Often we take for granted the warm when the cold season is around, or a good pair of shoes when a lot of walking is needed. More than we should, we also take for granted our health and access to clean water, employment, and books. All over the world families are living in poverty stricken conditions typically called slums. According to World Health Organization, almost 900 million people live in slums around the world, with 90% of them in cities of developing countries. These slums are characterized by multiple forms of deprivation, and are often overcrowded and vulnerable to disease and violence.
silent tapes is a non-profit series of projects lead by Francis and Stephanie Lane, which focus on documenting the lives of people from various slums around the world and generating funds for those communities through their artistry. Their amazing photography opens us up to the world of slums, capturing their stories and moments, allowing us a glimpse into their world. Their photos make us aware of what life is like for many, which is foreign to a lot of us.
I had the privilege to talk with Francis and Stephanie Lane about their philanthropy, and they believe that through their photography they can make an impact on lives through art. Their social change organization, silent tapes, believes that all humans have the right to a dignified quality of life, which includes adequate basic needs, education, and security.
You create art to help provide needs in slums around the world. What defines a slum and what drew you both towards such compassion for them?
We will leave the literal definition of a "slum" to be googled, and say that what truly defines a slum is much more than anything we grasped prior to stepping foot into one. There is such a vast spectrum of life, and stories untold, in the slums. There are people in desperate need to be heard, and to be cared for, and anyone capable of offering a listen or a hand should do so. On a personal level, we wanted to see the truth in everything each country had to offer, and that included its richest and poorest areas. Experiencing, learning, and growing from every corner of the world, and being open and compassionate towards them, is what we are looking for.
How do families break out of life in the slums?
Aside from the unlikely event that a country's social welfare net brings the people of their country out of poverty, their best tools are education and/or small business opportunities. Micro-financing, education, and prevention of child abuse/corruption all are essential to opening possibilities to families trying to break the cycle of slum life. Gender equality would also have an immense positive impact. If the female labor force was utilized in urban areas to its full potential, it would have economic benefits that would serve well beyond those cities.
What do you think is the basis for this injustice?
Rapid urbanization as well as temporary migrations for seasonal work are just a couple factors that come to mind. There is also a lack of government policy enforcement which creates a vulnerable and stagnant situation for the people living in these conditions. An argument could be made that the current global model of capitalism causes slums to exist, not only because it drives urbanization but because it necessitates inequality in increasing the gap between the rich and poor, eroding social welfare.
When did silent tapes philanthropic work begin? How long has the organization been running?
We're approaching our one-year anniversary! Our Klong Toei project was the launch project for silent tapes, which began March 2013. Our organization works on a one-year cycle program for our selected cities. Our vision is to continue to add new areas of focus year after year, sustaining our programs for all slums through fundraising and outreach, and eventually creating an umbrella of communities all over the world which we have supported.
How do you find non-governmental organizations and communities to partner with? Is this a difficult process or are many organizations ready and willing to partner?
For our launch project, we mostly were looking for an organization that was heavily involved in the local community through grassroots projects. We wanted to make sure we were partnering with someone who had concrete, meaningful relationships with the local people, and that really were invested in helping by working together one-on-one. Additionally, we sought a specific measure of impact on the lives of the children benefitting from our partners endeavors, such as abuse prevention, health standards, and empowerment of families in the local communities. Some organizations may not be willing to partner due to legal or religious differences, but we were lucky to find the perfect match in Klong Toei.
What do you find is your biggest challenge as a social change organization?
Our biggest challenge is ensuring we are creating and supporting projects that have long-term sustainability in order to help shape a better future for people in the slums that we do our work in.
Your photography is absolutely amazing. What are you trying to capture in these images?
Thank you. We try to capture honest moments that truly identify the lifestyle of people in some of the most destitute communities in the world. Most of the time, we only come across photographs sensationalizing their lives, depicting them as unhappy or unfortunate. In our experience, this is not entirely the case.
You had great success with your first project in Klong Toei, Bangkok. Was there a moment, specific person you met, or event, where you felt silent tapes was making a difference? What has changed you the most?
There is a 5-year-old little boy who attends the day care which we support in Klong Toei. We ran into him on a Saturday afternoon, roaming about by himself in the alleyways of the slum. We suddenly realized that if he did not have the daycare to attend during the week, this innocent boy would be more susceptible to abandonment, child abuse, or other harmful activities at his tender age. He wouldn't have anybody to look after him. It is for children like him that we love and care about what we do, because everybody deserves opportunity to a better life.
What do we take more for granted, that the families from these slums cherish the most?
Opportunity and equality, across the board.
Your next project will be in Brazil. Tell us about how this place was chosen? What is your ultimate goal?
Being of Brazilian background, Stephanie's first visit to the country has been long overdue. In seeking a location for our second project, we realized it would be ideal to go to a place where not only was there urgent need for NGO's like ours, but also a familiarity for us on different cultural levels. Our project dates also are concurrent with the World Cup events, so we plan to capitalize on the consequent global attention to raise awareness of the less glamorous side of the country, i.e child prostitution, drug abuse, etc. Our ultimate goal is to have our compelling silent tapes Fortaleza project be an overwhelming success in both fundraising and public awareness in order to provide ongoing support to the children in Fortaleza.
What are some very future projects you’re the most excited for?
We are entirely focused on Brazil at the moment, since we create our projects on a yearly basis, although there are many other areas already in mind for the future! Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Africa, to name a few. Our hope is to one day also be able to partner with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, who have inspired us with their incredible advocacy and book, Half the Sky.
Support silent tapes by visiting their website or purchasing Thought Notebook Journal Issue 2. 10% of all sales gets donated to the organization.