Donating My Creativity

A completed Operation Raleigh house in Nepal. Saoirse Clohessy

Written by  May 31, 2017

Photographing for charities in Asia.

It had always been my dream to work in the photographic business and until December 2016 I was neck deep in the fashion world, working in post-production for all the top magazines and commercial photographers both in London and New York. I was on my way up, but there was no creativity involved. I just did what I was told and felt no satisfaction when I saw images I'd worked on blown up in Times Square or Shibuya.

Time for a change, I decided. And so I applied for a volunteer photographer role with sustainable development charity Raleigh International. A year later I was in Nepal, documenting young people building earthquake-resilient housing for Nepali families who had been living in goat sheds for nearly two years.

I felt no satisfaction when I saw images I'd worked on blown up in Times Square or Shibuya.

I went into the role thinking the hardest part would be giving up luxuries such as a bed (we slept on mats on hard mud floors), or toilets (just picture a porcelain hole in the floor with a bucket to flush) or even just food variety (daal bhat, twice a day everyday). But all that was easy compared to say, talking to a woman who had lost her husband and home during the earthquake, who informed me with a small, sad smile on her face that she doesn't know if she'll live to support her kids through school.

As the photographer, I only spent perhaps a week in each village. I took photos of the young volunteers learning construction skills and alongside skilled labourers, digging foundations and building new homes. I helped gather information on locals, what help they'd received in the past, what help they still needed. I ate in their homes, played with their children and even got to assist with the building of the houses they'll eventually move into. It was only towards the end that I remembered I'd donated money towards the earthquake relief in 2015 and had wished, at the time, that I could do more.

I only gave three months of my time, but supporting that time was 10 years of photographic knowledge. Those years had started to feel like a waste, sitting in dark rooms in front of computer screens. But now I feel like I have a skill that can be useful to get important stories told. My plan is to keep offering that skill and who knows what doors it will open? But as long as I get to be creative and helpful, I'll be happy.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Saoirse Clohessy

After volunteering in Nepal documenting earthquake relief work, Saoirse Clohessy has set off into the rest of Asia, armed with her camera and a determination to be useful to more charities doing amazing work.



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