My First Assignment for Photographers Without Borders

By: Ron B. Wilson

Being selected for my first project with Photographers Without Borders and traveling to Guatemala to document the grassroots organization Long Way Home, was an incredible experience. After working as a professional photographer for the past 20 years shooting mostly weddings and portraits, this was finally an opportunity to quench my thirst for travel and photojournalism, which is why I originally got into photography in the first place. As a student at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, I was selected for an internship with The Miami Herald, which was an invaluable experience and helped mold my talents as a storyteller. After graduating from school and freelancing for a few years, I relocated to New York City and started working as a wedding photographer, way before that was a “cool” thing as it is today. After many happy years capturing the most important day in a person’s life, I became complacent and unmotivated in what and how I was shooting. I made a decision last year that I would find a nonprofit organization to partner with which would allow me to travel and document cultures in other parts of the world. After a brief search online: enter Photographers Without Borders. Once I read their mission statement, and a viewed a few past projects from other photographers, I knew it was a perfect match and exactly the kind of thing I was looking for!

The process of contacting Photographers Without Borders, applying, being selected for a project, and fundraising was rather time-consuming yet thoroughly rewarding. I carefully read the information provided online and submitted my application and within a few weeks I was accepted and able to request for a project. There were several assignments in various places around the globe listed on heir website. Although I was interested in them all; Sri Lanka, Cambodia, India and more, I felt most connected with two places; Guatemala and Ghana. I was ecstatic when I was initially selected to go to Ghana, but after the project was delayed, I was confirmed to travel to Guatemala to a small rural area about two hours from the capital called Comalapa to document an organization called Long Way home. They are building a school for local children using alternative building materials with recyclable items. I am from Florida, so I realized it was a great fit for me because it was close in distance, and I speak some Spanish which would help me feel empowered to immerse myself. But first I needed to raise the project fees associated with the trip such as airfare, insurance, vaccinations, and donations for my hosts. Once I was provided with an online fundraising site and I was able to provide that information and request support from my friends, family, contacts, and clients. To my surprise, my account was flooded with money rather quickly, and a dream was within reach!

After reaching my financial goal the date for my travel was set: February 29, 2016. The next steps were to purchase my plane ticket and other pre-travel related things, and finally to make contact with Long Way Home before starting my adventure. Once all of my tasks were complete I was introduced to Genevieve, the project coordinator in Guatemala. Immediately I felt drawn to her because of her professional, genuine and transparent passion for her job and the hard work they were doing. A year had passed since I initially learned about PWB, six months slipped by after getting my assignment,  two months of pre-departure work had been completed, and then I was closing my front door with my equipment and luggage in hand and off to Guatemala.

I read in a guidebook somewhere many years ago that the best way take advantage of traveling is to almost “forget your life back home and give in to your new surroundings”, and that passage helped me to have a rewarding experience in Guatemala. Yes, the food had unfamiliar flavors. People drove very differently. The sights were breathtaking, and the smells kept me intrigued. Being able to notice all of the differences in a new location immediately and embracing them is a fulfilling way to travel, in my opinion. I will never forget the vibrant colors on nearly every wall and in the clothes of the locals. I will always remember the smells of the bustling market days that overflowed from stores into the streets. And mostly I will cherish the genuine smiles and jubilant laughter of the children on the campus at Long Way Home. My trip to Comalapa was filled with so many vivid memories, and I only hope that my photographs will represent the people I met, the dedication of the staff, and all of the great things being accomplished there!