Monthly Archives: March 2015

Vanuatu – focusing on its rich cocoa opportunities at this time of disaster

As you will all have seen on the news recently, Cyclone Pam has just devastated Vanuatu on a level never seen before in the small Pacific nation. Current death toll stands at 24  people. The government, aid organisations and local communities are scrambling to help those affected, particularly those on remote islands. To anyone wanting to help, a dear friend and long time Vanuatu resident recommended supporting the local health organisation Promed. They are currently at $70,000 and hoping to reach their target of $100, 000, their page is here.

I am deeply saddened by this natural disaster and at this time I am thinking of the many cocoa farmers and their families on Malekula Island whom I filmed and interviewed in August 2014. The film I made for  for Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research​ followed cocoa from bean to bar in the Pacific nation. ACIAR is working with cocoa co operatives and farmers to increase aspects of the cocoa’s post-production so that the beans can be sold to niche markets in Australia and beyond. The film can be seen below.

A big part of the story was a chocolate competition organised by Sandrine Wallez the inspiration and indefatigable founder of ACTIV Association and Director of Island Chocolates. Sandrine with the support of Randy Stringer from University of Adelaide who is working for ACIAR managing the project, they held a brilliant chocolate tasting competition with a panel of judges that included Ben Kolly from Haighs Chocolate in Adelaide and Josh, March and Jacqui Bahen from Bahen & Co in Margaret River. For any serious chocolate lovers you would already know about these two chocolate makers, if you don’t this is perfect time to have a high quality chocolate experience this Easter!

A great part of the chocolate tasting competition was that Josh and Mark Bahen from Bahen & Co thought the quality of the beans had improved markedly since their last visit two years earlier. They thought the beans were so good that they imagined being able to start buying directly from the farmers in the coming seasons. Recent news from the cocoa growing communities featured in this video above is that they will be back up and running in 6-12 months. I hope it is closer to 6 than 12 months and that we have news they may even be directly selling to Australia’s highest quality chocolate makers.Once I have any news I will be sure to let all know.

A cocoa farmer on Malekula Island from Rory Village, holds a handful of beans. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2015.

A cocoa farmer on Malekula Island from Rory Village, holds a handful of beans. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2015.

 

Cocoa farmers on Malekula Island from Rory Village stand amongst thier crops. During the chocolate tasting competition Rory Village won with the best chocolate. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2015.

Cocoa farmers on Malekula Island from Rory Village stand amongst thier crops. During the chocolate tasting competition Rory Village won with the best chocolate. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2015.

International Women’s Day – My three M’s.

A week ago during International Women’s Day I was traveling to Laos on assignment with terrific Amy Ovalle from The Asia Foundation. The two plane trips gave me time to reflect on what International Womens Day means to me and I decided to write about it for my blog. For me this day is best reflected upon with three M’s. Mum, Maryam and Mazie.

Mum

Mum to me and Bern to most others.

I am her first child. Despite the tough times of toddler Conor (my reputations preceded me, so I am told)  she and my Father went on to have another three kids within six years. My Mum is a social worker and I am sure she is great despite my bias. While we were kids she worked part time  most of the time  to support and be available for us but also to support my Dad so he could pursue his career. Culturally we still overlook this common sacrifice many women make for their families and husbands, so I would like to thank Mum for making it.

Mum talking with a family friend on one of our annual Irish Easter family reunions.

Mum talking with a family friend on one of our annual Irish Easter family reunions.

When I was young I don’t remember Mum talking much about feminism, well at least not through the lens and language it is discussed in society at present. Despite this, I would say my Mum is definitely a feminist.  The best way she passed this on to us was her strength in promoting a culture of good men amongst her sons. At family catch-ups Mum may be easily drowned out by her sons but as we fight to hold court at the dinner table but this doesn’t equate to us having the last say or dictating conversation. Mum is always offering counsel and pulling us into line.

In retrospect on how I was raised I am very grateful to my Mum for her parenting style. As a teenager my interest in social justice and the world outside my comfortable home in Newcastle Australia, Mum encouraged me to explore physically, spiritually and emotionally. Many parents with kids of similar age regularly ask me how my Mum felt with me taking flights around the world at such a young age, I always found this perplexing as I was always completely supported by my parents. As a freelance documentary photographer and film maker I am accustomed to the little financial and material security offered. My capacity to do this is largely due to my privilege and unwavering emotional support offered by my parents.

My Mum and I are quite different in ways yet still similar in others too. This combination means living together as adults can lead to a combative dynamic at times but thankfully Mum hasn’t had to put up with me that at home for some years. Despite any disagreements we may have I know that I am unconditionally loved by my Mum and that is one of the greatest gifts a child can have.

Maryam

Maryam has been the love of my life for more than three years now. We have shared a home together for much of this time. Living together, just like love itself, has been a treasure trove of life lessons for me and I am sure this is just the beginning too.

While Maryam may not know this she has been the source of massive personal growth for me ever since we met. I think of her literally as the yin to my yang. In the many instances when I am stressed about missing my next plane she is just so zen and can roll her eyes at me and remind me to gather perspective.

First impressions of the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II from a A working photojournalists. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2015.

First impressions of the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II from a A working photojournalists. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2015.

A woman with a fierce intellect and love of conversation. In Maryam I have a conversationalist who will talk with more passion and longer into the night than myself. This year is shaping up to be big for us, soon we will farewell our family and friends and say goodbye to Sydney as we relocate for a year to Scotland as Maryam undertakes a post-doc at a University Glasgow.

 

Mazie

The final woman I have been lucky to have in my life is the late Mazie Turner.

 In July last year many mourned the loss of an extraordinary artist and all round incredible human, Mazie Turner. Mazie was a mother of three children, a committed artist and woman that lived life to its fullest at all times. I attribute to Mazie a large part of my love for photography and visual media in general. Without question I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am now if it wasn’t for her influence.

Here is my blog piece from last year I wrote about Mazie.

 

Mazie inside her studio at the Newcastle Community Art Centre. I was lucky to share this space with her and work under her guidance for three years. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2015 All rights reserved.

Mazie inside her studio at the Newcastle Community Art Centre. I was lucky to share this space with her and work under her guidance for three years. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2015 All rights reserved.