Let's Talk: Positive Kids 3

I took this picture during a trip North. A woman dressed in a traditional costume walks up the terrain. I was fascinating by traditional dresses and this is a great example of it.

The second act of the universe working with me came earlier this week through my sister about the upcoming event Positive Kids 3 hosted by African Services Committee in collaboration with photographer Haik Kocharian and The James Cohan Gallery.

First, let's talk about African Services Committee! I work in the non-profit sector, but honestly, the work of African Services Committee is in a league of its very own. Founded in 1981 by Ethiopian refugees, this organization provides services to over 10,000 African immigrants and refugees from Africa and throughout the African Diaspora each year. In addition to providing services to people via their Harlem headquarters, African Services Committee provides HIV testing and services to thousands of individuals throughout Ethiopia.

This leads us to the Positive Kids 3 fundraising event taking place on Monday May 17th in New York. As the title eludes, this event is in support of their pediatric program in Ethiopia which provides support to HIV positive children and their families. As part of this event, ASC team up with the wonderful Armenian photographer who traveled to Ethiopia to document the services ASC provides.

Today...in a slight detour from the regular Let's Talk format, I got a chance to speak with Stephanie Kaplan who is the Communications Director for African Services Committee and the photographer Haik Kocharian.

Chat with Stephanie Kaplan:

Could you provide some background on how/why African Services Committee decided to work with Haik Kocharian for this year’s Positive Kids 3?

Being introduced to Haik is entirely due to our long-standing connection and relationship to The James Cohan Gallery—which has been an amazing supporter of African Services and the Positive Kids events. Laurie Harrison, a gallery assistant, introduced us to Haik following our Positive Kids 2 event. In the past we had held the party at the gallery, and whatever exhibition was on display we used that. However, we had been dreaming of an event that combined the artistic and philanthropic aspects by displaying work that revolved around the mission of Positive Kids. Haik came on board immediately, as it has long been his desire to travel and photograph that part of the world, and we all agreed that his style would truly bring to life what we do and who we work with. As with all of our Positive Kids events in the past, we would sell children-produced artwork, and this year we brought over several cameras and taught the kids how to use them and take photos. Thus, we will also be featuring “Milk Money” photos taken by the children themselves.

Could you tell me a little bit of what inspires you about your work with African Services?
Prior to my work here I was in advertising, and even further back I served in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso as a small business development volunteer. So, my connection and love for Africa is quite strong, and having the opportunity to work here has been such a dream. I think the most inspiring thing about this organization is our deep rooted connection to the community. More than 70% of our staff are African or Caribbean, represent over 12 countries, and speak twice as many languages. So, when immigrants come here we are able to provide an environment in which they truly feel at home…even if they are thousands of miles away from their home and everything they know.

What are one or two highlights that you have experienced while working with African immigrants in New York?
As I said above, there is such an amazing sense of “community” here (having spent time in Africa I know that community is SO important to the African social structure, and for Americans it’s a bit less so). Sometimes at lunch clients will come to our kitchen and whip up an African meal (rice and peanut sauce, etc.) and we all sit around enjoying the meal together…it’s such a wonderful and simple moment. In the evenings we teach English language classes (Free to anyone who wants to participate), and I have had such a great time attending and observing the classes and interacting with the participants. To see their faces light up as they are able to speak more and more English, and feel more and more independent and self-assured…it’s a wonderful thing. We strive to give people the skills and the tools to ‘get a life’ so to speak…and every day I see people who are learning how to do that.

Chat with Haik Kocharian

Can you briefly describe what led you to travel to Ethiopia and collaborate with African Services Committee?

I have long had an interest in Ethiopia, It has a lot of similarities to Armenia, where I was born…the strong Christian Orthodox influence, its similar alphabet, and land-locked geography. When I joined with African Services a long-time dream and desire became a purpose. Social consciousness is a big part of being an artist, I immediately agreed when African Services Committee offered me an opportunity to play a part in improving the lives of many woman and children infected with HIV in Ethiopia.

This is an image of a patient of HIV Clinic in Mekele. She graciously invited it me to her home where this photograph was taken.

Was this your first experience in African and/or Ethiopia and if so, what were some of your impressions?

Directly upon the landing in Addis Ababa international airport I was invited to a wedding! This was a memorable first experience, I had an opportunity to meet people, taste the food, learn about traditional dance, costumes and culture but most importantly experience remarkable Ethiopian hospitality first hand.

We stopped by a church in construction on the way North, as I was walking through the site when I noticed this little girl, she was standing by herself with the beam of light shining on her. It was almost a religious image and I was lucky to be able to capture it.

Has this experience traveling to Ethiopia and collaborating with African Services Committee impacted you as a photographer, and if so, how?

Participating in this project had a profound impact on me both as an artist and as an individual. I met people with tremendous inner strength, faith and resilience, and I learned a great deal more about others and myself, which made me a better individual and subsequently a better artist.

In meeting with African Services Committee staff and beneficiaries, what were one or two highlights (experiences) that really stood out for you?

African Services Committee, both here in New York and in Ethiopia, are a group of wonderful, dedicated and giving individuals whose selfless and tireless effort improves the lives of thousands of people. I wish I could single out a high-light story but I am afraid I can’t, because from outreach workers who educate the population in the streets and markets in Addis Ababa, to clinic workers who treat and consult people infected with HIV, and to the great stuff here in New York, meeting everyone involved in this worthy cause was a special experience for me.

What are the first five words that come to mind when you think about Africa?

People, History, Culture, Hospitality, Food

Milk Money (taken my HIV positive kids) Photographs:

Soooo...if you live in New York you can definitely attend this wonderful event on Monday the 17th between 7-9pm at the James Cohan Gallery. If you can't make it, that ok, there are still plenty of ways for you to support this organization by checking them out right here!

{Thanks Stephanie and Haik!!}

{Photos: courtesy of Haik Kocharian and African Services Committee}


Zaina Anwar said...

Thank you for capturing the essence of Africa on film. I love your photographs. It is obvious that you have a great passion for beautiful Africa and her people. Keep up the good work!.

Uzo said...

Thanks Brandie for higlighting the wonderful work that the African Services Committee does and the awesome talent of Haik Kocharian.

I will be attending the Positive Kids benefit and look forward to seeing more of Haik's work.

A little "Milk Money" goes a long way.