Preparing For The Philippines

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As you may know, last January I traveled to Liberia with a team from MiiR to document the clean water wells they are funding in areas that don’t have access to safe water.  It was an incredible experience for many reasons, but it also opened my eyes to a much bigger world than the one I live in on a typical day.  A lot has gone on and been discussed in the past year since I went on that trip, and one of the many things I came away with was a newfound excitement and desire to help educate and inspire others to bring about positive change by using the unique gifts we all possess.  I really love the work I get to create as a commercial photographer, and I find myself laughing a lot which is such a blessing.  But because of my experience in Liberia, I have decided that I want to be about something much bigger than myself.  I want my brand to be something people not only associate with creative photography and portraits, but also with a love for justice and for others.  I am still processing what this all means, and how it will play out, but one thing I know is that I would like to be involved in at least one campaign per year where I can help tell a story that needs to be heard.  I want to be a voice for the voiceless, and help those who can’t help themselves. Even though my efforts have been focused on overseas projects so far, I believe there are stories and challenges right here in Seattle that need to be brought to our attention as well.  I think there is something to be said about traveling overseas, and getting out of ones comfort zone though.  It is good to experience new challenges and different cultures, but I hope to also find stories to be involved with in the States at some point also.  Unfortunately, the story I am going to document in the Philippines is also a serious problem right here in Seattle.

That being said, at the end of the month, I will be traveling to the Philippines with an organization called Arts Aftercare.  It is a nonprofit bringing the arts to survivors of slavery, which was started by my college friends Curtis and Grace Romjue.  The purpose of the trip is to train care workers in a new art therapy curriculum which will be introduced to survivors of sexual slavery.  I will be photographing survivors, youth advocates, and trying to tell the story of what life is like for people who are trapped in slavery, as well as those who have been freed.  Thankfully, I will be traveling with my good friend and filmmaker Eric Becker who will be telling the same story through video.  It will be a collaborative effort, and I am really excited to start working on this so we can shine a light in the dark places of the world.  I was shocked to recently find out that modern day slavery is a bigger problem today than slavery has ever been in the history of the world.  What’s even worse is that not only are many of the slaves children, but they are forced into sex 10 to 20 times a day.

A friend of mine emailed me me a video this morning about a girl who had been sold by her mother into sexual slavery.  I could only watch about 2 minutes of it before I turned it off.  This sucks.  I hate reading about this stuff, and it is beyond sad.  What is wrong with people? is the question I find myself repeating over and over.  I leave in less than a month, and I thought I should start writing about my thoughts as this assignment approaches.  My hope is that some of you will be inspired to take action, and in turn tell your personal network about the work that needs to be done.  I also feel like I need to do what I can to prepare myself for what I will be confronted with.  As my wife reminded me today, I tend to cover my ears and walk out of the room when I hear her nurse friends talking about something that makes me queazy.  I guess if I am being honest, I like to be comfortable, and I don’t like to be burdened.  Not really the best way to live life, as nobody ever said life was meant to be comfortable.  I also feel like you never know what is possible until you put something out there.

I know there are many of you who are already involved in fighting modern day slavery through organizations like International Justice Mission and others.  My hope is that by sharing this, some of you may feel inclined to help fight for justice by giving of your unique gifts.  Maybe you are a medical worker, a writer, a teacher…  The possibilities are endless.  We are also still looking for funding for a portion of this trip, so there is also a financial need at this point.  If you are interested in becoming involved, you can write me (john@keatleyphoto.com) or Curtis Romjue (curtis@artsaftercare.org / www.artsaftercare.org).  You can donate through the Arts Aftercare donation page and mention this trip in the comment field aftercare.org/donate.  If you have any experience with social justice, or working around such a heavy situation, I would love to hear from you.  It’s going to be a difficult trip, and I know I am going to need help and encouragement.

Thanks for reading.  I hope to share more about this soon.


What a tremendous cause! It's definitely not easy to talk about, let alone acknowledge its staggering and disturbing realities —that reach across the globe, right into our backyards. Godspeed in your work and travels John!

POSTED BY Seth Terpstra on 2-7-2012

Good luck with the trip, John. Looking forward to see what you and Eric bring back and can share. "Shining a light in the darkness" is a good way to put it. So much goes on besides what's just in front of our lens, and I'm glad your getting this opportunity with Arts Aftercare. This type of photojournalism will never die. ~ Mark

POSTED BY JerseyStyle Photography on 2-8-2012

It's awesome to see a photographer putting his gifts to good use. I hope your heart is broken, your eyes are opened, and through this experience you are able to give AND to receive.

POSTED BY Brian Carlson on 2-8-2012

This is amazing and terrible! I've had similar things on my mind but haven't quite worked out what to do with them, this is another kick up the bum to do something! Good luck with the trip and keep the blogs coming, it's a scary but important issue.

POSTED BY Will Hore-Lacy on 2-8-2012

John, I am beyond excited that you and Eric are going to documnet this journey! Wow! I've already been praying for Grace, Curtis, and Harper, and I will definitely pray for you as well. I love what you've written here -- how it's easier to close our eyes and ears, but reality isn't going away. How can we not open our hearts to this immense and hideous suffering? Thank you for being willing to take this chance, stepping outside your comfort zone and using your phenomenal gifts to expose darkness to light. Seriously, I'm pretty much jumping up and down right now. Can't wait to see your photos.

POSTED BY Jeanne Damoff on 2-9-2012

Your such a very kind person. Thanks God that He gave a very compassionate heart . I'm hoping that the Lord will bless you more.

POSTED BY belladonna on 2-9-2012

So cool John! Kick butt and change the world!!

POSTED BY David on 2-10-2012

I am happy that all of you will be helping these people. This will truly be a heart breaker. Good luck. I am looking forward to hearing about it when you return.

POSTED BY Sharon Campagna on 2-12-2012

[...] in the body of Christ Natalie’s beautiful heart and words singing in the morning with Jacob John Keatley going to the Philippines with Arts Aftercare Zumba with Holly Amy and John four generations on one [...]

POSTED BY looking for a miracle « The View From Here on 2-13-2012

Hey John! I'm from the Philippines. It's great that a burden has been placed in your heart to make this known in the world. It's very saddening, yet real. Would that be in Cebu or Manila? Let me know how i can be of help.

POSTED BY Mikki on 2-16-2012

Best wishes for your trip. Visit Dora's Unique Touch http://chandradey.blogspot.in/

POSTED BY Dora's Unique touch on 2-21-2012

[...] I mentioned in my last blog post, Becker and I will be leaving for the Philippines with Arts Aftercare next week.  I can’t [...]

POSTED BY John Keatley - Filmmaker Eric Becker on 2-21-2012

[...] wrote about an upcoming assignment in the Philippines for an organization called Arts Aftercare.  Here is a link to the post if you are interested in the backstory, but basically I was working with the [...]

POSTED BY John Keatley - Arriving In Manila on 4-4-2012

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