2016 was a huge year for me. I travelled around the world, had my biggest financial year to date, bought a bunch of photography gear I always wanted and was super busy with work. But I got to December, slowed down from exhaustion and took some time off and couldn’t work out why I wasn’t ecstatic and loving life. I was living my dream; rap stars, huge shows, private jets, big commercial jobs and travelling. It took alot of time off, reading and soul searching but I worked out what was wrong. I had lost my way in all the mayhem and I forgot why I started to take photos in the first place. I got greedy for money, my ego started to get in the way of my passion and I got lost. I had to think deep and hard about why I got into photography and I made a list. The first thing that came to mind was a no brainer. My passion and love for music. A close second was to do with social justice. Giving a voice to people and animals who don’t have a voice and giving them a platform. Contributing to change and provoking dialogue. Finding beauty in things that people don’t conventionally find beauty in. I ticked some of these boxes in 2016 but nowhere near enough for my liking.
But times have changed and I had to get through that to get to here now. I’ve really taken the time to refresh and have immersed myself in a bunch of new personal projects that I will share with you all over the rest of the year. They all have deep meaning to me and I hope everyone can appreciate the journey.
Part of that journey took me over to the Phillipines out of my own pocket, with the amazing Energia Kids Project, to tell the stories of the people they help. Run by a great group of friends with no funding that are based in Australia, they travel regularly to the Philippines and have been feeding and helping Filipinos for the past 3 years.
I had an amazing time visiting alot of places during the community feedings they provide, including a local school, a squatters community with no water or electricity and an orphanage. Hover the mouse each photo for their story.
Poverty and inequality in the Philippines remain a complex challenge. The country has lost its once great wealth due to unemployment issues and unchecked population growth and is now considered a third world country.
Approximately 21% of Filipinos live below the national poverty line, earning less than $1,982 per year. This equates to 26 million Filipinos who are poor, with 12 million lacking the means to feed themselves. Over four million families are living in unsafe, unsanitary and unsustainable conditions. 7.6% are living in extreme poverty and 10.5% are considered food poor. For every 1,000 babies born in the Philippines, 22 die before their first birthday. In comparison, the rate for Australia is 3 per 1000 babies born. Five of the nine basic sectors have higher poverty rates than the general population: farmers (34.3 percent), fishermen (34.0), children belonging to families with income below the official poverty threshold (31.4), self-employed and unpaid family workers (25.0) and women belonging to poor families (22.5).
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer due to the inequality in income distribution and a high rate of corruption amongst people in power. A lack of quality education and lack of jobs are also a large factor in poverty. Overpopulation also contributes hugely, with the majority Catholic country doing little family planning, meaning more mouths to feed on low incomes and less jobs. Child labour instead of attending school being another one of the effects. Another flow on effect is poor health due to sub standard living conditions and not being able to fulfil dietary requirements.
This series is a documentation of some of the residents of the Philippines. I spent time with the Energia Kids Program; a great group of friends with no funding that are based in Australia and travel regularly to the Philippines and have been feeding and helping Filipinos for the past 3 years. I made these photographs at a local school, a squatters community and an orphanage, to help tell the story of the people that they help.
The scary part is that the people involved in this project were randomly selected. I didn’t chose people based on prior knowledge of their situation. Which leaves you to think what other stories are left untold if these are just 16 out of the few hundred people I saw.
I gave minimal direction when photographing all the subjects and I feel that these are true and honest depictions of the people I met.
Tristan Stefan Edouard
My name is Ednei Santos. In 2014, I visited the Phillipines for the first time and I got a very similar vibe to my home country of Brazil. The kids there reminded me of myself. I was eating lunch with a friend and there were street kids watching us eat, so I grabbed 5 of them and showed them 20 minutes of Capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian Martial Arts that developed in Brazil. Afterwards I bought them lunch and we sat and ate together. That was the starting point of my journey right there.
I always wanted to do something and make a difference. So I decided I would start feeding and helping people there and try and make a change. I decided that part of my income for the next 10 years would be dedicated to this, as part of being thankful and giving back.
I’ve been back to the Philippines about 20 times in the last few years, helping and feeding people each trip. I started off by picking 8 kids fortnightly and taking them to do exercise, have lunch and then buy them enough food for their family for the next two weeks. I did that for over a year. Now we help whole communities. With $250, we have a community feeding with 160 people. It’s a small act but we are making a difference. We try to keep going to the same place so we can actually see the improvements we make. And we make sure we make a difference for what they need by working out what items would be best to help the community, then fundraising to get those items. Our last visit to our orphanage we took clothes, toys and rice cookers and our last trip to the squatters community we took solar powered lights for each home. We are hoping to build them a bamboo kitchen next visit.
The goal is to help as many kids, 4-12 years old, feed them and provide care and make sure they get a good education and learn as much as they can that can help them in the future. For the elders that are 60+, to help tell their story to the youngsters, because sometimes people forget about the elders and I think they have alot of wisdom to pass on. I want to build a community centre to help with all age groups so they have a positive environment to grow.
My name is Gabriel and I’m 12 years old. My Mother is a laundry woman and my father doesn’t have any work. He makes money for food by gathering fire wood and selling it. It’s a very long walk for me to get to school from my house. We don’t have enough money for food at school so I don’t eat when I’m there. If I have time away from studying, I go to the beach and beg for money so I can buy food for me and my brothers and sisters. There are 13 children in the family and two of my brothers have died from diseases already. Some of my brothers don’t go to school because of bullying and they are always repeating their grades. My dream in life is to get a job so I can help my family.
My name is Jenelyn and I’m 10 years old. My Father passed away when I was young and I have a step father now. My Mother looks after my younger Sister and my step Father is a carpenter, but his income is not enough to support us. I fear my step fathers behaviour, he always scolds me. I sell peanuts at the beach so that I can help my parents with our financial needs. It’s not really okay for me to do this but I have no choice, we are poor. It would make me happy to not sell peanuts anymore so I can focus on my studies. I really want to do things that regular kids supposedly do, simply playing and studying. I have 9 other siblings and we live in one house, including my married Brothers and Sisters. I hope to work abroad one day so that I can help my family.
My name is Rochel and I’m 12 years old. I have two other siblings and my Father passed away when I was young. My Mother married another man but he doesn’t have a permanent job. She left us with our Grandmother while she decided to go work in Manila for a year. She fights with her new husband all the time and every single time it is about money. We don’t have our own house and I don’t get dinner alot of the time, it’s really hard to sleep with an empty stomach. I just want food and our own house. I want to become a teacher. I wish I could just finish my studies so that I can help my family.
My name is Christian and I’m 11 years old. I live in a small shack with my family. My Father is a fisherman and my Mother stays home because she has a mental illness. Sometimes we don’t eat, especially if its not good weather and my Father can’t catch fish. My Father took over all responsibilities in the family because my Mother cannot help him. We are all very sad about her and it makes me cry when I see my Mother talking to herself. I’m so scared that I will be sad and stressed and I will not be able to keep pursuing my studies. I feel so lonely. I want to see my family happy because that will make me happy and I hope that my Mother gets better.
My name is Kyla and I’m 8 years old. My Mother is a fish vendor and my Father is a TV repair man. We have almost no money. I feel so much pity for my Mother when I see her borrow money for food from our neighbour.
My name is Jesil and I’m 12 years old. I have 8 siblings in my family. We used to rent a house but my parents couldn’t afford the rent so we had to move. All 11 of us had to share one room and there wasn’t enough space to sleep, so some of my brothers slept at our neighbours house. We are always moving because we can’t afford rent. Some of my siblings are not able to finish their studies because we have no money. My Mother is a therapist and my Father has a taxi bike. There are many times that we don’t have food, especially when my Father has no rides or my Mother has no customers. At those times we really suffer. I just want to finish my studies so I can find a job and give a better life to my family and a comfortable house. I just want a place we can call our own.
My name is Aishyn and I’m 10 years old. I have one other sibling and I’m the youngest. My Father works at a Beach resort and my Mother is a house wife. We’re not really in a good situation because my Father has a very low income and my Mother has a loan to pay back. She got the loan to try help us. The salary of my Father isn’t enough to cover our daily needs of food. Sometimes my parents fight and it got to the point they decided to separate but I thank God they got back together. I really just want my parents to be good so we can all bond together. I have lots of ambition in life and hope to work abroad one day.
My name is Gene and I’m 11 years old. My simple ambition is to be a sales lady at the mall when I grow up. Both my parents don’t have permanent work and they do what they can to survive. My Mother works at a Doctors house as a gardener sometimes and my Father works on a farm when it’s the season for planting Corn. Sometimes we don’t have food at home and I can’t eat. If my cousin has food then I eat at her house before school if she has enough to share. I think it makes my father angry not having money. One time my Father threatened my Mother and she fled far away to Cebu, to stay away from my Fathers anger. I’m scared of him because he is hot tempered and he can’t control himself and he hits me.
My name is Miguel and I’m 12 years old. My Mother is a housewife and my Father is a bus driver. My parents are always fighting because my Father is an alcoholic. Sometimes he comes home with no money from work because he spent it all drinking. Then we have no food to eat and we usually eat plain rice with soy sauce or plain rice with salt. I’m malnourished due to lack of foods and I don’t grow. My Father is very irresponsible. Our house is very poor and has alot of holes in the roof, so when it rains we get wet. I’m happiest when I’m celebrating my birthday, because then we eat delicious foods.
My name is Nieves and I am 62 years old. I collect Kangkong (leafy vegetables) and sell them on the sidewalk, so that I can buy rice to eat. Before that I sold pineapples. Due to poverty, I wasn’t able to send my children to school. One of my married Daughters is staying with us at the moment so there are 6 of us living in my small bamboo hut. My Daughters Husband drives a motor cab but usually only makes 100-200 pesos a day ($3-$5). I have lived in this squatter’s community for over 12 years, ever since we noticed the owner of the land never visiting. We are really struggling with poverty and don’t even have lights or running water. We can’t connect water or power because the land isn’t ours and we cannot afford to rent a house somewhere. We just wait and hope that one day someone can solve our problem. I’ve had a cough for one month straight and I hope its not Tuberculosis. I wish that God gives me a long life because I want to see my children and my grand children improve their situation and be happy. I would love for us to be able to eat three times a day.
My name is Junjun and I am 38 years old. I have 5 children and we all live together in my house. The 5 kids share a small room together. Our place gets very muddy when it rains. Our biggest problem is having no lights or electricity. I don’t have a permanent job and sometimes I go to the sea to catch Ubad (snake fish) and sell it to buy food. We don’t have food when the weather is bad or if I don’t get any sales. I want to have a permanent job so that I have a steady income and can support my family. I want my children to be able to continue their studies and have a bright future.
My name is Prima and I am 47 years old. I collect and sell bamboo sprouts on the street, but it is illegal to sell on the sidewalk, so if the police come then I have to hide. My Husband is an on call carpenter with no permanent work so I have to work hard. If I don’t sell enough then we don’t have food to eat. If we run out of bamboo then we don’t have money for food. I really want a permanent business like a restaurant, so I can support my children and send them to college. At the moment we barely have enough money for food. We are so pitiful, I wish we could move out of the squatters area. I love my children so much and I work so hard for them. I will never forget the time my youngest child got sick with meningitis and he was between life and death. I thank God that the Energia project came and gave us financial assistance, it saved my child's life. I wouldn’t be able to cope if I lost a child because I couldn’t afford treatment.
My name is Maribel and I’m 23 years old, married and have 3 kids. My Husband works as a farmer and I take care of our young children. My Husbands income is not enough for our daily needs and we are living in poverty. We don’t have our own house so we live in the squatters community in a shack with pieces of debris we have found and dirt floors. I want to have our own house one day. I will never forget the time we travelled to Samar to vote in the election and my 2 year old baby got sick with Pulmonia, a respiratory disease that is caused by bacteria and inflames the lungs. I was so sad that we didn’t have the money to treat it and it really troubled me. It really hurt to know I couldn’t provide for my child. I asked for help from local people in Samar, but I got nothing. My child was really sick and I only had 500 pesos ($12), but I decided to take him to the hospital. The day after the doctor discharged him without treatment because we didn’t have enough money. I had so many sleepless night, crying and thinking about who would help us. I had no options left and I surrendered all my problems to God. A miracle happened and my child started to recover over time, God heard me.
My name is Sabas and I’m 45 years old. I have a wife and 4 children. In 2015 I was diagnosed with Kidney failure. I was told I needed dialysis and I stopped working because of my situation. I also suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes. My two year old son was then told he has a congenital heart disease and he needs to undergo surgery. He has to take 4 types of medicine a day to sustain his life. My wife took over all the responsibility in the family and we are struggling so much. We have no money and desperately need financial assistance for our treatment. I really hope that there is somebody out there with a big heart who will help us.
My name is Nemesia and I work at the Parian drop in centre. It has been open for 26 years and I started here in 1997, so I have been here for 20 years. We provide immediate assistance for children that come to our doorsteps, they can have temporary shelter and eat and sleep. We have 37 kids here at the moment and sometimes more. They are here because they have had serious problems at home or they don’t have a proper home and just slept on the sidewalk. Some ran away from home and some have been picked up on the street. Some of the kids couldn’t be fed by their parents and were found scavenging on the street, and are very poor. They stay here for upto one year and then they will be transferred to somewhere more permanent and long term. Many have traumas and sometimes they cry and fight, there are always a lot of different emotions here. It will really hurt you if you sit down and listen to their stories. The past abuse is not easy for them to deal with and it takes special attention from us, so you must have patience when dealing with them. They’re happy here because they can eat and sleep properly and go to school. They wouldn’t have a good future if this place wasn’t here.
My name is Benicer and I am an employee at Parian drop in centre. Most of the children here are street children and victims of sexual and physical abuse. Some were left on the street and abandoned by their parents, some were brought here by their parents because they can’t afford to feed them and some have been rescued while wandering the streets by themselves. When they first get here, it takes them awhile to adjust but as time goes by, most improve and show signs of happiness. Despite their situation, most are happy staying here. We don’t force them to help but they love cleaning and looking after the place. They can play, eat three times a day and also have outings. They all seem really happy here.