Pixels of Hope
How a photographer captures good through photos
He had been there before.
Nine months earlier, in a Kathmandu slum colony in Nepal, photographer Kirby Trapolino stood before a mother. She had one simple request: bring a print of the photo he had taken of her and her two children, if he returned.
Now standing in front of her again, Trapolino did return and had a surprise in his bag: a framed image of the smiling family. When presented with the portrait, the mother was first surprised, then overjoyed that he kept his promise.
“I’ll never forget the look on her face when I came back (with the photo),” said Trapolino. “When I showed her the photo, then she remembered.” This experience prompted the Houston-based photographer to gift portraits to others in the slum community. This included the children in the Nepali village who are at risk for human trafficking.
“When I pull the portraits out of the bag and hold them up, the little kids just go nuts, screaming out the name of the kid in the picture. They take it and run off to find the girl or the boy (in the photo) to show them. And the parents are thrilled that they actually have a printed photo of their child.”
But at the same time, a harsh truth of the Nepali community overshadows the children’s joy. Some of Trapolino’s most striking images — scenes of children hugging or playing — hide a difference between now and then.
That difference was heartbreaking for Trapolino.
“Some of these children aren’t there anymore,” he said.
“I’ll even ask sometimes where they are, and some of the answers
are a little suspicious. Were they trafficked? What happened?”
Trapolino’s realization shows a grim fact. Those missing children are among the 12,000 Nepali girls trafficked annually throughout South Asia.
To combat the growing rate of Nepali girls who end up trafficked, Trapolino founded She Has Hope in 2012. In partnership with local Nepali leadership, She Has Hope is a mercy-based response of hope to the South Asian human trafficking crisis. It operates under the guidance and oversight of Peace Gospel International. Since 1993, Peace Gospel has served orphans, child labor victims and young trafficking survivors in five Asian and African countries.
At a Kathmandu rehabilitation home, young Nepali girls rescued from human traffickers can escape the traps and horrors of human and child trafficking. Through these programs, they receive counseling, medical care, housing, trade skills and education. The programs use a five step process.
Nepali Girls learn how to recognize and avoid dangerous situations to prevent being trafficked. Over 8,000 vulnerable students in over 100 schools receive lessons from She Has Hope.
A beacon of light shines on the busy Indian-Nepali border. A kiosk with trained staff watches for possible trafficking activity. If a situation seems suspicious, She Has Hope alerts border police to investigate. These actions have led to the rescue of several girls and the arrest of their captors.
Girls rescued are then rehabilitated in safe and loving family environment.
The group then works to equip those girls with life skills needed to be independent, healed and full of hope. The home has seen over 50 girls graduate from the program, 8 of which have started their own businisses.
With the future in mind, She Has Hope supports the local economy to ensure permanency. Flourishing garden projects and farms provide local income in the community.
Alongside She Has Hope, which focuses on Nepal, Peace Gospel serves in several other countries. India, Myanmar, the Philippines, Uganda and Chad, all offer similar programs to impoverished communities. Small business projects, like dairy farms, agriculture, craft making and other cultural micro-businesses empower the women in the program.
Everything changed on April 25, 2015. A 7.8 magnitude quake struck just north of Kathmandu. While the children, girls and staff of the She Has Hope rehabilitation home survived, across Nepal the destruction claimed at least 8,600 lives, injuring 19,000 more.
Trapolino traveled to Nepal the days later to provide on the ground relief efforts and coordination. Wading into the ravaged country, he learned that traffickers were pretending to be aid workers. He then mobilized a team to educate as many women and girls as possible to recognize the deception of traffickers.
Recovery trudged on, and soon a sense of normalcy returned for the children and girls. Some finished their courses, continued making handmade goods for the She Has Hope craft shop, and many returned to school.
Both She Has Hope and Peace Gospel were able to provide over 13 tons of food to 18 stricken villages. For 13 of these villages, this help was the first to reach them, while others had not seen any more aid since the first quake. The two groups continue to provide relief and sustainable aid today.
While Trapolino finds it hard work to find a consistent stream of monthly donors (learn more to donate here), what does come easy surprises many.
“People often say, ‘how are these children so happy? How do you get all these smiles?’” Trapolino said. The children are genuinely happy to be in these programs. All he has to do is snap a photo and turn the camera around and show them the image. “They go wild.”
Trapolino beams when he shares about his visits to Nepal.
Knowing all too well the difficulty of supporting nonprofits like She Has Hope, his photography keeps what’s most important in focus. And his photos transcend the obvious.
“Here’s a miserable photo of a slum,” he said. “You can leave it there, but I weave in messages of hope.”
Grounded in the realization that it is a sad situation, Trapolino points out the hope that rises from such lives. That hope inspires him to bring others in on a world changing vision, including the more than 28,000 Instagram followers he’s gained since sharing She Has Hope’s mission and work with the photo sharing app.
This story is part of a series written by James Ramos, a Houston-based storyteller and member of the PopeIsHope DST, a group of Millennial citizen journalists using the September 2015 visit to the USA by Pope Francis to highlight how #GoodIsWinning today. Learn more about the movement here.
Read the next article: Pope Dreams.