Karen O'Hern Photography: Blog https://www.karenohern.com/blog en-us (C) Karen O'Hern Photography [email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:16:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:16:00 GMT https://www.karenohern.com/img/s/v-12/u901201819-o17149403-50.jpg Karen O'Hern Photography: Blog https://www.karenohern.com/blog 80 120 Her Name Is Grace https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2017/4/her-name-is-grace “There’s someone I want you to meet.” It’s my first afternoon in Kigali and Mussa, my local guide and fellow documentary photographer, hails a couple of scooters and we head to a nearby rural neighborhood. My curiosity has the best of me as we dart in and out of the chaotic city traffic. Making the final part of the journey by foot across the cratered dirt roads, we come upon a small building with a prominent sign out front reading “Komera Creative”.


Grace, her neck draped with a measuring tape, welcomes us warmly from the porch with her bright eyes and genuine smile. Framed by colorful goods just inside the door, she quickly pulls me in to her place of business, eager to share her work.


I’m immediately drawn in by the vibrant, beautiful crafts lining the shelves in both rooms – quilts, purses, stuffed toys, men’s neck ties – made from local and Ugandan kitenge patterned cloth. She laughs shyly as I express surprise that she even has IPad covers for sale, saying sweetly, “I need to create what people are looking for”. She begins taking things from the shelves, proudly showing me the quality, beauty, and diversity of the items.


She explains that she teaches newly single women to sew, taking them under her wing for “however long it takes”, starting with simple crafts and advancing to the more complicated items as they master their skills. Grace is providing them income from the first item they sew, paying the women by the piece as they learn - her business model varying greatly from Rwandan cooperatives that are the norm. To be able to sew in these cooperatives, a woman must first be able to afford to attend vocational training, an option not available to uneducated women who are widowed or whose husbands have left them. These women have no means to make a living and, without Komera Creative,  their only option would be to illegally sell fruits and vegetables on the streets in order to survive.


Grace takes me down the short hall to their workroom where a large table dominating the space is covered end-to-end with colorful fabric.


I meet Merabu, a woman who originally taught Grace herself to sew, and has stayed by her side all these years while this entrepreneur dreamed of, and then developed, her business. Merabu acknowledges me with a warm smile, but doesn’t pause, continuing in the rhythm of her work.


A few steps across the hall and we’re in the sewing room where three of the seven apprentices are hard at work. I meet Janet whose husband left her when she was unable to bear him a child. She has been with Komera Creative for seven months and Grace proudly tells me she’s a fast learner. She's earning an income while she learns, and preparing to launch her own business once she acquires the necessary skills. But just as important, if not more so, she is also healing, thriving on the camaraderie of the others in her situation and, as she puts it, “forgetting her pain as she sews”.


I’m surprised to meet a gentleman apprentice, Vital, a recent refugee from Burundi. Grace explains that while she has never taken in a man before, he came to her with his story and request to apprentice, and she realized that she could also help him lay a successful path to his future. She is not only teaching him to sew, but has opened a room in her business for him to live in the meantime.


Walking back to the storefront, I naively ask Grace what prompted her to start this business. She calmly tells me of an earlier chapter in her life, one of horror and unspeakable cruelty during the genocide when the neighbors she played with and shared meals with slaughtered her family. As a survivor with only a primary school education, she worked in a Red Cross orphanage, but another tragedy soon struck when her young husband suddenly died. Grace, overcome by grief, fell into a coma. When she recovered, her job was no longer there for her and, as a new widow, she was forced to think of her future. Instead of panicking, she looked out and saw so many women in her situation and felt she was in a good position to help them.


“LEARN. LEAD. BUILD. …Be strong. Yes we can!” was the mantra that propelled her forward. Instead of her life events hardening her heart, they broke it wide-open and helped her better understand the issues of women in need. She thinks back to the men who stepped in and saved her life, and thus Grace chooses to recall her past as “a long story of love that I can now pass on to others”.

Through her business, she has defined and shaped a new perspective of Rwandan women on their way to self-reliance. Grace is an inspiration; not only in business, but more importantly, in life. To me, she represents everything that is beautiful in this world.


~ Karen

[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Creative Women Grace Inspirational Business Woman International Kigali Komera Creative Rwanda Self Reliance Sewing Woman Entrepreneur https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2017/4/her-name-is-grace Mon, 03 Apr 2017 14:56:28 GMT
Pablove Shutterbugs: "My Heart Burst Wide Open!" https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2016/12/pablove-shutterbugs-my-heart-burst-wide-open I had the privilege of becoming a Lead Teaching Artist in Denver with the Pablove Shutterbugs photography program. I got the chance to work with some remarkable, young “budding artists,” helping them to develop their creative voice through the art of photography.

Provided courtesy of Pablove Shutterbugs   Fall Group, including teaching assistants. Photo credit: Jacqueline Griffin


When I heard that the Pablove Shutterbugs program would be offered in Denver for the first time for children and teens living with cancer, I could not have been more excited! As a professional photographer, one with 15+ years under my belt spent previously as a pediatric nurse in children’s hospitals, I felt like the job of Teaching Artist was written specifically with me in mind.

There’s nothing like sharing my love of photography with others. When I pick up a camera and begin to shoot, all my cares melt away and only the moment I am experiencing becomes important and real. I couldn’t wait to give children the chance to experience this for themselves. I was chomping at the bit to work with the kids in the Shutterbugs program. 

    Practicing self-portraits using the timer.  Photo credit: Jacqueline Griffin


I kicked off the program by welcoming the students to their studio. While it might have looked like a simple classroom to an outsider, the students immediately tuned in to the fact that it was indeed a special place. They knew that our Saturday mornings together were going to be a time to learn about their cameras and about photography, all the while tapping into their creativity and becoming totally distracted from their daily lives, and from living with cancer.

  An artist works on her framing. 


In class each week, I was continually energized when a student rushed up to me to tell me about his or her week between classes—the images they captured and new techniques tried.

Provided courtesy of Pablove Shutterbugs

An artist plays with perspective while shooting during our fall field trip.  Photo credit Jacqueline Griffin


I loved hearing about the “mistakes” they made, only to discover what we called “happy accidents”…unexpected images that emerged when shooting in a different way than intended. With each of these little moments, I knew that they were appreciating their days more deeply as they became artists. 

    The artists in the Spring program practice shooting moving objects.  

  Artists in the fall program work together to get the shot! 


I’d be fooling myself if I said there was just one favorite moment when teaching the Pablove Shutterbugs program. The sum of all the little moments made the experience so much better than I had ever anticipated. Here are a few memories that will always stay with me:

If a student had to miss a class due to illness or unexpected hospitalization, we brought the class to them during the week and provide the class one-on-one. Once, when giving a lesson bedside, the student I was working with had to pause mid-lesson to receive a very painful chemotherapy treatment. As I was leaving, my heart burst wide open as I received the tightest hug from a nurse. With tears in her eyes, the nurse told me, “I don’t know what [the student] and you were doing, but I have never seen this patient so calm and relaxed during her chemo treatments.” Knowing that this program could have such a tangible and immediate impact is hard to describe!

At the end of our final class we give our students certificates of achievement—diplomas to recognize all of their hard work and creative energy. One of our students let me know that he had received many certificates in life, but none meant more to him than his completion of the Pablove Shutterbugs program because of his new love for photography.

As I look back on some of the pictures taken of our class I am continuously reminded that these kids are living with cancer—this is their reality. And though I only got to spend five weeks with them, I—and more importantly, they—put that reality on the back burner. For five weeks these kids were photographers, budding artists learning their craft and capturing images that are going to be framed and shared with the community in a gallery show.
I was told over and over again by parents that their child was not feeling up to par, but would do anything to not miss class on Saturday. This was their program!

Provided courtesy of Pablove Shutterbugs   Providing assistance to a fall artist while she practices her natural light portraiture.  Photo credit: Jacqueline Griffin


It is apparent to me that these kids were incredibly grateful for the opportunity to hold a camera in their hand, to live in the moment, and to be able to take a new perspective on what they saw. They had the opportunity to make new friends and form a community that convened each week around an emerging passion, and all the while smiling, and laughing, and being glad we had this experience together.

Provided courtesy of Pablove Shutterbugs   Every assignment provided the opportunity to engage with their classmates and enjoy the experience together. Photo credit: Jacqueline Griffin.


In my line of work as a humanitarian photographer, I am always amazed that I enter each engagement in order to serve, yet end up receiving so much in return. This one was no different. I will be back this spring! How could I not?

~ Karen O’Hern, Pablove Shutterbugs Teaching Artist, Denver 

I wrote this blog post for the Pablove Shutterbugs website. Text is re-posted here with permission; images from the Denver fall and spring class included. 


Post script: We held a festive gallery show in the Spring, displaying a select image by each student in both programs. Family and friends, as well as the community, came by to admire the work of these inspiring artists.

  An artist and her Dad enjoy the work displayed during the Spring gallery show.  Photo Credit: Meg O'Neill


[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Art Program Budding Artists Children with cancer Pablove Shutterbugs Photographers Photography Classes https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2016/12/pablove-shutterbugs-my-heart-burst-wide-open Sat, 17 Dec 2016 02:00:00 GMT
Life Saving Drops https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2016/2/life-saving-drops-v2 It's an early Sunday morning in Jodhpur, India where I'm shooting for a personal project. I set out to photograph the textile merchants in the Old City, but as I walked confidently through what I thought was the city gate, I find myself in a hospital courtyard with polio immunization administration in full swing. Clearly I have made a wrong turn.


But the pediatric nurse in me won't allow me to leave without checking out what's going on. I meet Ankita, a computer operator for the hospital, who has volunteered to spend her day off giving any child under 5 years of age the oral polio vaccine as part of the national "Pulse Polio Initiative" campaign. Ankita is most gracious and enthusiastic, and I end up thoroughly engrossed and unable to pull myself away, spending my morning documenting her as she immunizes the children.

   Ankita greets the families with a warm and welcoming smile.


The Pulse Polio Initiative is a government sponsored immunization campaign with the goal of ensuring complete elimination of polio in India. WHO declared India polio-free in 2014 as no cases had been reported for three years. However, India continues to sponsor two national immunization days a year to ensure that no child should miss immunization, thereby guaranteeing polio does not reoccur.

   The children come accompanied by extended family members along with their parents.


   Excited new parents make it a point to stop by today.


   Other families are enroute to Sunday outings, but see the postings and stop to have their child immunized.


   Some of the children, despite being a bit older, need some coaxing to open wide and swallow the drops.


   Others stand still and eagerly take the vaccine.


   The babies take a bit more holding...


   ...and a bit of luck they don't spit out the drops before Ankita can get them to swallow.


   Once immunized, the child's fingernail is marked with a black marker, indicating she has received the vaccine.


While I heard there has been some confusion in the communities re the need for multiple doses of the vaccine, the families that came this morning were very eager and appreciative to have access to the free immunization. For me, it was such a pleasure to participate in a small way in a public health program abroad, and to be able to compare it to our pediatric programs and efforts in the US which I had been such a part of for so many years.

~ Karen

[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Jodhpur India OPV Polio Immunization Pulse Polio Initiative https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2016/2/life-saving-drops-v2 Sun, 28 Feb 2016 23:30:00 GMT
Behind the Smiles https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2015/4/behind-the-smiles  


Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles”. Everywhere we travel, a simple greeting of “Sawatdeekah” brings a warm and open smile to the Thai people’s faces.  


As we journey to the north of this country, we let our imagination convince us of why. We see villages tucked in verdant hills; a peaceful and beautiful scene that could easily steal the cover of any exotic travel brochure.


A remote village home in the area of Northern Thailand most at-risk for underage sex trafficking.


It’s easy to see the “normal” despite the apparent poverty of the region. Visitors are greeted warmly and by all appearances, the sense of community seems intact and healthy. 


The Displacement Camp of Mae Sam Laeb lies on the Thai border across the river from Myanmar. Without a Thai ID card, these refugee people cannot leave the village, thereby limiting the opportunities for these families.


Throughout the remote villages, made up of stateless people in displacement camps and other poor ethnic groups, women and men are busy with their daily chores while the sound of children reciting their primary school lessons cascades down the hill from the school building. All seems well.


A woman makes the evening meal in her home in Mae Sam Laeb Displacement Camp.


But if we spend the time, and if we dare to have the courage to look beneath the surface of this idyllic setting and these smiling faces, we begin to peel back the facade of appearances and bare witness to an ugly truth. Behind the smiles lies an unfortunate reality of life for the girls of Thailand, particularly for those in the north. The gruesome reality is that the young girls here are vulnerable and at high-risk for underage sex trafficking. One must be familiar with this remote area to witness it accurately and get to the real truth about life in this region. I am  traveling with an outreach group that has daringly pushed beyond the slight progress made by the government, police, and other public organizations to make a difference in this war against underage sex trafficking in the northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son.


The newly printed signs displaying the sex trafficking hot line are posted outside the police station at Mae Sariang.


While the government now publicly displays signs broadcasting the central help line to report sex trafficking, and the police make symbolic arrests, the situation requires the outreach team to walk the tough terrain to get to know the impoverished hill tribe communities and their activities, and identify who is most at-risk. It's spending time in the villages with the girls and their families, that allows for the development of personal relationships and therefore, a deep understanding of the issues.

The outreach team routinely makes the arduous trek through tough terrain and wildly flowing streams to reach the targeted remote villages.


One must put aside his or her own cultural norms in order to begin to understand the fundamental issue that fuels the prevalence of underage sex trafficking in these impoverished areas. Young girls are seen as a commodity within the family, not an equal to a male child, but rather, an asset that can be sold to a trafficker through a recruiter who is often known to the family.


“Trafficking” is not even a term used in this area. Instead, the cash transaction for the young girl is known as “compensation for separation”. The family can receive a sum of money that may be well over four years’ of the family’s wages. For the girl, she has been raised to believe her role is a traditional one; to be subservient and please the male, while ensuring that she monetarily takes care of her family. The sale of the girl for sex addresses this role and obligation. This is “normal life” in these communities for the girls, as they have grown up witnessing the older girls in their village taking on this role before them.


For the Northern Thai girls, this means being transported by a middle man and taking on a new life in the bustling mosaic of big cities that make up Thailand and beyond. The environment could not be more different from their remote village yet, it’s not this geographical relocation that is the most striking change for the girls.


The city of Mae Sariang is one of the destination cities for exploited underage girls.


With their petite stature, lighter skin, and demure nature, their new role in life is to work in brothels and karaoke bars, and satisfy the unmet sexual longings and egos of primarily Asian men who prefer girls from this region.


A karaoke bar at the city's bus station was raided the night this story was documented.


The girls are played over and over again each night, being used by a seemingly unending stream of men, and discarded afterwards, worn out like a cheap pair of fancy shoes.


A scene just inside the karaoke bar, caught in the light of day.


Today, it is recognized that education is the way out of this recurrent cycle of sex slavery for these girls and future generations. However, there are many social, economic, and cultural issues that must be overcome to enable these girls to attend school routinely throughout their young lives. At school the girls live a life of structure, safety, kindness, education, promotion of self-worth, and introduction to their potential life of opportunities.


The outreach staff meets with the local teacher and a family whose daughter was deemed to be at-risk and talks through the issues and the available support so that they will agree to having her routinely attend school.  


Keeping the girls in school during these vital teen years, and ensuring they receive schooling beyond the typical 6th grade education provided in the village schools is the key to opening the door to all the opportunities life has to offer, and most importantly, putting them in the driver’s seat to be making choices on how they want to live their lives.


This remote village girl has a greater chance of completing her education through high school and beyond due to these efforts. 


This preventive work allows the teen girls of the remote northern villages of today and tomorrow the ability to recognize their potential and look ahead with realistic optimism. It provides for them a bright future.


In reality, underage sex trafficking is treated as a political issue. Isn’t it time we recognize it for what it is, a social issue…a humanitarian one – one that we must all recognize, face, and ideally support in order to make a real impact for social change?


This girl lives in the most remote village in Northern Thailand, and once had no chance to make choices in her life. Thanks to these outreach efforts, she now has the ability to dream big dreams for her future, and a good chance of making them come true.


~ Karen




[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Displacement Camps Ma Sariang Mae Sam Laeb Outreach Workers Refugees Sex Slaves Sex Trafficking Thailand Thailand Sex Trafficking Underage Girls https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2015/4/behind-the-smiles Thu, 16 Apr 2015 05:30:00 GMT
Wishing...to recapture the joys of childhood https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2014/11/wishing-to-recapture-the-joys-of-childhood I welcome Amanda Ford, Communications Manager for Make-A-Wish® Colorado, as my guest blogger today. She shares with you the transformation in one family’s life when their daughter is granted her wish to meet Princess Jasmine. Below are excerpts from Make-A-Wish Colorado’s Annual Newsletter (2014), reprinted with permission.

Michaela is granted her wish to meet Princess Jasmine of Aladdin.


Michaela knows the words to almost every Disney princess movie song and has fantasized about one day becoming a princess in her own fairy tale. But for this little princess, a dark shadow was cast over her dreams when she was diagnosed with a disease affecting her circulatory system.


Michaela’s medical condition requires her to take daily medications to prevent her blood from clotting and affects her ability to play physical sports and activities. To avoid the temptations of climbing places she’s not supposed to, playing contact sports or rough-housing on the playground, Michaela gets lost in the magical lands in her fairy tale books and Disney movies.


Family quarrels, jealous step-mothers, curses and young love are often the themes of Michaela’s tales, but what she pays the most attention to are the stories’ heroines – the princesses.


“Michaela loves to play dress-up and pretend that she is a princess,” said Michaela’s mom, Joy. “She’s into fashion and being girly, so playing dress-up has been her coping mechanism when she gets sick. It’s a way for her to escape her current situation and become part of a new, mysterious land that’s all her own.”

Michaela plays dress-up, becoming Elsa, the princess from “Frozen”.


Michaela pretends to be Rapunzel from “Tangled”, finding her strength and individuality by following her heart. She becomes Ana and Elsa from “Frozen”, singing her way through her troubles and fears. She also pretends to be Jasmine from “Aladdin”, her favorite princess, who is courageous and always looking for adventure.


When Michaela was referred to Make-A-Wish Colorado, she followed her heart and turned to her faith to help her decide on a wish that would make her the happiest and bring her the most joy. Michaela is very close with her family, especially her father, and she wanted to be able to spend time together, but also do something special and meaningful to her.


Through the generosity of Disney, Michaela experienced her fondest wish to go to the Walt Disney World® Resort where she could experience adventure and meet her favorite princesses, especially Jasmine. 

Michaela eagerly awaits her personal meeting with Princess Jasmine.


“The entire experience was incredible,” said Joy. “We spent valuable time together as a family and were able to watch our daughter enjoy being a little girl again.”


On the wish, Michaela and her family rode rides at all of the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks. But the day Michaela met Jasmine was when the magic truly happened…

The start of a magical time with Princess Jasmine. 


Michaela and Princess Jasmine form an immediate and precious bond.


“We were given a private meet-and-greet with Princess Jasmine,” said Joy. “The minute Jasmine walked into the room Michaela’s eyes were glowing and she was so enthralled with her! It was an indescribable moment. Jasmine took photos with our whole family and read stories to the children. She really made Michaela feel like a princess!”

Princess Jasmine reads stories to Michaela and her brothers. They hang on her every word.

Michaela snuggles up to Jasmine and becomes lost in the moment.


“For one week, we didn’t have to worry about anything,” said Joy. “We were able to focus on our family and celebrate life and the blessings we’ve been given. The wish really did make Michaela feel better, and it was healing for our entire family.”


For Michaela, her wish to go to the Walt Disney World Resort brought out her inner-princess qualities: strength, heart, courage and adventure. She was able to meet her favorite princess, Jasmine, but most of all she was able to experience being a kid again - something she will treasure and look back on for many years to come.

Warm hugs mark the end to a very special visit.

# # #

It is tough to understand why parents would ever have to face a potentially life threatening illness in their young child - seeing them deal with hospitalizations, isolation from friends, and the interruption of a carefree childhood. I am grateful to Make-A-Wish Colorado for taking the enormity of the fear, pain and uncertainty of these illnesses from these children and their families, and replacing that with hope, strength, and joy through the wishes they grant. It is a privilege for me to partner with such an amazing organization!




[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Life Threatening Illness Make-A-Wish® Make-A-Wish® Colorado Princess Jasmine Walt Disney World® Wish https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2014/11/wishing-to-recapture-the-joys-of-childhood Sun, 16 Nov 2014 19:09:00 GMT
Who Cares for Jamia? https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2013/11/who-cares-for-jamia Can nursing care really make a meaningful, long-lasting difference in the lives of our youth? If young lives could be positively influenced, might this impact create a ripple effect to actually strengthen our communities?


My eyes and heart were pried wide-open this fall when I stood witness to just that – the profound work done by the Nurse Practitioners at the school-based health clinics run by University of Rochester’s School of Nursing in Rochester, NY. While these dedicated Nurse Practitioners will reach a student population of over 3000 youth this year, they make a difference one student at a time. Their story is one of amazing, heart-felt successes, and comes down to the interactions and relationships built between the practitioners and the students. 

Mary Ellen Dennis, known as Ms. Dennis to the students, is a familiar face the students look forward to seeing in the high school’s corridors.


Mary Ellen Dennis, a University of Rochester School of Nursing graduate, is known to be one of the most competent and effective mental health nurse practitioners for adolescents in the city. She has worked at East High School, offering the students behavioral health services for 16 years, and has literally saved many of these students’ lives while positively impacting hundreds of others. Her Program Director, Kim Urbach, thinks she is phenomenal, stating, “Kids have stayed in school and graduated because they have received Mary Ellen’s services.”


These sentiments are echoed by Jamia, a 20 year-old graduate of East High. In fact, Jamia says there is no question that she would be in jail - more likely dead - had it had not been for the care she received from Mary Ellen during her high school years. She is not exaggerating. These years for her were ones of incredible pain, emotional turmoil, severe behavioral issues, broken relationships, an unstable home life, and isolation. She is afraid, that without Mary Ellen, she would have been just another statistic, individually robbed of her potential and humanness; while her community would have been left living in fear of yet another potentially dangerous young adult.


But that is not Jamia’s story. Hers is one of redemption, one that is full of incredible hope and promise, and is inextricably linked to her relationship with Mary Ellen during her high school years.

As Jamia’s school-based psychiatric nurse practitioner, Mary Ellen bonded with Jamia during their weekly sessions across five years. Mary Ellen offered her expert therapy along with practical advice for applying behavioral modification tactics to everyday life situations. Jamia utilizes these tips today as she navigates the world as a young adult.


All along the corridors, within the clinic, and on the school grounds of East High School, lies the critical turning point. This is the location where behavioral health care can – and does – make the difference between the child making it through her adolescent years and graduating from high school, or becoming another all-too-common, frightening statistic. It’s where Mary Ellen walks the halls and intervenes, providing the purest form of patient-centered care right where the kids are every day – in their school.

Given the intensity of the issues discussed, Mary Ellen often walks with her students during their sessions, escaping the enclosed feeling of her office’s four walls. Jamia thinks back to her weekly sessions during her high school years, remembering many times when she and Mary Ellen walked outside around the grounds of the school.

Taking the stigma away from “therapy”, Mary Ellen welcomes students into her office to have a cup of hot cocoa with her. In this relaxed atmosphere, students begin to open up and share. Jamia calls this Mary Ellen’s ability to “work her magic”.


During each and every school day, Mary Ellen is weaving a safety net of support for the students, ensuring that the teachers, student support staff, counselors and administrators know the issues the kids are facing, and the effective support required to keep them healthy and in school. It’s a milieu where there’s understanding, availability and care that allows for the students to voice their problems, get much needed support, counseling and medication if needed.

Mary Ellen confers often with school guidance counselors and members of the Student Support Center, tapping their perspectives and ensuring they are working together to help the students in a coordinated way. Jamia knew that everyone was looking out for her best interests.

Mary Ellen sought out teachers to inform them when significant events happened in Jamia’s life. When Jamia would have an emotional outburst in class, she felt the shift in her teachers as they approached her with understanding and the gentle question “What has happened?” versus disciplining her with the approach of “What’s wrong with you?”. She knew Mary Ellen was behind that change.


Despite her traumatic and emotional high school years, with Mary Ellen’s guidance and constant support, Jamia survived two suicide attempts, multiple cuttings, homelessness, a stint in jail, and graduated with honors from East High School in June 2012. This was a lifelong dream and still brings tears of pride to Jamia’s face today when she thinks about what she was able to accomplish despite all odds.

Despite serious emotional and behavioral issues, including a couple of admissions to psychiatric inpatient care for attempted suicide, Jamia graduated in the top 10% of her class. 


Today, Jamia is employed as a youth mentor at the Hillside Children’s Center. She works with teenagers 13 – 20 years old, serving as a role model and advocating for youth who have mental and behavioral problems. She shares her experiences with the teens along with the positive aspects of her current life, and is candid with them about her story. She openly acknowledges that she had, and still has, emotional problems, but that through her work with Mary Ellen she has learned to manage and control her emotions. She encourages the teens she works with to learn alternative, acceptable behaviors that work for them, and reinforces that they don’t need to go down the negative road. She proudly describes her role, “I am here to guide them and give them a nudge in the right direction, but to also let them know it is their choice. Mary Ellen did that for me.”

Jamia is excited about her new job as a youth mentor for Hillside Children’s Center.


Jamia also volunteers her time to support the city’s youth in the various recreational and community centers. Whether helping children after school with their homework or engaging with them in games and crafts, Jamia is an available young adult whose gentle, but direct style influences the children. As they erupt in frustration over a math problem and feel like giving up, she tells them that she, too, struggled with math, yet graduated top of her class. Hanging on her every word, they look at her with amazement and respect.  Each interaction is an optimistic playback of her life in easy-to-digest lessons of what she has learned throughout her teen years.

Jamia reviews the homework lesson with a student after school in one of the city’s community centers. The children are anxious for Jamia’s help. She is a patient and understanding teacher.

As Jamia teaches this 8-year old boy a craft, he begins to tell her of trouble with some kids at school.  She listens attentively with understanding, then imparts some wise advice based on her experience. 


While Jamia is thriving in both her job and volunteer activities in the community, her life also has renewed richness due to meaningful relationships she has built.  Having been estranged from her mother for years, Jamia is grateful to Mary Ellen for encouraging her to pursue building that relationship anew, and giving her guidance on how to begin to take that step. “Ms. Dennis knew I always wanted a relationship with my mom, and she told me to go for it, don’t give up. If Ms. Dennis didn’t encourage me to pursue that, and without her pushing me, I wouldn’t have tried.” In the past year, Jamia has reestablished contact with her mom. Seeing each other regularly, they are working on building the mother-daughter bond that had never previously been formed.

Jamia visits her mom each week, often spending the evening cooking, dancing and laughing together. She says that they are both working hard on their relationship, taking it a step at a time.

Once a high school teen without friends due to her anger issues, Jamia’s life is now full of rich and meaningful friendships.

Having learned the hard lessons of destructive interactions, Jamia now cherishes her loving, respectful, healthy relationship with her boyfriend of three years.


Jamia reflects on her thoughts the first time she met Mary Ellen: “At first it was weird when I met Ms. Dennis because she is an older Caucasian woman, so I thought, ‘What does she know about African-American kids and our issues?’ But the more I began to talk to her, I realized how much she understood what I said and how much she understood what I was going through. And Ms. Dennis doesn’t just give you tactics to help you that day, she gives you tactics that you can use forever in your everyday life. She just knows how to work her magic. I don’t know how she learned to do what she does, but she is just an awesome person”.

 Jamia knows that a new season brings hope, joy and fresh beginnings. She celebrates daily her success and the promise that her  life now offers.


Mary Ellen has her own thoughts about Jamia’s journey and their work together: “It makes my day to see Jamia now. It’s because of the Jamias that I do the work that I do, and it makes me really proud. I believe by us working together that Jamia now has the tools to move on and conquer the world. And you know what? She is going to do it!”


Having been privileged to witness Mary Ellen's work and therapeutic interactions with the students throughout our time together, I marvel at the impact she, the School-Based Health Centers, and the University of Rochester School of Nursing are having on these young lives - and the community in which they live. The University of Rochester School of Nursing's Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program prepares future "Mary Ellen's" to work in the community and create a like impact. If you are inspired by this story and would like to support their efforts to ensure the longevity of these graduate programs, learn more about how.


~ Karen

[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) East High School East High School School-Based Clinic Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Nursing Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner University of Rochester School of Nursing https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2013/11/who-cares-for-jamia Fri, 01 Nov 2013 15:10:00 GMT
If You Were Given One Wish, What Would It Be? https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2013/6/if-you-were-given-one-wish-what-would-it-be For Jenna, a 15 year-old high school student with brain cancer, it was clear...she wanted to "Give Hope".

Not only is Jenna special because she is the 4000th wish recipient for Make-A-Wish Colorado, but also because her wish was to give back. Jenna’s wish was to help other children going through cancer; to give them hope, to let them know they aren’t alone... that they, too, can make it through this journey. Her wish took the shape of a book, God’s Got This: Adventures in Hope.

Jenna is granted her wish at the Colorado Make-A-Wish Office

Jenna arrives at the Colorado Make-A-Wish Office.

Jenna is surprised with the announcement that she is their 4000th wish recipient.


Jenna was diagnosed with a cancerous, inoperable brain tumor in August 2012. An avid journaler all her life, Jenna continued to journal through her long days of chemotherapy, hospitalizations, and radiation – writing in as many as 16 journals at any one time! Despite her diagnosis, Jenna had dreams for her life, one of which was to become a writer and author.

Jenna journaling at home in one of her cozy spots on the family room sofa.

Jenna's journals, gifts from family & friends, gave her an outlet for her thoughts, fears and dreams.


It should have been no surprise that when Make-A-Wish Colorado asked her to make a wish, Jenna said she wanted to write and publish a book to give hope to other children with cancer. The idea came to life one day as Jenna and her mother, Johanna, were on one of their “adventures” together to the top of Pike’s Peak. Driving up the steep and twisting roads, Jenna likened the sometimes scary ride with her journey through her illness. Atop the mountain, and overwhelmed with the incredible view, she had a deep knowing that she was going to make it though this journey with cancer, stronger and with an even deeper faith.

Jenna returns to Pike's Peak this summer where she views the long and winding road that she likened to her journey with cancer.


When Jenna got word that her wish would be granted, she began sorting through her journal entries. Day after day, Jenna sat on her parent’s bed, combing through her writings and combining entries into themes, while her mom typed up the selected pieces into what would soon become a draft of the book. When Jenna would feel down during her illness, with treatments, changing body image and separation from friends, her mom would exclaim, “But Jenna, you get to write a book! You’re going to be an author!” And just that reminder would change her whole mood and perspective. Through countless days, the thought of her wish coming to fruition gave Jenna the hope to keep going and be strong.

Jenna starts to compile her book by reviewing her journal entries and sorting them by themes.

Jenna's mom, Johanna, types up the entries and the draft of Jenna's book takes shape.


The book is written as part memoir and part workbook, and Jenna writes honestly and insightfully about her adventures, emotions and support from family, friends and community while inviting readers to share their experiences alongside her.

Jenna is at the printers and is able to proof the cover's final colors before the first run is printed.

Jenna is struck with emotion as the first pages of her book come off the printing press - her wish becoming a reality.

Jenna and her mom hold the pages in their hands for the first time. Jenna is overwhelmed at seeing her words in print.


Her wish was granted June 4th at a celebratory Book Release party attended by 170 family members and friends. 

Jenna enjoys a ride in style to the party with her family - a surprise limousine provided by Make-A-Wish.


Surrounded by colorful decorations and butterflies, Joan Mazak, President of Make A Wish Colorado, presented Jenna with a special plaque, honoring her as the 4000th wish recipient. Introduced by her parents, Jenna - now cancer free - spoke about how she would choose to remember cancer and then read an excerpt from her book. There was not a dry eye in the crowd as they rose, giving her a standing ovation.

Jenna's parents, full of pride, introduce Jenna. Mom exclaims, "I can't believe we raised you!".

Jenna talks about her wish to give hope to others, then reads an excerpt from her book. She was poised - the audience less so, unable to hold back the tears.


Jenna’s wish granted by Make-A-Wish Colorado will carry hope to other children experiencing cancer in ways no one can imagine right now. Jenna wants to bring this wish forward, publishing more copies of the book and getting it into the hands of everyone who wants it, regardless of ability to pay. She has dreams that a portion of any proceeds would be used to help fund childhood brain cancer research. And knowing Jenna, this idea will also take flight and become a reality.

Jenna's wish to give hope to others is limitless in its capacity to bring not only hope, but joy as well.


My job was to spend time with Jenna and her family, and document her story through images for Make-A-Wish Colorado. While my role was to serve, as I so often find, I am the one at the receiving end. Day after day, as Jenna shared her experiences, thoughts, reactions, and decisions with me, I was inspired beyond comprehension. I marveled at her wisdom, faith, trust and love. I was not shy in soaking up so much of her positive nature that she inevitably shared. I was privileged to witness the most profound embodiment of love that I have ever seen in someone of her young age. And I would like to claim that some how, in some way, I am a better person for having met Jenna and her family, and am incredibly grateful for this opportunity. By the way, "Yes, Johanna, I can believe you and Jeff raised this daughter!".


Jenna has agreed to write a guest blog on my website sometime in the near future. Please comment and let us know what you think of her story, and what you might like to hear more about from her in her own words.






[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) 4000th Wish Recipient Author Book Signing Brain Tumor Cancer Giving Hope Journaling Life Threatening Illness Make-A-Wish® Make-A-Wish® Colorado Wish https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2013/6/if-you-were-given-one-wish-what-would-it-be Sat, 29 Jun 2013 03:10:00 GMT
Good Things Come in Small Packages https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2013/3/good-things-come-in-small-packages-mamba Mamba: Addressing Nutritional Deficiencies in Haiti.

Pondering life's greatest challenges, it's easy to quickly become overwhelmed and feel that nothing one can do will make a difference. But I am privileged to meet and work with individuals who rise above the stifling nature of these thoughts and create products that not only make a small dent in improving the the lives of affected children, but through complete dedication and belief in their mission, make an impact well beyond anyone's wildest dreams! So is the story of Navyn Salem, a stay-at-home mother of four small children, who decided one day to help children suffering from acute malnutrition across the globe.

Navyn Salem, Founder and Executive Director with a Haitian student


Without any background in manufacturing, Navyn opened two plants, the first in Tanzania then another in the US, and began producing the Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) called Plumpy'Nut that has become the standard for treating severe acute malnutrition worldwide. Three short years since the plant's opening in Rhode Island, Edesia Global Nutrition Solutions has delivered product to over 34 countries and reached more than 1 million children thus far.

Acutely malnourished infant is fed Plumpy'Nut by his mother. Within 4-6 weeks he will be fully nourished and back on the road to good health.


Is Navyn stepping back and resting on her laurels? No. Instead she replies, "We're proud of that, but we know there's a lot more work to be done."  To that end, Edesia has responded to the Haitian government's request for a solution to the widespread nutritional deficiencies found amongst the majority of its school-aged children by expanding its product line and developing Mamba in 2011. Mamba is a peanut and soy-based paste that is the source of energy, protein, essential fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals for children between the ages of 4 and 10. This nutritional snack is provided to the children in the classroom once a day in order to address their prevalent iron and Vitamin A deficiencies, and chronic anemia.


So I find myself in Cap-Haitian, a city on the northern tip of Haiti, travelling with Navyn, Nicole Henretty, Edesia's Nutrition Research and Policy Advisor, and Navyn's 12-year old twin daughters, to document Edesia's pilot program launched earlier this year to provide a daily nutritional supplement for the school children of Haiti. We're fortunate that the oppressive heat has taken a reprieve and the humidity has tempered its heavy hand for the time being as we spend our first day travelling to a clinic that treats malnourished children in the rural outskirts of the city.

Cap-Haitian, the 2nd largest city in Haiti.

The clinic is bursting at its seams with parents waiting patiently for their supply of Plumpy'Nut for their little ones.

The benches are full and it's standing room only as the porch turns into a make-shift waiting room.


Plumpy'Nut has revolutionized the care of treating severe acute malnutrition. Not only does it alleviate malnutrition in a matter of 4-6 weeks, but it addresses the barriers that were obstacles to the effectiveness of previous treatments -  it requires no water nor refrigeration, two items rarely found in developing countries, and has a long shelf life so the children can remain at home versus being hospitalized. And the kiddos love the taste! It was absolutely magical to see their eyes open as wide as saucers when they saw the packets in their moms' hands, and then eagerly gobble it up with great enthusiasm.

A mom squeezes the peanut paste in this infant's mouth just as fast as she can eat it.

I thought this little one was going to devour the wrapper!

This sweet thing ripped the package and almost got it down in one big gulp! 


Not only does the clinic provide the Plumpy'Nut, but the children's growth progress is carefully tracked and monitored by routinely measuring their weight, height and overall nutritional status.

It seems like this youngster thinks eating Plumpy'Nut is a lot more fun than getting weighed.

This child still has a ways to go before being properly nourished.


Feeling good about the care in the clinic, we now focus our attention for the next two and a half days visiting the six schools involved in the research pilot program for Mamba.  The schools have many challenges since the devastating earthquake in 2010 hit the southern part of the country that led to a mass migration of families to the north.

Half the children are in the school taking exams while the other half wait their turn in the school yard.

This girl waits patiently outside for a seat in the classroom.


Most Haitian children come from economically disadvantaged families and eat only one or two meals a day. They often walk long distances to get to and from school, further increasing their needs for nourishment and energy.

School children in the busy streets of the city on their long walk to school.


Once we arrive, the children eagerly await the time when Mamba is distributed. Just as we have seen in the clinic, the children are excited about the snack and love the taste. Many of them slip a bit in their packs to take home as a treat for later in the day, but the teachers keep an eye out for this and encourage the students to eat it all right then. There's concern that if saved for later, others in the family will eat the snack, thereby preventing the proper nourishment benefits from helping the targeted school children as intended.

Navyn's daughter helps distribute the Mamba snacks to the students.

There are a lot of mouths to feed!

The children are encouraged to wash their hands with antibacterial solution before eating to ward off the diarrhea that so often further robs them of necessary nutrients.

Excited for their Mamba snack

Again, an important part of the study is monitoring each child's progress in height, weight, body fat and hemoglobin. These stats are carefully and systematically tracked throughout the school year to see how Mamba impacts their growth. The results after 9 months will be compared to the stats of those school children in the study who ate an alternative cereal bar and to those that received no snack during the school year.

A child's BMI is measured to determine body fat as a percentage of body mass.


Navyn takes on the not-so-fun job of pricking the child's finger to get blood to test the Hg level. 


Our time in Haiti has come to an end and I now fully appreciate that Edesia does more than provide these children a nourishing supplemental snack. By nourishing these children, Edesia gives them a fair shot at a healthy and strong future. And by giving the children a healthy future, they undoubtedly contribute to strengthening the country's future. They have my full admiration.


I'd love to hear your thoughts about this non-profit, Edesia, and the work they are doing. Thank you for participating in this dialogue.

~ Karen


[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Edesia Edesia Global Nutrition Solutions Haiti Humanitarian Efforts, Cap-Haitian, Mamba, Malnutrition Navyn Salem Plumpy'Nut RUTF Ready-To-Use Therapeutic Food https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2013/3/good-things-come-in-small-packages-mamba Mon, 18 Mar 2013 15:36:00 GMT
Classroom Champions https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2012/12/classroom-champions Entering Ms. Yenne’s combined 3rd and 4th grade classroom, I was immediately charged with the students’ overpowering enthusiasm and excitement - stopped in my tracks as if a power line had brushed my skin. Surveying the overall scene of the children buzzing around, I could have been fooled that it was the upcoming Winter break that had them so jazzed. But it was better than that! Today was the day that they would Skype with their Olympian role-model, Erin Hamlin, luge world champion and two-time Olympian.

Ms. Yenne's combined 3rd/4th grade class, West Elementary School. Minutes drag as they wait for the call to start.


Ms. Yenne’s class from West Elementary in Colorado Springs, CO participates in a unique program called “Classroom Champions”. Founded by Steve Mesler, Bobsled Olympic Gold Medalist in the 2010 Winter games and his sister, Leigh Mesler Parise, a Ph.D. in Educational Policy, Classroom Champions is a non-profit organization that connects Olympians and Paralympians with students in high-need schools, targeting grades kindergarten through grade 8. They use video lessons and live video chats to motivate students to recognize their potential, set goals and dream big, while educating them in the practical use of communications technology.

The students hustle to get the room ready for the Skype call


Not all children are fortunate enough to grow up with strong role models who encourage them to envision for themselves a bright and successful future. Ms. Yenne’s students have been given that advantage through this program for the 2012-2013 school year, paired with mentor Erin Hamlin, who resides while training in Lake Placid, NY. Up until this point the class has received routine video lessons created by Erin on such topics as goal setting, playing fair, and inspiring others, and the students have created their own videos in return. But this will be the first chance they have had to interact “live” with her through Skype. Oh, it’s a big day!


The students have been looking forward to this call for a while, and have prepared on note cards written questions they want to ask Erin. It’s 30 minutes until show time and Ms. Yenne has the students practice asking their questions with each other to ensure they're ready for the call.

Students practice asking their prepared questions with other students

Students' questions ranged from knowing more about her personally to her sport


The Skype call connects without a hitch, and the normally fidgety students sit motionless at their desks, hanging on every word Erin says.

The anticipated talk with Erin begins

Absorbing every word his Olympian role model says


In sets of four, Ms. Yenne instructs the students to go to the back of the class and get ready to sit at the computer to have their personal conversation with Erin.

Teacher, Ms. Yenne, keeps the call flowing with every child getting a turn to talk

Students eagerly wait their turn to speak with Erin one-on-one


The students are well prepared and anxious for their time to chat with Erin live. Some of the students carefully read from their rehearsed questions, while others get excited in the moment and ad lib their chat! Either way, Erin is gracious and excited to answer all their questions, relating stories about her training, her travels for competition, and her personal journey to this point as well as dreams for the upcoming winter Olympics.

This student asks Erin each of her written questions

This student lets his enthusiasm carry him through the call


The 45 minutes have flown by and the students wrap up the conversation, planning with Erin future calls with her when she heads to Russia. It is time to hang up and the kids break their demeanor and enthusiastically turn to the back of the room to face the microphone, jump into the air, and shout their thanks and good-byes.

"Can't wait to do this again. Thanks, Erin!"


What an experience today has been, witnessing first-hand how kids, especially in high-need environments, respond to positive role models and to the Olympic ideals.


I would love to hear from you your comments about Classroom Champions and/or other thoughts about athlete role models for at-risk youth.

[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Classroom Champions Colorado Springs Erin Hamlin Female Athlete Mentor Luge Olympian Non-profit Organization Olympic Mentor Role Model Skype Steve Mesler West Elementary https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2012/12/classroom-champions Fri, 21 Dec 2012 20:32:00 GMT
The World Is Not Without Color https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2012/7/my-worlds-not-black-and-white More and more I see images published in black and white, and so I thought I’d join the crowd in this post as I share with you the story of the Lawrence House, a place of safety and care - a home - for abandoned and orphaned refugee children, aged 8 - 18, in South Africa. But upon inserting the images, I look over my post and I am left feeling agitated. I am fighting the urge to redo the photos in color as I shot them, but instead decide to write about what is at the heart of this agitation for me and integrate it into the overall story.

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

The Lawrence House. Cape Town, South Africa


As a humanitarian photographer dedicated to sharing the stories of non-profits, their recipients and the overall human experience with integrity, authenticity, and clarity, I honor the setting I am invited into and do my very best to translate what I see accurately through my images. For me, it’s about seeing what is real - what is happening in that moment never to be experienced in quite the same way again. My job is to share that moment with you, to move you in a personal way, to make you care if you dare.

Everywhere I look, I see color.

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

 The brushes and paints found in one of the Lawrence children's art studio


The above personal philosophy applies to my storytelling as well. Often when I approach a non-profit, the first thing they request is that I capture images depicting happy recipients of their work. Certainly important, but isn’t there more to the story? We inevitably end up discussing the importance of telling the story from start to finish – illustrating the need they are trying to tackle, and the hope that results from fulfilling their mission. If we are blessed to have the time, we can tease out the rest of the story and explore in-depth the content in between those end points - the beautiful variety of colorful hues.  


It is in this frame-of-mind that I fly to Cape Town, South Africa, very enthused about working with the Scalabrini Centre and its affiliated Lawrence House as a participant in Momenta Workshops. As the plane soars high above the vast continent of Africa, I try to imagine what’s happening on the ground in the countries that lie 36,000 feet below me - specifically the six countries the majority of the children living in the Lawrence House have come from: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. I wonder what their lives were like , what were the circumstances that led them to migrate to Cape Town and take up residence as one big multi-cultural family in this renovated convent they now call home?


It's Monday and the children have begun their exam week the afternoon I arrive. As my taxi pulls up to the curb, I am greeted by many faces peering out the windows, wide smiles accompanying their wildly waving hands of welcome. I immediately feel at home myself and am anxious to spend the week with the children. I am greeted by Giulia Treves, the warm and caring House Manager and she introduces me to the children who are in separate rooms appropriate for their grade and age for "study groups" that meet every weekday afternoon in the House. The children politely greet me but then immediately get back to their studies.

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

Brother and sister work together to help speed up the learning curve and ensure success on exams


Schooling is an important part of life here at the Lawrence House. Because of their life circumstances, children often arrive with significant skill gaps in math, reading and writing; the education programme aims at addressing these. Especially for refugee youth, school represents the primary and crucial channel for success. As I get to know the children, I appreciate the realities of this so much more. One boy came to the House and was placed in the 2nd grade and struggled as he became overwhelmed with trying to learn while having not even the basic understanding of English. With the help from tutors, he persevered and  moved up each year in his class rank until Grade 7, when he won a prestigious scholarship to attend one of the top high schools in the country. 

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

Excelling in school despite the significant hurdles to overcome


Learning and role modeling extends throughout the day with every interaction with their Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCW) who stay at the House with the children. "Uncle Jeff" takes the kids back and forth to school each day in the House van, discussing topics that are  on their mind, giving them tips to help them in their school and after curricular activities, and offering gentle reminders about respect and manners. Respect is always demonstrated as a two-way street, shown constantly between the adults toward the kids, and the kids toward the adults.

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

"Uncle Jeff" uses the drive time to provide adult perspective and guidance to the children


While school is certainly an important focus, extra-curricular and physical activities are as well. The children have a busy daily schedule after school with the young boys attending soccer practice while the older boys take part in a Brazilian martial arts, Capoeira.


Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

The swirling kick of the Capoeira attack requires agility, power and speed


I learn very quickly that one of the girls' favorite activities is to model the latest fashions. They can't bear the thought of having a photographer with them for a week without putting on a show! One evening when the boys are busy outside the House, the girls strut their stuff down the upstairs hall which converts to the "runway". With a lot of laughter and sassiness, the girls put on their attitudes, their clothes, and their smiles, and I serve witness to their confidence and bold personalities. 

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

Huge attitude. Great look!

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern Whether you're 8 or 14, you are "on" tonight


The House is run with a set routine, strong values, and solid guidance, but with an amazing sense of ease and fluidity that feels so homelike no matter what is taking place. Mornings here are similar to those in a "typical home" with schoolchildren, with the kids coming downstairs in different states of alertness depending on their constitution. They are expected to get their breakfasts that have been prepared and set out for them on the long counter in the dining room.

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

It's all very organized, despite 25 children needing to be fed their hot breakfast before school


Every child is assigned age appropriate chores to do as part of their daily routine. All of them working together help keep this busy home running so smoothly!

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

It's the older boys' turn to clean up after breakfast 


Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern The little one helps get the floor swept up in the dining room


Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern The youngest girl must get her clothes to the laundry room before the van leaves for school


Religious education and practice is part of the children’s upbringing. They can follow any religion of their choice, but they join together multiple times throughout the day to give thanks, collectively and genuinely expressing their gratitude for what is bestowed upon them each day .

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

The children join together to give thanks


When the dinner dishes have been cleaned and homework has been completed, the children are free for an hour to relax, play games, or watch TV before heading to bed.

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

Taking some alone time to check up on the latest sports scores


In this tranquil, supportive and loving environment it is easy to get caught up in the present and forget what past circumstances these children faced. Three of the teens are siblings that came to the House after fleeing the DRC with their Uncle in 2005. Leaving another three siblings at home with their parents, they made their way as refugees across Africa and, after 6 months with their Uncle’s sister in Zimbabwe, landed in Cape Town in 2006. Lacking resources, they lived in their Uncle’s car for a number of months until the state’s social services placed the two boys at the Lawrence House in 2007, the sister in 2008. Each of the children have an equally heart wrenching past, but the hope and optimism they exhibit as they live each and every day with gratitude and perseverance is what stands out.


The adults in the House are always available to offer an understanding ear to the issues that might be on the mind of one of the children. And the extended family also offers unending support and love.

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

 Pros and cons of various career decisions are discussed this morning after breakfast with the CYCW


Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern A pair of loving arms are always available to help ease fears and settle young minds


While the Lawrence House provides a wonderful home environment for the children, providing them the support, guidance, and opportunities to best prepare them for productive, happy and successful lives, it is with the philosophy that the goal is always reunification and reintegration into their family of origin whenever possible. So when sending the children on to the next stage of their life, it is with confidence they will be the best they can be.

Project South Africa 2012 - Momenta Workshops - Karen O'Hern

Stepping out into the world with new found hope


As I wrap up my week, having been touched in such a profound way, I am more committed than ever to accurately portray the vivid and varied hues of peoples' life experiences. While I journey down this path of learning to see the world better myself, my hope is that I can help your visual acuity and humanitarian awareness as well.

I see in color. The world has color. You can expect that, going forward in my work, I won’t mute that. 

I invite you to comment on this post and also spend the time to learn more about the Lawrence House.

~ Karen



[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Cape Town Child and Youth Care Center Lawrence House Momenta Workshops Refugee Refugee Youth Scalabrini South Africa https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2012/7/my-worlds-not-black-and-white Mon, 30 Jul 2012 18:28:00 GMT
My Call to Humanitarian Photography https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2012/5/my-call-to-humanitarian-photography  

I could not have imagined at the start of this year that my journey would take me from a hobby in travel photography to a career change as a humanitarian photographer. But as I travelled different continents interacting with individuals from diverse cultures and experiencing our commonality in smiles and friendships, I realized that a transformation had occurred. Though taking photos during my travels off-the-beaten-path had in past years fed my soul, it suddenly was only partially fulfilling. I became passionate about adding photography to my existing healthcare executive and leadership skills and leveraging these to enact positive social change for at-risk and vulnerable children worldwide.


My transformation began, inspired by David duChemin, prolific author and humanitarian photographer, and his writings on vision and the intent of image-making. I travelled with him and other like-minded photographers to Ethiopia and was mesmerized by how my colleagues’ photographs, graced with the most beautiful natural light, captured the moment that pulsated powerful emotion of the experience through their digital images. I felt more committed to pursuing photography as a central focus of my life than ever before.


I extended my travels and joined my pediatrician friend, Dr. Keith Powell, and his colleague, Laurie McPherson, in providing primary healthcare and education to the children of rural Kalaing’ombe Village outside of Mombasa, Kenya. They had joined efforts with Anke Jenkins who was building a preschool named JipeMoyo, meaning “Give Yourself Hope”. Because I go nowhere without my cameras, Keith naturally asked me to document their work. While I had developed my own photographic style during my travels over the years, I desired greater knowledge and expertise in how to most effectively capture the story of their efforts through photography. As I shot our daily events as both participant and photographer, I made a mental note to put together a plan for formal study in documentary photography. My desire was to perfect the art of creating an effective photographic essay in order to help organizations bring attention to their cause and activities, and influence a broader community to engage in and support their efforts.

The preschoolers at JipeMoyo Preschool first notice that I am carrying a camera

The preschoolers at JipeMoyo Preschool first notice that I am carrying a camera


We distribute shoes to the children to stop the passing of parasites

We distribute shoes to the children to protect them from parasites


Dr. Keith sets up clinic outside the JipeMoyo Preschool

Dr. Keith sets up clinic outside the JipeMoyo Preschool


The primary school children wait to be seen by Dr. Keith

The primary school children wait to be seen by Dr. Keith


Dr. Keith does full exams on the children

Dr. Keith does a full exam on the children. Ringworm is prevalent 


Ringworm is prevalent on almost all the children

Family clinic days at JipeMoyo were very popular. Families walked for miles to attend

Family clinic days at JipeMoyo were very popular. Families walked for miles to attend


Laurie teaches the families proper medication administration through the help of an interpreter

Laurie teaches the families proper medication administration through the help of an interpreter


Mom cradles son to offer comfort and security during the exam

Mom cradles son to offer comfort and security during the exam


The two weeks passed quickly. I bid farewell to Keith, Laurie, the children and teachers in the village and returned to my home in the US, and immediately put together an intensive self-study program led by some of the most notable international humanitarian and documentary photographers. Finding myself once again graced by luck in timing, I was able to sequence a series of workshops to provide me with the focused instruction and practice I desired. So I planned to join Momenta Workshops with Jamie Rose in Cape Town, South Africa; Ami Vitale and Lana Slezic in Ladakh, India; and Karl Grobl in Cambodia. With these trips, the time had come to head out of the country again and the learning, excitement and hard work of pursuing my dream was about to begin!


[email protected] (Karen O'Hern Photography) Career Change Dr. Keith Powell Family Clinic Humanitarian Humanitarian Photography International Healthcare JipeMoyo Preschool Karen O'Hern Photography Kenya Mombasa Rural Healthcare Social Good Vulnerable Children https://www.karenohern.com/blog/2012/5/my-call-to-humanitarian-photography Fri, 25 May 2012 01:46:00 GMT