Photographers' Blog

Free healthcare in Appalachia

By Mark Makela

July 20, 3:30am; Wise, Virginia. Early morning darkness covered the hills and valleys. Despite the rain 500 people had already lined up for free medical and dental care. You know it is a unique shoot when your assignment begins here.

The day before I had driven 10 hours from Philadelphia to get to the Remote Area Medical (RAM) three-day clinic in southwest Virginia. RAM has been providing free healthcare since 1985 for uninsured and underinsured Americans and for people worldwide. This would be their 674th expedition. RAM began as a parachuting operation in the Amazon founded by the humanitarian, Stan Brock.


I knew that there was positive foreshadowing when my first frame was of a bemused chihuahua named Bella standing on her hind legs with her owner.

The mood would shortly take on a far more serious tone. Witnessing horrific health cases, one after the other, was a heartbreaking experience. People came from 14 states seeking care, and an estimated 1,700 patients were admitted for treatment the first day. A 20-year-old had 20 teeth extracted. A mother of two who lost her job due to poor eye sight came for eye care and glasses. A three-year-old had to undergo oral surgery for a root canal and front teeth extraction. These were just a few of the heart-wrenching health cases I observed. There was a chronic pattern of poor oral hygiene and due to patients’ extreme dental pain they asked for teeth extraction instead of teeth repair. Saddened, I felt sympathy for these individuals and a complete disbelief at their individual health situations.

Having lived in England for the last six years I was provided free medical and dental care there. Coming back to the States this spring, it has been difficult to hear the health care discussions and raging debates in Congress, as well as, to see the prohibitive high costs of health care insurance. It is understandable why more than 50 million Americans, one in six, are uninsured.

Another day on the job

By Desmond Boylan

Imagine a job that runs from Monday to Monday, starts at 5 am every day and does not end until 9 pm if all goes well and according to plan. No days off permitted.

The basic description is: A job to be filled by a person capable of performing a variety of skilled activities throughout the day starting at sunrise, a quick 3-mile hike each morning over rugged terrain, and several more long hikes each day under the hot Cuban sun, in pouring rain or any given meteorological conditions. The job involves collecting, packing, carrying and processing produce necessary for the proper development of the business assets. The pay is 500 Cuban pesos per month, around $20.

The person who was selected for this job 25 years ago is Bienvenido Castillo, nicknamed Lilly, a 74-year-old Cuban farmer, animal breeder, cow herder and tree climber. Whatever agriculture-related task you can imagine, he seems able to do it, easily.

Surviving rather than living

By Cathal McNaughton

“My wife thinks I don’t do enough but I’m doing everything I can. I work day and night. I’m trying to work my way out of this,” olive farmer Dimitris Stamatakos told me as he took a break from stacking wood at his small-holding in the village of Krokeae in the Peloponnese area of Greece.

During the boom years Dimitris, 36, made a comfortable living from the 1,700 olive trees on his seven acres of land – today, due to rising costs and higher taxes, his olive crop yields just 50 per cent of what it once did and to make ends meet he toils endlessly at odd jobs.

Selling firewood, hiring out his tractor and even hiring himself out as a laborer to his neighbors are just a few of the ways he makes the extra euros he needs to support his wife Voula and their two young boys, three-year-old Christopher and one-year-old Elias.

Privileged witness to the start of life

By Vivek Prakash

It’s an experience I will never forget. I have no children of my own, but when the day does come, maybe I’ll be just a little bit more prepared for it.

I had come a long, long way from my usual cosmopolitan stomping ground of Mumbai, to a place just about as far interior as you can go in India. I was about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Rajasthan border in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in a village of about 700 people. This is very, very small by Indian standards. There were dusty roads that a car could barely fit down, mud houses, a scorching heat during the day which turned to a deep chill at night.

I had many ideas in my head and many questions too – what kind of emotions was I going to experience and witness? Should I be excited, or should I feel like an intruder, given the subject matter I was here to shoot? I had come a long way to shoot this, but now, standing in this little rural community health center with my camera, I felt conflicted.

Money and dreams in Australia’s outback

Shooting the vast Australian outback had been my goal ever since I first arrived in Sydney. After three years I finally had the opportunity — a Special Report (a Reuters’ investigative story) on a worker shortage in the middle of Australia’s mining boom. My destination, Karratha, is a small town in Australia’s northwest.

After a more than 6 hour flight from Sydney, from one corner of Australia to the other, I touched down into a landscape exactly as I had imagined. The land was littered with red iron ore rocks, clear blue skies stretched with an immensity you only feel at sea, and trains, huge trains, hauled iron ore from the mines to be loaded onto ships bound for China.

This remote region called the Pilbara is at the center of Australia’s mining boom. But with more than AUD$400 billion in new resource projects on the drawing board, miners are struggling to find people who want to live and work in this harsh environment, despite offering wages in the six figures for truck drivers and construction workers – more than Australian doctors and lawyers earn.