Strong Hearts in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has been very successful in developing its economy over the past decade, with a GDP growth rate of about 10% annually (this is double that of most of the region), despite being land-locked and without meaningful oil resources. While over half of Ethiopians lived in extreme poverty in 2000, by 2011, this figure had been reduced to about one-third - a significant achievement when one considers that the country is the second most populous on the continent, with about 100 million citizens. However, at the individual level, Ethiopia is still one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income of only US$590.

As stated by the World Bank, "the main challenges for Ethiopia are sustaining positive economic growth and accelerating poverty reduction". The government is already devoting a very high share of its budget to pro-poor programs and investments, but large scale donor support will continue to be vital in the near-term to finance the levels of spending required to meet these challenges, and also the front-line efforts of government-approved independent charitable organizations that are able to channel resources appropriately.

The capital city of Addis Ababa is fortunate to have the presence of several large NGOs - the regional headquarters of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) for example, is based here. UNICEF, US Aid, et al also have representation here. However, these "super-NGO's" typically have their hands full managing large-scale crisis situations elsewhere on the continent, so it falls to smaller local organizations to fight the day-to-day skirmishes with poverty within the city itself. I was honored to be invited by one such organization to work with them for a few days earlier this month.

From a Rubbish Dump: Love and Charity

Laborers work to build a new future, in the rubble of a landslide that killed many families that lived atop the largest garbage landfill in Ethiopia earlier this year. The "mountain" in the background is formed completely of garbage that has been collected here over the past few decades. The building atop it is a new biomass energy plant being developed to convert the organic waste to usable fuel. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

Strong Hearts is a government-approved independent charitable organization focused on supporting the community in the district of Kore in southwest Addis Ababa, which contains the poorest slum in the city - at and around the country's largest garbage landfill at Koshe. This area has Ethiopia's largest number of households affected by urban poverty, and also the largest number of those affected by HIV, AIDs, and leprosy. Earlier this year (2017) the landfill was the scene of one of the largest man-made disasters in recent local history, when a landslide at the massive rubbish dump reportedly killed "dozens of families", according to local residents I met there (The Guardian's and Al Jazeera's latest reports in March said the death toll had reached around 60 to 80).

In the Kore landfill slum in the poorest district of Addis Ababa, a mother has traveled hundreds of miles from her hometown in the far north of Ethiopia, to care for her son and his wife, who are both severely ill and bedridden in their one room windowless hovel.  She has herself been ill with a goitre for over twenty years.  She contemplates their immediate challenges while her son's thoughts are lost in the middle distance. Fortunately for them, the government has in recent years become more supportive of independent charitable organizations such as Strong Hearts, that work ceaselessly to give succor to the needy in the fast-growing and rapidly modernizing capital city in Africa's second-most populous nation. The mother wears a cross, a symbol of her faith - Orthodox Christianity is the most popular religion in the country, present since the ancient empire of Aksum in 300AD. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

Founded over ten years ago by Getinet Terferi, a visionary Baptist pastor who himself grew up in the district, Strong Hearts states as its mission statements the following:

  • Promote physical and spiritual development among marginalized and disadvantaged people to bring about holistic transformation “from the inside out” for individuals and communities.
  • Inspire hope and grace into the lives of individuals, and nurture the values of sharing, caring, self-respect, self-confidence, and community ownership.
  • Support the growth of community health awareness and assist in establishing safe environments to help communities achieve their development goals for education, health, housing, jobs creation & business development.
Under Mary's Eyes

Under Mother Mary's watchful eyes...

In the poorest slum in the poorest district of the otherwise economically booming Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, a bedridden woman contemplates her future under the loving gaze of Mother Mary - the only decorative item in her dark and windowless one room hut. Fortunately for her, the Strong Hearts Foundation, a government-supported charitable organization provides day-care for her young pre-school daughter, ensuring that the sick and poor in the city are not left-behind. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

Specifically, the organization, which is run by a small team of both volunteers and full-time staff, try to achieve the above by operating the following programs within the community:

  1. Education: Pre-school and primary education for the children of households affected by poverty and/or illness
  2. Day Care: Day-time child care for the children of affected households - allowing for respite for ill families, or to allow parents to work in regular jobs where possible
  3. Hospice Services: Community-based hospice programs for the sick and dying
  4. Church Services: While the religion of its "clients" are not a requirement for the provision of its services, Strong Hearts does operate a well-attended protestant church within the community, that aims to provide spiritual support

My Visit

As Getinet himself was traveling, his colleague (and brother) Amare was my host during my time with them. From the very start he was extremely open and welcoming, stating up-front that I would be given full-access to any and all of their operations.

I was very touched by the warm hospitality extended to me by some of Strong Hearts' clients. This lady and her teenage daughter welcomed me into their one room windowless shack for a cup of coffee and for shelter from the torrential rain that day. They were preparing food on the ground of the alleyway just outside their doorway. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

Together with Amare, and/or his colleagues, I was able to spend time with many of the children at their Day Care Center, at their school (including trying my hand at teaching an impromptu "math class"!), and also with several of their families in their homes in the Koshe slums. Unfortunately while I also visited their Pre-School it was largely empty during my time there as this was during their summer break.

A day-jobbing female laborer and her teenage daughter welcome a new feline family member to their tiny one room hut, in the poorest slum in Addis Ababa's poorest slum, situated next to the largest garbage landfill in the country.  While the city as a whole is growing very quickly, there are sub-populations (many of whom migrated to the capital city from the country's vast countryside who need financial and other assistance.  This hut, while extremely modest, would still be beyond the means of this woman, if not for the help of the Strong Hearts Foundation, a government-approved independent charitable organization, who also provided education to the daughter. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

I will always remember this lady and her daughter as my first hosts in this beautiful country - the first to welcome me into their home. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

While I do not consider myself an NGO expert by any means, I do have some experience in the management and provision of healthcare and education services, and everywhere I looked, I saw evidence of an organization that tries to do the best it can to achieve its goals despite being on a shoestring budget. Most importantly, the children I was lucky enough to interact with were as well-cared-for as one could expect, and obviously happy to be under the care of Strong Hearts. The teachers I met (although admittedly only two this time) were well-trained and enjoyed their work - I was able to get a refresher lesson in the differences between proper nouns, pronouns, and other nouns while I was in their English class! The care-givers too, clearly cared deeply for their charges, and seemed themselves appreciative of their careers with the organization.

This wonderful lady has managed to build a relatively "middle class" quality of life for herself and her two children, by weaving baskets from recycled plastic strips and selling them at a nearby market near the Kore slum. This family are not clients of Strong Hearts, but still grateful for the work that the organization does for other members of their community. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

Through hard work and perseverance, this strong lady has forged a (relatively) middle class existence for her two children in the slums of Kore. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

I have to admit that it was an emotionally disorienting experience. My time with the children, especially the infants and pre-schoolers, was extremely joyful and uplifting - except for a few tearful moments when I was "swarmed" by a number of them clinging on to me, asking to be lifted up, and calling me "abat" (Amharic for father) - as many of them were from single-mother families perhaps they found a male parental figure to be an entertaining novelty. Their happiness in having an opportunity to interact with someone as "unusual" as myself (I was possibly the first Asian person most of them had ever met) was infectious - I could have spent days just playing with them. On the other hand, my visits with some of their parents at their homes in the slums (some of whom also receive hospice services from Strong Hearts) and witnessing first-hand their many challenges, were often emotionally very draining. Having said that, with the physical, spiritual, and financial assistance provided by Getinet and his team, and together with the economic progress of Ethiopia, their futures look much more hopeful than before.

Feeding the Future. Lunch time at Strong Foundation's Day Care Center, which provides for the children of the very poor or of very sick or dying parents living in the community, the poorest slum in the city. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

Strong Care. One of the dedicated care-givers at Strong Heart's Day Care Center. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

A Strong Education. The Strong Hearts Foundation primary school, where children from the adjacent Koshe slums receive education from passionate teachers. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

Next Steps

God willing, I hope to continue to assist Strong Hearts to enable them to continue to provide for their community. While my short visit cannot of course be interpreted as a full due-diligence effort (e.g. with regard to their management or funding efficiencies), I can unequivocally state that I came away with ample evidence that Getinet and his team are doing some very good work, in a small but important corner of Ethiopia that might otherwise go overlooked. They are making a significant, positive difference, in the lives of dozens of families and hundreds of children every year, and who I am confident will one day contribute to building a brighter future for this amazing country.

Amare Terferi of Strong Hearts with some of "his children" - these from a special needs tuition class they conduct during the summer school break months. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

I would encourage any reasonable support you or your own organizations can give to Strong Hearts. Please feel free to contact them directly, or if you have any questions I could help with, send me an email (jon.she@icloud.com).  As always, you can follow my future updates on Instagram (jon.she).

Lastly I would like to again express my gratitude to Getinet and Amare Terferi and the rest of their wonderful colleagues at Strong Hearts, for their kind invitation to me to visit and work with them, and for the warm hospitality extended to me during my stay with them. I am also grateful to the children at their education and day care centers, and their families, who made me feel so welcome in Kore. I look forward to my next visit there!

Jon She. August, 2017.

A Strong church. The outside view of the church in the Kore slum operated by the Strong Hearts Foundation. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Jon She 2017.

Visit to F11 Foto Museum, and Dinner with Andreas & Mrs Kauffman

I'm very grateful to Leica and Douglas So for inviting me, Huang Jing, Mark Liu, and a few other photographers and enthusiasts to visit Douglas' F11 photography museum and his upcoming new project in Hong Kong yesterday. We also had the opportunity to chat with Leica Chairman Dr Andreas and Mrs Kauffman over dinner. For photography enthusiasts, F11 is a must-see! It is a beautifully restored 5-storey heritage building in Happy Valley housing an incredible collection of vintage cameras, photography books, and prints. The current exhibition is of Werner Bischof's work in Hong Kong in the 1950's. Douglas’ new project nearby is even more impressive! Since it is still a work-in-progress (he plans to open later this year) I will only share a few images of parts of the amazing interior design already circulating on the Internet, perhaps to act as teasers! Suffice to say, I believe it will address the needs of photography enthusiasts at the very highest end of the market, not just for Hong Kong, but also for mainland China and Asia! Thank you Douglas and Leica Asia/China (Jane Cui and Siegmund Sudek)!

F11 Foto Museum
Website: http://f11.com
11 Yuk Sau Street, Happy Valley, Hong Kong

If you like, you can follow my Instagram for more frequent updates.

Comparing Out of Camera Images from the Fuji GFX 50S vs the Leica SL, Leica M10, and Leica Q

I was visiting one of my "regular" stores in Shanghai a couple of days ago when their first shipment of the new medium-format Fuji cameras arrived on their doorstep. Oddly enough I had actually been at the store trying out Leica's medium-format model, the S. The store owner persuaded me to try the Fuji instead, assuring me that she'd take it back if I didn't want it...

Unfortunately the weather here has been awful these past two days, and I was also inundated with work, so I haven't had the opportunity to try the Fuji outdoors.

However, last night I decided to do a simple comparison between it and my current Leica workhorses, with an indoor shot at home.

The following are three sets of photos from the four cameras.  All were taken using each camera's aperture-priority automatic exposure settings, at ISO 100, auto white balance, and at f/8, approximately at 28mm focal length (Summilux-M 28mm on the M10, the respective kit zoom lenses on the SL and GFX). No adustments whatsoever were made.

  1. Compressed to 2mb JPEGs (done simply with OSX's built-in Preview application)
  2. Enlarged samples of each of the above JPEGs (screenshots from Preview zooms)
  3. Compressed to 2.5mb JPEGs from RAWs converted in Adobe Lightroom (NEW)
  4. Enlarged samples of each of the above JPEGs from RAWs (NEW)
  5. Out of camera JPEGs (as downloadable files - will upload this weekend)

1. Out of Camera JPEGs Equally Compressed to 2MB JPEGs

The original JPEG files were all different in sizes (probably due to the different types of in-camera processing being done).

Leica Q

Leica M10

Leica SL

Fuji GFX 50S

2. Enlarged samples of each of the above JPEGs

Leica Q

Leica M10

Leica SL

Fuji GFX 50S

3. Compressed to 2.5mb JPEGs from RAWs converted in Adobe Lightroom (NEW)

Leica Q

Leica M10

Leica SL

Fuji GFX 50S

4. Enlarged samples of each of the above JPEGs from RAWs Converted in Lightroom (NEW)

Leica Q

Leica M10

Leica SL

Fuji GFX 50S

Comments

So I used the GFX over the past weekend, and have now decided to return it, along with the zoom lens and 50mm equivalent lens I got at the same time. It's certainly a great camera from a technical standpoint - great resolution and dynamic range, but very very difficult for me to use for my style of street/documentary photography.

Why you ask. The following is why:

  1. It is just too heavy, even with the 50mm-equivalent prime lens.
  2. The autofocus is too slow for quick shots on the street.
  3. Very difficult to zone-focus - there is no distance markings on the lens (I typically set my M lenses to a certain distance and adjust by feel depending on where the lens tab is at the bottom).
  4. The flip-out screen is great for indoor/studio/tripod use, but on the street if you have it pulled out the camera gets even bigger, and starts to look like a BFG from Quake.
  5. It is just too big - specifically, to get close to my subjects with it.

I was thinking about keeping it for special purposes, but somehow I think it would become a white elephant. At least for me.

Here's to hoping Leica come out with an improved SL or S camera later this year!

If you like, you can follow my Instagram for more frequent updates.

Rainy Weekend Visit to Tai O Fishing Village

Last Saturday we decided to make the best of a wet (and very cold) day by visiting a place that we'd never been before - Tai O Fishing Village on Lantau Island. From the Ferry Terminal in Central (Pier 6) it takes about 20 minutes to get to Mui Wo on the island (via the "Fast" Ferry), and then it's another 30 minutes or so to Tai O, by bus.

While not large (you can probably walk from one end of the village to the other, as the crow flies, in about 15 minutes), one could spend an entire day here, as it is laid out as a small maze of interconnected streets and what look like temporary lanes, filled with many small retail shops and an even larger number of street food stores, which seem to be what most of the local visitors to Tai O come for. Be prepared therefore for long queues for the "best" waffle shop in the village, or the "best" donut shop, or the "best" omelette shop, etc.

To be brutally honest, we found most of the above food items mediocre at best, but I suppose if you wait 15 minutes for anything it tastes pretty good by default!

The one thing we did enjoy (or at least I did) was the barbecued dried seafood items, especially the drilled (dried) puffer fish.

In line with this theme of dried seafood items, there are many, many stores here that sell the countless varieties of this - dried oysters, dried scallops, dried fish bladders, dried fish skin, etc, etc ad nauseam.  Prices are frankly not much cheaper (if at all) than at the stores in Wanchai, but there is certainly a much larger range of items.

I think what we found most interesting was the opportunity to observe the local residents going about their regular activities - one of the most common of which were the mahjong games that one can observe through many of the open doorways.

All in all we thought it was an interesting outing, and we'll probably visit again sometime soon, perhaps when the weather gets better!

My "Neon Taxi" Photo in LFI!

For more than 60 years, Leica Fotografie International, or LFI, has been THE independent magazine for the Leica world. I’m therefore absolutely delighted and honored that the newest issue (2/2017) features one of my photos as a double-page spread. Coincidentally, this issue also introduces Leica’s newest digital rangefinder camera, the fantastic M10, which I tested during my recent trip to India. The photo is my “Neon Taxi” from July last year, with which I tried to capture as many iconic elements of Hong Kong as possible within a single frame, and while keeping one of my favorites movies, Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, in mind. This photo was one of the first in my current general goal, of trying to achieve the retinal impact of monochrome images, but in color, with a combination of in-camera and development techniques. I’m still working on it, so am grateful for the ongoing advice from my friend and mentor Patrick Zachmann, and also the support of Leica China. I also want to acknowledge the original location recommendation from Cheng Wai Hok of Meteor HK. If you enjoy photography, do pick up a copy - this issue also has great features from some of my own favorite photographers out there today: Giovanni Del Brenna, Fulvio Bugani, Tomeu Coll, William Daniels, Jo Fischer, Zachary Roberts, Matt Stuart, and Ed van der Elsken. I’m honored to be in the same publication as them, if only with a single image this time! Thanks Carol!

Happy Valentines Day!

I wanted to use a recent photo to mark today's celebration of love, but somehow this one from last year kept coming into my mind. This couple was hugging each other so passionately that they were oblivious to everything around them. I will never know if they were about to be separated or if they had just come back to each other... Of course I hope it was the latter. Happy Valentine's Day everyone

 "Valentine's Day on the Train". ”地铁上的情人节”。"День Святого Валентина в поезде." © Jon She 2016.

"Valentine's Day on the Train". ”地铁上的情人节”。"День Святого Валентина в поезде." © Jon She 2016.

Welcome to my site - a Work in Progress!

Hi there!  If you're reading this post it means that I've somehow finally gotten off my ass and "published" this gallery and blog site. I've been meaning to do this for the past few years, but somehow never found the time to put together something that I was satisfied with.  However, a good friend recently suggested I just put up whatever I can, and then edit it whenever I have a few spare minutes.  That's what I'm doing.  So this is, and will be for some time, a work-in-progress. So apologies for the disorganized and messy appearance, and do come back every so often to check on the progress! For a more real-time connection, please follow my Instagram account at @jon.she!