking it would appeal to EOS readers. The editor Angela August agreed and offered me a two page spread in the Nov 2011 issue. When the article went to print, it ended up as four pages.
I was really pleased to receive an email from Angela saying
“Very many thanks for your contribution. I must compliment you on your fantastic pics, sparkling, well-targeted copy and generally getting everything to me on time and in sensible order. You made my job very easy!”
I put a lot of effort in to making the article as polished as possible, so it’s so nice to hear I could make Angela’s job easier.
Here is a copy of the article.
I love getting feedback, so please leave any of your comments here on email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Antony Ledezma Mendin
& The Bethlehem Youth Club – A photo shoot for Opportunity Nicaragua
When Antony was eight years old his parents divorced, and his family disintegrated around him. Antony’s mother is Costa Rican, but his farther is Nicaraguan. When the family broke down Antony’s father returned to Nicaragua, forcibly taking Antony with him.
They moved to the Nicaraguan Capital of Managua and shared a house with Antony’s grandmother. Life at home was tough, and the family relationship was strained. Antony rebelled. He fought with his father and grandmother, who also fought with each other. At a young age he began experimenting with drugs, smoking and drinking, by 12 he decided living on the streets was better than at home. He ran away.
Antony lived on the streets with a group of friends. They stuck together and protected each other. To get money they would steel whatever they could, sometimes visiting local farms to rob fruit and then sell it on the street.
As he got older, the group of friends developed into a gang; drugs and gang related violence became part of life. Antony looks back on his past drug use with open honesty, recalling “I was crazy, but I liked it (to feel something different)”. The violence on the street was life threatening. At one point in a street gang related attack Antony’s skull was smashed open with a rock, he spent 15 days in hospital and came dangerously close to death.
His life reached crisis point after the sudden death of one of his close friends and soon after Antony was jailed for armed robbery. He spent two months in jail awaiting sentencing. While in jail, a Christian group visited the inmates. Their message resonated with Antony and when still in prison he accepted Jesus as his saviour. Antony was facing at least 10 years in jail and began to pray to for his freedom.
On the day he was to be sentenced an extraordinary string of events occurred. The official escort to court failed to show up. At the end of the day the police officer in charge did not know what to do. He called Antony inside and, astonishingly, gave him his release papers. The charges were dropped and he was free to go. In that moment Antony felt God had answered his prayers and became a committed Christian.
He was free, but with nowhere to go Antony was back on the streets and in danger of returning to his old ways. In his old neighbourhood he met Doña Suzie, who is part of the Bethlehem Youth Club community. The youth club rescued Antony from the streets. They gave him a place to live, food, clothes and support to turn his life around.
Now, the number one change in Antony’s life is a feeling of security. He no longer has to steal in order to eat or wonder where he is going to sleep. The Bethlehem Youth Club gives him a safe, supportive environment, for him to strengthen his resolve to live a new life.
Antony now dreams of being married and having a family, not such a wild dream. He already has a child on the way with his girlfriend, but is honest when he says he is not prepared for marriage. Antony feels inadequate about not finishing school and not having any job skills. He hopes to earn these and be able to support his own family before he asks his girlfriend to marry him. He also dreams of finding his mother who he has not seen since leaving Costa Rica.
Text by James Galletly, Freelance Travel Writer
My journey through Latin America has taken me further north to the wonderful land of Mexico. I had high expectations for this country and Mexico has already exceeded those expectations. The delicious food, the welcoming characters, the rainbow of colours across the variations of traditional dress and the remains of a deep history. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for me.
I will be in Mexico for August and September 2011, followed by some time in The USA, before turning around and heading back south through Central America. Please check the Travel Plan tab at the top of this blog for more information.
I look forward to sharing the journey with you on my blog and Facebook pages.
When I first read about the Kuna Yala indigenous people in the San Blas Islands, I knew I had to visit the islands to photograph them. In all descripitions, the people and the landscape sounded visually stunning.
The Kuna women hand-sew their vibrant outfits with tropical patterns and elaborate designs. Their arms and legs are adorned with colourful beads in traditional patterns that imitate designs that used to be painted on their skin before missionaries taught them to wear clothes.
The location they call home is over 300 idyllic islands in the Caribbean Sea of Panama, the most picture perfect place I have visited in my life. Many of the inhabitants are nomadic and move from island to island collecting coconuts and selling their clothing, designs and beaded jewelry to tourists.