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The Initiative: Changing the world through photography, art and film

Mental health in Hong Kong, rainforest recovery in Brazil, artistic empowerment in Sierra Leone… these initiatives will restore your faith in humanity.

In this instalment of The Initiative, we check out several projects that are changing the world, little by little. First, we start with a mental health photography project in Hong Kong, then turn our attention to the US where a women-founded film community strives for gender equality in Hollywood, Sierra Leona for empowering art programmes and Brazil where a couple is reviving a swathe of the jungle:

The Stone

Hong Kong

After moving to Hong Kong in 2010, photography duo Nic and Bex Gaunt were surprised to encounter mental health taboos amid the city’s soaring rates of depression and mental illness.

In 2018, the artists started The Stone mental health photography project to combat the stigma. Since then, they’ve been photographing everyday people in Hong Kong, holding enormous, photoshopped rocks to symbolise the heavy burden of psychological issues.

“Those who struggle day to day with mental health issues will be able to relate to the subjects, while those who don’t suffer will gain insight and empathy towards those who do,” says Nic Gaunt. “It is a deeply personal undertaking, as I too have this often debilitating problem. I need people to know and understand the struggles involved in mental illness.”

Folorunsho Sharity Credit Mallence Bart Williams
Folorunsho Sharity. Credit Mallence Bart Williams

[Read more: NGO Focus: Why Mind Hong Kong believes discussing psychological wellbeing is essential]

Folorunsho

Sierra Leone

When visiting Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2009 to reconnect with her past, Mallence Bart-Williams noticed a group of around 20 boys creating art from scraps in a slum.

Realising their untapped talent, the Sierra Leonean-German fashion designer, writer and filmmaker established FOLORUNSHO, an art and fashion collective that provides teenagers a place to live, an education, and a way to earn money instead of relying on donations. The teens craft highquality textiles, T-shirts, sneakers and accessories which are exported to brands like K1X and Lee.

The success of FOLORUNSHO led to more projects, including the Female Innovation Lab in support of young women who lost their homes in the 2017 Freetown mudslide. The programme teaches valuable tech skills, such as how to build solar-powered mobile phone charging stations that can be installed in remote villages.

Sebastião And Lelia Salgado
Sebastião and Lelia Salgado. Credit: Ricardo Beliel

Instituto Terra

Brazil

Founded in 1998, Instituto Terra is an environmental organisation founded by photojournalist and author Sebastião Salgado and documentary producer Lélia Wanick Salgado. The husband-and-wife duo has been restoring the Doce River Valley in Brazil, which suffered from deforestation and land erosion.

To revive the land, the Salgados planted more than 4 million seedlings across 1,754 acres. Over time, the river valley began to rebound and, today, the rainforest is home to over 290 species of trees, 172 species of birds, and 33 mammals.

Sebastião Salgado has been photographing the revival to raise awareness about conservation. In 2019, the Salgados won the German Book Trade Peace Prize for their photobook, GENESIS, which captures nature’s fragile beauty and resilience.

[Read more: By the numbers: Sexual and reproductive health around the world]

God Sleeps In Rwanda Women Make Movies
Credit: WMM

Women Make Movies

USA

Hollywood’s involvement in the #MeToo and “Time’s Up” movements, which gained momentum in 2018, have exposed the film industry’s culture of sexism and harassment. But gender equality issues are far from resolved. In 2019, women directed just 15 per cent of the top 250 top-grossing films.

Women Make Movies (WMM) has been working to create a more inclusive, equal environment since its founding in 1972. As the world’s leading distributor of independent films by women, the organisation supports female producers and directors across ages and races, gender identities and sexualities.

WMM has produced 710 films to date, many of which have won awards at the Sundance Film Festival, the Emmy’s and the Academy Awards. Among WMM’s latest releases is Waging Change. Directed by Peabody Award-winning director Abby Ginzberg, the 2019 documentary explores economic exploitation in the US service industry.