How Employment Changed My Life: Dhana’s Story

By Dhana, Kopila Valley Women’s Center Graduate, as told to Crystaline Randazzo

The BlinkNow Foundation provides schooling and a home for orphaned, impoverished, and at-risk children in Nepal. It also runs the Kopila Valley Women’s Center, which provides life-changing job training and education to empower women in our community to lead better lives. Founded by Maggie Doyne, the organization provides community services to reduce poverty, empower women, improve health, and encourage sustainability and social justice. This post was originally posted on Medium.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I used to work eight hours a day doing physical labor. I carried stones to help build houses. It was really hard work for me and I was often in pain. I was married when I turned 14 years old and had my first child three years later. Then I had three more children. My husband has been sick for the past nine years and is unable to work. He stays home and I take care of him and our children. I am sad that he is sick, and it has been difficult to find ways to earn enough money to care for our family.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

When I heard about the Kopila Valley Women’s Center, I ran there and filled out the application form. When my name was selected for the first training group, I was so happy. I learned how to sew, how to communicate with other people, and I received counseling that has helped me. Sewing is easier on my body than laboring was. I can make everything — pants, shirts, kurtas. But my favorite part of working here is being surrounded by other women.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I can now cover most of my household expenses with my salary as a tailor. BlinkNow also put one of my daughters into the Kopila Valley School — she was 4 years old when I started working here, so she was enrolled in nursery class. It is my wish that all of my children could have attended KVS because I still struggle sometimes to cover the costs of uniforms, shoes, and school supplies for my other children.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I am an uneducated woman. My family didn’t have enough money to send me to school, so I worked from a young age. I cut grass for the animals, found wood in the forest, and cooked food. I want my children to complete their education and become teachers, nurses, or doctors. I don’t think my daughters should get married as young as I did. I want them to go to school and have a better life than me.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

My life was very tough before I got this training. I feel proud that I am now able to support my family and put all of my children in school. I want to thank BlinkNow for giving me such a beautiful life and the opportunity to work here.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

The Kopila Valley Women’s Center is working to close the gap in gender equality in Surkhet, Nepal and provide women with opportunities to feed and educate their children. We believe that when women are educated and empowered, they can make steps to alleviate poverty and foster a thriving community. Support women like Dhana at www.blinknow.org/donate.

How Education Changed My Life: Deepa’s Story

By Deepa Khatri, as told to Crystaline Randazzo

The BlinkNow Foundation provides schooling and a home for orphaned, impoverished, and at-risk children in Nepal. Founded by Maggie Doyne, the organization also provides community services to reduce poverty, empower women, improve health, and encourage sustainability and social justice. This post was originally posted on Medium.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

remember my first day at Kopila Valley School. I was in seventh grade and I did not speak English. I attended two schools before coming to Kopila, but I had never touched a computer or read a book before. In those schools someone would take attendance, the teachers would write on the board, but they never even talked to us.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

It is totally different at the Kopila Valley School. It’s more like a home than a school. We have teachers, aunties, and uncles who are all looking out for us. They give me snacks. They talk to me about how things are going at home. Everybody cares about me.

Going to school here changed my life. I learned many things and met so many people. I learned how to speak English and how to use a computer. I learned how to learn. I learned everything here.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

My life was really hard before I came to Kopila. When I was younger, my dad left our family. He was an alcoholic and abused my mom, my brother, and me. My mom was seriously injured and had a hard time taking care of us. My father remarried but continued to make our lives difficult. It seemed like he wanted us to be unhappy.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

My favorite part about going to Kopila is that everyone shows me love here. I never expected that other people would stand up for me. This has given me a dream to share all of the love in the world that my father could not. I want to care for my mother, my brother, and other women and children who are going through hard times.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

After I finished my studies in twelfth grade, I interned in the Accounting Department at Kopila Valley School. After my internship, I applied for a job with the accounting team and was hired. Now, I get to work at Kopila every day!

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I’m a girl whose life is affected by domestic violence. I’m so glad that I am at Kopila. I have learned how to help other women and children. In Nepal, there are lots of children who grow up just like me. I know how hard it is. I know what it’s like to be hurt and have to show a smile in front of other people. Before I came to Kopila there were many times where I thought it would be better to die than keep living. I want to show others who might feel like that way that we all have problems, but we should work hard, and good things will come to us.

 ©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I would like to say thank you to the people who have helped me. I received everything I needed from Kopila. I do not have the right words to thank you, but I will say a blessing that you will receive happiness. I will never waste what you’ve given me. And I will do my best to make you proud.

Kopila Valley School provides a quality education and nurturing environment to at-risk children in Surkhet, Nepal. The BlinkNow Foundation is helping to educate students like Deepa and provide them with the tools they need to complete their education. Support girls like Deepa at www.BlinkNow.org/donate.

A Photographer In Nepal: Upper Mustang Trek

The Mustang trek has been on my bucket list ever since I arrived in Nepal. The photos of the arid mountains remind me of my childhood home in New Mexico and I’m fascinated by the deeply-rooted Tibetan culture and practice of Buddhism in this region. So in early November my husband and I set off with some friends on a nine-day trek to Upper Mustang.

What’s most surprising about this trek is the vast diversity of landscape. In the many of Nepal’s famed trekking regions, you simply get closer to the amazing view as you climb. In Mustang your view changes drastically from day to day.

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We started by flying from Pokhara to Jomsom, which actually means flying through the Kali Gandaki River gorge, which includes the Dhaulagiri, Tukuche, and Annapurna mountains. We were in the front row of the plane, which means we had a pretty spectacular view. Then we drove forty-five minutes from Jomson to Kagbeni, which is where our trek officially began. The first day we only trekked a few hours to a teahouse in Chukshang. But this short day of trekking was filled with beautiful views of the river gorge, old monastery ruins, and some pretty spectacular mountain caves. It’s also where we got the nicest hot shower of the trek.

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The next morning we left Chukshang and headed for Samar. With incredible views of the snow-capped mountains behind us, we crossed the longest suspension bridge of my trekking career and were met with golden trees dropping their leaves. It gave us a little taste of fall, which is something we miss in Kathmandu. Samar is a beautiful little town with white buildings covered with firewood-lined roofs and colorful prayer flags. There is an incredible viewpoint from the chorten that sits on the top of the city, and we had the best food of the trek here.

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On the third day we were off again, climbing from Samar to Geilling and hitting 11,679 feet (3560 m) at our highest point. We were surrounded with layered views of snow-covered mountains behind other sand colored ones with sparse dessert plants and strange rock formations. The coolest part of this day was a detour to visit a sacred cave where they claim that nature has carved a large chorten out of the rock. We climbed up past a lone shepherd and his flock to have tea with the nun who tends the holy site. Then it was time for the final push, past more colorful chortens, to Geilling.

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On day four we were heading for Tsarang and we started off a little bit unsure of the landscape as we climbed up a dusty road past a dozen tractors and bulldozers who seemed more than a little reticent to stop for tourists. But then we came around the bend to the most beautiful mountain view and passed the longest mani stone wall in the world. We stumbled into Tsarang as the sun was dipping down in the sky, past the intricate chorten, an ancient monastery, and the Old Dzong palace.

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On our last official trekking day, our group split up with some of us staying in Tsarang to tour the monastery and palace prior to starting our journey taking the “short route” to Lo Manthang. It was another climbing day and we were headed to 12303 ft (3750 m). We quickly learned that short didn’t mean easy. That day we were wind burned, cold, and covered in dirt as the wind swept across the beginning of the Tibetan plateau. I sure was happy to see Lo Manthang appear in the distance. I’d been battling a cold and so when we arrived I had soup and crawled into bed.

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We’d planned to stay in Lo Manthang for a few nights so I woke up well rested and ready to sightsee. We spent the morning on a tour of the city’s four Buddhist monasteries and visiting ancient holy sites in different stages of restoration. Unfortunately, tourists aren’t allowed to photograph inside these sights as the Loba – the people of the Kingdom of Lo – believe that their holy relics might be spotted in photographs and stolen. But the views from outside were just as spectacular; Lo Manthang is one of those ancient cities with well-worn paths, tiny shops, and streets that only make sense to those who know them. We met an incredible Thanka painter at Lowa art gallery. He spends the frigid winters painting in his studio/storefront window and doesn’t seem to mind the cold. And he’s been leading the restoration of the murals inside several of the local monasteries.

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The following day, we woke up at 3:00 a.m. to take a precarious car ride to the Chinese border. We’d been assured that we’d likely see animals and possibly Chinese military presence at the border. I was expecting tanks and blue sheep. But found myself freezing before sunrise, looking at a few tents, a building site for a Chinese market, and two small white gerbil looking rodents. It was so cold that all of our electronics simply shut down so I don’t have any photos to share. Needless to say this is not an excursion that I’d recommend but there is something amusing about doing the hokey pokey to keep from freezing. I can’t imagine what the Chinese military guards at the border must’ve thought!

Luckily this day was salvaged by a trip to Chhoser on our way back home. Chhoser is surrounded by what a friend calls drippy sand castles. And that is exactly what the mountains look like there. We stopped to visit Jhong Cave, which is five stories tall and has over 144 rooms. It is thought that humans lived in these caves for many years, using it to evade attacks by foreign invaders from Tibet. We also stopped at the Ranchung Monastery Cave, a sacred meditation site.  Then we headed back to Lo Manthang.

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The next day we loaded into a car for an eight-hour drive back to Jomsom. The ride was mostly uneventful with a few really, really scary bits. We were thrilled to get out of the car and to have a hot shower in Jomsom. Then we wandered down the road for a cappuccino at the loveliest coffee shop.  We spent the evening celebrating the completion of our trek over beer with our guide and porters. On our final day, we hopped on a plane and headed back to Pokhara.

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I’m so grateful for the time I’ve had in Nepal. This adventure was physically challenging but the landscapes were absolutely stunning. It was an adventure of a lifetime.

A Photographer In Nepal: Indra Jatra

Indra Jatra is the largest religious street festival in Kathmandu, Nepal’s largest city. It was started by King Gunakamadeva to commemorate the founding of the city in the 10th century. I have to be honest; I didn’t really know much about the festival when I decided to go, so I wasn’t all that prepared for such a wild afternoon in Kathmandu’s largest public square.

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Joining Fashion Revolution with Resa Living in Nepal

A few years ago, I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion. Learning that my trendy, cheap clothing had a human cost led me to reevaluate my relationship with clothing. I stopped shopping at fast fashion stores and moved towards higher quality, ethically made essentials or second-hand clothing. I further defined my personal style by creating a limited capsule wardrobe. I started seeking out innovative and stylish sustainable designers who paid a fair wage to their workers.

Ethical fashion soon began to bleed into from my personal life and into my professional one. At a pop-up shopping event, I was immediately drawn to Theresa’s clean Nordic design and the way she mixed the beautiful colors, textures, and handicrafts from Nepal.

I learned we shared a passion for sustainably made clothing and she invited me to the Fashion Revolution event that she was hosting. This was the beginning of my discovery of Nepal’s many incredible artisans.

This year Theresa kicked off her online shop Resa Living. Through this business, she provides a living wage to over fifty artisans. She employs local people skilled in artisanal crafts like sewing, knitting, weaving, metalwork, and fine jewelry.  With a focus on sustainability, she reuses vintage saris and re-imagines leather remnants.

Spending time with Theresa’s employees to create this video on social entrepreneurship has only reinforced my view that every person deserves a fair wage for the skill and craft that they bring to the table and that we shouldn’t devalue human beings so that we can have a closet full of inexpensive clothes.

Fashion Revolution week is from April 24-30th this year. I encourage you to go to an event near you, support businesses like Resa Living, and to ask yourself this important question: #whomademyclothes?

Empowering Syrian Refugees Through Dignified Work

Over the last two years, I have been watching the coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis with feelings of deep sorrow and helplessness. The reaction to the crisis and the millions of people trying to escape has been heart wrenching.

When I was approached by The ANKA Cooperative to do strategic storytelling and editing for this social entrepreneurship video, I felt that I finally had the opportunity to get involved in a meaningful way. The ANKA Cooperative empowers Syrian women living in refugee camps by providing them dignified work through the creation of fine carpets and dignified crafts.

 

In the last year, I’ve spent hours looking through footage and photographs of these women and their lives in the workshop. I’ve seen the pride they have in their work, their deep concentration while weaving, and the stories of how their lives have been changed by war.

 ©2016 The ANKA Cooperative. Neriman is in her early 40s and has six children. Unlike many of her relatives, she made it safely to the Adiyaman refugee camp in Southeastern Turkey. Neriman is college educated, and prior to the war she worked for many years as an accountant. But in the camps, there are no accounting jobs or freelancer websites to apply her trade. Idle time brings painful memories. She jumped at the chance to work at the carpet workshop. It’s a new skill, but she is learning – and just as important, she is earning a fair wage, same as her Turkish counterparts. Her smile shines despite the tragedy she has faced, and she is very grateful to have the chance to work again.

©2016 The ANKA Cooperative. Neriman is in her early 40s and has six children. Unlike many of her relatives, she made it safely to the Adiyaman refugee camp in Southeastern Turkey. Neriman is college educated, and prior to the war she worked for many years as an accountant. But in the camps, there are no accounting jobs or freelancer websites to apply her trade. Idle time brings painful memories. She jumped at the chance to work at the carpet workshop. It’s a new skill, but she is learning – and just as important, she is earning a fair wage, same as her Turkish counterparts. Her smile shines despite the tragedy she has faced, and she is very grateful to have the chance to work again.

While researching stories for the organization, I was struck by Neriman. Prior to the war she was an accountant. She fled to Adiyaman refugee camp in Southeastern Turkey with her six children. Neriman is college educated, but in the camps there are no jobs for someone with her skills. With ANKA’s help she’s learning to weave carpets at the workshop. She is earning a fair wage and has a purpose each day.

I often say that the best stories show how our lives are more alike than different. Anyone of us could have been an accountant working to support our families. Can you imagine? One day you are a regular person going to work and then a civil war in your country becomes one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population – more than 11 million people ­– have been killed or forced to flee their homes. 

The ANKA Cooperative currently employs 250 Syrian refugees. They are teaching women the craft of weaving Turkish rugs and providing ethical income for entire families. Their dream is to expand their mission to other camps in Turkey and help more Syrian women.

The ANKA Cooperative provided me a direct path to help Syrian refugees and they can do the same for you. This week they are starting their first kickstarter campaign in the hopes of building another weaving workshop in a third refugee in Gaziantep, Turkey. If you can buy a rug or give a donation, please do. If you can’t, would you consider sharing this post on your social media so that more people can be aware of this project?  Thanks for helping me share this beautiful mission!

These images and video are owned by The ANKA cooperative & Joseph Terranova. They were not created by Crystaline Randazzo. I managed the strategic storytelling, shoot logistics, and editing of photographs and film for this project.

The Basic Components of a Photo Story

(Note: This post originally ran on NGO Storytelling, where I’m a co-editor.)

Why is it that every nonprofit has an archive of images but few have images they feel that they can use? It’s like having a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. I think most nonprofits feel this way is because they have lots of images but very few complete photo stories.

Indelible, craveable, relatable images have become a high currency in the world of content marketing. Did you know the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text? Powerful visuals are scientifically proven evoke emotion, which spurs on action. And what every nonprofit really needs is relatable photo stories to back up the important work they are doing. This post is your golden ticket to creating professional photo stories.

If you've ever seen the work of Eugene SmithDorothea Lange, or Sabastiao Salgado, you've probably wondered how they were able to create such amazing stories. Raw talent aside, let me tell you a dirty, little photographer secret: there is a formula for everything! Every master photographer and editor has used a variation of the components below to create compelling, photo stories.

 

Opener- This is the strongest image in your edit, the one that will intrigue your audience and get them to click on your link!

Wide Shot - This shot is a wide shot that shows the overall scene that you are shooting. It gives your viewers a feel for the environment where the story takes place.

Medium Shot-This photo draws your audience in closer to the action and makes them curious about what they see.

Portrait- One of my photography professors used to say that in order to have a great portrait you needed hair, eyeballs,  and teeth. Portraits connect you to an individual; they personalize abstract ideas or actions happening among large groups.

 

Detail- a tight detail that represents a part of the story presents an opportunity to add detail to the story that might otherwise be missed.

The Pivotal Moment/Action Shot- Your viewers want to feel like they are standing in your shoes. Choose image that makes them feel like they are. It should be engaging and dynamic!

Closer-I like to call this the riding off into the sunset shot. It should add some finality to the images that you’ve shown before.

I generally use 8-10 photos for each of my stories. I’ll add a few shots to the images above to fill in the gaps of my story or share images of intriguing moments. The sample photos above are from a photo story that I recently did on my website. You can read the full blog post if you want to see a photo story in action. We'd love for you to put together a photo story from your images and share it in the comments below!