Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is not only prevalent in Liberian society; it is unfortunately accepted as an integral part of gender relations. This perception was exacerbated during the war years, as SGBV was used repeatedly as a weapon. For many Liberian women and girls, the appalling violence they experienced during wartime still occurs. Rape continues to be the most frequently reported serious crime in Liberia. In 2007, 46 percent of reported rape cases to the Liberian National Police involved children under age 18. During the conflict, the perpetrators were mainly fighting forces; however, after the conflict the perpetrators include not just ex-combatants, but community or family members, teachers, husbands or partners.
In January of 2012 I began traveling to Liberia to work with a group of 25 young women, all survivors of gender based sexual violence. The 25 young women are in a rehabilitation school called Project THINK. They offer education and skills training as well as counseling and support services to female ex-child soldiers and survivors of SGBV. I was hired as a consultant in collaboration with New York-based nonprofit, PCI Media Impact to document the girls’ stories of survival.
During 2012 I made several trips to Liberia while working on the THINK Photovoice Liberia project. I bookended some of these trips with explorations along the coastline of Liberia. What I found were pockets of beach dwellers that lived and relaxed on the shores of these coastal communities. Surfing is becoming more popular in some of these towns, particularly in Robertsport (photos 1-6). In most communities the beaches are used primarily by fishermen, teenagers seeking refuge, and in some cases local artists who scavenge the shores for drift wood and canvases.
The majority of the portraits featured in this section were originally published in the Huffington Post as accompaniment to interviews authored by either Philip Miner or myself. Each interview and portrait focuses on an individual who is pushing the boundaries of identity politics through artistic expression and/or political activism.
Nigerian gay rights activist: Michael Ighodaro
Phototographer: Richard Stuart Perkins:
Artist: Wizard Skull
Adult Film Star/Artist: Colby Keller
Writer and Art Curator: Phillip Miner
Artist/Photo-sculptor: David Meanix
Performance Artist: Saint Dandy
Musician and Performer: AB Soto
Performance Artist: Zondra
Fim Maker: Sarah Daggar
Photographer: Nino Munoz
Artist/Photographer: Felipe Vasquez
Member of The Crystal Ark and Performance Artist: Viva Ruiz
Comedy Duo: Dick & Duane
Sculptor: Mitch Lewis
Feminist Film Maker: Katrina Del Mar
Ayurvedic Healer: Deloris De Costa
For four years Mozambique was home to me. The first two years were spent living on a small rural island that was reachable by a 6-hour boat ride from the capitol, Maputo. The island, known as Inhaca, had 5,000 residents, two cars, and no paved roads to speak of. Most of the population lived without electricity or running water, including myself.
Initially I was hired by Habitat for Humanity to identify orphan-led households and facilitate the process of building them a home. Apart from a Portuguese diamond smuggler who was hiding out there, I was the only foreigner living on the island and certainly the only one to be considered a member of the community. Based solely on the color of my skin, I was assumed to be a doctor and as a result was asked into many homes to visit with people who were bed ridden with illness. Although I was by no means a doctor, I could easily identify the physical symptoms of later stages of AIDS. In fact, in the 8 months before moving to Mozambique I had been living with and caring for a very close friend who was HIV+ and in a similar state. Perhaps for this reason I was deeply affected by these visits and moved to take action.
At the time there were no HIV services or testing center on the island. In order for an Inhacan to get tested they would have to travel by boat to the central hospital in the capital, Maputo. This would require setting aside three days minimum, and a significant portion of their income. If they tested positive, then they would be expected to make this trip once a month in order to receive treatment. Many people, for good reason, preferred not to get tested. I spoke to the director of the clinic who allowed me to gather a group of volunteers to be trained as home based care activists. I contacted an NGO in Maputo to send someone out to train the group. And within a month we had 12 activists visiting the homes of those who were sick, but still no way to provide testing and treatment.
I traveled to Maputo once a month to stock up on groceries and during these trips would stay with an older expat who often hosted lavish brunches at her roof-top apartment on Sunday mornings. During one of these brunches I became quite vocal about the state of Inhaca. To which a USAID worker assured me that she would bring this to the attention of the Ministry of Health. These types of promises were made often and so I thought nothing of it. However a week later, while working with my Home Based Care volunteers, I received a call informing me that Inhaca was about to change. As it turned out the first lady of Mozambique was planning a political visit to Inhaca in support of the upcoming elections. The USAID worker seized the moment to point out how embarrassing it would be to the Ministry if the first lady arrived to Inhaca and was greeted by a protest regarding the dire state of HIV services. I hung up the phone and within days everything changed.
A barge arrived packed with construction materials, medical equipment, and a 4-wheel drive off-road ambulance. I helped supervise the construction of the clinic and within a week we were up and running with HIV testing and treatment services. Eventually my home based care activists were trained to be HIV counselors and the Ministry sent over an additional clinician to supervise the services. I spent the rest of my days on the island split between working in the HIV clinic and continuing to facilitate the construction of homes for orphan-led households. In the quieter moments I camped on the other side of the island and surfed waves that had previously been uncharted. This lasted for 2 years until I was recruited by Vanderbilt University’s Friends in Global Health to help build their community health program in the rural North of Mozambique.
The following two years were spent living in a province called Zambezia. I was hired to essentially replicate what I had done on Inhaca, but in 6 rural districts all across the province. I spent more time on the dusty dirt roads than I did in my own home. The environmental shift from the sea breezes of Inhaca to the dusty potholes of Zambezia was drastic and shocking. But I loved my work. In many of these districts people had never heard of HIV. Friends in Global Health was setting up testing units in places where no one had ever been tested. It was my job to immediately set up People Living with HIV (PLWH) groups in each district in an attempt to preemptively combat inevitable HIV stigma. Each group, mostly made up of women, was trained on how to design and implement an income generation project of their choice.
Given the nature of this work, and being a source of information and counseling for people who had recently tested positive, I developed very close bonds with those that I worked with. The same could be said for my experience on the island of Inhaca. The photos in this series document the people that I shared these experiences with, and the places where many friendships were formed.
Fisher boy, on the island of Inhaca pt.1
Early morning fog, heading into rural Zambezia for weeks on end
Dona Ines, washing clothes in Masaka
Dona Luisa and her adopted children
Hangin around Pt.1
Hangin around Pt.2
Victor, of Gurue
Fishermen waiting for the tide to come in on the island of Inhaca
Dona Gebuza, returning from PMTCT counseling in Mocuba
Long days on dusty roads
Rosaria, taking the boat from Inhaca to Maputo to get the results from her HIV test
Francisca, HIV activist of Ile
Hernanda, HIV activist of Ile
Renaldo, HIV activist of Ile
Rosa, HIV activist of Ile
Dona Luisa, of Quilimane
Fisher boy Pt.2
Wima and Alcinda, nurses of Lugela
Catholic church in Quilimane Pt.1
Catholic church in Quilimane Pt.2
Rest stop, outside of Alto Molocue
Crimes of the Future
This collection of photographs puts emphasis on the act of travel and the silence found in foreign settings. These photos feature bodies, spaces, and lifeless structures, each displayed with evident placidity, but with no direct narrative.