Giving back while leaving a lasting impression

Posted: 20 Jul 2011 05:09 AM PDT After spending three INCREDIBLE months in Nepal, I had the honor of meeting many fantastic and beautiful people from a variety of different countries including Ireland, Germany, America, Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, Spain, and of course the local Nepali’s. The people of Nepal are by far some of the most generous and warm hearted individuals I have come across in all my travels. Their kind care free spirits along with their constant drive to satisfy even the  simplest requests make you feel as if you are an extension of their very own family.


Whenever you are traveling both locally or internationally try not to make open promises to the people you encounter. I’m talking specifically about when your shopping in a local market, looking for souvenirs, and when you get a good price you say “I’ll come back… I promise”. If you don’t think your going to purchase anything or you think you can locate a cheaper price, either say “NO” or haggle. If your taking someone’s photograph (TO ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS) don’t just take your subjects photo and run off without  even the decency of saying “thank-you” or even showing them their own photograph. On more than TWENTY different occasions, I had many Nepali’s mention they always had photographers just snapping away both outside and in their own homes and just walking away. This is unacceptable as it creates a bad name for photographers who want to actually make a difference with their imagery. If you can, try and have the photo developed in an area you are staying by having prints printed of your subject(s) as a gift. Gestures like this are very personal and memorable. Your subjects will always have this photograph as a reminder of their encounter  with you, whether it being the first or hundredth time. Handing out pins, chocolate, and money encourages begging and does not help any individual integrate into society especially when their are numerous programs, NGO’s, and organizations that facilitate people in need. Make your encounters genuine and leave a long  lasting impression that will always remain with the individual especially when your subjects welcome you with open arms revealing their souls.

Thank-you to ASHOK my guide who helped me take photo’s as we were handing out photographs to our some of our subjects-> Love your work brotha’!!


A photograph that the metal workers wanted . Each of them received their own photographic print of them working in action.


A lady that made us tea every morning while we photographed her and her niece in Bhalku Market.






















A little Piece of Heaven Part 2

Posted: 15 Jul 2011 05:41 AM PDT If you have not read the previous BLOG entry “A Little Piece of Heaven” posted on July 1st, I ask you this. PLEASE scroll down, locate this entry first and take your time reading it before viewing this BLOG post, as it will help you truly understand the title “A Little Piece of Heaven”.

I returned to the Ashram at Pashputatinath one more time as this place always hangs in the back of my mind since Fanny brought me here over a month ago. I truly have fallen in love with the residents, the volunteers, and the sisters who ALL contribute a huge part of themselves towards such an amazing cause. I hope you enjoy my stories and photographs of what was one of the best experiences of my life so far.

Thank-you Fanny!!
















Kathmandu Part 5

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 10:07 AM PDT Nepal is a place that will constantly leave your eyes wondering with purpose through it’s variety of faces, languages, food, and industries. Kathmandu will challenge you, make you struggle, and push you to your very limits with it’s inner workings. When you think all hope is lost, ready to call this city quits, through in the towel, and book the first flight available to Southern France, Kathmandu will suddenly look at you with a smile, show it’s softer side like a father pushing his son to the brink of tears proving that hard work, persistence, and love for something is all about the journey and not the finish line. With the help of a friend (You know who you are) I have recently discovered subconsciously that I continue to photograph situations of people that almost always include some form of survival. Before I left for this trip, I had these crazy ideas and situations that I would run through and through in my own head where I would be photographing 20-30 different stories, running into a mob of angry protesters, hanging from one hand off the side of a mountain while taking pictures with the other and walking away with these award winning photographs. In my head all I saw was the final shot with glitz and glamor. This mentality blinded me from really seeing what the purpose of this journey was. Kathmandu has shown me what this purpose is, to really dig deep, both for myself and my love for telling real stories through my photographs. What is important?…. Inspiring people first and foremost. From there I hope I have made that much of an effect in people’s minds that is forces them to get involved by volunteering in their communities, ask questions about social issues and globalization, show an interest in educating and helping the less fortunate, traveling to foreign countries to understand human beings and the cultures they live in, and to continue creating that effect with the individuals they inspire. You don’t have to start an NGO, save 60 orphans from a burning building, or tie yourself to a tree…. You just have to WANT to help. From there we can all inspire people to really create change.

The following photographs are the daily lives of people that inspire me to keep photographing!!


A mother feeds her son due to his disabilities in the slums on the outskirts of Kathmandu.


A small Indian child living amongst the tent yards on the outskirts of Kathmandu.


A fine carpenter carves the molding for an altar that will be used for a families home.


Two small Nepali children play with each other in a make shift daycare while their parents work in the surrounding factories.


A Nepali metal worker.


A Nepali metal worker.


A young Nepali girl laughs and plays as my guide and I take our morning tea at the local wholesale market in Kathmandu.


A small Nepali child in her home amongst the slums on the sacred Bagmati River in Kathmandu.


A Nepali Man brushing his teeth before starting his day in the metal bowl factory.


The metal bowls that are made and to be sold in local markets in Kathmandu.


A Nepali man mends old potato sacks to be reused for the transportation of other goods and products in Kathmandu.


A Nepali man operates 3 different self operated looms to make pashmina to be sold throughout Nepal.


A Nepali man takes a little rest before going back to work in the metal bowl factory along the Bagmati River in Kathmandu.


A Nepali man who works as a porter in Balkhu wholesale market where he earns 5 rupees per load carried.. about $0.07.


A Nepali man operates 3 different self operated looms to make pashmina to be sold throughout Nepal.


A Nepali man operates 3 different self operated looms to make pashmina to be sold throughout Nepal.


An old Nepali man checks he plot of land to make sure his rice crop is doing well.


A Nepali woman drying her lentils out in the sun.


Kathmandu Hospital: HRDC (Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children)

Just last week, Ashok (my guide) and I were driving to Bhaktapur which is located East on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The drive to Bhaktapur has always been a favorite of mine for two reasons. First, it’s always nice to escape the craziness of Kathmandu especially during monsoon when you feel extra congested from all the rain that literally falls from the sky by the ship load (Those of you who have actually experienced a monsoon season in Asia, you know what I’m talking about). Second, within 20 minutes your immediately surrounded by rice paddy fields, BEAUTIFUL Nawari architecture (Google it), endless rural Nepal, and my favorite…. the brickyards. On this particular day though it was my main purpose to visit the brickyards one last time before I would depart for Bangladesh on July 18th, however today proved that things don’t always go as planned and with a little faith, a Nepali, a motorcycle, and a cell phone anything is possible. As Ashok parked his motorcycle, we quickly gathered our things and navigated our way through the backs of some old shacks and in to the farmland of Bhaktapur. We hiked through rice fields, over a newly constructed half built concrete bridge, through ankle deep mud on the banks of the rice fields, and finally reaching higher ground where we could temporarily dry out Ashoks shoes because of the three inch coat of mud that engulfed his entire two feet. Within minutes of our little trek through the fields, we came to one of the brickyards I had recently photographed. a couple weeks prior. (SEE blog post: A True Authentic Cultural Experience/June-26th). We entered the property and I was very eager to get to work and start photographing, but within seconds I knew something wasn’t right. There were no human voices, no children playing, no trucks coming and going, and we did not see a worker in sight. Scanning for any sign of life, I recognized a man from my previous visit who was sitting in a little hut like office smoking. After a few words were exchanged in broken English and Nepali, Ashok looked at me with this look of shame and disappointment like a trained dog that had just peed on the floor and said “This particular brick yard was the last in the valley that closed yesterday and production will not continue till September due to the monsoon”. Quickly realizing that photographing the brickyard workers was literally a lost cause, Ashok and I quickly began to think. As we were figuring out our options for the day, Ashok suddenly recalled an idea that I presented to him a week back over breakfast. I had told him I wanted to go to a hospital in Banepa that specialized in orthopedics and prosthetic limbs. Ashok quickly got on the phone, made three phone calls, and within four minutes he eagerly explained we have a meeting with the director of the hospital and the facility was located off the main highway that we were traveling on from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur, all we had to do was keep heading East in the same direction we came from. realizing that it was already 10:00am we suddenly picked up our pace and made our way through the muddy maze of fields, bridges, mangroves, and half visible paths back to where Ashok had parked his motorcycle. Still with the same urgency and excitement we quickly pounded back a litre of water, started the bike and we were off to the Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children (HRDC).

Riding down the highway with a blue sky and glowing white clouds was a nice surprise that late morning given that it had been raining periodically for a week straight. On this particular day, the ride to HRDC was filled with warm feelings you get when summer arrives with it’s first week of warm weather with BBQ’s and evening bike rides. After 20 minutes of driving time we made a quick left turn off the highway onto a gravel road ascending through a series of switchbacks  that can prove difficult on a 165cc motorcycle with a combined weight of 300 lbs. As we reached the top of the hospitals main building, Ashok turned off the bike, and we quickly admired the beautiful view the hospital had of the entire valley. Ashok and I quickly went through our game plan and discussed what was needed to be said in our meeting with the director to increase our chances of access. From there we proceeded through the front doors confident in our intentions and mission.

We entered the hospital where we briefly waited for the director to finish with a meeting he was currently involved with. As we entered the office, we exchanged names, greetings and I found the director Krishna Bhattarai quite a humble, a gentle man. He was stern with his policies but had a quality that many Nepali men lack in Nepal, and that is an open mind. After discussing our intentions, our mission, patient ethics, hospital ethics and trust, he granted Ashok and I access to the entire hospital. Excited to start working, Ashok and I received an in depth tour of the hospital from one of the hospital staff. We witnessed many patients with a variety of physical complications, disabilities, and deformities. The hospital accepts children up to the age of 16 but they may stay until they are 18 if further treatment is required. They perform all orthopedic surgeries on site, physiotherapy, prosthetic fabrication, counseling, and attend to home visits. The HRDC is a privately operated organization where a variety of funding comes from philanthropists, grants, and international aid from a variety of countries. After the tour I was amazed at the facility compared to the government hospitals I had witnessed in Kathmandu, Surkhet, and Simikot. I would try to explain the joy I witnessed from ALL the patients in the hospital, but my words like cliche would not give them justice… They were just beautiful and I hope you are able to see that in my photographs.

My visit to the HRDC was intended for a one day visit due to other projects I had to wrap up in Kathmandu, but I fell in love with the patients, the international volunteers, and the staff making a total of three visits in the week. The visits included playing with the children, a portrait session capturing all the children and their facial expressions, distribution of prints to each of the patients (New Blog post coming soon…), and photographing the kids in their daily lives inside the HRDC. The HRDC is truly a fantastic organization and one I HIGHLY recommend volunteering for if you ever visit Nepal. The children seem completely immobile in some of the photographs, but trust me, their spirits get the better of them and I am not lying when I say you see them having races on crutches, climbing through windows, playing tag, jumping, and moving with the energy of any perfectly healthy child. These children are fighters and true survivors. I hope you fall in love with them as much as I did.



This photograph is of a boy named Sargam Rai who seems to really enjoy drawing and doodling. Every time I saw him he always had a pencil or pen in his hands.


Pawan and Manju Poudel pose delicately for a photograph.


Two young Nepali's spend their days playing in the courtyard taking turns racing in the wheel chairs.


Two young Nepali's spend their days playing in the courtyard taking turns racing in the wheel chairs.


A young Nepali boy shows me how high he can throw and catch a ball.


A Nepali girl imitates me taking photographs of her.


A young Nepali boy shows me how high he can throw and catch a ball.


Sabaya Devi and her daughter Niraj Sah take advantage of the fresh air and sunshine outside before the rain comes.


Sargam Rai enjoying some music on his mothers mobile phone while she takes a nap next to him.


Khumbanadur Pandey showing his excitement having his photograph taken.


Sanchamaya Praja was so delicate and gentle. She was an absolute doll when she tried to speak English.


This Nepali boy was AWESOME and had more energy than a Labrador. Constantly racing with his walker, hopping everywhere, and getting mischief...AKA- Mr. Monkey!!





Sharmila Nepel and her grandmother spend their days talking on the bed and drawing in the play room.


Parbarti Sharma is stubborn when it comes to have her photo taken.


One of the three workshops where local craftsmen fabricate soft leather shoes for patients at the HRDC.


One of the three workshops where local craftsmen fabricate soft leather shoes for patients at the HRDC.


One of the three workshops where local craftsmen fabricate soft leather shoes for patients at the HRDC.


A table of sample parts, prosthetic limbs, and other materials.


Need I say more...


Khumbanadur Pandey quietly poses for a photograph.


One of the three workshops where a local craftsmen fabricates a knee joint for a patient at the HRDC.


One of the three workshops where a local craftsmen fabricates a leg brace for a patient at the HRDC.


One of the three workshops where a local craftsmen traces shoe patterns to be made into shoes for patients at the HRDC.


Different size wooden shoe templates are used to construct shoes for the patients at the HRDC.


A little piece of heaven (Kathmandu Part 4)

PLEASE READ TO FULLY UNDERSTAND THE PHOTOGRAPHS!! Pashupatinath is a sacred and holy place boasting Hindu temples, public alters, shrines, old architecture, and is situated on both sides of the sacred Bagmati River in the eastern part of Kathmandu. Most people that travel to Nepal usually come here to get a glimpse of the temples, take a few photo’s and do a little shopping for paraphernalia in the local street stands. Another main reason why locals and tourists flock to this location is to be a witness of Kathmandu residents paying their respect to loved ones who have passed away. In Nepal they do not bury their dead, they cremate the deceased in public cremation sites that are situated along the banks of the sacred Bagmati River. These sites are outdoor and completely open to the public where you are able to view and witness the proceedings of what we westerners would call a funeral. The dead are put on steel beam structures along the river to hold the deceased body in place, then wood is placed under the body as well as on top, religious proceedings and activities take place and then the body is then burned until there is nothing left except ash. Another sign you know someone has passed away in Nepal, is occasionally you will notice Nepali men will have their heads shaven clean leaving nothing but a little lock of hair on the back of their cranium.

We all know death is a part of life but I find it very refreshing on how widely death is accepted here in Nepal and also in other parts of Asian countries. People in Nepal die everyday in the streets, villages, hospitals, and from curable/controllable diseases like the flu, diarrhea, tuberculosis, water born viruses, and infections. Road accidents with fatalities alone are a daily occurrence that attributes to the 4th greatest cause of death in Nepal. Death is an everyday occurrence in all societies around the globe, but I think in Nepal’s society most people here have seen death first hand on at least on one or more occasions and it seems to facilitate their carefree thinking in accepting inevitably what is going to be the fate of every living thing on this planet. In my opinion the majority of people at home (Canada) are afraid of dying or even the thought of it. It has become a complete taboo, and you can’t blame people for being scared, heck it still makes me a little nervous. It is the unknown, is there a white light, is it going to be lights out, at the end of the day, we just don’t know. But rather than run away from the inevitable, why not try and understand what is so frightening and see how we can learn to accept and celebrate death as equally as we accept birth.

When I heard of Pashupatinath from other travelers, I actually had no interest to see the temples, the monasteries, the entrance fees, and the cheap memorabilia you are pressured to purchase from every man, woman, or child you make eye contact with. However, my reason for coming to Pashupatinath was to visit a specific ashram that was not visited by tourists let alone many locals. It was to volunteer for a special cause that involved Nepali seniors who have either been abandoned by their families, the family cannot support them, and/or they are a disgrace to the family because of their old age and disabilities.

As you enter the grounds of Pashupatinath, there is a large square weathered brown building immediately to your right as you approach the admission gates of the several main temples that are visited by the tourists. This structure looks a little out of character compared to the rest of the buildings in the Pashupatinath grounds because it doesn’t even have a gate let alone a Nepali attendant taking your admission money. As you approach the ashram you go down a set of stone and concrete steps that descend 8 ft from the ground level. As you near the entrance, you start to hear sounds of music and voices where a set of wooden steps covered by an archway marks the entrance to the ashram. As you make your way up the steps, and under the archway, you are suddenly greeted by an array of beautiful faces chanting, singing, creating colorful music accompanied by a single drummer, and a harmonium player, while a hint of sweet incense gently lingers in the air.

The individuals that are creating this colorful music and celebrations are the residents of the ashram who greet us with an abundance of head nods, clasped hands and namastes. The ashram is completely square and there are two levels that occupy the outer square structure with an open courtyard in the center. The two indoor levels is the living quarters and homes for the ashram residents who we were welcomed by. The center courtyard is occupied with 5 major structured altars where the residents perform their daily religious beliefs and offerings. As you walk around the center temples you come to a door immediately opposite from where you entered on the other side of the ashram. As I walk through the second entrance opposite from where I entered, my senses are suddenly taken over taken by a smell that I can only describe as….death. But please do not take that word in a negative context as the word “Death” should not be have a negative stigma attached to it, as for this is one of the reasons of this particular blog post.

A woman by the name of Fanny Vandewiele has brought me to this location because she has been volunteering and living in Kathmandu for the past 2 years. This separate area connected to the main ashram has another small structure in the shape of an “L” where around another 20 senior residents live and are cared for by local and international volunteers including the Sisters of Mother Theresa (Missionary of Charity). These 20 or so residents are extremely old and suffer from blindness, dementia, down syndrome, old age, amputation, and are here to live out the rest of their natural life. As Fanny introduces me to everyone I suddenly get this warm feeling because of the joy and how similar old people are compared to 3 and 4 year old children. As I walk around taking in all the faces I immediately notice men and woman fighting with one another over a juice box, I notice a man with down syndrome constantly poking and harmlessly annoying some of the woman for his own satisfaction, I see people napping, I see people laughing, I see people grunting, I see people sitting quietly with one another saying a few words every so often, and I can’t help but think we are born into this world the same way we leave and honestly it’s quite beautiful and comforting to see.

The facility itself has working toilets, basic plumbing, running water with solar panels for hot water, beds, blankets, clothing, and food, all your basic necessities. However, it was not always like this. When Fanny came to this place to volunteer over a year ago she noticed that the condition the place was in was, lack of a better word almost inhabitable. Many years ago the Nepali government built this facility to house seniors and provide an adequate place for the seniors to live out the rest of their lives. Some years ago a Dutch man donated over 10,000 Euros to rebuild the ashram because of the lack of maintenance that was never addressed by the Pashupatinath Trust who was responsible for all the necessary up keep and maintenance. This Dutch man provided the necessary funding to provide and upgrade the living standards for the entire ashram and it’s residents. Unfortunately, like many Nepal organizations, governments, and NGO’s they are very corrupt, greedy, and lazy. The ashram was never maintained again, even after the Dutch man provided the necessary funds and the people continued to suffer greatly. One day as Fanny and the MC Sister’s were working, suddenly water started pouring in from the roofs structure and these seniors were literally sleeping in the rain. That’s when Fanny Vandewiele had had enough and decided to do something. She gained the confidence of the MC Sister’s and 4 Nepali volunteers Manish Joshi, Riti Pyakurel, Sudharsan Pradhan, Maya (Don’t have the last name), and together they pulled their contacts, skills and resources together to start a complete reconstruction of this particular facility behind the main ashram. Fanny even managed to help fund this project from her own pocket as well as organizing fundraiser’s in her home country of Belgium to cover all costs. From there a need was needed and they started to fill it facing a slew of obstacles along the way including strikes, building codes, threats, locals saying they would help but failed to ever show up, and to add insult to injury, the monsoon season was right around the corner. After a short amount of time Fanny, Manish Joshi, Riti Pyakurel, Sudharsan Pradhan, Maya (Don’t have the last name), and the MC Sister’s had done it. They had rebuilt the living quarters, installed a brand new roof with no sign of a single leak, purchased a solar panel heating system for the water tanks, built proper washroom facilities, and built a much more pleasant environment for the residents of Pashupatinath all with their very own hands.

I spent 5 days volunteering at what Fanny likes to call “A little place of Heaven” working and photographing the residents in their daily routines that would not be possible without the help of local and International volunteers, the MC Sister’s, and Fanny. It was a pleasure to be a part of such an amazing project and I advise ANYONE who wants to help in a hands on experience doing something incredible for the lives of these Nepali seniors where even the comfort of sitting on a bed, cleaning their hands after a meal, or helping them to the toilet can sometimes have a greater effect than sending a cheque to a big name organization. I truly feel money can only do 10% for a humanitarian cause, the other 90% needs to come from people that genuinely care for wanting to help, where someone can be an asset rather than a name on a donor list, where you can see the difference in front of your own eyes that person makes and contribute to the cause.

If you are ever in Kathmandu and want to be a part of something truly amazing send Fanny Vanderwiele an email and she would love for you to come join her and help volunteer with these beautiful people at the Ashram on the right hand side in Pashupatinath.

If you have any questions about the work, the locations, photography or just want to say “HI”, I would love to hear from you and hear what you have to say. Thank-you for reading and stay tuned for the next Blog post…