Since sanctions were lifted to travel to Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) in 2011, tourism is on the rise. However, American’s still make up only about 20% of the foreign travelers to this ancient land. As the founder of Dog Meets World my goal was to see this awakening and unspoiled Myanmar and to connect to local children through photography. Via email from home I explained the project, asking my travel agent in Yangon to describe my interest in visiting schools as well as the historic sites to the local guides. So taking a detour from the temple strewn landscape of Bagan, we visited a village school. All the desks in the bright classroom had been donated by people from around the world. In white paint their names and countries of origin were written.
The children, as do many adults, wear the native face makeup called thanaka. The light yellow paste is made by rubbing the bark of a special tree with water. It’s applied decoratively or seemingly randomly, but is seen ubiquitously in Myanmar. However what was most endearing and charming while with the children was the way each one bowed slightly after I took their photo. It was an honor to share with them their beautiful images. The well-behaved children were polite and patient awaiting their photo to be printed. Taking a few hours from exploring places to interacting with local children is the most delightful way to tour!
The current issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy highlights Dog Meets World’s mission of reaching out and connecting cultures through the simple and fun act of sharing photographs with those in need in the world. Picture by phoDOGrapher Xander Meise Bay of schoolchildren in Bago, Myanmar. Here is the text of the article by Michelle Gienow:
Carolyn Lane loves to travel, a passion that combines naturally with her talent for taking photographs. During a trip to Haiti in 2007 to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, the Washington resident spent time with a group of little girls, interacting and taking group pictures. Looking at the images later, she realized that she was smiling but the children were not.
“A Haitian friend told me, ‘Most of these girls have never had their picture taken. This was an important event for them, and they wanted to look dignified,’” says Ms. Lane. She thought of how she and other Americans take and share photos routinely amongst themselves, “but then we go on these trips and we don’t even think of sharing or exchanging the pictures we take with the subjects.”
“I resolved then that I would never again presume to take somebody’s picture and then walk away without sharing it with them,” she says.
That resolution led to the founding, in 2008, of Dog Meets World, a nonprofit group that sends its signature small, stuffed canine—named Foto—out into the world along with volunteers armed with digital cameras and portable, battery-powered printers.
Ms. Lane calls Dog Meets World “an add-on project. People already heading to the developing world for a host of reasons, vacation or business travel, or whatever, can use this as a way to interact and connect with the community.”
Xander Meise Bay, a lawyer who lives in New Hampshire, volunteered as a “phodographer” (as the charity calls its helpers who fetch pictures) last August while working on a war-crimes tribunal in Cambodia. She also made a side trip to Myanmar, where she photographed young children she met outside a monastery school in Bago.
“Working in the developing world, you’re often addressing some pretty intractable and distressing problems,” she says. “Dog Meets World is a fun, hopeful thing with some immediate satisfaction for everyone involved. You can’t help but smile.”
Currently, Dog Meets World has a staff of one—Ms. Lane, who draws no salary. She is helped by her 25-year-old son, Austin, who co-founded the charity and handles its Web site and marketing.
The annual $15,000 budget comes from private donations. Volunteers use their own equipment and donate to the charity to receive a Foto dog.
Why the dog? In a word, Ms. Lane says, “branding”: “We’ve had 200 volunteers in 38 countries take and give over 6,000 pictures, and visually Foto ties all these wide-flung places and people together.”
Foto was designed by Ms. Lane to resemble her real-life dog, Jazz. The toy functions as an icebreaker: “This gives the kids something to hold and also helps cross any language barrier.”
Foto’s front paws are embroidered with a heart and a peace sign, emblematic of Dog Meets World’s mission.
“If you had very few photos, how long do you think you’d hang on to this one? A lifetime,” says Ms. Lane.
NEW Phodographer Xander Meise Bay in Bago, Burma August 2010
Xander completed volunteer legal work in Phnom Penh and then took Foto to a monastery school outside of Bago, Burma. Bago was a royal capital in the 16th and 17th centuries, and today it is the home of the second largest Buddha in the world.
We arrived unannounced with the Dog Meets World photo project and happened upon the place during meal time and recess. Burma does not receive many foreign visitors, and even fewer make it out of the capital to places like Bago, so the children found me and the little stuffed mascot dog Foto to be quite the oddities. But, after minimal persuasion (Foto can be quite convincing), the students were only too happy to have their pictures taken and began clamoring with each other to be the next in line.
They were mesmerized by the images. It is my understanding that these are the some of the first pictures they will have of themselves. As aside, I also introduced Foto to staff at a Yangon hotel and restaurant. The Pink Floyd-listening waiters found him especially amusing.
You’ll notice that many of the people have on their faces what looks like streaks of yellow-tinted paint. Most commonly worn by women and children, this is traditional Burmese makeup that is also worn by men and that the locals describe as Burmese sunscreen.
Best Foto of the Week!
Praise for DMW
"Participating in Dog Meets World was a truly magical experience, bringing joy and wonderment to all I met."
John Carr, Phodographer across South America
"Dog Meets World unleashes the power of photography as a diplomatic and personal tool in building connections among the people of the world. It embeds a memory in photographer and subject alike."
Prof. Patrick Fleming, Fulbright scholar & Phodographer Cambodia & Kyrgzystan
"You will never know just how important that photo will be long after it is taken and given."
Delores Barr Weaver, co-owner Jacksonville Jaguars
"Dog Meets World went over fabulously in my village. It is a perfect option for Peace Corps volunteers like myself. I like the Foto dog mascot, kids like it, and it is a representation of the peace and the ideas of the project."
Kristen Woodruff, Phodographer Costa Rica
"The kids are absolutely loving Dog Meets World. For a majority, these were the first images of themselves that they have ever owned."
Marti Johnson, Phodographer Uganda