Part 1 of the Storytelling Series in Nepal: Reminders
Photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Steve Connors is serving as the Master Storyteller for the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program. Born in Sheffield, England, Connors began taking photographs while serving as a British soldier in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. After leaving the military, he worked for London newspapers and housing charities. Connors spent the early 1990s covering the wars following the break-up of Yugoslavia and later spent time in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He spent fifteen months in Afghanistan, beginning November 2001, and fourteen months in Iraq starting in 2003. Connors has worked for most of the worlds’ newspapers and magazines including Time, Newsweek and The New York Times in the United States; The Guardian, The Observer and The Telegraph in London; and Der Spiegel, Stern and Paris Match among others in Europe.
As the Coalition’s Master Storyteller, Connors will be traveling throughout Nepal this month to capture the experiences of the six Coalition member organizations participating in the program – through their staff and personnel, the individuals they serve, and, most importantly, their communities as a whole. What follows is the first of a series of reflections from his journey.
by Steve Connors
Saturday, February 6, 2016. Kathmandu, Nepal
This week – my first in Nepal – has been one of reminders. Even before arriving in Nepal I was reminded that this was a journey, not simply to another place but to a different world.
My primary goal for the week has been to meet with and introduce myself to the national staffs of the six NGO’s whose stories I came here to tell. During those meetings I have been able to discover whose experiences and voices will highlight what happened here last April, and their role in bringing relief to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of vulnerable and distraught human beings. Getting to know who has what to say has enabled me to narrow down the possibilities to a task of manageable proportions. I’m now planning a shooting schedule for the next three weeks that will take us up and down the Kathmandu valley, collecting the testimony that will form the structure of our film.
During this discovery stage I was reminded yet again of the passion that drives the sense of vocation of so many in the development world. But to see that fervour intensified, as it clearly was last year in the face of such a catastrophe, deserves a deeper exploration of what it means to be a humanitarian.
I have listened to members of these organisations full to bursting point with their stories. Given the opportunity to share their memories, some have had difficulty in continuing to contain them, spilling them out as if they have just been waiting for someone to receive them. This has not in any way been a search for recognition or approval on their part but an almost overwhelming need to share what they have learned – stumbled upon almost – so that others may benefit from their experiences and the lessons of adversity.
As Ms. Neena Joshi, Program Director of Heifer International, recounted her terror at the enormity of the task that lay before she and her colleagues as they set out to help the communities they serve, I twice had to ask her to stop and save it for when I could put a camera before her. Ms. Sarah Blin, the Country Director of Handicap International, has set her intellect to exploring the future direction of both development and disaster relief, informed by the experience of the response to last year’s earthquake. Mr. Shankar Pradhananga, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages, was brimming with pride for the young people of his community as they rose to the challenge of caring for an estimated 60,000 children enabling their families to concentrate on basic needs.
Last night as I closed my eyes, the building began to tremble as the waves of yet another earthquake passed beneath it – as more than four hundred others have done since April 2015. Toward the end of my first week in this country of mountains, I was given a reminder of why those mountains exist and the vulnerability of those who live alongside them. This morning in Kathmandu’s English language newspaper, The Himalayan, news of the 5.2 strength quake warranted only a short paragraph alongside the news that the five month-long blockade of the border between Nepal and India had finally been lifted. The importance of the ending of the hardship created by the blockade serves as a reminder that, above all else, the welfare of the people of Nepal is what truly matters.
(Steve Connors with Heifer International Nepal Staff; photo taken by Rasmi Dangol, HelpAge Nepal)