Passion Points: Arts/Culture
It was travel that inspired Elizabeth Jordan (www.ejordanphotography.com), a mother of five who is based in London, to combine her philanthropic goals with her lifelong hobby of photography (as a child, she played in her father’s darkroom). In 2007, she traveled to Rwanda with Women for Women (WFW), an aid organization that specializes in helping women in conflict and post-conflict zones around the world. The photos that came out of this trip were so powerful that WFW asked Jordan to sell them to raise money for the organization. The well-connected Jordan took the project a step further by creating a gorgeous catalog, complete with photos and quotes from Rwandan woman she had interviewed, as well as a foreword by former president Bill Clinton. The opening was held in one of London’s most prestigious art galleries and was a huge success for WFW. Since then, Jordan has traveled and worked in Bosnia, Haiti, Ghana, Rwanda, Russia and Malawi, using her lens to raise awareness. Her work has been shown in numerous galleries and other venues, and all proceeds of sales have gone to charities and non-profits.
Those interested in seeing Elizabeth’s work up close and personal can visit her 7-week exhibition Hope in Haiti at the Westport Arts Center (www.westportartscenter.org). The exhibition will feature Elizabeth’s large-scale work, as well as miages taken by Haitian children. The show will raise money for Haiti’s Carma Foundation.
Indagare contributor Elena Bowes spoke to Jordan aboard the Eurostar as the two art lovers traveled to see the art show Paris Photo.
What should travelers considering going on a philanthropic trip with WFW be aware of?
It’s very important that you are clear that this type of experience is not a vacation. Be prepared to question your sanity a few times during your week. Be prepared to feel inspired, disappointed, humbled, depressed and elated all in one week. These are working trips physically and emotionally. You cannot experience the true joy of seeing kids going to school with a new water pump in the school yard until you have walked a mile with an eight-year-old who cannot go to school because her entire existence is collecting water from the river seven miles away. Seeing and experiencing the contrast is key to understanding the full picture.
Also be prepared that you won’t realize the full benefits of this trip until much later; this is not an experience that provides immediate gratification. Understanding takes some time to come to fruition but it will last. After you come back, you will steadily remember and recall things and find yourself wanting to talk about what you saw and how it made you feel to anyone who will listen. It is after you hear yourself repeatedly talk and explain what you experienced, that you genuinely begin to understand and feel the benefits emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. These are permanent awakenings that will change you for the better and continue to change you as return home.
You sometimes take your kids along on the trips. What role do they play?
A few years ago I found myself in the interesting position of being a mother of five wanting to offer my older children more insight into life. Managing five children between the ages of three and seventeen is a never-ending balancing act. But I feel that my work is enlightening and beneficial for my kids as well. They aren’t with me on every trip but they do spend an awful lot of time looking at photos and hearing about the places I have been–my studio space is at home so I am always asking their opinion.
Which one of your trips has impressed you the most?
I was most impressed by how clean and tidy Rwanda was. Even the humblest of mud huts had little bamboo fences neatly arranged around the property, water jugs are stacked in an orderly fashion. The government actually requires the local communities to clean their homes, places of work and public spaces; as a result one gets a very strong sense of pride when traveling in Rwanda.
Whenever I travel, I always see the work the various charities up close and personal. The people who work for these charities are the best guides because by definition, they love their countries and are eager for me to see the best that it has to offer, as well as what needs most attention. In Malawi, where I traveled with One Water, I saw the effects of a water pump that has been recently installed in a village. The pump was surrounded by 1,500 villagers who had previously walked miles every day to the river to get a bucket of water. The pump literally changed their lives in an instant. It was so inspirational.
What were your impressions of Haiti shortly after the earthquake?
Haiti was definitely the most difficult trip, and the only one where I felt moments of potential danger. Obviously, there were extreme levels of poverty, pollution and overwhelming sorrow; everything was very raw. I had an episode when someone jumped into my car at a red light. As it turned out, all he wanted was my lunch even though there was all this expensive camera equipment in the back seat. It was fine in the end, but it made me very conscious of the desperation there. The Haitian people were all on the brink emotionally and physically… that tension followed me everywhere I went. I also couldn’t wander off on my own to take pictures, which was a big hindrance. I ended up focusing on these colorful buses called “tap tap” that are covered in graffiti. Much of it is religiously infused which I see a lot in Africa and is very different from the graffiti we see in the West, which is typically more politically and socially charged. I think of the “tap tap” series as a positive body of work coming out of a very difficult time in Haiti. It is genuine; I chose to focus on these positive messages sprayed on these buses.
What charity do you support in Haiti?
The Carma Foundation started by Melky Jean is one I can personally vouch for, as I have traveled long and far to visit the orphanages it supports. Melky grew up in New York City, but she’s the daughter of a Haitian pastor who used to house, educate and feed Haitian orphans until he died about ten years ago. Melky started Carma long before the earthquake to revive her father’s good work, but then the earthquake escalated the need to a much higher level. She has been raising money to rebuild several orphanages and fund schools. She also is starting something called Carma Kitchen, a fast food spot run by local women. It’s nice to have Haitians supporting Haitians
What are some other charities and non-profit organizations you support?
With my photography, I have raised money for Womenf For Women, the Carma Foundation, New York University’s new campus in Ghana, One Water, Gift of Life, Paul Khlebnikov Foundation, Right to Play, Urban Zen and Virgin Unite.
Where have you traveled most recently?
I’ve been to Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ethiopia, where I will be traveling with an experienced guide to the remotest regions to see the last remaining tribes of Africa. These images will be used by an upcoming event at the Halcyon Gallery in London for a project that Halcyon Gallery is sponsoring for Richard Branson’s foundation Virgin Unite.
What are the most powerful aspects of going on a philanthropic trip?
For those searching for the ultimate philanthropic adventure, there is no better way than to make a donation to a charity and then ask to come along on their next trip. Every organization I have traveled with has had amazing volunteers who really want to show their country to curious travelers, especially to those looking for an opportunity to see their money at work. The job of the people working on the ground is never easy and a chance to show their work is an important motivator. Going on a trip like this not only helps a charity financially, but helps the team on the ground get the recognition they deserve and allows you—the adventurer—the opportunity to return from an experience that will put life into perspective when you get home.
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