It takes a village

Global Voice Photo Fundraiser

Erin Breithaupt, during the exhibit’s reception, describes her photographs and experiences in Mexico with Global Voice.

Erin Breithaupt, during the exhibit’s reception, describes her photographs and experiences in Mexico with Global Voice.

Photo By David Robert

This past January, five high school students and three graduate students traveled just south of Mazatlan, Mexico to the small village of El Palmito. They were taking part in Global Voice, which is sponsored by Virginia City-based Community Chest. The students spent two weeks there volunteering in the elementary school. They taught English, made tables, benches and playground equipment for the school, produced a play in Spanish, led a community clean-up day and took some pictures.

Jenn McDuffee, a graduate student in social work at the University of Nevada, Reno, was one of them. She’d asked her fellow travelers to bring back “data” in the form of photographs for her school “photovoice” project. The idea was to use the camera as a measuring tool to see how effective Global Voice was in its goals. It helped show how the students viewed the program and Mexican culture in El Palmito. The “data” came back in the affirmative.

Now it’s hanging all over the walls of Never Ender’s side gallery. Proceeds from the photographs’ sales go to the community of El Palmito.

There are photographs of a boat on the ocean during a Mazatlan sunset, a skinny dog and cat, and a young boy on a playground bench who looks at once bored and anxious ("Anticipation"). A photo of the sea-green school in El Palmito shows an empty walkway and two buildings facing each other. In another, empty red swings hang mid-sway on a dark beach.

These photos aren’t high art, though there is some interesting symmetry, colorful nuances and a dabbling in form and the odd angle in many of them. But that’s not really the point.

“Photos can tell a story, and we want to do that with this,” says McDuffee.

Eighteen-year-old Erin Breithaupt, a bright-eyed blonde full of energy, had never been beyond Utah before going to Mexico. She took a photo of a young woman in silhouette with her arms raised in a “V” before a glowing, setting sun on the beach. It looks like the woman is holding up the sun. She says the image “shows how one person can do something.”

Other students—most of whom had never been to Mexico before and didn’t know Spanish—repeat a variation of her sentiment. Jaycob Hughes, a quiet, 15-year-old student at Virginia City High School, helped work on the park project as well as teach a cooking class. “By the end of it, they really appreciate everything you give,” says Hughes, whose photo of a paint-splattered paintbrush hangs in the gallery. “What I learned was you don’t need a reward to help people.” Their appreciation, he says, was enough.

McDuffee says that seeing how the youth who travel to Mexico change and grow is an important part of Global Voice. This change is articulated in their own words on a piece of paper beside a photo collage. Next to an image of some painted benches, one student wrote: “The benches symbolize the transformation we saw in ourselves. … The benches changed us more than we changed them.” Matching a photo of someone juggling are the words: “My confidence increased by teaching the children juggling.” Another student wrote: “There’s no such thing as a language barrier. As long as our hearts are the same, we can understand each other.”