The Healing Power Of Insight

What happens when you put a camera into a girl’s hands and ask her to look at the world from the inside out? Or when you ask a boy to express, through the lens of a camera, how he feels about his mom who’s in prison?

What we get is the gift of visual magic.

What they get is the healing power of insight.

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Lisa Uesugi and Laurie Breeden Callies PHOTOS FROM PROJECTFOCUS

For 10 years, ProjectFocus Hawaii has used the art of photography to bring light and clarity into the lives of some of Hawaii’s at-risk children.

Photographers Lisa Uesugi and Laurie Breeden Callies founded ProjectFocus in 1995 on the premise that everyone needs a voice, especially children who otherwise wouldn’t be heard.

While the children took pictures of people important in their world, Uesugi and Callies trained their photographic eyes on the kids. The results? Powerful exhibits that changed hearts, minds and lives.

“Seeing how they view the world through the camera lens was both heartbreaking and heartwarming,” says Callies. “We got to really see things from their perspective and help them work through things.”

And the kids had a lot to work through. In developing ProjectFocus, Callies and Uesugi were grounded by their backgrounds as educators and mindful of the challenges the kids faced.

“For me, personally,” Uesugi says, “I come from the public school realm in Wahiawa.” Working as both teacher and photographer, she saw the huge socioeconomic rift between the kids in her classes and those whose relatively wealthy families were hiring her for photo shoots.

Callies, who was a pre-school teacher and director of Unity School at Diamond Head, says at first they simply gave the kids cameras and asked them to take pictures. “It soon became less about the photography and more about what they were learning from being a part of this.”

So this year — on ProjectFocus Hawaii’s 10th anniversary — Uesugi and Callies are completing a circle. They’ve tracked down more than half the children who were featured over the last decade and are bringing them back for a big celebration.

One of them, Dezandria Cambria-Orpilla, is 24 years old now. Back in 2009, she was in the process of reconnecting with her birth mother after having been in and out of foster care for years. The teenager was pretty much living on her own, trying to “parent” her younger siblings.

ProjectFocus became the catalyst for change in her life. She told Callies and Uesugi that after the project she viewed the world from a different and kinder perspective because she felt people for once really cared about her well being.

Today she works two jobs and has started a small business.

Dylan Hussein was just 10 when ProjectFocus found him. His mother was a Windward Community Correctional Center inmate. Dylan had been visiting her Saturday mornings in restricted areas, but he’d never been allowed farther in to see where and how his mom lived. ProjectFocus got permission to take the kids inside the prison walls to photograph their moms. Callies says he told them it actually was a “relief” to see that, despite her incarceration, his mother was getting the help she needed.

Dylan is 17 now. His mom is out of prison and taking care of her family. She’s also volunteering with an organization that offers support and guidance to children of incarcerated mothers. Dylan is learning to build cars and wants to join the U.S. Air Force to “serve my country and secure the future of America.”

I love a happy ending, don’t you?

There will be plenty of them on display for the ProjectFocus 360 celebration Saturday, May 2.

You can join the kids, their families and the photographers for their special party, which will feature exquisite food from seven inspiring chefs. Find ticket information at project-focushawaii.com, or call Laurie Callies at 224-5995.

I really hope you go, because if Uesugi and Callies make enough from ticket sales and donations, they’ll be able to give each of the kids a book of photos of their remarkable journey — proof in black and white that you can get what you need and want out of life.

All you need is someone to give you a voice — and a chance to share it.

jmoonjones@yahoo.com