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Pay it Forward – Coming Full Circle

This is going to be a little different than my usual articles and tutorials because I'm going to ask you a favor, to pay it forward – but not to me!

If you're a regular reader of Digital Photo Mentor, and have enjoyed all the tips, interviews, reviews, and how to videos and tutorials I've done over the last few years – I would appreciate a moment of your time to read more.

How we got involved in Nicaragua

Each fall we lead a photography tour down to Nicaragua. We take people there, show them the country, and introduce them to the way of life in Central America. But the question I often get from people is, “Why there, why Nicaragua?”. It all started when a friend of ours posted this video on his Facebook wall in spring 2013:

It's a little bit long, and Jody rambles on a bit, but it inspired me to contact the same people or to lead my own tour there (but for photographers) just like the fellow he'd gone with – so that's exactly what I did and our Nicaragua tour was born.

Fast forward to February 2014

So we built it and darned enough if people didn't want to come along and by February 2014 we were there. Ironically our group arrived at the same beach camp to find Jess (the same guy Jody mentions) and his buddy Warren who had just finished spending 10 days living with a family in the dump! The experience affected them so profoundly that they decided to go back and film a documentary – we just happened to meet up with them (more serendipity to come, keep reading).

To date we've taken two groups there, and done exactly the same thing – cooked and served lunch. We played with the kids, put temporary tattoos on them, and left feeling like we made a small difference. Here are a few photos of our experiences at the El Limonal community (by the dump).

Taking photos of the kids
Anne taking photos of the kids.
They want to see them too!
They want to see them too! Christine with an inquisitive little one.
Doing temporary tattoos is a bit hit
Carol doing temporary tattoos, was a big hit.
All the kids want to be covered in tattoos
All the kids want to be covered in tattoos, Marie did her best to oblige – she and her husband Clayton and their family have sponsored a family.
Proudly showing his Canadian flag tattoo
Proudly showing his Canadian flag tattoo.
Some people in our group brought toys for the kids
Some people in our group brought toys for the kids.
Some played
Some people like Andy, played.
Some got in the photos
Some got in the photos. Diane and her partner and friends have sponsored a family!
John with two girls that stole his heart.
John with two girls that stole his heart.
Dee with one of the girls - she and John and have also sponsored two families!
Dee with one of the girls – she and John and have also sponsored two families!
Cooking the meal
Carol, Darrell Dave and Ellen cooking the meal.
Serving the meal
Jana and Marie serving the meal.
The kids enjoying a hot meal
The kids enjoying a hot meal.
Our groups also collected and handed out school supplies.
Our groups also collected and handed out school supplies.
The kids with their new supplies
The kids with their new supplies.

But I personally had a nagging feeling that I wanted to do more, get more involved. As we are photography groups, of course we've also taken lots of photos, so each time we return I bring a stack of photos taken by the previous group (and myself) and hand them out to the kids and the moms.

darlene is seen with a group of kids surrounding her to get their photos
This is what happens when I hand out photos – the kids swarm me, they're so eager to see themselves and get a photo (mom's too, check behind me). Thanks to Lana Moshuk for taking this shot of me!

I seem to have become known as the photo lady because on my third visit, mothers were bringing their kids to me to get photographed – hoping I will return once again, and bring them a print next time. So, how can I not do that?!

From November 2014
One mom and her kids from November 2014.
November 2015, the photo I took the year before in her hands!
November 2015, the same mom with the photo I took the year before (above) in her hands!
Mom's finding photos of their kids from the stack I brought back with me.
Mom's finding photos of their kids from the stack I brought back with me.
This lady came to me three times, one for each kid, and asked me to take their photo.
This lady came to me three times, one for each kid, and asked me to take their photo.
Mom's wanted photos with their kids.
Mom's wanted photos with their kids.

I've talked before about using photography to give back – this is one small way to bring joy to people's lives that have literally almost nothing.

Taking it up a notch

Last November we were supposed to lead our third tour to Nicaragua. But our Peru Incident put a wrench into those plans. My husband wasn't able to travel, and I was a mess after Peru and needed some time away in a quiet place. We regrettably had to cancel the tour but I had a flight booked which was non-refundable so off I went. Turns out the Jess and Warren – come to be known as Gringos in the Garbage – had finished their movie, and were there at the same time to premiere it at the very community it was filmed. I was honored to be there for that event.

Movie premiere night, I also got a signed copy of the book – signed by the stars and the author.
Jess setting up for the movie.
The film makers and family they stayed with, left to right: Magdelena, Warren, Candida, Jess, Mirsa.
Watching the movie. The biggest cheer was when they saw themselves on the screen, or Warren danced.

This is the trailer for the movie (please watch the whole thing so you can follow along with the next part):

I connected big time with the guys, have since become part of the team, as they reform a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the people of El Limonal.

Big opportunity to make a real difference

Just before Christmas we learned about a program in Nicaragua that was allowing people there to get a house for only $300 US, and the government would cover the rest (the houses are worth about $7000 USD). The huge problem is that these families only make about $30 a month, just enough to barely survive on beans and rice – so coming up with an entire years worth of wages is pretty impossible for many of them. Most do not have bank accounts, nor any savings, few can read and write, and they have no other means to get help.

These is how they live now:



Fuji X-T1 shot at the garbage dump community called El Limonel in Chinandega, Nicaragua.




This is Teresa. She's in the movie - she is a single mother of seven children. My own family has personally sponsored her to get a house.
This is Teresa. She's in the movie – she is a single mother of seven children. My own family has personally sponsored her to get a house.

Privately through our own families, friends, and those who've come with us to the community – we started fund raising. Now schools have gotten involved, as well as other projects, and we've been able to sponsor over 25 families to get a house. This is real, and is changing these people's lives. Here are some photos of the house building now happening (taken by one of the ladies there with a cheap cell phone).


This is making a HUGE difference to these people's lives and I'm so proud to be part of this project and to be working with this group of people (Jess, the Gringos, the Global Solidarity Group, and the community members). This is the reason I'm passionate about this place. This is why I keep going back, am drawn back. I feel like this is part of my true purpose, how I can use photography, tours, and travel – to give back in the world and really make a difference.

Notice they all participate in the work, that's something I've noticed about the Nicaragua people. They are hard working, and if you're there to help – they're right beside you wanting to do the work too. On our first trip we painted a school, and if one of our group put the brush down – one of the locals was quick to grab it and start painting. They don't want a hand out – just a hand up – and they're prepared to work hard for it.

Your turn to pay it forward

Now it's time for me to ask the favor I mentioned earlier. If you've been reading my articles for a while and have found them helpful, and found value in them – I ask that you consider paying it forward. To give a dollar, or five, or 20, or 300 (buys a family a house) – whatever you can manage, to help us make a huge impact on the people of this community's lives. Even if you can't swing a photography tour, this is a way you too can contribute.

As you read this, I'm currently in Nicaragua, at the community. Three of us from the non-profit have gone to meet the people, take photos of the new houses and families, match up full sponsors with families, and find out how we can support the community moving forward, once the housing program ends.

Click here, or the image below to pay it forward!

I want to Pay it Forward

Please remember this quote if you think you can't make a difference, or a dollar is too small:

I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. – Edward Everett Hale

If everyone receiving this by email gave just one dollar – we could raise over $27,000, and buy over 50 families houses – that is NOT nothing!

SPECIAL NOTE: To those people from our past tour groups who have sponsored families or chipped in (and weren't mentioned above), and to our family and friends who have contributed – we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, as does the community. I'm so proud to have had such caring and giving people on our tours, and in my life. To all of – love you guys!

UPDATE June 15th, 2016

The housing project has now ended and I want to thank all of you who contributed, in any amount! Together you were able to help another set of families get houses, so thank you!



We will continue to accept donations which will go towards future projects such as: micro-loans, educational support, building a community garden, and others that we can't confirm yet. So if you wish to contribute you can still do so and your funds will be put to good use in this community!

With all my heart,


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