Lachlan McGarvie: "My view on the world has changed after such a short but fulfilling experience.”
Lachlan McGarvie joined founder and CEO of Seven Women Steph Woollard on a photography trip to Nepal a few years ago to capture the Seven Women story. This is his experience.
After travelling for two months in Jordan and the West Bank before arrival to Nepal, I had already seen injustice and the ways in which people from different situations and backgrounds deal with it. However, in comparison to the Islamic countries I had visited, Nepal was a totally different story and I had to look at it in a different light. It’s problem was not conflict, or religion or anything we read about the Islamic world these days, Nepal’s problem laid in the way that people are treated, in particular women who were somehow disabled.
I met Stephanie in Thamal, Kathmandu after riding around Nepal for two months exploring all the towns and villages on the road that could be explored and cherished. Stephanie held an excitement and energy in her person that I had not come across in a long time and I knew that I was in for something exciting, thrilling, eye opening and more than those, satisfying. As I look back over the short fourteen-odd days I spent with Steph and Don Palmer I only wish that it could happen all over again and I could spend time with Steph’s Nepalese friends and the beautiful women she is supporting - but I had a job to do. While laughing with the kids, trying to pick up some of the language and having the women laugh at me was a lot of fun, my primary goal was to capture through a lens the hardships which these women face every day.
Santi Maya was the first woman I met inside the small office at the EPSA (Entire Power for Social Action) centre. She cradled her young child in her arms that looked into my eyes wondering who this strange man was. At 27, she had a life story that could fill volumes. At a young age her parents had past away and she was left to raise her sister in a slum. A foreigner came and offered the youngest sister an opportunity of education, quality of life and a proper future in Australia. Since then, she has had no contact from her sister, she is not sure where she is, if she is still alive or if she even remembers her.
This is only one small example of one single woman from EPSA; a story that changed my perspective on the life of Nepalese women and those that come from very impoverished backgrounds. It was in learning of these stories which are all too common, that Stephanie undertook the program of EPSA to help these women be trained in producing clothing and felt and cotton items for a standard and ongoing employment.
"Go there, listen to their stories, and realise that you are living a very beautiful dream when their life is the harsh reality."
Working alongside Steph and Don, I began (slowly) to understand that every shop within the central tourist area of Kathmandu, Thamal, had a back story and while I would usually walk past without a second thought to these people, I began to respect them and say hello and talk with them. Stephanie’s work does not simply consist of working with disabled and disadvantaged women in Nepal, she is working with the people; man, woman, young and old.
Not having been to Nepal before, Don and myself were amazed at what she had created within three years of constant visiting, keeping the contact and managing an organization and fair trade practice from Australia. It became a running joke as Don and I would sit with our cameras ready to shoot an interview or portraits with Steph’s direction and her phone would ring and we wouldn’t see her for five or ten minutes. A joke at the start, however, we came to realise that there was serious organization in working alongside totally foreign people, who spoke only little English and at no stretch of the imagination as organized as Stephanie herself.
What did the experience do for me? My view on people has changed. My view on Asia has changed. My view on family has changed. My view on the world itself has changed after such a short but fulfilling experience with EPSA.
At the beginning of the odyssey, I was frightened that I may offend the women in taking photos of them and their disability or of their outward emotion when explaining their lives in an interview. At the end, I understood that they knew both Don and myself were there to help them in the ways that our professions had progressed us. They were happy to have us document them because they knew we were emotionally attached to both them and their messages. Social awareness is not as publicly known in Nepal as it is in Australia. Nepal has problems and no one looking at them, the way I tried to use my photography was as ‘one eye on the world’ in order to open some awareness of grave poverty, social inequality and international response.
‘I don’t want to be a tourist!’ I remembered writing in an e-mail to my girlfriend when working in the West Bank, ‘I don’t want to see what everyone see’s, I don’t want to be looked at by the local people as only a passing face on a bus!’
These words hit me again when I became indirectly apart of the EPSA team and becoming close friends with some of the most resilient, beautiful and generous women I have ever met. To meet these women, see the schools for their children, visit some of the villages they were born in and raised and in some way understanding their lives and hardships as an example of third world living; is far more moving than the largest Hindu or Buddhist temple in the world. The face of a story becomes more moving and inspiring than the face of Buddha or Shiva.
When Stephanie asked me to write a small piece of my feelings of what we’d witnessed during our visit and work at EPSA, I couldn’t begin to think of what to write, I had to think all day on the short questions she prompted me on. I drank a lot of coffee, sat alone for some time and reviewed some of the photographs I had managed to take which I had seen in my dreams before my travel. But I will put it all into one sentence: it is an experience and opportunity to change the world.
To experience Nepal in a similar way to Lachlan, visit https://www.handsondevelopment.com.au and check out our immersion tours in Nepal.
You'll be able to see the Seven Women Centre first hand and delve into the beautiful Nepalese culture.