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World of Change: Empowering photo projects, eradicating bail, and boxing for mental health

Impactful projects that empower and inspire

United Kingdom: Fotodocument

Harnessing the power of visual storytelling to shed light on positive social and environmental initiatives around the world, FotoDocument is an arts education not-for-profit with global ambitions. Founded in 2012, the organisation runs an ethical photography agency, FotoAgency, which reinvests profits into FotoDocument’s arts education work. It also commissions photographers to produce photo essays, creates socially engaging visual stories for the public sector, and hosts workshops and competitions.

One of FotoDocument’s main projects is Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Worldwide, a series of photo essays highlighting the work of Lendwithcare. The initiative, run by leading aid and development charity CARE International UK, features inspiring women entrepreneurs in five of the countries where the NGO operates: Pakistan, Ecuador, Zimbabwe, Philippines and Zambia.

Northern Iraq: Boxing Sisters

Boxing Sisters
Participants at Boxing Sisters.

Lotus Flower, a charity working with women and girls affected by ISIS violence, is taking a hands-on approach to women’s empowerment. Last fall, they recruited for­mer professional British boxer Cathy Brown, who runs Box­ol­ogy boxing acad­emy in London, to launch Boxing Sisters across several refugee camps in northern Iraq.

Offering a mix of weekly classes and professional training programmes, Boxing Sisters aims to help women relieve aggression, learn to defend themselves and potentially turn the sport into a career. “Boxing is not only just a great physical activity, it’s also really good for mental health,” Taban Shoresh, Lotus Flower founder, said in an interview with Grazia magazine. “These girls all have very traumatic stories to tell. It’s an opportunity to channel their emotions.”

US: The Bail Project

The Bail Project
The Bail Project, a short film by Kevan Funk.

In the US, hundreds of thousands of legally innocent people are held in local jails for one simple reason: they can’t afford bail. Motivated to change this inequitable system, which requires an accused person to post money or property in exchange for temporary release while they await trial, former public defenders David Feige and Robin Steinberg launched The Bail Project in 2017. As a national extension of their earlier initiative, the Bronx Freedom Fund, the charity provides a revolving bail fund to support those who cannot afford to buy their own freedom.

Currently operating out of Los Angeles, The Bail Project collaborated with award-winning director Kevan Funk last year to produce an eponymous short film that explores the impact of unaffordable bail on low-income communities. Looking ahead, the project plans to expand to 40 sites in high-need jurisdictions across the country and bail out an estimated 160,000 people over the next five years.

“The ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of business by working with civil rights litigators, community organisers, and legislative councils to put an end to unaffordable bail bonds,” says Steinberg. “[We aim] to prove that cash bails do not work.”

China: Girls

Girls by Luo Yang.
Part of the Girls series by Luo Yang.

A series of raw, intimate portraits by photographer Luo Yang, Girls aims to capture the many identities of contemporary Chinese women. As a woman herself, Yang’s perspective is honest and effective in depicting what she describes as the “unique and beautiful qualities” of her subjects.

“The girls I depicted were independent and brave in their own ways, and I can see that they try to live and be true to themselves. This is what I’ve been trying to show in my photography: authenticity,” says Yang. “I’m not sure what questions my images might raise, but I hope viewers see a bit of themselves.” In 2019, Yang plans to continue her Girls series and exhibit in several cities across Asia.