Local Travels for Social Change

Malibu local Rachel Gray traveled to Nepal last year with ReSurge International, an organization that provides free reconstructive surgery in developing countries, to photograph burn victims for a documentary project to raise awareness for neglected global health crises.

What started with a photography class at Malibu High has turned into a pas sion that has taken local Rachel Gray around the world and back again, showing her a way to turn her art into activism.

Last year, Gray traveled to Nepal with ReSurge International, an organization that provides free reconstructive surgery in devel oping countries, to work on a documentary. She had just graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in photomedia when the opportunity arose.

“I was looking for something outside of the gallery community and came across this pho tographer named Phil Bruges, and he’s a big advocate for women and children and activism photography, so I applied to go on this trip with him,” she said. “In Nepal, we travelled with a doctor who performed reconstructive surgery on Nepal’s poor.”

The focus of her trip was treating burn victims.“Walking into the hospital and seeing burn victims, with severe burns on their face and arms, it was just something I had never seen before,” she said. “This doctor goes above and beyond the call of duty. He’ll go and treat people in small villages, so we just traveled all around Nepal with him to hospitals.”

Gray said that burns are one of the biggest global health crises today. In many developing countries, there are open fires in the homes and many people don’t know how to properly treat burns.

“It’s just been story after story of the woman is working in the field and the baby is left at home with the sister and the baby falls into the fire and they don’t know how to take care of the burn,” she said. “I saw a mother who didn’t take her child to the hos pital for five years.”

The trip to Nepal wasn’t Gray’s first trip abroad. In 2010 she traveled to Calcutta, India, with a University of Washington program studying women’s activism and empowerment. She returned to Calcutta two years later with New Light, an organization that fosters children whose parents are sex workers.

“This organization started as just a daycare. When parents would work at night, they would drop off their kids at the shelter,” she said. “It has grown to where they now have a house outside for young women, kind of like a boarding school, located out side of the red light district. It’s really an environment where kids can thrive.”

During her trip with New Light, Gray worked to make a short documentary about the living conditions of the children to help raise money to support opening another home for boys.

“I believe the way to make serious change and to uplift this type of suffering comes from education,” she said.