Editor’s Note: This article is part of a featured series this week highlighting leading non-profit innovation in Boston. The series aligns with New England’s first Tech Gives Back citizenship day. We ask that you share these innovators’ stories with your networks, and encourage you to join us for the Tech Gives Back after party on Thursday, June 9th.
In the first phase of his career, Ryan Ansin spent time behind the lens of his camera – lots of time. With his production company, he toured the world documenting the work of non-profits and creating marketing videos in support of their efforts. For eight years, he helped organizations like Veterans International, VVAF, Epic Arts, Stay Focused, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Rural Black Women’s Rights Initiative get their message out.
Yet it was not until the camera shifted hands that he felt the stories were really being told.
That’s when Every Person Has A Story (EPHAS) was born. EPHAS seeks to empower and connect people around the world through photography and the media arts. Primarily focused on students, EPHAS funds and runs photography workshops inside of schools across the developing world and the US, then uses the power of the internet to amplify the students’ voices and provide a platform for their stories.
EPHAS currently has programs active at 14 locations in 5 countries – Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Rwanda and the United Sates. In each, EPHAS partners with a local organization to provide a forum for the workshops and a setting to begin photographing. In Cambodia, the EPHAS program is taught to patients in the children’s ward at Veterans International hospitals. In Rwanda, students help document a water project by ONE4THREE.org bringing potable tap water to 250,000 residents for the first time. In Haiti, residents documented a sponsored migration from a post-earthquake tent city to full-time, permanent residences several hours away.
At every location, EPHAS begins the program with a donation of dozens of digital cameras, printers, paper, ink, solar chargers, memory cards, lesson plans and props. Ryan and his volunteers fly in, spending 2-3 weeks learning about the community and teaching the EPHAS workshop to several groups of children. At the same time, Ryan is teaching a teacher (who joins the EPHAS staff) the curriculum so they can teach many more students photography through the year. Everywhere, EPHAS gives its students the option to have their work shown, and provides access for the teacher to send high-resolution photos back to EPHAS after every class.
From all the locations, EPHAS receives an average of 300 images per week, each duly credited to the student who produced it. The EPHAS platform, centered on www.EPHAS.org, uses digital distribution and social media to broaden and deepen the audience for its students’ photos. By bringing images from around the world through the eyes of the people who live there in close to real time, EPHAS hopes to affect positive change in our perspectives and understandings of connectedness with each other. Further, with permission, EPHAS offers limited photo sales, both online and in art galleries around the US, providing an empowering way for its students to better their communities.
In that same spirit of connectedness and empowerment, EPHAS also runs workshops in primary, middle and secondary schools in the United States. An internet-age take on the pen-pal, students exchange images with their counterparts around the world. The 15 Word Exercise asks students to create images expressing what certain words, like “Joy,” “Family,” “Fear,” and “Love” mean to them, and then gives them a look at how others expressed the same.
To help build his vision of a next-generation, technology-powered non-profit, Ryan has assembled a team of fantastic volunteers across the U.S., with amazing local teachers on staff in each of the four overseas EPHAS countries. Ryan is supported by a board of directors and advisors with deep experience in both the internet technology and non-profit spaces. Hunter Simpson is a leader in web development and design, a co-founder of Piogy Ventures with deep experience in e-commerce and web-marketing. Marshall Bradstreet has been the executive director of six Boys and Girls Clubs throughout his career, and currently serves as founder and executive director of Youth Rising, an after-school program in the Dominican Republic. Alex Magnin is a founding team member at Martini Media, a venture-funded, Silicon Valley-based digital media technology company. Andrew Kurban is a co-founder Medical Missions for Children and ONE4THREE.ORG.
EPHAS Productions, Inc. was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization on June 30, 2010 and received its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status on September 14th, 2010. All donations and photo purchases are tax-exempt to the fullest extent allowed by law.