Nicaragua: Compassion International visit

Continuing my tour with Ecclesia Houston… Today we woke up at the crack of dawn to begin our journey back to Managua to visit a Compassion International program. There we met 20 children that members of our group sponsor for education and nutrition support through Compassion. It was a very moving experience that neither the sponsors nor the children will soon forget. Compassion staff had several activities planned for the group, and all involved had a great time. There are over 46,000 children sponsored by Compassion donors in Nicaragua alone. It’s an absolutely impressive operation, making an exponential difference in the lives of an entire generation.

Then we made our way back to the coastal village we’re basing out of just in time for a spectacular sunset. Pastor Chris Seay led us in prayer before our evening meal. This group of 60 has already begun to bond and all are having a great time getting to know each other and the local culture.

These trips are always very challenging for me as a photographer because of the vast amount of subject matter, shooting hundreds of images, coupled with having to narrow them down and speed edit on a daily basis. Learning to let go and just release these as they are. Soooo hard! But I love it!

Click/tap on the first photo to begin a slideshow.

Nicaragua with Ecclesia Houston: Arrival Day at Tola

I’m traveling with a group from Ecclesia Houston (“Houston’s Holistic Missional Christian Community”) here to tour Nicaragua. We will see some of the villages that have been transformed by safe water wells and hand sanitation projects Ecclesia has installed in rural villages in this Pacific coastal area of the country through a group we have partnered with called Living Water International. Today was a long day of travel by air and road. It’s quite hot and humid here but the pools at the homes where we are staying have already helped to cool us off. Today was arrival day so there wasn’t much on the agenda other than a meet and greet and dinner, followed by a teaching shared by Pastor Chris around the beachside campfire. I managed to get a few long-exposure shots of the beach and star-filled sky after sunset. Much more tomorrow!

Click or tap on the first image to begin a slideshow.

Buddy & Jennifer

July 8, 2016.

Recently I had the pleasure of shooting an impromptu wedding for Buddy and Jennifer in Austin, Texas at the Lenoir Winegarden. The occasion was an engagement party, but in the middle of the party, they announced to their guests that they were going to go ahead and just tie the knot right then and there! It was quite a scene. Here’s what I captured of the evening’s events.

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Blake & Meg Engagement

I had the honor of shooting this engagement, literally the engagement itself, and the portraits afterward. Located at the extreme east end of Galveston Island, this peaceful spot was like a secluded beach with very little foot traffic. I hid in a bush in the dunes while waiting for them to arrive at the spot he had arranged…

Here was the beautiful home and the setup for “the spot”…

I nervously awaited the couple, and then finally they arrived! Here’s the sequence of my “spy shots” …

Then I emerged and she was surprised yet again… they were a lovely couple. I managed to capture a few good portraits and then let them get back to their special time. As usual, I had a very difficult time narrowing it down from the 500 shots from the evening. There were some sequences just too sweet not to share! The light and environment was also worth documenting…

Then the walk back to the home where the party was waiting… great time for all.

Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo: ‘Gatekeepers’ volunteers, horse show

Yesterday I had the pleasure of documenting a few facets of the world’s largest livestock show and rodeo, which draws over 2.5 million visitors and requires 30,000 volunteers each year: The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Founded in 1931, the purpose of the event is to raise money for education. The organization has committed more than $400 million to scholarships and other educational youth programs since it was formed. Currently, they are awarding about $3 million in scholarships each year. It’s quite an impressive undertaking.

I was asked to follow one of the many volunteer teams to document a ‘day in the life’ experience of the volunteer aspect of the event. The group I was assigned to was one of the ‘The Gatekeepers’ teams, responsible for being the “face of the organization” named as such since they’re the first volunteers whom visitors make contact with when entering the grounds.

After documenting The Gatekeepers, I made my way to one of the horse shows to give you a flavor of one of the events. Mind you, it was middle of the day on a weekday so the crowds were on the lighter side. As horses are one of my favorite subjects to photograph, it was a treat to be able to get so close to these beautiful animals. Hope you enjoy the images!

Uganda: Education and village life in Mayuge District

Thanks for stopping by to view my final summary of images from this trip to Uganda. In this set you’ll find more classroom scenes from the Peace Gospel rural high school that serves this part of Muyuge District. Peace Gospel is in the process of upgrading facilities yet again, to reach our final phases in obtaining accreditation for the school. The school includes boarding facilities, a kitchen and canteen, chemistry lab, and several classrooms. In the expansion currently underway, a library and computer lab will be included.

The high school offers the possibility for local rural residents to send their children to a nearby high school versus sending them to boarding schools in faraway towns. The school’s ability to charge a modest tuition to those families who can afford it allows us to offer scholarships to several orphan students who would otherwise never have the chance to go beyond seventh grade. “Primary Seven” (roughly equivalent to a U.S. seventh grade level) is usually the last easily accessible government education level available in the rural areas.

You’ll also find some scenes from our neighbor’s homes we visited near the main campus. For those of you uninitiated to Peace Gospel Uganda, when I refer to the “main campus” I’m referring to the Peace Gospel campus which contains the rural clinic, high school, farmland and women’s craft business development school.

Next in the set you’ll see photos from the Peace Gospel rural primary school. This school, located in a tiny village called Mairinya on the eastern edge of Mayuge District, not far from the Kenya border, offers a primary education from 1st to 7th grade. Before we started the school there was no access to education within a reasonable walking distance of the village. The school averages about 200 students who are all on scholarship to attend free of charge. They receive a fresh cooked breakfast and lunch each school day. The campus there also includes its own farmland, providing more fresh organic ingredients for our students’ meals.

After our visit to the rural primary school, we had the delight of visiting some of the local residents in neighboring villages. We also encountered many smiling faces along the winding dirt road that took us back to Jinja. I love this area dearly. I hope someday I can stay longer to document more of these super-simple villages with their gorgeously handcrafted mud huts and beautiful smiling residents.

Mayuge District, Uganda

[Note: I’ve been trying to upload this for 3 days so ‘today’ is not really ‘today’]

Today we made our way from Jinja to the Mayuge District where Peace Gospel International operates a high school, a rural clinic and a women’s business empowerment program. Mayuge District is located in eastern Uganda on the shores of Lake Victoria near the border of Kenya. The Ugandan school year kicks off in late February but it takes some time for all the students to register, especially in an election year. National elections were held last week and local elections are going on this week. We expect around 200 students to enroll this year once everything settles after the election security implementations.

There is so much activity on our main campus. A new school building, our largest building to be constructed on campus yet, is going up and should be ready soon– a major step needed in reaching our national accreditation. We also have several new latrines either just finished or still under construction, a new kitchen and a canteen from which the students can buy snacks at affordable prices (an effort to reduce the temptation to leave campus during the day). Not to mention the new solar solution provided by a grant from the Total Foundation. Among meeting other electricity needs, this has afforded us the ability to power a water pump from our well, thus providing running water on campus! Around campus, you will also see many children from our women’s business empowerment program playing while their moms practice their craft making skills in classes provided on campus.

Uganda: Kampala Slum Outreach, ‘The Children’s Hope Center’

Peace Gospel International operates a school in the slums of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. Here are some shots I took at the school and around the slum colony today. The start of the Ugandan school year is this week, however due to the disruption of somewhat tumultuous elections, our enrollment at the school is a little lower than usual; it will be back to normal next week. However, there were plenty of students to interact with today, and you can just tell they’re sharp kids. As you can see in one of the photos, part of our school here has some challenges with flooding but we have some plans to remedy that.

Predawn Via Dolorosa, Holy Sepulcher, Garden Tomb, Yad Vashem

Our final day of the tour started before dawn at 5:15. We made our way into the old city via the Damascus Gate to find nearly empty streets surrounding the Via Dolorosa. As we journeyed through “The Way of Sorrows,” Pastor Chris led us in a solemn progression through what is traditionally believed to be the actual path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion, and the stations there, the actual places the events occurred. At each Station of the Cross, Pastor Chris read us the corresponding scripture describing what happened at that station. We ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a little after sunrise.

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Next on our schedule was a tour of the Garden Tomb, a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 and has subsequently been considered by many Christians to be the more historically accurate site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The site has some of the most beautiful gardens in Jerusalem, in my opinion. That’s why you’ll see me sharing several photos highlighting the garden in addition to the empty tomb itself. Pastor Chris led us in a very contemplative communion at the completion of the tour.

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The gardener of the empty tomb…

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Almond blossoms…

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Next we arrived at the Holocaust History Museum which is always a profoundly moving experience, acknowledging one of history’s deepest wounds. Photographs are not allowed inside the museum so I have simply added a few of the outside architecture to remember our visit by.

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Chefs for Peace Tour, Cooking Classes, Jewish Quarter, Tunnel Tour, Razzouk Tattoos

A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family and friends.

We met the chefs at the Jaffa Gate along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients they would be using to prepare our lunch! And the real treat was that they would be inviting us to learn how to cook with them!

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Part of their tour included meeting the owner of a famous photography print dealer, Eli Kahvedjian, The pictures he sells are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by his late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family 28 years ago and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read this article.

Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare collector’s item. He was kind enough to inscribe the books for us. I felt honored to take his portrait.

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Then it was back to the culinary tour…

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Next, after a walk through the Jewish Quarter during blue hour, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple, and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall weighs an estimated 570 tons.

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Last but not least, we ended the night with a visit from Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk, whose family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To learn more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

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