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Iran Votes
March 5th, 2012
09:41 PM ET

Iran Votes

CNN Photographer Joe Duran gives us a look at life in Tehran as citizens vote in parliamentary elections.

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Filed under: backstory • Iran • photography
Brazil Carnival is a big celebration
February 23rd, 2012
05:05 PM ET

Carnival in Brazil is a huge celebration

CNN Photographer Jose Armijo captured the excitement of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro with these images.

A new Playground in Vietnam
February 15th, 2012
07:39 PM ET

New hope for Vietnam's children of the dump

CNN's Natalie Allen went with an adventure-philanthropy group to explore Vietnam. She ended up building a new playground for the children of the Catalyst Foundation in the coastal town of Rach Gia. Children in this area were previously living and playing around a large trash dump. Families around the border of Cambodia and Vietnam frequently have to worry about the harsh reality that their children could be sold to the sex trafficking industry.  

By Natalie Allen, CNN

Twelve-year-old Dieu wears a bright-green top sprinkled with yellow flowers as she squats in a pile of garbage with her mother.

The two talk and laugh while their hands work quickly, sorting plastic from the discarded food and waste.

A full bag will bring their family just pennies. But this is their life’s work. They live on a dump in Rach Gia, Vietnam, part of the Mekong Delta.

Dieu’s little sister, one of nine siblings, watches from the family’s two-room shack. One of her brothers sits on a nearby tombstone with his dog. The dump lies on an abandoned cemetery, and the above-ground tombs are the only places to sit that aren’t covered by trash.

Some 200 families live on this and one other dump in Rach Gia. They are three generations of Cambodians who fled the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. It’s the only home they have ever known.

What they eat and what they wear is often from what they find in the trash. For the longest time, the children didn't even know flip-flops were supposed to match.

But there is a danger here far worse than filth or poverty.

Human traffickers prey on these poor people’s desperation. Children are bought and sold here, some for as little as $100. The parents sell because they are tricked into believing that the buyer has good intentions, that their children will have a promising job and a promising future. They so badly want to help their sons and daughters escape poverty.

Oftentimes, however, the children end up as sex slaves.

“The trafficker looks like your mom, (the trafficker) doesn't look like a bad guy," said Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker, who founded the Catalyst Foundation to help Dieu and other children in Vietnam's poorest communities.

The kids are sometimes stolen, too, when they make their long walk into town to sell lottery tickets.

“When we started, we knew of a house that was at the entrance of the dump, and we know girls were being taken in there by traffickers and being raped,” Ticarro-Parker said. "If they screamed, then they were let go. If they didn't scream, then they were taken. And the girls were as young as 4."

Lessons for survival

After leaving Dieu’s dump, I arrive at another one just as a sanitation truck leaves behind a fresh pile.

People scurry with picks and bags and start sorting. They work day and night alongside their children. At 1 a.m., when the last truck of the day arrives, they all don headlamps to work in the dark.

I follow a mother who carries her baby to the family’s shack. One could barely call it that; it is nothing more than tarps strung together for shelter. Bowls of discarded food are covered in flies. Clothes dry on barbed wire.

The mother lays her baby in a net strung up as a hammock. After rocking the baby to sleep, she heads back out to work in the dump.

Another parent offers me his baby when I arrive. He is cradling a little boy, months old, wearing a colorful striped hat. The father swats flies away from the child’s face. He mistakenly thinks I am here to buy his baby.

Ticarro-Parker’s family fled Vietnam when she was a child. She returned as an adult to give back to her homeland, bringing clothes to the poor. But when she stumbled onto the families of the Rach Gia dumps, she knew much more had to be done.

She went back home to Minnesota, started raising money and eventually opened a school for the children of the dump.

Lesson one: Arm the children with cell phones so they can call for help.

“It sounds weird, but we gave the prettiest girls the cell phones first,” Ticarro-Parker said. “They’re most at risk.”

Lesson two: Teach the children to read so that if they are taken, they can read city signs and call the school to let them know where they are.

That happened in 2008. Four girls were taken, but the traffickers were caught because the girls had a cell phone and knew how to read a road sign to give their location.

Lesson three: Teach the children to run if strangers approach.

That’s exactly what 13-year-old Hanh did when men, presumably traffickers, chased her and her brother as they walked home on the last day of school in 2010. She did what she was taught and ran. But while getting away, Hanh fell into a canal and drowned.

Ticarro-Parker fights back tears recalling the tragedy: “She died doing what we asked.”

Before she died, Hanh was interviewed for the school’s first brochure. Next to her picture is a quote of what hope meant to her: “Hope is my school.”

School is the only hope for these children, Ticarro-Parker says. It strengthens the entire community.

"When we started it was 99% illiteracy,” she said. “None of the parents (at the dumps) knew how to read and write, the children had never been to school.”

They are now down to 40% illiteracy.

“The children are understanding that they could be the generation that doesn't work in the dump,” Ticarro-Parker said.

The school also teaches parents the cold hard truth: what will really happen to their children if they sell them.

In 2006, before the school opened, more than 37 girls from the dumps were sold to traffickers by their parents, Ticarro-Parker said. In 2011, only four were sold.

'A catalyst for change'

Inside one of the school’s two classrooms, a boy writes in his notebook. He clutches a blue pen with fingers covered in dirt, black under all his fingernails. The children are dirty, but their maroon-and-white school uniforms are crisp. Across their backs reads, “be a catalyst for change.” And they all wear shoes that match.

Outside is the sound of a power saw. Volunteers are here to build a playground for the school, which was built on a rice paddy on the edge of the town.

It will be the first real playground these children have seen.

One Vietnamese woman helps the volunteers with sanding and toting wood. She is working to pay off a debt to the school. She sold her teenage daughter to traffickers – twice – and the school helped get her back both times. Now the woman works to pay off her debt.

When the playground opens, the children are waiting. They swarm. Up the climbing wall, down the slide, over the monkey bars, onto the swings. They have to be taught how to pump their legs and pull the ropes to make the swings move. They don’t have any idea how it works. They learn quickly, however, and are soon flying high.

Dieu, on the seesaw, screams with joy as a row of girls fall like dominoes onto the sand in hysterical laughter. Seeing their smiles and hearing their joy, it is hard to believe these children live on a garbage dump.

"Over the last year and a half, the boys and girls have been happy,” Ticarro-Parker said. “They want to be singers and teachers and doctors and architects. Suddenly they have a career in mind. …

“We're not going to eliminate trafficking. We are not going to change this whole culture of girls feeling unworthy of themselves. But we're going to change this group of girls. We're going to change 200 girls. It's going to happen, one girl at a time."


Filed under: asia • backstory • CNN Freedom Project • journalists • photography • Uncategorized
Photographing Syria's horrors
February 9th, 2012
11:38 PM ET

Photographing Syria's horrors

Syria has restricted journalists from entering the country, so it has been difficult to document the horrors of this conflict. But CNN.com has posted some chilling photos commissioned by Time Magazine. Here is the link to those photos by Alessio Romenzi.

http://on.cnn.com/xqodYq


Filed under: backstory • journalists • photography • Syria
February 7th, 2012
01:57 AM ET

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico- Shaul Schwarz documents extreme violence

for more on filmmaker and photographer Shaul Schwarz, find him online at www.shaulschwarz.com

Keep up with Back|Story on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @BackStory

See part two of this interview here: http://on.cnn.com/xg8s0n


Filed under: backstory • Cartel Violence • journalists • Latin America • Mexico • photography
December 20th, 2011
08:25 PM ET

Images of Iraq and the stories behind them

Nine years after it began, the war in Iraq has come to a close.  But the images from that conflict continue to tell a powerful and dramatic story of a country going through an enormous evolution.

Photographer Ben Lowy spent time working in Iraq during the war.  He's put some of his iconic images together in a pair of books titled "Iraq Perspectives."  Errol Barnett recently sat down to talk to Ben about his work and what it was like to be a witness to the conflict.

You can see more photographs by Ben Lowy on the CNN Photo Blog. For more on his career, check out his website: http://benlowy.com


Filed under: Interviews • Iraq • Iraq War • journalists • photography • Uncategorized
Iraq as the War Ends
December 15th, 2011
09:38 PM ET

Iraq as the War Ends

CNN's Michael Holmes gives us a look, through his camera lens, at some of what he has been working on while in Iraq. The U.S. says it will end the war in Iraq by the end of 2011.

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Filed under: backstory • Iraq • journalists • photography
December 13th, 2011
08:04 PM ET

Afghanistan blast witness shares story

Photographer John Wendle was recording in Kabul the moment a suicide blast happened. He shares his video and experience above.

See the full report from Nick Paton Walsh here:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits the wounded:


Filed under: Afghanistan • backstory • Interviews • journalists • photography • Religion
December 2nd, 2011
07:03 PM ET

Reflections on Iraq

U.S. troops moved into Iraq more than eight years ago, with the goal of toppling Saddam Hussein.  And CNN has been there from the beginning.  Our own Michael Holmes has spent time in Iraq every year since 2003.  He recently sat down with producer Jessica Ellis to go through some of his photographs from his time in Iraq, and to reflect on some of his best - and worst - memories of that time.  And he also talked about how the U.S. invasion has changed, and will change, Iraq.

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Filed under: Iraq • photography
Liberty Department Store, London
November 10th, 2011
09:52 PM ET

The Revealer: Liberty Department Store, London

[cnnvideo url='http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/international/2011/11/10/bs-revealer-liberty.cnn' inline='true']

By Olivia Yasukawa, CNN

November 10, 2011
(CNN) –Hidden near Oxford Circus – the center of London’s bustling shopping district – stands a building which resembles a relic from England’s Elizabethan past.

Four million people walk through the wooden archways of Liberty each year into a wonderland of treats and treasures.

Its black and white exterior is characteristically British – a style favoured by the Tudors.

And yet, the building isn’t Tudor at all. In fact, it’s less than one hundred years old.

For those willing to take a closer look, history reveals a secret with a surprising twist: Liberty’s famous façade was rigged from the wreckage of two wooden warships – HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan.

Both were battleships built for Britain’s prestigious Royal Navy.

"Britain lived and died by its Navy and its Navy's performance,” said Andrew Baines, historian and Curator of HMS Victory in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England.

“So even though these were old ships that had been broken apart, they would still have a certain amount of kudos to them and their use in Liberty would have carried some of that kudos through," he said.

The size and scale of HMS Hindustan, a sailing ship, is in fact reflected in the whole front façade of Liberty.

"Hindustan is ordered in 1819 but work only starts 10 years later on frames that had been brought from the Far East – teak frames. It takes them until 1841 to build her,” Baines told CNN.

The other ship, HMS Impregnable, was a rare three-deck ship. Ordered in 1854 as HMS Howe and later renamed, she represented the ultimate development of the wooden battleship.

“She is viewed as being a very impressive ship,” Baines said. “She is the largest wooden-hulled ship ever employed by the Royal Navy.”

Both ships had the best quality timber and after a period of service as training ships, they were sent on a course bound for the dockyard, where they were broken up and sold in 1921.

Meanwhile, in the heart of London’s shopping district, Liberty’s flagship store on Regent Street was looking to expand.

Almost four decades after it first opened, Arthur Liberty, the founder, wanted to create a larger store that still maintained an intimate feel. Using the timbers from HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan, he turned to the Tudor age for inspiration.

“It’s importing a bit of heritage isn’t it?” John Graves, Curator of ship history at the National Maritime Museum said.

“I think to the well-trained eye, it’s easy to tell once you’re inside Liberty and you are admiring the staircases and so on. You can see the minor imperfections in the wood that they have been recycled from old warships,” he told CNN.

Other little clues allude to Liberty’s nautical history – a wooden carving of sailing ships above a doorway, a stained-glass ship hidden in the corner of a window, blue and white tiles depicting the Navy’s finest.

Anna Buruma, Liberty’s company archivist said, “Liberty is rather special. It has always been a very quirky shop and it suits this building.”

Sadly, Arthur Liberty never lived to see the completion of the magnificent building that still bears his name.


Filed under: backstory • History • photography • The Revealer • UK
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