Photojournalists share National Geographic experience
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 13:01
Guns were fired and houses burned to the ground as mobs raged through villages India. Hindu extremists attacked a town, killing Christians who refused to leave their religion.
That was more than four years ago. Today, survivors are still affected by the event.
Photojournalist Lynn Johnson and human activist Jen Saffron created the humanitarian aid project, “Overcoming Religious Extremism in India: The Koraput Survivors Project” to showcase the plight of these individuals.
They presented their project in a lecture called “Building Bridges: When Journalism Meets Activism” during Common Hour on Wednesday as part of the Morris Media & Society Lecture Series.
While on assignment in India for National Geographic magazine, Johnson, a 35-year veteran photojournalist, discovered the Koraput Survivors.
She was photographing a man named Anil. He told her the story of how he, a Christian from the village of Koraput, was tied to log by an extremist group of Hindus and beaten for eight hours.
Johnson said during the beating, Anil prayed, saying his life belonged to God whether he lived or died.
“Never have I been so moved,” Johnson said. “At that moment, I had the realization that I had done nothing. I’m only 60-years-old and I’ve done nothing in my life. It’s time to move to action.”
Johnson contacted writer and photographer Jen Saffron and asked for help.
Johnson said she felt she was called to take action after hearing Anil’s story. Saffron told her to follow her feelings.
“They now barely survive in the overcrowded, dilapidated, vermin-infested buildings,” Johnson said.
Saffron said a lot of the injustice happening in India has been erased from the media. She and Johnson use untraditional ways like blogging on the World Affairs Council blog to get their message out.
Koraput is one of the villages of Christians that has been persecuted in the Indian state Odisha.
“Three to five percent of the Indian population is Christian, and 65,000 Christians have been run out of their villages,” Saffron said.
Johnson and Saffron purchased a plot of land for the Koraput survivors so they can continue their agrarian livelihoods and rebuild their lives.
“We invite you to be partners in this effort,” Johnson said,
In Utah and Idaho, Johnson and Saffron have found new project partners to head water and sanitation, medical and educational sub-projects.
“We’re going back April 19 through May 3, and we’d love for you to come along,” Saffron said to audience members.
Johnson said monetary donations are also welcome. She said a $1,500 water well would serve about 900 people and a latrine would cost about $400. She said ultimately, their goal is to get the Christian people of India self-sustainable.
“At the very heart of this issue is service,” Johnson said. “What will move you to action? Who will you serve? That is the great question of the day.”
It is because of their passion, Saffron said, they are both so willing to set aside the rest of the lives and look for ways to meet the immediate needs of the Koraput survivors.
“Now is the time for passion,” Johnson said. “I want my life to ruled by passion, by moving in the world. I want it to be physical. I want it to be engaged.”
Katie Swain is junior in journalism. She said Johnson and Saffron’s presentation helped her solidify her desire to become an advocacy journalist.
“Whenever I see these kinds of presentations or speeches, it always what can I do?” Swain said. “They are inspiring, but kind of shocking. You can never believe these kinds of things exist.”
She described her life as a privileged person and how lucky she was to have a home to live in and money to spend.
“But even as a privileged person, I still wonder if I have enough of time and money to give,” Swain said. “You have to choose which cause to support. I feel inspired, but a little overwhelmed.”