Moncton photographer focuses lens on healing
Maurice Henri uses photography to help victims heal in war-torn West Africa
By Cole Hobson, Times & Transcript Staff
Published Wednesday October 10th, 2007
Appeared on page A4
When Moncton photographer Maurice Henri began his career as a professional photographer in 1988, he never imagined he would be helping hundreds of kids in Africa, or that his work would be featured in an exhibit in New York.
However, that is exactly what has happened, as Henri's photographs are will soon be displayed in the African American Museum of Arts, in the city he describes as the "artistic mecca of the world".
It all started in 2005, when Henri went on his first trip to Africa. He visited small African villages and saw things that would have a dramatic effect on his life.
"I started seeing the poor kids with no shoes and everyone who was hungry, and it
completely changed my life," he said.
"You may see it on TV, but when you see it first hand with your own two eyes and you see a child that's dying in front of you, it changes your life. And I cannot accept that with everything we have, kids are dying by the thousands in other countries."
Motivated and inspired, Henri started selling his work in exhibits, in order to raise money to build schools in Africa.
Now two years later, Henri has been able to see the results of his hard work, as two schools, thanks in large part to his financial contributions, have been built in small villages in Africa.
The schools, named the Canadian Friends of the Children of Africa, will educate approximately 300 students each.
Henri is also involved in an initiative with colleague Chantal Pellerin, which will help upgrade the skills and teaching abilities of African teachers, and help them develop new programs.
Henri has now focused his attention on the project known as Cameras for Healing.
The program was thought up in discussions with clinical psychologist Dr. Charles Emmrys. Together they decided to mix psychology with photography, by travelling to war-torn Sierra Leone and using photography to help former child soldiers and
victims deal with their pain and suffering, and to work together for forgiveness
and to develop a culture of peace.
Sierra Leone was the scene of one of the longest lasting civil wars in the history of West Africa, where between 1991 and 2002, over 50,000 children and young people were used as combatants in the hostilities.
In the fall of 2006, Henri and a group of local students embarked on the first Cameras for Healing mission.
Henri says the camera acts as a therapeutic tool, which empowers the individuals with their own instrument of communication and self-expression.
After a week-long photo excursion where Henri tried to help them see their surroundings in a different light, the participants were given a camera to document 24 hours in their lives, to express their suffering, their current lives and their future goals and aspirations.
Henri says the first mission was a success, as he saw barriers beginning to break down. He recalls seeing a smile from a woman who hadn't laughed in years, and also fondly remembers being hugged by a woman who had a deadly fear of men after being held hostage during the war for almost nine years.
Plans for the second trip to Sierra Leone are currently in the works.
Henri has also undertaken similar initiatives locally over the years, by working with young people who have confidence or self-esteem issues, to try to empower them to overcome their problems.
Henri says he was contacted by the museum in New York, and they showed interest in buying his whole collection of work from the project to put on permanent display.
"It's more than a validation, it's the absolute icing on the cake, it's the crown jewel," Henri said.
The exhibit will open on Dec 1, and will feature Henri's work, some of the pictures taken from the first Cameras for Healing participants and local
African art and artifacts.
Henri's work and initiatives have also caught the attention of various media, as he has heard interest from filmmakers, major American television networks and magazines who are interested in publicizing the project.
The artist hopes publicity will lead to more support of the project,
which he hopes leads to his long-term goal of giving more African people the
tools to educate themselves and become self sufficient.
After having spent thousands of dollars and countless hours on these initiatives, Henri says he has no regrets.
"Although it's not a money maker for me -- in fact, it's costing me a fortune -- It's the most satisfying thing I've ever done in my entire life.
To know that I'm helping kids, lot of kids, hundreds and hundreds of children,
is very satisfying and I can't put a word to it."