Photographers Without Borders: Project Elimu by Art Zaratsyan

Elimu Impact Evaluation Centre is doing important work in Kenya—and it needs your help.

Elimu Impact Evaluation Centre, founded by McGill University Professor of Economics Matthieu Chemin in 2006, is a local NGO working in Kianyaga, Kirinyaga district in central Kenya, about 100km north of Nairobi. Kianyaga is one of the poorest places on Earth, where many of the locals, mostly ethnic Kikuyu, live their lives in destitute, unsanitary conditions, open to different diseases and afflictions, struggling to survive on a daily basis. Here, Elimu has been helping communities with implementing and evaluating the successes of various development approaches in order to identify the best ways to help reduce poverty, such as Legal Aid, Micro-Health Insurance, Micro-Hydro Electricity and a Community Library in a local school.

Not unlike all other NGOs—the success of Elimu and their continued operation depend on adequate funding. Photographers Without Borders and I have come together to help capture the work and the stories of Elimu, providing the organization with compelling photography to help them promote their work in the community on a local scale, and to raise awareness about Elimu worldwide. But, this project depends on your support—

You can help make this happen! Your donations will help Elimu continue their important work in Kenya!

And, not like you need any incentive to donate to a good cause, but… I am offering these gifts as thank-you for your generosity:

For a donation of $50 or more you will receive a signed 8x10 print!

For a donation in any amount and sharing the event with your friends, your name will be automatically entered to the raffle for the grand prize: 13x19 framed and signed fine-art print!

So, please visit the Photographers Without Borders project page on GroupRev, or donate by following the link below—anything counts!

Reforesting The Dominican Republic by Art Zaratsyan

It is estimated that the original forest cover in the territory of the Dominican Republic was about 40,000 sq. km at the start of the last century. Since then clearing of land for farming and agriculture, commercial logging, mining and other human activity have been reducing the Dominican forests at an increasing pace, resulting in only about 5,000 sq. km of forest left toward the end of the 1980s. But then, starting in the early 1990s, thanks in part to new protection laws passed by the government but mainly due to the reforestation efforts of various environmentally minded organizations, this alarming trend slowly reversed and the forests began regrowing. As of today, the forest coverage of the country has stabilized at the 13,000 sq. km mark, nearly 28% of the land. 

Not long ago I visited one of these organizations, Asociacíon para el Desarrollo de San José de Ocoa, or ADESJO for short, which is the leading development organization in the province of San José De Ocoa. In more than 50 years of its existence, ADESJO has helped more than 80 communities in San José De Ocoa with roads, housing, hydro power, water and irrigation projects, supported the local women’s associations in communities with greenhouses and apiaries, has supplied hundreds of villages with schools, community centres and clinics.

This organization, now loved by all of the inhabitants of San José De Ocoa, traces its humble beginnings to one man, a Canadian pastor, Father Louis Joseph Quinn. Padre Luis, who is now a man of legend in the province, came to Dominican Republic in 1953 and fell in love with this country. He lived here until his death in 2007, dedicating his life to the development of San José De Ocoa and eradication of poverty in communities. Many stories that the locals tell about the Padre describe a man of intense energy and conviction who spent his days working knee-deep in dirt beside the men in the communities and his evenings preaching in the church in the town, often still in his work boots, wearing his gown over his dusty clothes. Padre Luis led by example, and the people followed.

ADESJO was founded by Padre in 1962, beginning with just a few men helping with his goal of improving the life in communities in San José De Ocoa. As the organization grew, so did its influence in the area. Padre would use all the help he could find, often recruiting foreign volunteers to help in the fields and the villages. One of the anecdotes about Padre Luis tells of him recruiting a group of sailors on leave off a Canadian (Navy?) ship docked in Santo Domingo, and putting them to work in the mountains of San José De Ocoa. When the country was devastated by hurricane David in 1979, ADESJO rebuilt entire villages and neighbourhoods in the town of San José De Ocoa, helped them restore power and water, irrigation systems destroyed by the storm.

ADESJO today has dozens of projects constantly on the go, large and small, reforestation being one of the main goals of its Natural Resources department led by Carlos Bonilla, ADESJO veteran of over 25 years. A tall silent man—a man’s man—Carlos has led the ADESJO reforestation effort, estimating over 50,000,000 trees planted under his lead in the province of San José De Ocoa. “There was not a single tree in these mountains 30 years ago”, says Carlos proudly, pointing at a typical mountain range, covered with a lush green layer of forest. And he has a good reason to be proud, the efforts of ADESJO have transformed the land into a picturesque green tropical paradise. It’s hard to imagine the land before the reforestation: without the fast-growing leucaenas and tall pines, without the fruit orchards, the hundreds of springs dried out, not a single shade to hide under from the scorching sun—all this is just an exercise for the imagination today. “We chose leucaenas for this area because the leaves of the tree degrade very quickly, restoring the top soil”, he explains, driving the four-wheel drive truck on a rural road built by ADESJO back in the 1980s. “They are resilient, grow on very little water, and are hard to kill”, he smiles, and it’s obvious that he loves his work. “Bonilla!” he is warmly greeted by the locals everywhere we drive by, and he waves back. “Are you happy?” I ask him as we drive cross the river Ocoa. “Si!” he smiles, and I believe him.

One of the latest projects Carlos Bonilla has been involved in is a sustainable lumber yard—a dream of late Padre Luis—which is being constructed in Derrumbado, a community supported by ADESJO for many years now with numerous housing projects, a school, water and irrigation. The reforestation efforts here have been expanded into a growing supply of renewable timber, and ADESJO has successfully applied for a grant from Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO) which awarded them with wood-cutting machinery and training exceeding 2,500,000 Dominican pesos, around US$60,000. 20% of proceeds from this lumber yard will benefit the members of the local community, who will also be able to purchase wood at half price. The yard is expected to produce more than 270,000 ft of wood per year. “There is a great demand for wood in San José De Ocoa”, says Carlos, “and getting the wood at lower cost is a great benefit for the housing projects of ADESJO!”. Currently the organization has to buy commercial wood at high cost, but once the lumber yard begins its operations, the costs are going to be reduced dramatically, allowing them to build even more houses much needed by the local communities.

The success of ADESJO has attracted much attention. The people of ADESJO have been finding themselves spending more and more time sharing their experience with similar organizations in neighbouring provinces, as well as internationally. The world is interested in their work, techniques, and the know-how, but I suspect that the core of this success lies in the hearts of the people like Carlos Bonilla and the rest of the staff of ADESJO, led by the spirit of Padre Luis that lives on in their work, felt throughout the province of San José De Ocoa even today.

Click below to see the Fifty Million Trees gallery for more photos for this story:

Let Me Tell You About Koshale… by Art Zaratsyan

Let me tell you about Koshale…

To get there you need to leave Arba Minch early in the morning. Then you drive for five and a half hours, two of them on patchwork of gravel and asphalt till you reach Geresse, a sort of a district center. After Geresse it's just dirt, blasted rock, occasional stream crossings, and—sometimes—no roads at all. At around noon you're there, but you only have about two hours until you need leave—to make it back to Arba Minch by nightfall.

Koshale, pronounced koh-sháh-leh, is a village in the lowlands of the south of Ethiopia, not too far from Kenyan border. It's far, it's hot, it's dry, and it's the home of a few thousand Ethiopian families. First thing that comes to your mind when you arrive is "why would anyone want to live here?"

Ethiopia is Africa's second most populated country: the latest figure is 98 million people—half of them under 18. For me that translates to the following: anywhere you go, people live there. Pick any direction, drive for hours, you'll still run into a bunch of kids, who will pop from behind some tree or pop up on some rock, screaming "Faranji, faranji!"

The reason I took the long trip to Koshale (twice) is water. There isn't much of it in Ethiopia in general, even less here. For generations the people of the village have walked for hours a day to the nearest stream to bring water to their homes. But all that changed last December. 

With the help of HOPE International Development Agency the people of Koshale completed a big water project, laying over 15 km of pipeline to bring clean water from a capped source on the nearby mountain down to the village. The project is impressive in its scale. The community provided the labor: digging the trenches, laying the pipeline,  mining materials like sand and gravel. HOPE provided the pipes, the know-how, the cement and all the materials unavailable to the area. The result: clean water available to the whole village—right in the village. And me, photographing this modern day humanitarian miracle, wishing I could be there to document the project as it was being constructed…

See the "Water for Koshale" gallery in the "Stories" section for more photos.