Associate professor of cinema and photography Janice Levy wanted to give her students a real-life photojournalistic experience in a foreign country. She wanted to include a volunteerism component, and she wanted to invite along a working photojournalist, so her students could learn from a professional.
Global Links, a Pittsburgh-based organization that distributes surplus medical supplies in developing countries, invited Levy and five students to photograph its operation in Pittsburgh, where medical supplies are collected, sorted, warehoused, and shipped, and then travel to the Dominican Republic to follow the distribution and use of the supplies. Levy enlisted her friend Lynn Johnson, an internationally known freelance photojournalist whose clients include Life and National Geographic, and Annie O’Neill, staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, to accompany the group. The students were assigned to make images that Global Links could use for publicity, educational, and fund-raising purposes, and the Post Gazette would print a story and photographs.
"After Pittsburgh," says Levy, "we would travel to the Dominican Republic for 20 days — the first 10 doing the Global Links work, and the second 10 exploring and photographing what we ran across."
Although the trip to Pittsburgh and the first 10 days "in country" went pretty much as scheduled, the students had a lot to deal with. The poverty and the appalling conditions in the hospitals were eye-opening. Says Levy, "Even if you’ve already traveled to the developing world, this was pretty shocking, but especially so for students who have never traveled out of the United States."
One student, Hali Feldman ’00, found herself putting down her camera in the middle of photographing a birth to help the young mother — who then named her new daughter Hali. During another photo shoot, Elizabeth Press ’99 met Eridania Medrano at a clinic where Medrano, a single mother of three, was a volunteer. The two became friendly, and Press learned that Medrano’s home had been ripped apart by Hurricane Georges.
Press decided she knew a better way for the group to spend the second half of the trip. She wanted to do something for this woman who volunteered her time to others, even though she’d lost her own home. Press went to her fellow travelers; they agreed to take their $500 trip money to build Medrano a new home.