Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

This fall, we reviewed an incredible book, Can I Come With You? Social Documentary Photography by Amanda Koster.  I was so impressed with Amanda's work that I wanted to share more with you!  Amanda started a organization called SalaamGarage, which connects media and creative types with international NGOs.  Over the next year, we'll talk with Amanda about each trip. For an introduction, though, we were lucky enough to sit down and talk with Amanda and some of her team, about SalaamGarage and several upcoming trips - here's what they had to say, about travel, working with NGOs, the power of the internet in social change, and more...




Between work and play at Vatsanya


FROM: Amanda Koster, Founder + trip leader: SalaamGarage

WE:  Please tell us about SalaamGarage...

I noticed a few things going on that led to the idea:

Many people were asking "Can I Come With You?" wanting to accompany me on documentary projects around the world.  They wanted the same kind of
experience and help out with the tools they have; have a passion for
travel, photography, writing, blogging, etc.

I started poking around myspace in 2006 and noticed so much content being
created and published.  I also noticed a lot of not-so-inspiring content,
people, dancing in their underwear for example. "What would happen if
people posted projects like 'Caxton's Story' a short day-in-the-life interview I created about a teenaged AIDS orphan in Kenya) and THAT kind of content was available, tagged and circulated." I saw enormous potential in these places, the possibility publish content that makes a difference (social media).

I also noticed how many living room slide shows of 'our trip to India' I
had attended.  I noticed people uploading their travel photos, videos
journals, etc., up on flickr, myspace, etc. I thought, what if there were a
few photos of Caxton mixed in with 'here I am in front of the Taj Mahal',
how would that impact the audience? What kind of conversation would that



A Local vendor tends a small market in Jaipur


I have seen so much travel, storytelling and content being created over
the years and now more recently a place to share all of it. Again, seeing

So, I created SalaamGarage based on these observations and over a decade of experience as a traveler, backpacker, documentary photographer, producer, media maker, etc., and teacher. SalaamGarage leads adventures that collaborate with international NGOs with the goal to cause change through creating and sharing intentional content.

On a SalaamGarage trip, travelers come with me (and my growing team) to an international NGO.  We mentor and work as a team; the travelers and the
NGO, collaborating to create and tell a story that will cause change and help others.  Travelers work on those projects together and commit sharing the content with people back home. Past examples of ways of sharing are photo exhibitions, blogs, videos, slideshows, articles, etc.

There is an irony to the title of the book because it ties in the creation
and vision of SalaamGarage.  The title also beckons readers, travelers,
etc., to come with me on a particular adventure.  Those who are attracted
to the book, SalaamGarage and me know exactly what kind of trip that is.

WE: What are the next steps for SalaamGarage, and social networking?

This has already begun.  Besides speaking at Gnomedex08, to Microsoft media makers, invitations from O'Reilly Media  to speak at Microsoft Social Computing Symposium and upcoming Web 2.0 In San Fransisco, 3/09, collaborations with RIT and their faculty and students, and observing the obvious synergy between storytelling, travel and social media, the networking and expansion has begun SalaamGarage.

From these collaborations I see a natural flow from travelling on a
SalaamGarage trip > creating stories and projects > returning home >
plugging the content into the social networking tools, blog, flickr,
facebook, etc., > cause change.

I then see travelers taking on challenges such as harnessing these social
media tools to raise awareness and help out the NGO be it through
fundraisers, telling the story, raising awareness, or even simple hits on
the NGO's website.

With, say, Twitter a traveler could reach hundreds of people and let them
know about their project and possibly challenge their audience to help raise
money to sponsor someone like Caxton to go to school. It would be so easy,
much easier that a traditional fundraiser at a church with invitations,
catering, brochures, hard costs, etc. An audience would experience real,
authentic grassroots content vs. a marketing campaign or a fundraiser with
lots of overhead.  And, the audience can experience and act on their own



FROM: Dana Oshiro, Writer, Blogger, Web 2.0 aficionado*

Amanda Koster began her travel photography career doing a series of what
she describes as "drive by shootings". She'd take photos of strangers in
developing countries never really knowing her subjects' stories. Then one
day, she felt uncomfortable. After a woman requested rupees in exchange for
having her photo taken, Koster felt so uncomfortable that she made a life
altering decision - she re-examined what it means to be an artist.

SalaamGarage is an organization of individuals who travel to developing
countries on behalf of cause-related NGOs. Koster brings other amateur
photographers and videographers to chronicle their journey and tell the
story of aid and development work. There is a human being behind every
photograph, and there is a story behind every human being. From
organizations in the favelas of Rio to the rice fields of Vietnam, Salaam
Garage is helping NGOs raise money and awareness. And on a larger level,
Salaam Garage is raising consciousness amongst bloggers, amateur
photographers and technologists.

Koster's call-to-action to Gnomedex attendees was this: All of us in this
room full of laptops, iPhones and professional digital cameras have the
ability to change the world. We know how to get independent distribution
and to produce independent content.

Suddenly meta-life is less about personal brand and more about progressive
action. After all, what's the point in promoting the things you do, if you
aren't proud of the life you're living?



A local merchant recycles silver thread from old saris.



FROM: Jaimala Gupta, Founder and Trustee Secretary , Vatsalya

Vatsalya's Experience with SalaamGarage Team led by Amanda Koster!

It was and will be a great experience to have the SalaamGarage Team at
Vatsalya's Udayan; our Children's Village near Jaipur in September '08 and
upcoming September '09.  The efforts and initiatives of the team of
SalaamGarage led by Amanda Koster 's desire to contribute in bringing about
a positive change in the world by heightening social awareness and
facilitating global understanding are absolutely admirable.

I was very impressed by the way Amanda/the SalaamGarage Team so
systematically organized their visit to Vatsalya. The initial dialogue
through emails not only helped me understand purpose of her visit but gave
me an opportunity to assist her in planning the groups visit. Often time's
people simply come, with no or very little knowledge and understanding of
Indian culture, climate and other important issues. While that was never a
problem in Amanda's case, it was particularly impressive to observe how she
demonstrated a natural respect, acceptance and understanding of an entirely
new world, so different than that of hers in the West. All the time that
they were here, it never occurred to any of us that they were 'outsiders'
in the premises.

SalaamGarage is unique in its mission and its impact is powerful and long
lasting. We as an NGO working in India with the orphaned and abandoned
children and poor rural women are greatly being benefited from our
partnership with SalaamGarage and what they are doing. The team's brilliant
work has been helping us in resource mobilization for Vatsalya's Street
Children Program.  That is important, however, it is not only about the
funds that are being generated for our programs.  It is also about the
bonding that is being created for our children, letting them feel wanted,
cared and connected to the people across the world.  That is the most
important part of it all. We wish our Children's Village to become a
"Global Village" in truest sense of the word and what SalaamGarage is doing is a significant step towards that.

Last September, as she moved about and interacted with staff,  Amanda
conducted herself so easily with the women we work with, and children who
live with us.It was a very enjoyable experience to work and partner with
them as the team members demonstrated great natural respect, acceptance and understanding of an entirely new world, so different than that of their in
the West.   SalaamGarage focus on touching the lives of real people while
never loosing the sight of human rights, human dignity, cultural
sensitivity and equality was something we all have learnt from and look forward to more such enlightening and enriching experiences with more participants.

Amanda's ability to invest with a long-term vision in mind, the empathy
with which she thinks and operates and her amazing quality of listening touched and impressed everyone at Vatsalya. Everyone at Vatsalya keenly and affectionately awaits their return! Children often ask me "When is Amanda Didi (Hindi for big sister) coming back?"

I hope and believe that what SalaamGarage is doing under the able
leadership of Amanda would be a sustained and long term action. It would
benefit people enlightening them, connecting them and making the world a
better place.

Jaimala Gupta
Founder and Trustee Secretary



Two boys enjoy the days' end at Vatsalya



FROM: Sean Dimond, Agros International
Director of Marketing and Communications

Agros International is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty for rural families in Central America and Mexico by enabling landless communities to achieve land ownership and economic stability.

WE: Why are you partnering with SalaamGarage?

First, I am impressed with Amanda.  When she approached us to consider a
potential collaboration she immediately understood both the constraints and
the possibilities of a potential partnership.  She has a transparent
commitment to harness her art to make a difference in the world, and this
is not a mere wish for her but a created reality.  Second, Agros will directly
benefit from this partnership as SalaamGarage trip participants spread the
word (and image!) about our work.  Like most every other international NGO,
the hope is to convert increased promotion of our work into new donors, new
supporters, and new advocates for the rural poor we seek to serve.

Further, I see an additional benefit as photographers, artists, journalists
not only encounter the unique, transforming development work of Agros, but
also as they  encounter the families that live in Agros villages.  These
families are just extraordinary – in their capacity to hope and rebuild
their lives out of the aftermath of civil war, genocide, natural disaster,
and the daily despair of extreme poverty.  As SalaamGarage participants
encounter these families, I am confident that trip participants will come
away transformed themselves, and highly motivated to promote this work.

What do you hope to achieve with this collaboration?

An inspired group of SalaamGarage trip participants engaged and willing to
come back to evangelize, promote, and advocate for the work of Agros in
their respective areas of professional and personal influence.  Ultimately,
the hope is that this will further our ability to serve more of the rural,
landless poor in Central America and Mexico.

Sean Dimond | Agros International
Director of Marketing and Communications
Land.  Hope.  Life.



FROM Patricia Bennett: Guatemala 09 trip producer/co-leader:*

WE: Please tell us about your upcoming trip to Guatemala...

We have teamed up with one of the most innovative Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in Agros International.  The framework of the organization is very comprehensive and empowers poor people in Central America and Mexico to buy land and build communities based on long-term investment strategies. The end result is self-sustaining agricultural villages owned and managed by people who would otherwise never have such an opportunity.  We will visit Agros villages in the Ixil Triangle of Guatemala, located in the Western Highlands, to see, document and share the beautiful success stories resulting from Agros' vision.

WE:  How can people get involved with this trip? (Who can come?)

We are looking for photographers, filmmakers, and writers interested in
social justice and human rights work who will commit to developing projects
within the supportive framework of SalaamGarage and to share their
discoveries through their art form.  The villagers live simple lives and
work very hard.  We want to have as little impact as possible on the daily
routines there and so those folks involved in the trip will share an
understanding of their privileged position as visitors to these
communities.  Few people will ever have an opportunity to see these
villages, much less understand the machinations behind such milagros, or
miracles.  It is imperative that travelers commit to being the eyes and
ears to tell these stories to the world.

WE: Why did you choose to go to Guatemala, and work there with Agros? What goals do you have for SalaamGarage, the visiting team, and the NGO?

Personally, I just truly believe in the Agros model and the promise of
SalaamGarage to spread word of its great works.  While other NGOs are doing
fabulous work in micro-finance, I like to think of the Agros model as
macro-finance, and in fact just this Fall it received a prestigious award
from the world bank recognizing the effectiveness of the Agros approach.
Still, the organization has been doing these good works from their Seattle
office since 1982, and many have not yet heard of Agros International.
SalaamGarage is a great way to broadcast the good news of Agros in many
creative levels of media.

WE: What led you to work with SalaamGarage? What do you hope to
get from it?

I'd like to think that in some small way my involvement is helping to right
some wrongs made in the past.  I would encourage people to study the
history of Central America.  Speaking just for myself, in Guatemala I feel we are enabling the indigenous people to work their ancestral lands once again,
not just by giving them land but empowering them as stakeholders.

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

I'm just delighted to be learning more and more about Central America.
These ambitious projects give me hope.



FROM Maggie Soladay: India '09 trip producer and co-leader:

WE: Please tell us about your upcoming trip to India...

SalaamGarage is leading a new tour to Rajasthan India in the second half of
September 2009.  The tour is 12 days long.  The non-governmental
organization we are working with is Vatsalya in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
Vatsalya is an environment where the children, who belonged to no one, would find a purpose of their life.

Rajasthan is in the Northwest corner of India, and for many it is the most
beautiful region in India.  Rajasthan is full of indescribable beauty and
diversity and I am so excited to be there to watch and help our group
transform throughout the trip.  We will be in Jaipur for 4 days, during
this stay we will visit the Jaipur markets, the Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal (the
Palace of Winds), and other sites while the majority of the time will be
spent building stories at one of  Vatsalya's many programs.

Examples of projects participants will work on are Vatsalyas programs
working with homeless children, child prostitution, HIV/AIDS, and women's
rights.   SalaamGarage tour participants  choose from a several story ideas
about the specific people Vatsalya serves, and participants have the
privilege of spending days with these individuals.  For example, there is a
young girl who was the child of a CSW (she was previously child sex worker)
who has excelled at Udayan, the home for children that Vatsalya runs.
Another story possibility is to spend a day with an Indian truck driver to
tell the story of HIV/AIDS in India and what Vatsalya has done to help
educate truckers about the disease and ways to prevent the spread of it.
Yet another powerful story is that of two sisters who run a self-help group
in their village.  Vatsalya's micro loans to these women and other women to
help them support themselves and families.

WE:  How can people get involved with this trip? (Who can come?)

Anyone willing to write, shoot, shoot video, record sound, establish and
work within networks and new media outlets to spread the work of Vatsalya
to as many people around the world as possible.  Our goal is to create teams
that will match technically and digitally savvy Web 2.0 travelers with
journalists, photographers, editors, and artists.  Each team member will
help each other to create and disseminate their chosen stories in a way we
believe has never been done before.  Even with that list of skills, this
trip is really for anyone who wants to travel to India with a dynamic group
of people who all share the desire to be part of changing the way we see
various peoples lives and situations.  It is a rare opportunity to be able
to travel and give back in a major way.

For example, we'd love to see a stay at home parent join us who will then
return home with their stories.  Maybe they will share with their PTAs,
children's classes, neighborhood communities.  Anyone with email, or a
facebook page, or who works at a company has a way to share their
experience and stories with their own community.  Past SalaamGarage trip participants have held fundraisers with gallery shows of their photos and created blogs.

Anything is possible and anyone can do it.  Professional story tellers and
professional programmers and developers are as welcome and needed as
photographic and writer enthusiasts.

WE: Why did you choose to go to India, and work with Vatsalya? What goals do you have for SalaamGarage, the visiting team, and the NGO?

In India it is because of Vatsalya, they are always in need of more funding
so they can help more people.  For example Vatsalya has 54 homeless
children in its' care.  With more awareness, Vatsalya will be able to generate funds to save even more abused and abandoned children.  The also run an outreach van in a program called Karuna.  The Karuna van goes into ghettos and teaches skills, plays games and identifies homeless children in need of
help.  Currently they are only able to afford for that van to go out maybe
only once a month.   Vatsalya's director Jaimala, very much wants the van
to be able to go out more often because the demand is great.



Student at Vatsalya pondering a lesson



WE:  What led you to work with SalaamGarage? What do you hope to
get from it?

I knew there was more to working as a freelance photographer.  I write,
create new media, and explore ways to tell stories and effect the world in
a positive and uplifting way.
Since I was in high school I wanted to be a journalist who wrote and
photographed my assignments.  Thanks to the web and various social media
applications, that dream has become real, and would like to help others
realize this dream as well. I have traveled half the globe and always
wanted to find a waytodo something that helps people in countries like Mexico, Morocco, Bolivia, Peru, and even the USA.  Amanda's idea to take our skills as teachers, storytellers, humanitarians, and world travelers and guide
many people through the process of documentary story telling is visionary.  I am living my dream of creating work that is beautiful and effects as many
people as I am capable through SalaamGarage. I can continue to travel,
teach, and share stories as much as possible before I am too old to fly!

WE:  Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

The current trends in Journalism and editorial story telling make this the
perfect time for homegrown news.  The work NGOs are doing around the world
isn't currently selling ads for major news outlets. The NGOs needs for
independent story tellers is as great as ever and now with blogs and
websites accessible to more people than ever before in history there is the
very real possibility of creating big change from just one person.

SalaamGarage creates media that builds awareness.  Media meant to inspire
individuals, corporations, and communities to act by donating the funds
needed to keep Vatsalya growing, understand that there are people out there
in the world dedicated to change and empowerment,  or to create programs
themselves that help communities around the world.  Few NGOs have the
resources necessary to create this kind of awareness.  On a global level
SalaamGarage is reaching thousands and possibly millions of people.

Maggie Soladay Production



Mother and child in Jaipur



WE: Thanks so much, Amanda, Dana, Jaimala, Sean, Patricia, and Maggie. Your vision for change is astounding, and full of hope.



For more information, and to see how you can participate, please see: