Activate - Phillipines

Southern Philippines

The situation for rural, novice, amateur miners here is dangerous and grave. Mining is a way of life in the rainforest highlands of Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines. Much like fishing or farming is passed down from generation to generation, mining is a familial trade here. However, fathers routinely die young due to their highly unsafe mining practices adhering to no modern or standard techniques. The young men in this photo are brothers. One is still under the age of 18.

They pick up axes, crobars, or sometimes simply their hands and strike away at rocks. They then grind the rocks down and simply blend the mixture with mercury which dissolves away impurities and reveals gold or silver. The process is done using their hands. The mercury then seeps in and day by day, week by week, leads to disease and death at an early age.


Leesburg, Florida

On July 5, 2011 an Orlando based jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee Marie Anthony. I had heard of a memorial called “The Waterfall of Tears” built by a father of two in Leesburg, Florida after the rape and murder of Jessica Lunsford a 9-year-old girl from nearby Homosassa, Florida in 2005. He couldn’t fathom how such a violent act could befall a child and so he built a small stone memorial to her in his front yard. Over the years he added more and more names to the memorial as more children became victims of murder all across the country. He also added names from the violent past – like 5-year-old Adam Walsh also murdered in Florida in 1981 and JonBenét Ramsey murdered in Boulder, Colorado in 1996. When Caylee Marie was found dead, Don Williams added her name too.

After the Anthony verdict, as a native Floridian, I felt compelled to visit the Waterfall of Tears site. I tried to reach Don, but couldn’t get through to the number listed for his home. All I knew was that the memorial was on Radio Road in Leesburg, Florida. When I got to Radio Road – a long wide rural stretch – it felt like I was on a search for a needle in a haystack. Up ahead I saw a church and decided to pull in. I flagged down a women about to step inside and asked her if she knew where the “Waterfall of Tears” was. She said, “You mean the memorial to all the dead babies?” in a thick southern drawl. I nodded and she pointed the way.

When I finally arrived at the site the memorial was in disrepair. Several letters were missing and the flowers had long since died and dried in the sun. I walked up the long driveway intending to introduce myself to the owner of the home and the creator of this unique memorial, but the house was boarded up. A tree house had fallen into the driveway and eviction notices were slapped on every door. The housing crisis had gotten Don Williams and his family too. All that is left of his legacy is his deep compassion for the lives of the innocents lost in the stones of the “Waterfall of Tears”.


Beijing, China

Chinese artist and filmmaker Zhang Bingjian is standing in his studio with an installation of over 1,600 portraits of corrupt Chinese officials. The project is called “The Hall of Fame” and is comprised of paintings Zhang commissioned by Chinese artisans all over the country based on photos he collected from the internet of the most corrupt officials working in the Chinese government to date. By commissioning artisans instead of using his own hand Zhang is also commenting on the issue of craft verses factory labor in China.
Artists in China that address political affairs face the risk of being singled out and harassed by the Chinese government. Chinese conceptual artist Ai Wei Wei is a famous example of an artist whose work incited the Chinese government to take action against him. As a result Ai Wei Wei suffered a near fatal beating and just recently was missing for three months after being abducted by Chinese secret services.

Ankara, Turkey

Sinem and Aras are transgender and gay activists specifically dedicated to the rights of Lesbians Gays Bisexuals and Transgenders in Turkey and for the rights of Turkish sex workers. Prostitution is legal in Turkey and is regulated by the Turkish government under article 227. However, in recent years there have been a number of near fatal attacks aimed at transgender and gay sex workers in Turkey.

Simen and Aras are part of a group called Pembe Hayat a LGBT Solidarity Association established in Turkey in 2006 by transgender sex workers in reaction to these attacks. The group works with transgender human rights defenders and transgender sex workers who face ongoing threat in Turkey. “Pembe Hayat”  means “Pink Life” in Arabic. The group aims to “provide a safe space for transgender sex workers, provide legal and psychological assistance to the community, and carry out advocacy work for the betterment of the existing legislation.”. The organization has faced several threats especially from gangs who are overtly transphobic and have even been raided by the Turkish police force. For more information on the work of Simen and Aras and Pembe Hayat go to


Highlands of Miranda do Douugaro, Northeast Portugal

The group of people featured in the image is a small sampling that represents the larger organization of the A.E.P.G.A. (Association for the Study and Protection of Asinine Cattle). Many organizations are committed to various social and environmental causes, but it is very rare to find a group committed to protecting one specific breed of donkeys! The image was taken in the mountain range where the Donkeys derived.

In collaboration with photographer João Pedro Marnoto (holding the flag in the main image above) A.E.P.G.A launched an awareness raising initiative called “Faith in Donkeys” as part of their mission to enhance the usefulness and importance of human-animal relationship, with special relevance to the donkeys, mules and males in the county of Alfandega da Fé, in Northeast Portugal.

“We are looking for the presence of an ancient world that still resist the avalanche of modernity, and especially those who watch and resist its demise.”

Despite AEPGA to be an association whose main purpose focuses on rehabilitation and maintenance of the Miranda Donkey breed, the donkey and the asinine cattle in this project take on a symbolic role of representing the cultural and natural wealth of the region. Through the presence of this animal the AEPGA encourages people to discover the everyday facets of their owners – their material culture, craft knowledge, oral tradition, folk knowledge, and their deeper feelings and emotions.

The image directly above is from a series titled “Faith In Donkeys” a photo project by photographer João Pedro Marnoto for the AEPGA.


Montauk, New York

On December 21, 1988 Pan Am flight 103 bound for John F. Kennedy Airport exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. All 259 passengers on the flight died along with 11 people on the ground. 176 of the passengers were Americans. 36 of them were from Syracuse University. It was the largest terrorist attack to date on Americans.

After months of investigation the trail of guilt led to Libya and the command of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. However, Libya and Gaddafi did not concede guilt until 2003. The terrorist responsible for the act, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi was convicted of murder by a panel of three Scottish judges and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001. He was held for 8 and a half years, only to be released in 2009 to be with his family as part of Scotland’s law of compassionate grounds in the event that a convicted prisoner is in such poor health that natural death is imminent. 3 years later Al-Megrahi is still alive and free.

One of the passengers on flight 103 was 21-year-old Alexander Lowenstein also a student of Syracuse University and the son of Suse and Peter (pictured in the photo above). Alexander’s mother Suse is a lifelong artist and sculptor who found a way to grieve through the act of creating her work. Over a period of several months Suse met with mothers who had also lost loved ones on flight 103 in the quiet space of her studio to relive the moment when the shattering news entered their lives and changed them forever. Suse photographed the women as they experienced the physical memory of the tears and screams. She then used those images as the basis for the forms she would then create on a large scale from plaster. The final result is called “Dark Elegy” a large-scale installation and memorial to the attack on Pan Am flight 103 and to all acts of terror. The installation is currently open to the public on her property in Montauk, New York, but will soon be cast in bronze and moved to a more accessible public space.

This photo was taken after Gaddafi was killed this past October by NLA fighters in Libya.


Dakar, Senegal

Babacar and Khady are two students taking part in an educational exchange program between a school for intellectually deficient children and a regular public school in Dakar. This mainstreaming educational program is helping overturn the social stigmas associated with mental deficiencies in Senegal.


Dakar, Senegal

Huguette Lassort, director of Cibiti, a local nongovernmental organization in Dakar helps improve prison conditions and supports prisoners around Senegal.


Dakar, Senegal

Mamadou Diop and his fellow university students have been protesting against teacher strikes over the last few weeks and more recently against the Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade who is seeking a third run at elections at the end of this month. Wade’s candidacy goes against the constitution, which he amended in 2001 to restrict presidents to two seven year terms, but now says it only pertains to his section term when he was re-elected in 2007. Clashes with the police broke out earlier in the month in protest over this bid, and a fellow schoolmate of Mamadou’s (also called Mamadou Diop) was killed when a truck ran over him. The Friday this photo was taken, the students, along with an opposition coalition, had called for a moment of silence during the afternoon prayer in Dakar’s city center and I caught up with Mamadou only hours before.


Occupy Wall Street New York

Joshua Boulet is an artist who camped out at Occupy Wall Street and began documenting the scene through his meticulous ink drawings. The photo of Josh was taken on October 29th during the first snowstorm to hit New York since the Occupation began. Josh, who had taken retreat from the bitter cold inside his tent, still had his sketchpad and pen in hand despite the weather. For more information about “Draw Occupy Wall Street” click here.


Rainbow Springs, Florida

We caught up with Christopher while canoeing through Rainbow Springs natural springs and freshwater river in Rainbow Springs, Florida. Archaeological evidence indicates that people have been using this spring for nearly 10,000 years. Christopher was using it to train for an upcoming triathlon despite the fact that the Rainbow River is home to dozens of alligators and freshwater snapping turtles.

Rainbow Springs is Florida’s fourth largest spring out of over 40 natural springs that run from central Florida up through the northwestern corner into the panhandle. Zephyrhills is the most widely known of Florida’s springs, as made popular by Zephyrhills bottled water brand a product of Poland Springs and Nestlé Waters North America. In 1987 Nestlé took over Zephyrhills and a number of spring heads in Florida state as part of their expanding bottle water venture.  Nestlé Water North America’s business model is to seek out the freshest purest spring water all over the country and then bargain with the local government to gain private rights over the water which they then sell for a profit.

For more information on how to visit and protect Florida’s natural springs click here


Hamilton, Waikato, New Zealand

Thoughts of New Zealand tend to elicit grand visions of the earth’s natural beauty – the great Southern Alps, volcanoes and beaches abundant.  Yet on a recent February summer Saturday afternoon, I met Keeli McCarthy in a little corner of Steele Park in the Hamilton East section of the fourth largest urban area in New Zealand.  She is co-founder of the Greyhound Protection League of New Zealand (GPLNZ), a small organization working to raise awareness of the plight of greyhounds born into a life of racing in paradise, beasts of burden stuck on two islands in a corner of the south pacific. We sit in the shade and chat.  Keeli tells me that the greyhound is the only dog mentioned in the Bible and the first dog bred by humans.  Admittedly, I don’t know much about greyhounds, but soon I’m learning more and beginning to understand.  Though exceptionally fast, greyhounds are fragile animals and the physical exertion during races can cause fractures, sprains and torn muscles.  Young, otherwise healthy dogs that are seriously injured are often euthanized.  In New Zealand, there is no independent body to formally oversee these racing dogs’ welfare.

Throughout New Zealand, most bars tend to have a TAB, similar to Off Track Betting in the United States.  Run by the New Zealand Racing Board, a TAB is found in almost all sports bars in New Zealand and gambling is omnipresent throughout these establishments.  When the sports bar/TAB is open, betting is taking place, often on greyhound racing.  Keeli and I finish chatting and head across the street to a TAB.  The sky is blue and it’s a warm afternoon.  We shoot a few photographs in the parking lot and though we’re in New Zealand, it feels like we could be in a parking lot in Florida.  We go inside and a number of men are gathered around television screens watching horse racing.  The day’s greyhound races are posted the wall.  Keeli breaks out the red flag beside the racing sheet.  A few men look over at her briefly, but take little notice, they gaze back to the television, to the races, to a stupor with visions of riches.  Keeli says hello to one of the gamblers, though I don’t think he says hello back.  We take a few photographs and decide to head back outside.  It’s a beautiful day and we’re standing in a parking lot surrounded by two liquor stores, a gambling centre and a McDonald’s.  It doesn’t take much to realize that for Keeli and GPLNZ, there is still much work to be done.

For information on how to help visit


Miami, Florida

Coral reefs protect coastlines, and reef fish feed an estimated 1 billion people a year in Asia alone.  Worldwide, reefs proved 375 billion dollars a year of goods and services, and locally, coral reef related activities bring an estimated 4 billion dollars a year to the Florida Keys alone.  But, we have also seen live coral cover decline spectacularly from over 50% in the 1970’s, to under 15% in 2002, from threats like pollution, disease, overfishing, and climate change.

This photo was taken just off of Key Biscayne, Florida.  I am raising the flag over a colony of Acropora cervicornis, or “staghorn” coral.  Staghorn coral is important because its branches create habitat for fish and small marine critters.  It was recently one of two corals that were the first to be listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species list, largely due to the steep decline in their population since the 1970’s.  Now their populations are so low that coral nurseries have sprung up throughout the Caribbean to try to restore these important coral species.


Pahernik Forests – Pohorje, Slovenia

During the 19th Century, in a mountain range in northern Slovenia called Pohorje, there was, like in most parts of Europe, a significantly higher need for wood to suffice growing industry demands. The result was degraded forestland to a level that severely hindered the forest’s ability to regenerate.

In the 1930s Franjo Pahernik (1882-1976), a forester born in this region, started to advocate forest management based on natural processes. This principle now called “Close-to-Nature” tries to conserve forest ecosystems, while still reaching desired economic goals. Preservation, restoration and sustainability are the first priorities, while production and economic profit from forest commodities comes second. With these values in place the Pohorje forests recovered and were renamed The Pahernik Family forest after the visionary that saved them.

It’s amazing that this logical and almost simple way of dealing with degraded forestland was considered visionary due to the prevailing practice of degrading nature primarily for economic gain despite the consequences. The Close-to-Nature approach was recognized by Slovenian governing officials as a law that needed to be enforced. Today Close-to-Nature principles are mandatory for managing all forests in Slovenia.

Unfortunately, Slovenian forests make up only a small slice of the planet’s forest ecology. The largest devastation of forest landscape is happening right now in Tropical forests all over the world. We are losing the world’s lungs because not everyone in charge of our planet’s forests have recognized how vital it is to manage them sustainably. Unlike temperate forests, damage to tropical forestland is almost irreversible because of the thin soil layers and faster erosion rate. The use of sustainable models for managing those forests is therefore even more urgent!

Forest management based on natural processes is also very challenging, because one must know many things about forest ecosystems before they can take action. Only with knowledge about soil, dendrology, zoology, climatology…can there even begin to be an understanding of how this complex ecosystem works. Without the basic knowledge about ecosystems in general, every action in the environment of any kind (even cities) is a risky decision.

Spreading this “basic” knowledge is done mostly on university level, so it unfortunately does not reach many people. Keeping that in mind I think that one of our responsibilities as forestry students is also to activate and start spreading the word to a wider audience.

For more information about Forest management based on natural processes visit ProSilva website. We also invite you to come learn in Slovenia!


Dakar, Senegal

Amadou is a cultural worker who promotes arts and culture projects that help health and development in Dakar and around Senegal.


Ilha Grande, Brazil

The handmade sign above says in Portuguese: “Keep Brazil Clean of Trash and Waste”

The locals finally understand how precious our rainforests are, but despite the local and worldwide attention towards protecting the rainforests for over three decades the current rate of destruction, according to the Rainforest Action Network, is more than an acre-and-a-half every second of every day.  Experts also estimate that each day we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species.  That’s 50,000 unique species a year.


Dakar, Senegal

Mickael is a fitness trainer at Curves in Dakar. He is passionate about helping women tackle problems with obesity, which is a growing problem in the region. Through fitness he empowers women with the tools to take back control of their health.


The International Network of Street Papers

The group in the photo are all employees of the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) an organization that found a creative solution to homelessness and poverty: street papers. Through selling 122 different publications in 40 countries, 12,000 homeless vendors on street corners worldwide make a living every day. Vendors buy their street paper or magazine for half of the cover price, and sell them in order to earn an income. At the same time, street papers are distinctive and quality independent media – challenging public perceptions of poverty and social injustice in cities across the globe. Since the founding of INSP in 1994, more than 200,000 vendors around the world have changed their lives through selling street papers. INSP street papers are also an important independent media resource, with a global readership of over 6 million per edition. In the midst of the global financial crisis, the risk of homelessness is becoming greater and more real for tens of thousands of individuals, families, young and elderly people in Europe, America and beyond. The need for street papers is growing and new start-ups include a street paper in Greece, launching this summer. In these insecure economic times, street papers for many are a lifeline. For more info, visit


Porto and Guimarães, Portugal

The project “Retornáveis-Manobrar Ruínas” (Ruins Back On The Move), based in the North of Portugal in the city of Porto and Guimarães, embraces spaces and buildings that have been abandoned and puts them back into use. Some have been partially demolished, others have just fallen to ruin by years of neglect, but most have historical significance.

The  mission of Retornáveis-Manobrar Ruínas is to transform the abandoned and neglected into something beautiful and useful again and to show the importance of public spaces for the quality of life in urban areas. Through minor and superficial interventions the spaces are reopened to the people of the city who are also encouraged to channel their creativity to enhance the spaces as well.

These interventions and revivals aim at creating a fluid space with an ever growing flexibility and potential. The first step is to clear the area and check the safety and stability of architectural structures that are present. From the very beginning neighboring citizens are invited to get involved. It is the citizens that get to decide the plans for the design interventions and what the space will be used for.  Many areas have become a kitchen gardens for an entire neighborhood. While many people volunteered the children have been the most active.
The success of this project is due to its ability to create synergies, encounters and discussions, debates and proposals for cooperation. The city wants to move, it needs a space to do it, an open, flexible and dynamic space; a quality space.

The project involved the local population. The citizens of the neighborhood embraced enthusiastically and responsibly the realization and maintenance of the spaces and they showed that the city has the will and the means to improve its appearance and the quality of its life even with small actions.


Ljubljana, Slovenia

I got the red flag some months ago. I rolled it up and put it on the window shelf. I forgot about it. And a clear statement aroused.

There is an information pollution, we have started thinking in a somehow patchwork way, we cannot focus on just one thing at once. As we do so many things at the same time, we make them in a superficial way for there is no time and there are more and more and more things appearing all the time; more attractive, more interesting, more beautiful … we can’t see anymore and we can’t hear anymore. It became difficult to differ between important and unimportant, to choose from the almost infinite pile of things, people, projects, information. We all seem to be very active but the passivity is devouring us. We just don’t care anymore. And that causes concerns.