Reflections on Nicaragua and The Giving Lens

I always wanted to travel with The Giving Lens photography workshop. I’ve believed for a long time that PHILANTHROPY AND PHOTOGRAPHY go beautifully together. Pictures have the power to change ideas and drive about social change. That’s been proven time and time again. And I finally found an organization that is based on this belief.

I was stoked to join them in Nicaragua.

That being said, I didn’t know what to expect.

The Giving Lens (TGL) group has been pairing up with Empowerment International (EI) for the past few years. Their mission is to break the cycle of poverty in the developing world by building more educated and productive communities. What this translates to is basically keeping kids in schools and off the streets via direct sponsorship and participation in after school programs such as a photography club. TGL partners up with EI for one week in July where the kids get to spend time with the participants of the workshop. They work together to shoot in and around the city of Granada and also in their neighborhoods.

It’s an intense week where the two groups of kids and TGL’ers are basically inseparable.

Bonds are formed. Photos are taken. Friendships are made.

It was more than I could have hoped for J

I would have never had the same opportunities to shoot if I had gone to Granada myself. At least not in some of its poorest, yet most colorful parts.

Colors of Granada
Colors of Granada
What?
What?
Proud brother, Granda, Nicaragua
Proud brother, barrio, Granda. We photographed a lot in this neighborhood, as it is the primary site of the work of Empowerment International
Motherhood, Granada, Nicaragua
New mother, barrio, Granada
One of the youngest members of Empowerment International
One of the youngest members of Empowerment International
Window to the world. Barrio. Granada.
Window to the world. Barrio.
Three besties. Barrio.
Three besties. Barrio.
Green undies. Barrio.
Green undies. Barrio.
A common site of every day life in Santa Anna community near Granada. EI sponsors several students from this area
Santa Anna is another community just outside of Granada where EI is doing great work. We spent a whole day there photographing the residents and children. A common site of every day life is caring for the farm animals almost every household has.
The pigs were huge...not sure what else to say about that :/
The pigs were huge…not sure what else to say about that :/
Children almost always love to be photographed - a fact that gives me immense joy
Children almost always love to be photographed – a fact that gives me immense joy

 

One thing I’d like to touch on is DOGS.

It’s always about the dogs for me.

I knew I was going to encounter a lot of street dogs and I dreaded to see what condition they would be in. I had flashbacks from Honduras way before I even embarked on this trip and the flashbacks were not pleasant.

On a few occasions though, I was positively surprised!

The dogs on the streets of Granada actually looked healthy and relatively well fed! How could this be? I wondered. Turns out it’s not mere chance. Through Kathy Adams, the founder of Empowerment International I found out that a group of devoted animal lovers called NikaVets are doing wonderful work in Granada and beyond. They sponsor free spay and neuter events, free clinics and provide education to animal owners in the region. Their efforts have certainly paid off and it was wonderful to see such positive fruits of their work. Thank you NikaVets for the wonderful work you are doing!

I wish I could say the same thing about some of the neighboring villages though.

Sadly, I cannot. Here I encountered some of the same animal abuse I have seen in other parts of the developing world. I genuinely do not intend to criticize the people responsible for this, because I completely understand that their lives are incredibly difficult and their priorities lie elsewhere. There is no money for the type of care we provide to our animals in the USA. However, I do wish the general approach to dogs and animals was a bit more kind.

The children should be taught not to kick their dogs. They should not hit them with sticks and rocks to subdue their behaviors. They should be left alone in the least.

But sadly that is not the case and the above happens on daily basis :/

Just writing about it makes me ache.

So what can be done? CAN anything be done? Can we change the culture, the mentality? Or is this a hopeless cause, an impossible task not worth undertaking?

I don’t have an answer to these questions.

But I know that I have to explore them. And I have to try.

And I’m not the only one who is trying.

Melissa Palomo, for example, founded Street Mutts, an organization “dedicated to awareness and education about the plight of street animals around the world.” One of the goals of the organization is to implement various programs teaching youth the humane approach to animals. I agree with this wholeheartedly.

Only through education can we evoke change.

Hopefully he is dreaming about something wonderful...Santa Anna community
Hopefully he is dreaming about something wonderful…Santa Anna community
Little girl and her dog. This scene still breaks my heart
Little girl and her dog. This scene still breaks my heart 🙁
The bluest eyes I've ever seen in a puppy. I wanted to take him home so bad!
The bluest eyes I’ve ever seen in a puppy. I wanted to take him home so bad!
Just chilling' here...He was one of the healthier looking fellas in the community
Just chilling’ here…He was one of the healthier looking fellas in the community

I am obsessed with photographing dogs when I travel…unfortunately most of them break my heart with the condition they are in 🙁

Nicaragua was definitely memorable. I recommend The Giving Lens wholeheartedly. I plan to go back next July.

Granada skyline at sunset
Granada skyline at sunset
Granda sunset from
Granda sunset
Colors of Granada
The doors itself would make a great subject
Masaya, the active volcano in Nicaragua, photographed from distance at night. Just few minutes before we were looking into the crater witnessing the hot lava spewing about
Masaya, the active volcano in Nicaragua, photographed from distance at night. Just few minutes before we were looking into the crater witnessing the hot lava spewing about
Masaya! Hands down one of the coolest things I've experienced in my life
Masaya! Hands down one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my life
Ash cloud from Masaya
Ash cloud from Masaya
Holy Cross and volcanic ash...you can walk around the premises and even though we did not have a great sunset, the blue hour was perfect to photograph again the bright red lava
Holy Cross and volcanic ash…you can walk around the premises and even though we did not have a great sunset, the blue hour was perfect to photograph again the bright red lava

8 thoughts on “Reflections on Nicaragua and The Giving Lens

  1. Hi Megan! Thanks so much for joining us in Nicaragua! One thing that is so important is exactly what you mention. Education. On all levels. We have learned that how dogs are treated is a direct reflection on what goes on in the household and how other family members (kids etc) are being treated. We have seen huge changes in our first community after being there for 12 year. As you noticed, they animals are healthier (they were NOT before), and even people walk dogs on leashes now (never was that done before) and amazingly, a family helped me rehab and foster a very ill dog and decided to keep it

    It’s a slow process. But it is a process. Education on all levels is so important. We start with the families on how to treat each other, it trickles down to the animals. We also believe in partnering with organizations like NicaVets and StreetMutts (founded by another TGLer).

    Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!!!! Love your big heart! Keep the faith and together one child and one parent at a time we can make a difference.

    1. Thank you Kathy! Yes, education on all levels. I am so happy to have witnessed FIRST HAND all the wonderful work EI is doing, which also includes improved lives of doggies in Granada. I really wish we could expand this to Santa Anna and the neighboring villages. Maybe soon? :/

  2. Thank you for bringing shedding a light on this wonderful organization. So many of us are beyond fortunate and could do so much spearing so little. Instead of our morning coffee brought at Starbucks, each of us could put that simbolic sum of money to sponsor a child are save an animal.

  3. First off, I love, LOVE! Your work, your pictures are truly amazing. Thanks for sharing. They are also quite inspirational. A comment on the lives of dogs there… It is heart-breaking. Growing up in El Salvador, I am well aware of their treatment, and the lack of social consciousness that goes on. It is cultural, but that is not an excuse. Education is the best way to progress, and that includes betterment for the lives of all civilians, and furry creatures alike. I do hope we can see a shift in this in our lifetime.

    1. Rocio, thank you so much! Yes, education is key. That is what I hope to get involved in eventually, but in the meantime, all of us can make a difference by example 🙂

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