Thanks to everyone who have helped, Ruth now has the sun protection she really needed!
A devil and angel on my shoulder
One year ago I made a portrait of Ruth & Isaac in Zambia. On my flight back, I was thinking about her situation. Thoughts were going through my mind like “I am already doing so much for others” and “I can not save the whole world.” But luckily the angel on my right shoulder also talked to me, and she didn’t need so much time to convince me to think “f*ck it, I don’t know yet how, but I am going to help her.”
I really felt the need to help Ruth. Besides the fact that living in Zambia as an albino is hard because of the traditional “being cursed” thought, it is maybe even harder conquering the intense African sun. Since albinos don’t have pigment, the chance to get skin cancer is very, very high. Unfortunately, her parents couldn’t buy her the protection she needed, so action was the only solution to help her survive.
What’s in it for them
Since I had a creative agency for 10 years, the first thing I did when I came back to Europe was brainstorm and make a plan. I ended up in a hospital bed for a week after coming back, so I had all the time to think about a plan (the hospital story I will post later). Of course, I can just ask people: “Hey, can you give me money to help Ruth from Zambia?” That method I just don’t like. Maybe I can create something that is giving something back to the people. So I came up with the plan to make an a4 card, folded to a5. On the outsides, the portrait of Ruth & Isaac beautifully printed, and on the inside, the information about Ruth. I also wrote on the inside: “Please take this photo card home in exchange for a donation to your liking. You can cut this card in half and frame it. The second half you can give away to friends or family to tell them you support Ruth and to ask them if they also like to help”. On this way, I worked on a chain reaction and a reason to talk about my project.
How the rules of the universe work
Thanks to friends and family, the photo cards were spread in Holland, and funds started to come in. Part of the plan was to do exhibitions. Showing the photo on large format and telling the story behind it. The photo was also covered in photography magazines and local newspapers. By winning some photo prizes, it also got the attention I hoped for. During one of the exhibitions, a woman came to me and said “Hey, I love your portrait, so touching, there are so many emotions in it, incredible. And I think I can help, my aunt is the founder of a company that is specialized in sun protection products. You really need to talk to her!” A few weeks later I met her. Her company name was You & UV and specialized in UV products. She was really creative and helped to make a list of things that she might need. She made a package with lotions, glasses, hats, custom made clothes and even nail polish that changes color when exposed to the sun. Which is not only a fun gadget, but it also reminds her getting out of the sun in time.
The new generation
One year later I went back to Zambia to record the last multimedia parts for my We Are Orange Babies book. Of course, this was the perfect moment also to bring her the first package myself. My local assistant Samson and I went to her school, which is supported by Orange Babies. They came out of their classes and played outside before the bus would bring them home. We observed and noticed that all the children threated Ruth the same as the other children. Founder of the school Angela Malik told me that one of the most important things they teach is respect and equality. That is really something I noticed being around her. A significant difference with the older generation, who gossip about her and tell her she is cursed. I can now see that it is the next generation that is the change. Beautiful.
Box of sardines and red lobster
After the children played outside at school in the sun, they were asked to line up for the (little) bus. The line was that long that I was fantasizing on how this could fit. The answer was simple, one by one, stack it like a box of sardines. We joined the bus ride. A bumpy drive with a grumpy driver, which I can imagine if you have to transport 50 jumpy children every day. I had a lot of fun. We did sing and made jokes. We arrived at the point where we had to go out and walk into the slums of Ng’ombe (one of the poorest places on earth). It was hot, bloody hot, and the dry season wasn’t even started yet. After 15 minutes of walking, I began to realize that it was such a right decision for helping her. I was turning into a red lobster myself, and I was the one with sunscreen on and with pigment in my skin. She didn’t!
After the intense walk, we arrived at Ruth’s home. Her mother was waiting for us and invited us in. The house was cozy, well organized, and clean. The mother couldn’t talk English very well. Her main language was one of the 73 local Zambian languages. So I spoke with her through my assistant Samson. After a small talk, we showed her the package and gave them instructions on how to use the products. Included was also a sort of washing lotion which you have to add when you wash your clothes. Only then regular clothes are 100% protected against UV radiation. I always thought that when you wear clothes, you are protected against the sun. That wasn’t true, and for people without pigment, full protection can be life-saving. The highlight of the unpacking where the custom made clothes in her favorite colors. She picked one of her favorites, walked outside and dances through the slums like a princess who just found her knight on the white horse.
Besides giving Ruth the sun protection, we also thought of buying Isaac some clothes and food packages for both their parents. My local super assistant Samson told me that it would be nice if we could buy a chicken for them too, and not the filets we know from the supermarket. Although it was a little out of my comfort zone, so to speak, we went to the market and bought some chickens. When I gave the chicken to one of the parents, I asked if they knew how to deal with it. They looked at me if I came from another planet and said laughing “of course we know, don’t you?!” Which made me realize that we from the West are so far away from nature, and what is on our plate nowadays. But anyway…
‘Just’ one girl
It was a memorable day! It was great to see the happiness in Ruth’s eyes. Respect, and equality at school. The fact that change is in progress when it comes to the general thought about albinos in parts of Africa. It made me very happy that we did it, together. And yes, skeptics would probably say “It is just one girl that was helped, it is just a drop of water on a hot plate.” To these people I would like to quote Dutch ambassador Natasja Froger: “A waterfall started, with just one drop of water.”
A big digital hug,
Photo credits: Adrian Kuipers and Přîňčě Sam Kalyati
I want to thank everybody for their big heart, all the individual donations and also the people who mobilized their community, like my mother who bombed the whole neighborhood with the photo cards. The reformed church in Numansdorp who collected a vast amount, Invint, Keruchma. Salon 1813, Ludiek and CameraTools all helped by making awareness of her situation. Last but not least I like to thank the big-hearted Gresnigt and Kleinsman family who helped with the final sprint to get it to the finish line.
The story of Ruth and Isaac is part of my We Are Orange Babies project. 10 years of Africa photography for Orange Babies. Watch the book
The results of this were also in the Dutch newspaper. You can view it here (Dutch language)
You can buy the portrait Ruth & Isaac here to support Orange Babies.
I made a music portrait of Ruth & Isaac, you can see it here: