The Failure Way

Months ago, during my time spent producing photography surrounding women empowerment, rights and social issues following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, I received an unexpected opportunity. A previous classmate, friend and filmmaker, Olaf Blomerus of BLMRS Media Production Company, contacted me to share an upcoming film project he was preparing for. Along with fellow Canadian filmmaker Chris Dowsett, Olaf was planning to interview and film 6 people on the concept of Failure ~ The meaning of it, its impact, outcomes, and its differing shape for each of us as we pursue our individual paths.

He asked if I would participate as one of the 6 people featured in this video documentary series, and I did not hesitate for a moment. I agreed for his crew to come interview and film me upon my return from Nepal to British Columbia, Canada.

We filmed the project in May. Over the course of 3 days and multiple locations that held personal significance, such as my family cabin, my mother’s home and local park I grew up going for walks and feeding the ducks in, I found myself embracing the vulnerability of the experience. I opened up in front of the lens to share not only my passion for documentary photography, and the way in which I grew to embrace this profession and way of life that is truly my life’s calling, but also to share my experience with failure. Failure is something I know well. I’ve known it in many forms, in varying degrees from the kind that can be shrugged off, to the kind that is paralyzing. 

Over the past 7 years I have traveled from Canada to India, Kenya, Tanzania, Nepal, Sri Lanka and back in pursuit and creation as a photographer, a storyteller, a woman with a fierce inner calling that will continue to evolve and take further shape and clarity with each project I complete.  Amidst all of this, there has been failure. I have failed so big at times, in my own mind, that I have put down the camera and tucked away my passport for months, sometimes over a year at a time. 

Post earthquake displacement camps, Nepal 2015. Produced on assignment for Aura Freedom International. Image featured in 'The Failure Way'.

Truthfully, it was not so long ago that there were moments in Nepal and Sri Lanka that I laid awake in darkened rooms in the middle of the night, far from any familiar faces, the fear of failure consuming me. Thoughts of, “Am I really capable of this? Maybe I should just pack up and go home. I’m not cut out for it…What was I thinking?” I laid in cold sweats, feeling very much alone, my feelings intensified by environments full of language barriers, cultural differences and that which constantly challenged my perception of belonging.
These nights of course would inevitably end, and I would awake to emails and written feedback from others abroad and back in Canada ~ An outpouring of positivity, compliments, praise for my work, sincerities of “I wish I could do what you’re doing!” and those asking me for professional advice.

Portraiture series in post earthquake displacement camps, Nepal 2016. Image featured in 'The Failure Way'.

Experiences like this are surreal. I stare at the compliments on the computer screen and I smile to myself, at the irony that someone was seeing me as an inspiration and champion at the very moment I was lying doubtful and fearful in bed, even after almost a decade of doing this work. The perception from the outside, especially through the lens of social media, is that it can look very much like the person who is walking a path you admire is doing so in total confidence, in a state of constant and unwavering joy and fortitude. I know by now that this is not the case, and imagine even those I myself see as pillars of unwavering strength and success have moments where they too, are lying in bed, feeling alone and fearful of failure.

Post earthquake displacement camps, Nepal 2015. Produced on assignment for Aura Freedom International. Image featured in 'The Failure Way'.

I feel immensely grateful for this knowledge and perspective that has been gained only through my own experience. For ‘The Failure Way’, four hours of audio interview were cut down to ten minutes of final film. The cathartic and liberating nature of sharing the details of my own failures, my own fears, the many stops and starts, and stops and re-starts on the journey of my path as a documentary photographer did not all make it into the final cut. Those details, I know, will be shared more publicly in their own time. The final video is, as are all of the videos that have so far been released in the series, a thing of inspiration, power and beauty. The vision of Olaf and his crew leaves me in awe, and I am ever grateful to have been a part of such a creative collaboration.

Microfinance beneficiaries in Kibera slum, Kenya 2012. Produced for Institute of Development & Welfare Services. Image featured in 'The Failure Way'.

I’ve come to a point of accepting that what I deem as ‘failures’ will continue to come, but my ability and capacity to rise up and greet them as teachers have built over time. At the end of the day, the work I am doing is more than worth every second of doubt, fear and failure combined. I really am living what I know is my purpose ~ To be an advocate for others whose stories of physical, emotional, mental and economic challenges deserve to be heard and shared with the world as a call to awareness and most importantly, action. In the sharing of these stories, there lay lessons for each of us. 

As I move forward on the path of this work, I will continue to repeat as a mantra the words that Olaf so appropriately chose to end my episode of ‘The Failure Way’ with. I hear my own words as a reminder and encouragement from past to present self.

Do not be afraid of this’.

Portraiture series in post earthquake displacement camps, Nepal 2016. Image featured in 'The Failure Way'.

{'The Failure Way' full video link: }

To Bear Witness

An estimated 2.8 million people were displaced following the 7.8 magnitude April 2015 earthquake in Nepal. With over 500,000 homes destroyed, affected families have been living in displacement camps ever since. The winter season & current fuel crisis in Nepal has added to the challenges of every internal refugee here.

I photographed this woman in Alchi Danda camp in the Dhading district 2 months ago. 
Her energy seemed unwavering, her strength felt like that of a fortress. She drew me in.

As I post this, I wonder how she is. I wonder if she is still there; If her tarp which serves as home has kept out the cold at night.

Sometimes it feels as though the work I do, photographing & sharing stories with intentions for spreading awareness & affecting positive change, getting involved in organizations doing influential work, being present & loving for those in crisis...all of it sometimes feels like nothing when I look into these eyes and wonder if the cold in the camp got to be too much; If the wondering where her 'home' would be next became too overwhelming.

As the questions linger, so does a growing knowledge that the intent, form & purpose of my work is evolving. Even amidst sometimes feeling that my contributions may not be enough, I am eternally grateful to bear witness to all I have seen.

Even to sit in the presence of this fortress of a woman was a gift.

To Help Another ~ (Part I)

I met Anu back in late September. I hadn’t been in Kathmandu for long when I received an unexpected message from her one morning via facebook. 

We did not know one another. She had found me through a mutual acquaintance online, had taken note of the local work I was doing as a photographer to empower girls and women, and she reached out.

Her message was one of desperation. She told me her family of five had lost their village home which was completely destroyed in April's 7.8 magnitude earthquake. They were currently living together in a single room apartment in Kathmandu, and were on the verge of being evicted onto the street for lack of rent payments. Could I do anything to help?, she pleaded over multiple messages.

I did not respond right away. My head and my heart wavered between a place of trust, of wanting to help, and a place of fear ~ fear that she was feeding me untruths, that I would be taken advantage of, that this could be comparable to the type of scam you receive over anonymous junk mail, along the lines of ‘please send money’, with no further context or proof. Additionally, the staggering statistics of how many people lost their homes and lives in Nepal's earthquake weighed on me. Having worked and photographed within multiple displacement camps throughout the valley, I knew how many people were in similar (and much worse) situations to Anu's. 

As it always does in the end, my heart won out and I agreed to meet Anu at a local restaurant, along with a Nepalese friend of mine, Raj, who offered to translate and also come along for additional input and perspective.

And so, Anu and I met in person for the first time.

Anu, (21).

She was timid and tiny framed. 21 years old. She brought along her 14 year old sister Anita, even smaller, more frail looking. We sat together and talked as both girls picked lightly at the plates in front of them, shifting from one side to the other, stealing glances at each other as I tried to gather more information about their circumstance. 

They explained that their mother, Phoolmaya, had injured her leg when a piece of their house came crashing down upon it during the earthquake, leaving her unable to continue on with her job as a laborer, breaking stones for concrete. Their father, whom Anu said had exhausted what little resources their family had on alcohol and other vices, had not been seen since the earthquake.

At this point they did not know whether he was even alive.

They had a 20 year old brother who was making some money through ironwork, and a 5 year old sister, Anjika. Rent for the room they were staying in had not been paid since May, and if they did not come up with the money in the coming week, their landlord would evict them onto the street.

Even through all of Anu and Anita’s words, I had my doubts. While it seemed obvious that both girls were malnourished and underweight, they were dressed somewhat nicely (Later on I would note that they wore the same clothes almost every time we met), and I questioned things like Anu’s consistent use of social media through a cell phone amidst her insisting that their family had no money for food in the house.

As we left the restaurant, we made our way to their home. This, I reasoned, would be the best way to really assess what their level of need was ~ To see with my own eyes the conditions they were living in.

The steps inside of the building were difficult to navigate in the dark, and as I held tight to the railing for guidance, the deafening sound of dogs barking through the iron bars behind an alternate set of steps to another floor echoed and bounced through the sparse concrete stairway.

Anu led us to the doorway of their family’s room, directly across the hall from the dogs behind the iron bars, barking and howling loudly against the steps ~ How does anyone in the family sleep? I wondered.

We entered. My eyes took a few moments to adjust to the thick darkness in the room around me. No electricity.

A small flashlight clicked on, and I raised my hands in a greeting of ‘Namaste’ to the person behind the beam of light. Anu’s mother, Phoolmaya, seated in a corner of the room.

I looked around.

Two single beds facing each other against opposite walls of the room. Two single beds for a family of five.

A wardrobe in one corner. A beat up loveseat. Some shelves. A thin fabric mat covered the concrete floor. In the other corner of the room, the kitchen, consisting of a few barren shelves housing a few empty dishes.
More than what was there, my eyes searched for what wasn’t ~ what was missing. A bathroom. A fridge. A sink. Food.

Anu's family within their single room home. Left to right: Anu (21), Phoolmaya (40s), Anjika (5), Anita (14). (not pictured: brother Anil (20).

Another silhouette from one of the beds came to life as 5 year old Anjika shuffled onto the floor by her mother’s feet, smiling and eyes brightening for visitors.

Responding to the lack of food in the room, Raj asked Anu’s mother Phoolmaya what they had been eating recently, to which she responded that their diets for the past few days had consisted mostly of dry noodles.

I took a slow breath, processing, and my eyes moved from the barren kitchen shelves to Anjika’s bright eyes as Raj offered Phoolmaya 1,000 Nepalese rupees ($14 Canadian) to purchase some immediate grocery items.

We left.

Anu and her mother, Phoolmaya.

Phoolmaya spends much of her time inside of the family's room. Her level of activity is limited, as her knee, which she did not receive medical treatment for, continues to heal after being crushed in the earthquake. 


I returned to the house I was currently staying in, opened my laptop in the moonlight streaming through the window. Without a second thought, my fingers moved feverishly, my feelings spilled forth and a message on the keypad to a small number of my closest friends and family members took shape.

My intention was to gather $300 CDN, enough to pay the rent that was owed to Anu’s landlord to keep them from being evicted that week, with enough left over to buy a month’s worth of groceries for the family. In this time, I reasoned to myself, Raj and myself could attempt to assist Anu in finding a job to garner stability and support for her family going forward.

Left to right: Anu (21), Anjika (5), Anita (14), Phoolmaya (40s).

The chain of events to unfold next and throughout the following months would not only be unexpected, but an example of the power we all possess to impact one another’s lives. 

To be catalysts for change and ambassadors of love.

I hit the ‘send’ button.


* Further detail on Phoolmaya's full story can currently be seen as published on 'She Is the Story', an initiative of Voices of Women Media *