NGO, United Purpose, interview Jason Florio, about his work with them over the last few years, and other documentary photography
UP: Do you have a favourite photograph?
Jason Florio:It’s a bit like asking someone trying to choose their favourite child (and feeling pangs of guilt!). But I love this image of HenoCk (pictured above), a 14-year-old boy from Eritrea who was rescued in the Mediterranean. During the voyage on the NGO rescue ship, he led other Eritrean refugees in songs of thanks for being saved. A year later, I met him in Zurich for a film I was making… Read more on the UP blog
At the end of last year, we were commissioned by Amnesty International, West Africa, to make a documentary about the human rights defenders, and activists, who worked tirelessly, and often at their own risk, to stand up for those who had been abused and tortured – including working for the families of those who had ‘disappeared‘ – under the 22-year dictatorship of President Yahya Jammeh.
Having traveled, lived, and worked, over the last 20 years, on various assignments and personal projects, in the Gambia,Florio and I were always aware of its dark underbelly. We heard ‘the stories‘ of abuse, torture, disappearances, murder even. And, in a country which depends largely on tourism – the pull of beautiful sandy beaches, year-long sunshine, languorous boat trips on the River Gambia, technicolored sunsets – you’d be extremely hard pushed, if you only visited for a holiday, to have any notion at all of the graveness of what was going on, in the small West Africa country.
“For 22 years, we documented Gambians living in a climate of fear. Their rights were denied and many were subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, and widespread surveillance. But even in those dark days, there were people brave enough to stand up and challenge the abuse of power.”
To have all those stories, Jammeh’s reign of fear and terror, Florio and I had only heard whispers about over the years (until April 2016, when Gambians came to the streets to protest after the death in custody of activist Solo Sandeng), our Gambian friends only ever spoke sotto voce about what was going on, confirmed by those who had actually lived them was both incredibly disturbing and humbling. Now, with a new president, they have the freedom to speak out, have their voices heard.
We are truly thankful to every single person who shared their experiences, those who worked with us on the documentary, and Amnesty International for inviting us to make the documentary, in a place that we feel is a second home.
Global Handwashing Day, celebrated every year on 15 October, is a day dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases. UNICEF Gambia