Thursday, November 14, 2013

Yellow Hell - The Sulphur miners of East Java

The Kawah Ijen is an active volcano set in the scenic landscape of East Java, Indonesia; hosting one of the largest highly acidic lakes in the world. Every day hundreds of workers venture into the crater with minimal protection, like a mere scarf, to protect against the poisonous gases. These people are putting their lives at risk to mine the sulfur. Workers attempt to prevent inhalation of the putrid sulfur gases by wearing masks. But most of them work without any protection; because when you are in the midst of the smoke, prevention is impossible. The miners work with bare hands, using an iron rod to remove the sulfur. They then face a treacherous climb out of the lake and over the mountains to offload the sulfur at the station, 4km away. All this with as much as 75kg laid across their shoulders in wicker baskets. One person can make this journey only twice a day.

Most of the miners live close-by in the villages around the mountain, some of them stay at the first base camp "Camp Sulfutara", 1km from the crater. A few people sleep within the crater right next to the lake in handmade tents: under sheets of plastic held up by wooden planks. At the end of their hard day's work, the miners get paid approximately 10USD. The mined sulfur is used for vulcanizing rubber, bleaching sugar and  industrial processes for the beauty industry around Indonesia.

Anthony Gabelics is a hungarian freelancer photographer based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. He was studying at the Moholy-Nagy Unisversity of Art and Design Budapest, in Hungary. After his graduation he spent a year in Indonesia, discovering this controversial country and culture. His photographs have been exhibited in Hungary and Indonesia.

NGOinsider thanks Anthony for his contribution, if you would like to contribute please send an email to

Friday, April 26, 2013


''An act of Bravery''

Jean-Michel Clajot's photo essay on Scarification in Benin delves deep into the sacred ritual of scarring faces. To the western world it may seen barbaric, none the less a custom that is deep rooted in African culture.

''The scarifications  helped some tribes avoid the yoke of slavery, because the slave-traders viewed unscarred faces as a sign of good health, and so did not seize tribesmen with facial scars. This is why people without facial scars are considered by their fellow countrymen today to be the descendants of slaves, immigrants or refugees.''

"Scarifications can be read like books" says Terri Toré, a miller from Natitingou, who was scarified when he was 15 years old.

Photographs should not be republished without direct permission of the photographer

The principal reason for scarification is tribal. It tells us about the person who bears the scars, such as which tribe they belong to and the region they come from, as long as we know how to "read" them.

Driven by inter-tribal conflicts, the tribal dimension of these scars became widespread in Benin during the eighteenth century. These indelible markings enabled warriors to distinguish members of their own tribe and so avoid killing them. As they didn't wear uniforms or hats, the scars were the only way of telling friends from enemies. The scarifications also enabled them to sort corpses after a battle, so as to give members of their tribe the correct traditional funeral rites.

The scarifications also helped some tribes avoid the yoke of slavery, because the slave-traders viewed unscarred faces as a sign of good health, and so did not seize tribesmen with facial scars. This is why people without facial scars are considered by their fellow countrymen today to be the descendants of slaves, immigrants or refugees.

Tribal scarification is usually done before a child reaches adolescence, and children generally have the same scarifications as their father's tribe. In north-western Benin, the Daassaba tribe's scarifications run across each cheek, from the nostrils to under the chin. Other tribes are denoted by more or fewer scarifications across the temples, the forehead or the nose.

Some types of scarification are used to distinguish those who believe in certain gods. For example, in southern Benin, followers of Ogou, the God of Iron, have large, often bloated, cross-shaped scars on several parts of their bodies.

Others scarify their bodies and those of their descendants in honour of the gods to thank them for favours. Take, for example, the Abikou children (from Abimeaning to be born and kou meaning death, giving an overall meaning of "child destined to die") of southern Benin and Nigeria. Women who have had several premature miscarriages can appeal to the gods to help them carry their child to term. Should their child be born without problems, the history of their dead siblings is forever cut into their face in the form of a small horizontal line in the middle of the left cheek. In cases where it is a witch-doctor's skill, rather than the intervention of a god, that has helped the woman to give birth, the child is scarified with the witch-doctor's tribal marks, and is called a Yoombo ("purchased child").

Many inhabitants of the town of Ouidah in southern Benin still practise the so-called "two-times-five" scarification, which consists of small pairs of vertical scars in the centre of each cheek, another between the eyes and two more on the temples. Legend recounts that this scarification was first performed in 1717 by King Kpasse when threatened by a rebellion led by Ghézo and his warriors. Heavily outnumbered, Kpasse fled into a python-infested forest. The snakes did not attack the king: instead they helped him to counter-attack and force his enemies to surrender. Henceforth, all Kpasse's descendents have born the same scarifications and have held pythons to be sacred, honouring them at numerous festivals, and severely punishing anyone who kills one.

Finally, some tribes in north-western Benin and north-eastern Togo are so proud of their scarifications that they copy them onto the walls of their Tata Somba(house). Just like the road signs we encounter when we arrive at a settlement, these interior and exterior decorations show us who the inhabitants are.

"An act of bravery" says Martin Sakoura, a pastor from Natitingou.

Facial scarifications can be used to tell us about the family history of an individual, but the “reading” does not stop there: many men and women have scarifications on their backs, arms, bellies and shoulders which give us more personal information about them. Yon wan (from Yonka meaning fish and wanmeaning bone) scarifications are sometimes found on their arms or bellies. They are easy to spot and bear witness to the bravery of those who bear them: the more scarifications, the braver the individual. The first Yon wan scarifications are done when children are 9 or 10 years old, and the last when they are between 20 and 25 years old, when the boys are circumcised, after which the Yon wan cease.

In the Atacora district of north-western Benin, young women ask to be scarified with puuwari (from waama puuku meaning belly and warii meaning writing)when they are in love, so that all their relatives know that they intend to marry. Puuwari scarifications cover the chest and the belly with rows of small vertical and horizontal scars, and take a long time to do. Once completed, they tell the girl’s mother that she is ready for marriage.

In the Bétamaribè tribe, young brides are subjected to a further ritual: before they become pregnant for the first time, they scarify their buttocks with vertical scars to ensure a lack of birth complications.

"People don’t want to scarify their children any more, so that they don’t stand out from the crowd” says Florent N’Tcha N’Dah from Natitingou.

Scarification is becoming increasingly rare in Africa. In Benin, it has almost disappeared in urban areas, due to the reaction of the French colonists who viewed it as barbarous, forbade it and even punished those who practised it.

The hygienic problems associated with scarification are obvious. Many campaigns are underway to inform villagers about the risks of infection, in particular with HIV and tetanus. The scarifiers, who view their practice as sacred, obstinately refuse to start using disposable blades or to sterilise their knives.
The rise of other religions is also leading to the progressive disappearance of scarification. Seen as part of animist beliefs or folklore, they were forbidden and condemned by Christianity. Islam also banned them, as the Koran extols the integrity of the human body.

Finally, new Western styles of dress prevent scarifications from being seen clearly and thus remove their value.

The combined effect of these three factors is gradually driving out this ancient ritual, to the rage of the elders, who are powerless to stop it. For them, scarification is something to be proud of: it demonstrates a person’s pride in belonging to a tribe or a family. They like the idea that this membership can be recognised both locally and abroad. Scarified expats can be recognised in a few moments by members of their tribes, anywhere in the world. Individuals continue to have children, because refusing to do so would contribute to the demise of their families. By not bearing scarifications they create the same effect of renouncing their roots and allowing themselves to be treated just like everyone else.

To see the incredibly journey that Jean-Michel took documenting this subject please watch this wonderfully crafted video which documents the story and the photography that led to such an insightful and interesting series.

The Photographer

Leuven-born photographer Jean-Michel Clajot, represented by Cosmos Agency in Paris, is known for his modern and distinctive style with a timeless, classical edge. He has earned recognition and respect in the photography field for his work as a press photographer and for his recent documentaries around the world, since 1993.

Recognized with numerous awards, his photography is featured in art galleries worldwide, including Cosmos Gallery in Paris, Ikono in Brussels, the Arte Foto Festival in Italy and Visa Pour l'Image International Festival of Photojournalism.

Jean-Michel's work has been published in multiple press media such as National Geographic, Newsweek and Time, Grands Reportages, Knack Magazine, Vifs l'Express. In 2008, the three years project "Scarifications", photographing the Scarifications Culture in Benin, has been published in a book by Husson Editeur and Yovo Editions and shown in galleries in Brussels, Paris and Italy. The book was selected in 2008 as one of the best 50 books by National Geographic for the LOOK3 Exhibit in Charlottesville, in the USA. He has been awarded the 2011 Pride Photo Award for his documentary "Ladyboys, Born to be a Woman".

To visit more of his work on scarifications please visit:
or visit Jean-Michel's personal website:

Many thanks from NGOinsider for his contribution.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


'While visiting the remote region of Mondulkiri, Cambodia, I got to know some indigenous families in the small village of Pou Pring.

They belong, or rather, belonged to the ethnic population Pnong, an aboriginal ethnic group that speaks a Mon-Khmer language.

The Pnong population are normally not members of any organised religion, but instead are animists and worship nature spirits. Unfortunately, nowadays they seem to have lost almost all of their ancient traditions, opening up completely to Western culture, both in the manner of dress and by beginning to burn the forests that surround the village to plant potatoes and rubber trees.

Driving off-road to reach the village, was like a vision from hell… with fire, smoke and burning trees everywhere.

Unfortunately, with the forest, the Pnong are burning their traditions, their language, their history, and their beloved spirits.' 

Thomas Cristofoletti.

All images are subject to copyright and should not be used without express permission from the photographer.

Thomas Cristofoletti is an Italian freelance photojournalist and videographer based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

For the past three years he’s been working on many social video & photography projects in South East Asia (mainly in Cambodia, Thailand and The Philippines) and in Europe, collaborating with different international NGOs and his photographs have been featured in several international magazines and newspapers (such as The International Herald Tribune,, The New York Times, IL de Il Sole 24 Ore, AQisha Mir Travel Magazine, El Pais, In Style Russia, etc).

Please visit to view more of thomas's work.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Mongolia holds numerous records relating to the consumption of alcohol. Among them, it has the largest alcoholic population in the world. According to information published by the Centre of Mental Health and Narcology (CMHN) of Ulan Bator, 22 percent of Mongolian males between 15 and 65 are addicted to alcohol. Some of these people end up losing control of their lives, leading to a progressive deterioration of their social relationships with their families. They can lose everything, ending up living homeless on the streets.

This tale isn't dissimilar to other countries' battles with the problems of alcohol and homelessness combined, but when we consider the average temperature of a Mongolian winter (running from November to March), is -20ºC, everyday life can become extremely dangerous. 

All photographs are subject to copyright and should not be used without express permission from the photographer

'Otgontsetseg (30) lives in the street with his partner, Tugultur (33). Both are from Erdenet city and came together to Ulan Bator. She is 6 months pregnant, but still drinks heavily. Songinkhairkhan District (UB).'

I arrived in Mongolia with a goal to find out how the homeless of Ulan Bator deal with such adverse weather conditions. That goal led me to the network of underground hot water pipes sustaining a society of neglected people in the Mongolian capital. This society is left to seal its own fate; they hardly interact with the everyday citizens of the city. The only worry these people have is where to obtain any alcoholic substance with a base of 96º, which paradoxically, can give them life and can take it away. 

'A group of alcoholic homeless people keep themselves warm on the hot water pipes coming from the outskirts of a power station, west of Harhorin market, Ulan Bator.'

'Gambold, also called Sharaa (Yellow) with his friends, drinking alcohol with a base of 96º early in the morning, west of Harhorin market, Ulan Bator.'

'Batsumya, completely drunk around the Harhorin market's open land area, Ulan Bator.'

'Byambadorg, 36, lives with his wife Ogoonoo in a hole next to Sukhbaatar Square, Ulan Bator.'

'Amarksahan lives with Batsakhan and Miiga in the Ger area, north of Harhorin market, in a four square metre shack made of wood and cardboard. They are the higher class of alcohol dependent homeless around the market. Ulan Bator.'

'A view of the downtown of Ulan Bator.'

'Soyoloo entering in a hole seeking for shelter at Bayangol District, Ulan Bator.'

'Byambaa passing down a bottle of alcohol to his partner Soyoloo in a hole in the Saporo area, Ulan Bator.'

'Munguntuya waiting her turn for drinking in a hole next to Sukhbaatar Square, Ulan Bator.'

'A View of the holes and the hot water pipes where homeless live during the winter, west of Harhorin market, Ulan Bator.'

'Uuganaa, 24, proudly shows his homemade Buddhist tattoo and self-made scars, made in his childhood as a symbol of his bravery, Ulan Bator.'

The alcoholic homeless of Ulan Bator are totally helpless.  In general they are perceived by other citizens as evil, lazy people, with no will to pull themselves from the gutter, and not as victims of the social-economical restructuring Mongolia went through as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90's.  The majority of Ulan Bators' inhabitants have stopped considering the homeless as people and instead treat them as beasts. 

Unfortunately, the Mongolian government lacks any focused program of rehabilitation for the victims of these problems. The only method for the control of homelessness and alcoholism is to forcefully intern addicts into a penitentiary and rehabilitation centre called 'Maaint', 100km from Ulan Bator. In spite of its proved inefficiency, people can be detained at Maaint, against their will from 6 to 24 months. 

'Khaliun is detained against her will in Maaint detention and medical center, 100 kilometres south of Ulan Bator, under the threat of the state taking her son away from her if she continues to drink heavily. She must stay at Maaint between six and twenty-four months, depending on her behavior.'

'Erdenbaatar at the dining room of Maaint detention and medical center, 100 kilometers south of Ulan Bator. He has been living there for over six months due to a judges sentence.'

'A drunken woman is held in a sober cell at the police station of Bayangol District. This is the only sober cell that remains open in Mongolia where troublesome drunken women are forced to spend time until they are sober. They are undressed so they cannot to commit suicide, Ulan Bator.'

'Batbold is under treatment and takes pills to quit drinking alcohol. Center of Mental Health and Narcology (CMHN) of Ulan Bator.'

'Alcoholic men in a group therapy at the Center of Mental Health and Narcology (CMHN) of Ulan Bator.'

'Ouyndeleg (35) lives with his youngest son, Tumenulzii (14), at the shelter that the religious organization Betel has for alcoholic men in the northwest part of Ulan Bator. They have been living there for eight months together with thirty-four more men. Tumenulzii is the only teenager living there (he's not an alcoholic).'

This body of work that I presented to FotoVisura Grant was made thanks to a photojournalism grant from -Fotopres- given by La Caixa Foundation (Spain).

About Mikel Aristregi:

My name is Mikel Aristregi and I was born in Hernani (Basque Country, Spain), in 1975. The first time I seriously thought about becoming a photographer was at the age of 14, in high-school, after watching Oliver Stone's movie 'Salvador' in an ethics class. Since that moment all my steps have pointed towards becoming a photojournalist. 

I studied journalism in my hometown's university (UPV-EHU), after graduating I moved to Barcelona were I studied photography for 5 years at IEFC (Institut de Estudis Fotogràfics de Catalunya). I made my first long term documentary project in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) between 2004 and 2005 about the daily life of the street children. It took me over 5 months; I shot over 200 Tri-x rolls. From this job, 'Rue 24, Phnom Penh', I got the New FNAC Photography Talent Prize (2006) and did many exhibitions in Spain. In the same year I got a grant from Catalonia's government, Clic, with which I made 'Catalasians', about Asian people's immigration into Catalonia. But the most important grant I've procured up until now is the Fotopres Grant, given by La Caixa Foundation, with Harry Gruyaert among the judges. Thanks to this grant I was able to do "-40/96º".

Many thanks to Mikel for his insight into an unseen, subordinate society.

To view more of Mikel's work please visit