S E C T I O N
In places where being female is dangerous, a Menlo Park Michelle Le/The Almanac
photographer finds courage and dignity By Sandy Brundage Photos by Mark Tuschman
Women on the edge
A woman with her family in her home outside of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
As Mark Tuschman shares photographs taken in corners of the world far from the comforts of his Menlo Park home, you wonder what memories drift through his mind. The images are crystal sharp with texture and feeling — the age-old eyes of a teenage bride peering at the camera, a woman standing with her family on a dirt floor. The bride is Nazia, whose husband tried twice to kill her over a disappointing dowry. He’d gotten a motorcycle for marrying her, but wanted a car, which her family couldn’t afford. She turned to a women’s group run by Action India for support in getting a divorce before he could try to murder her again. “These dowries are ongoing blackmail,” Mr. Tuschman explains. But his photos don’t tell the stories of beaten-down women surrendering to terrible circumstances. They tell the stories of women in horrible circumstances — starving, beaten, dying — finding the strength, somehow, to nurture hope. How much of that hope is created by the efforts of “armies of people helping people” defies precise measurement, but the photos tell their stories, too.
The health care workers are the unsung heroes, according to Mr. Tuschman, dedicating their lives to providing basic services to communities where the wait time for a medical appointment measures in years, not hours. In Mozambique, for example, he said there are about 25 obstetricians for a population of 20 million, and almost all of the doctors live in the capital, an impossible trek for many villagers. “Women in the United States don’t worry about dying from pregnancy,” Mr. Tuschman notes. “It’s a major issue elsewhere.” Crossing worlds
On a trip to Northern Nigeria in 2010 funded by the Packard Foundation to document their Continued on next page
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Nazia tells her story to a support group for victims of dowry abuse in Delhi, India. Nazia says her husband tried to kill her, not once but twice, for not receiving the dowry he demanded.
A baby being weighed at a maternal health clinic in Ngarenaro, Tanzania.
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health care and educational outreach programs, he almost left after three days as internecine violence escalated. “It was like being in a war zone, and I’m not a warzone photographer,” Mr. Tuschman says. Fascinated by what his camera could capture, he ended up staying for nearly two weeks. “(There was) a lot of dust and the smell of smoke, mostly from people cooking with wood fires,” he recalls. “It was very chaotic with almost an overwhelming number of people — especially children
— in the streets. At one point we had to drive back to town in the dark after a shoot with some nomadic tribes people and was told that it was a bit dangerous as there were robbers active on the roads in the evening.” His team tried to visit hospitals, but found the facilities closed by a government that regarded medical care as a waste of money. Hotels had unreliable electricity and little food. At one place, staying at an emir’s compound, “I opened the door to the bathroom and it was swarming with mosquitos. I told them I would sleep in the car but they
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A young woman gets free condoms at her hairdresser, part of a Planned Parenthood program working with a Christian Evangelical church in northern Nigeria.
found another place that was unbearably hot. The next morning we drove to a town where my instinct at some point told me not to leave the car — there were so many angry young idle men and boys on the street.” In his photographs, community workers trained by Planned Parenthood walk the streets with bullhorn speakers to educate young men about safe sex and contraception. Another shot shows pregnant teenagers huddled together, “iconic of the condition of many young girls in Nigeria who are destined to have multiple, frequent pregnancies.
There is sadness and resignation in their expressions as even at this young age, they seem to know their destiny,” the photographer wrote on his blog. The stylistic influence of role models Marvin Wax and Sebastiao Salgado tempers the sadness of the photographs, summoning the innate dignity of each subject. Mr. Tuschman says that his work has been criticized for being too pretty — perhaps a holdover from his commercial work, which he described as “making things look better than they are” — but in the words of Mr. Salgado: “‘If you take a picture of a human that
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does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture. That is my way of seeing things.’”
©Mark Tuschman ©Mark Tuschman
“What do you do when education isn’t a real option yet?” he muses, fingers calling up one photograph after another on a laptop. Now he pauses on a The road less traveled set showing a woman painsNow a renowned interna- takingly embroidering with tional human rights photog- scarlet thread. An American rapher, Mr. Tuschman did not had established a design school start out making a living with in India to teach tribal women a camera. The New York native how to support themselves as came to Berkeley in the 1960s artisans. to study computer science in Another set focuses on graduate school. He worked at women waiting for surgeries SRI and Stanford as a gnawing to repair fistulas, holes torn dissatisfaction in their bodies with doctoralduring childlevel research birth. Some‘The human warred with the times they wait need to provide for more than condition is for a growing 10 years at hoswrought with family until one pitals so underday he asked supplied that great uncertainty for a camera. patients sleep on Commercia l the floor. What and suffering, yet photography, he maintains his the human spirit thought, might faith in humanbe the solution. ity despite witand the hope for “I was basinessing the tragcally throwing edies wrought a better life can away all my by poverty? In a withstand terrible education. My way, it’s the act parents were of witnessing: hardships and very upset,” he “The human even grow stronger condition says. “Fortuis nately my wife wrought with in the face of was very undergreat uncertainty standing and and suffering, yet adversity.’ supportive.” the human spirit The fa mand the hope for –MARK TUSCHMAN ily rented out a better life can the top f loor withstand terof their Menlo Park home to rible hardships and even grow make ends meet during the stronger in the face of adversity. early years. Now, with son The women you will meet in Avi and daughter Eva on their these pages have constantly own, he’s enjoying the chance inspired me, and I’ve come to to focus on projects such as understand that their cause is “Women on the Edge,” a book our cause, their humanity is our about “the whole story of humanity. It is my fervent hope women’s lack of autonomy over that we in this country, blessed their bodies and lives in devel- as we are with freedom and oping countries,” emphasizing great material wealth, can join that the work also celebrates hands to support the legitimate “the efforts made to empower aspirations of these forgotten them.” women and offer them a real Mr. Tuschman is seeking and enduring sense of hope and sponsors to cover the estimat- justice,” he writes in the preface ed $250,000 cost of producing to “Women on the Edge.” the book and a multimedia Generations of photographs, campaign to increase aware- generations of women, girls, ness of women’s rights. All children. Each slightly richer in proceeds will go to the Global circumstance than those who Fund for Women to help the came before, and each one organization grow, he says. sharp as crystal, caught on the “The programs are on such a edge of hope by the camera. small scale, and the need is so great. It’s my biggest frustraTop: In Marangu, Tanzania, tion.” a woman waits patiently at a There are no easy solutions. clinic hoping to see a healthA
About the front cover
A scholarship girl supported by WomensTrust Inc., a microfinance NGO working in Pokuase, Ghana. WomensTrust takes a holistic approach to development by funding the education of more than 100 of the best female students. Photo by Mark Tuschman.
care worker. Middle: Young women in a hospital ward in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bottom: A boarding school supported by Educate Girls operating in Rajasthan, India. This school is part of a system initiated by Mahatma Gandhi’s wife to provide for educationally disadvantaged girls, many of whom have disabled parents, are orphans, or live too far from schools.
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Members of the Menlo-Atherton High School dance team include: front row, from left, Hannah Grossman, Sophia Bercow, Natalie Chan and Emma Osterberg; second row, from left, Miranda Alfano-Smith, Caroline Hayse, Mariana Chahrouri, Tera Noguchi, Gaby Busque and Sami Gaston; back row, from left, Coach Nona Ybarra, Gracie Culhane, Anne Argente, Brooke Warren, Devon Smith and assistant coach Kate Lynn Roberts.
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M-A dance team holds show, fundraiser Hip-hop, jazz, lyrical and ballet performances will highlight the 10th annual MenloAtherton High School dance
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team show and fundraiser to be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, in the school’s Performing Arts Center. Proceeds from the event help underwrite scholarships, team uniforms, camps and competition expenses. The team rehearses three times a week and performs at the school’s football and basketball games. Nona Ybarra is the team’s coach, and she is assisted by Kate Lynn Roberts. Tickets at the door are $12 for adults and $7 for students. Tickets may be purchased in advance from dance team members. Visit tinyurl.com/Dance-117