Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Welcome to Belize.

Hey all!

My friend recently brought up to me the fact that, in a previous post, I promised a full story about my (not-so-entirely recent) trip to Belize. So here it goes:

* To Expand or Decrease Photo size after it has been clicked on, simply hold CTRL and scroll with mouse wheel*

Around October or November last year, I was starting to get a lot of photography jobs doing all sorts of different things, from locations to gallery work to engagements. With all of the great opportunities I had been offered to use this passion of mine, I wanted to balance it by doing something with my photography that could actually help people who desperately needed help. It was then that I came across an awesome non-profit organization based out of Belize called PathLight International ( I knew nothing about Belize, except that was was in Latin America somewhere. As I looked into it further, I realized I was heading with my camera into a legit jungle environment with a hodge-podge of cultures, heritages, and lifestyles. From British occupation to Creole/Carribean influences to Mexican leanings and a rich Mayan history, I was amped to get immersed in something completely different than me.

A little visual overview of the country of Belize:

I got in contact with the organization and was stoked to hear that there was some need for photography for advertisements, brochures, etc. I grabbed my ticket and, in January, headed down with a crew of college students from William Jessup University (a small Christian college near Sacramento). The purpose of the trip was to teach in the mostly forgotten, underfunded, and under-resourced primary/elementary schools that were outside of the reach/awareness of the larger cities, but mostly, largely outside the reach/awareness/support of the Belizian government. Many people who lived in the small villages that fed into these schools lived on less that $2 a day.

Seeing as how I was down there anyway, I figured I'd take part and teach a photography class on top of taking photos. Belize's largest industry is tourism, and with tourism comes the need for photography. With some training, I figured some sort of photography could likely be a trade for some of these children as they grow up. Believe it or not, Wal-Mart donated 30 simple, little digital cameras for my classes. I taught at three different schools, showing 5th and 6th graders the joy of photography. Most of these kids had never used a camera before in their lives, so I taught the basics; the best I could do while speaking to classes that understood English like I understand Spanish....not muy bien.

photo thanks to Alyssa Gluck

photo thanks to Jennifer Marple

After a lesson on what buttons to push to turn the camera on, how to frame things, the difference between action and portrait and landscape, etc., I sent them out to shoot around their school grounds, trying out the five different genres I taught them about: Portrait, Nature, Action, Landscape, and Abstract (PS- trying to explain "Abstract" to 5th graders who fluently speak English is hard enough!). Here are a few photos showing what went on. Imagine, most of these kids had never used or even held a camera before.

-What I think was one of the best attempts at an action shot! :

-Mr. Eco, a 5th grade teacher seemingly in his early 40s, taking the first photo of his life.-

And my personal favorite:
After a couple photo shoots for each student, we took the digital photos back with us, got them developed and printed in the States, and had them sent back to each of the remote schools. Each child received 10 printed photos they had personally taken: tangible objects that would be among the most valuable treasures in their households. Furthermore, seeing as how the cameras were donated to us, and to help support some frame of sustainability, we decided to donate the cameras to the individual schools to continue this photography program. (*Batteries and upload capabilities for the program are being handled by PathLight, in case you were wondering*)

Throughout our stay in Belize, we stayed at PathLight's headquarters: a place called Jaguar Creek. This place was friggin awesome! Surrounded by miles of dense equatorial jungle (Bear Gryllis did a special on these Belizian jungles the week I got back...Yeah, its that hardcore) and accessible only by a long, narrow, rocky road covered by the jungle canopy, Jaguar Creek was easily one of the coolest and most savage places I've ever stayed. This place came with all of the fun things that makes a legit jungle actually legit: jaguars that could pounce out of the dense bush at any moment, a good-sized local population of fer-de-lances (one of the most deadly snakes in the world), and mosquitoes that lay their larvae under your skin. My camera bag was packed with newspaper to soak up the moisture from the incredibly thick humidity, yet long sleeves were very welcome to ward off those mosquitoes.

Here are a few photos of Jaguar Creek:

Main Headquarters:

So much growth and life, a plant sprouted out of a broken piece of wood 3 ft off the ground. It was actually and literally growing out of it!

Being so far in the middle of nowhere, along PathLight's sweet perspective on God's creation and how we should treat it as the beautiful-special thing it is, Jaguar Creek was fully self-sustained with a constantly running river that was purified and lights-fans-outlets (all electricity on the grounds) fully powered by solar panels. Awesomely sweet.
-Kinda looks like a LOST set, huh?-

Where I stayed. The windows were open screens, so the night was filled with noises of rain, jungle birds, and howler monkeys. It sounded like the jungle-book-sleep-soundtrack.

What decided to stay with me...

I was told by a local Belizian, "No, no. They don't bite much." That's refreshing when all you have to protect you while sleeping is a thin strip of mesh!

Besides teaching photography to 5th and 6th graders and fighting off jaguars, we also stopped by The King's Children Home, an orphanage in Belmopan (the capitol), to give some love to the orphans there. I was sent to get some photos to support a fund-raising campaign for this specific orphanage. One woman cared for over twenty kids here, it was incredible to see such supernatural love coming from one person... I found God to be very evident in her and her home. The children had lost their parents and possibly family, but had developed a new family that was hard to ignore. It was strange for me to balance being an observer (the role of the photojournalist) and being an active person, involved in the childrens' lives. It gave me a struggle, but the photos seemed to turn out showing a certain connection that I hadn't quite gotten before. I still play with that balance as a photographer in different contexts, but I definitely learned something from this experience.

Laundry for 20+ kids.

It wasn't all heart-grappling though, I got a couple days to enjoy some of the sights of Belize. Of note, I first got to travel to Xunantunich, an ancient Mayan ruin. After crossing an old hand-cranked ferry, a loud rumble came from a bush and this came running at me:

I almost lost it, but I held myself together enough to switch lenses and snap this one off.
Besides the ancient ruins, I also got to spend a day out at the South Water Caye, a tiny island off the coast of Belize. Check out this gorgeousness:

And, of course, the pelican Narcissus:

Thank you all for reading/viewing my story. Let me know what you think, and if there are any questions about any of the organizations I worked with, any of my photos, or anything that has to do with what I'm all about, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. ( Thanks again for viewing, I hope you enjoyed it, and there will be plenty more to come (I'm going to Alaska in T-minus 7 days!).

And now for a last few images of Belize that have stuck with me.

Have a sweet weekend,
-Brandon Bathauer-