Friday, November 22, 2013

Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival

I had the privilege to be a photographer for CBC at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival held at Globe Theatre. I was assigned to take photos of guests on the red carpet. Here is a link .
The screening is from Nov 20- 24. If you have time, try and catch one of these shows.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sneak Peak into Human Rights Museum

Editors gather before their tour inside the museum still under construction. 

Newspaper editors from across Canada who attended the Journalism Symposium organized by La Liberte last week were treated to an exclusive tour of the Canadian Museum For Human Rights.
The building is an architectural marvel from inside and outside although construction is still ongoing.
The $351-million structure was declared a national museum in 2008 by the Canadian Government, with a mandate to explore human rights issues with special but not exclusive reference to Canada. The museum is scheduled to be open to the public next year.
Meanwhile, free summer tours are being offered to the public till the end of August. For more information,click here.

Up along the watchtower

From inside looking up: an architectural marvel. 

Looking out over Esplanade Riel and the Provencher Bridge.

The Museum is expected to open in 2014

No Ordinary Family

Terry with her children Darren and Michelle

Not many women would want to deal with diapers and milk bottles at 53. But Terry Houlston, is no ordinary woman. The retired educator made a decision to adopt a child 11 years ago and she has since single-handedly raised three other children.
“I got Trey and Dylan when they were just two-and-a-half years old. They are brothers who desperately needed a home when I decided to take them in,” said Terry.
Two years later, she got Michelle and then came little Darren who was nine months old when she brought him home. Dylan, Trey and Michelle are now 13 years old while Darren, her youngest child is seven.
All four children have high needs and are on medication for different conditions.  One child has global developmental delays, another has Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The other children have ADHD, attachment disorder and conduct disorder.
Terry spends a lot of time attending classes and workshops run by Child and Family Services (CFS) to help her cope with the different needs of her children.
“Being a parent has its challenges. In the case of my kids, no one medication is an answer to all the problems. We just have to see what works and what doesn’t work,” said Terry.
Despite the challenges, she says, there is nothing more wonderful than being with her children. “It is such a joy and privilege having them in my life and hearing them calling me mom,” she said.
Terry and her kids went on a Disney cruise in February. “It was their first time on a flight, our first on a ship and at 64, it was my first holiday,” she said.  The moment Terry started talking about the cruise, Michelle and Darren’s faces lit up.
“The waiters were so nice to us,” quipped Michelle. “There were fireworks on top of the ship,” said Darren adding that his favourite part of the trip was going to the live theatre every night.
The siblings had been patiently waiting for Terry to finish this interview so they could go attend a picnic at The Forks National Historic Site. The picnic is organized by Child and Family Services with the assistance of The General Authority.
Foster home social worker and picnic committee member Leslie Johnston said this annual event was expected to draw over 600 families and their kids. Watch interview with Leslie Johnston. 

Supermoon Lights Up Night Sky

The year’s largest, brightest moon lit the sky on June 23rd, 2013. 
Published in Community News Commons 

The moon a few days before...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Grand Opening for Investors Group Field

Photo by Sangeetha Nair 
The much anticipated “opening ceremony” for Investors Group Field was nothing short of grand.

One Heart Winnipeg, a massive gathering of 85 churches was the first event to be held at this venue. This event was also an opportunity for the venue to test out their ticket scanning system as 20,000 free tickets were printed and handed out at the main gate.

Venue Staff, Gordon Harry handing out free tickets.
Photo by Sangeetha Nair  
Event organizers went all out at making the event memorable and enjoyable to not just Christians but any proud Winnipegger who was there to get a peak of the new stadium.

There was a special appearance by former Blue Bomber Milt Stegall, 35 different Disney and Marvel comic characters and clowns. There were also performances by rapper Fresh I.E and YouTube sensation Sean Quigley.

In his speech, Stegall said that it was great that the first event held at the stadium was dedicated to God and joked that this would not guarantee that Bombers will win all the games.
In the middle of the afternoon, during the sermon, a cluster of jet planes launched from behind the big screen and flew past the stadium, making the crowd cheer. The experience was certainly overwhelming.
Sean Quigley                             Greaves and Kowalczuk
                                                 Photo by Sangeetha Nair 
Throughout the event, Bomber fans lined up to take photographs with players Chris Greaves and Chris Kowalczuk and the rest of us just had a hard time putting down our smartphones and cameras. #investorsgroupfield was the tag of the day.

For the past three years, One Heart Winnipeg was held at the MTS Centre in January. This year, the organizers could not get an available date and the Blue Bombers had come to their rescue by offering them this new venue. After this experience, one wonders if the event organizers would ever go back to MTS Centre.

Photo by Sangeetha Nair 
Photo by Sangeetha Nair
Many thanks to Community News Commons for publishing this article. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Future Without Discrimination for People with Schizophrenia

Photo by Sangeetha Nair 
Schizophrenia has always been a very misunderstood mental illness. Some blame the media who relentlessly publish gruesome stories of murders committed by people with this mental disorder. Other's blame the mental health system for not having enough staff and facilities to help people with schizophrenia get better treatment. But pointing fingers is not going to solve anything. 

Advocates like the Schizophrenia Society have been organizing public education and awareness campaigns for over three decades now. But we still have people who think that those with schizophrenia are violent and should be put behind bars. 

The million dollar question is, how do we teach people to be more compassionate? Values like love, acceptance and kindness are taught to us at a very young age. It molds us into the human beings we are today. So let's teach our children about mental health while they are young.

You may think that mental illness will not affect your family. Or you may think that your kids do not need to be exposed to such information. But think again. Statistics show that 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from a mental illness. The average age of onset for schizophrenia is between 18 to 25.

Photo by Sangeetha Nair 
So when you prepare yourself for that talk about  the birds and the bees, might as well throw in a crash course on mental health. Mental illness may not affect them in their lifetime and I hope and pray that it doesn't. But it might happen to a family  member or friend at school. 

Let them know its okay to talk about it. Tell them that having a mental illness is not the end of   the world. There are many who have battled mental illness, even schizophrenia and have become successful, respectable people in society. There is hope. Teach them to love and accept a person with mental illness just like they would a person with a physical illness. This will hopefully change how the future generation views schizophrenia and mental health in general. 

Picnic in the Park - May 24
Photo by Sangeetha Nair 

The Manitoba Schizophrenia Society recently organized a picnic in the Bonnycastle Park to celebrate National Schizophrenia and Psychosis Awareness Day.

Over 80 people from all walks of life had come to join in the celebration. There were two little girls with their young fathers. There were families and friends. There was a six month old baby with her young mother and there were volunteers who came because they believe in hope.

MSS Peer Group facilitator Karen Kaplen with Jane
Jane Burpee, the public education coordinator for MSS said, " It isn't about statistics. It isn't about the DSM 5. It is about the individual journeys of courage and success which we so humbly admire.

"Having young children at the celebration gives hope that they will grow up with an understanding of mental illness, which, in turn will give us a generation that will change stigma into compassion in the future."

Like MSS on Facebook

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Not so duh about the The Duhks

I had gone to watch The Duhks at the West End Cultural Centre in March. I must admit that before that day I had never heard their music. The only reason I was there was because of their lead singer, Jessee Havey.   
Jesse and I were both performing at the Peace Service in Temple Shalom last fall. Jesse deserved to be there. I was just lucky. The moment she opened her mouth to sing, I knew that she was a star. It was one of those pinnacle moments in my life. Like the time I was standing in front of Queen Elizabeth, the time I held the Winter Olympic torch and the time radio celebrity Ace Burpee offered to buy all my paintings. Sure enough, I later found out that The Dukhs were a Juno Award winning band who was also nominated for a Grammy in 2007. 
Their concert was a sell out and that came as no surprise. The Duhks are back Winnipeg, and let's hope that they are here to stay! 

Leonard Podolak and Scott Senior got the crowd dancing to their beat.
Jessee Havey is a true star.
Jordan McConnell skilled not only at playing the guitar but also at building guitars
Tania Elizabeth played some beautiful instrumental pieces on her fiddle. 
Scott Senior is one of the best percussionists I have heard.

Kelly Bado

Kelly Bado is an extremely talented young singer-songwriter based in Winnipeg. Not only does she have a powerful voice, she is also a person with a beautiful soul. I'm honored to have met her and given this opportunity to photograph her.

Born in Ivory Coast, Kelly discovered her artistic and musical potential at the age of 10. She joined her church’s choir, then her high school’s choir. Since her arrival in Manitoba in December 2007, she volunteered in the musical and social departments of her first church in St. Boniface. She is now a part of the community of Winnipeg as an active member in various bands and one of the lead singers at Springs Church and continues to live her passion.

Here's a Video of her singing her song Set Me Free

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Russell sorts toys according to themes
WINNIPEG: You know your kid is extraordinary when he starts building his own toys instead of asking you to buy them from stores. Russell Zaretski was that kid.

Russell was twelve when his passion for making toys began.  “I used to collect odds and ends of broken toys in a chocolate tin. Sometimes I get toys from my Kinder Surprise and then take them apart and reassemble them to become characters I want,” said Russell.

The first toy he built was a simple two piece assembly of a soldier holding a gun. He then started building more and more toys to add to his collection.  “The characters I create are inspired by things I see in movies, comic books, cartoons and my own drawings,” said the now 22-year-old.

Russell would then bring his toys to school and start playing with friends. “I made up a game where the winner will get to keep the toys he captures,” he said.  Within a matter of months, Russell started conceptualizing ideas to use his little toys in a board game. He worked on his idea and started making enough characters to fit his board game.

But something changed in Russell. He no longer wanted to share his game with the kids at school. “I started feeling paranoid that my friends would steal my ideas and my toys so I stopped bringing my toys to school,” he said. Russell would hide his toys and work on them in secret. He never talked about his thoughts with his parents and they did not  suspect anything was wrong with their child till he was 15.

“I remember feeling that the world around me was moving in slow motion but I was moving fast. Even the sounds that I heard were slow but my own voice seemed like it was going at a super speed. I told my mom about it. We called it “the feeling” because we didn't know what it was,’ he said.

This strange “feeling” then progressed to audible voices of people screaming at him. It was at this point that his parents took him to see a psychiatrist where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and clinical depression. Schizophrenia is a neurobiochemical brain illness that can be treated with medication, a healthy lifestyle and a good support system.

Doctors had told Russell that he would have to be on anti-psychotic pills for five years, before he would start seeing any positive results.  He was unable to work. Even making toys had become a chore.“There used to be moments when the illness made it difficult for me to concentrate in order to complete a task,” he said adding that he was always in and out of the psych ward.

His family tried everything from brain scans to acupuncture to help reduce his symptoms.  They also attended the Family Support Group offered by the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society where they met and compared notes with other family members in similar situations. “During one of these sessions, my parents heard about a practitioner of alternative medication in Orlando. We had made an appointment to see him and I have been on a whole range of supplements and a strict dietary and exercise plan ever since,” he said.

Russell and Teagan enjoy a game of Warchess
Russell’s willpower and the strong support from his family members have now enabled him to manage his symptoms and live a normal life. He has also been able to reduce his medication by 50 percent.He is now working at S.S.C.O.P.E (Self-Starting Creative Opportunities For People in Employment) where he does moving and snow removal. S.S.C.O.P.E is a non-profit community based casual and part-time employment service.

Russell has also started dating about a year ago. His girlfriend, Teagan Unrau, 19 says Russell’s mental illness does not bother her. “Mental illness is no different than a physical disability. There is no reason to discriminate,” she says adding that she loves Russell for who he is as a person.

When Russell is not working, he is at his “toy factory” in the basement of his house where he takes apart discarded printers, electronics and other odds and ends from anything at all that he finds interesting in order to make new toys.“I sort the parts according to different categories and themes of the characters. I currently have seven themes: Animal kingdom, extra terrestrial, military, demonic, haunted, plants and mystical guardians,” he said.

Over the years Russell has not only improved in his methodology and art of toy making, he has also developed a prototype of his board game which he calls “Warchess”.

Warchess is a strategic two-player board game played on a chess board. Each player is allowed to choose eight pieces that would be used to attack and capture the opponent’s pieces. Russell currently has more than 100 toys in his collection which the players can choose from.  Each piece has specific skills and powers that make them unique.  These characteristics are tabulated on a card which is given to the player.

Russell finds hope in toy making
Warchess uses two sets of dice each turn. One dice determines the number of moves and the other dice determines the power of each attack. A player can only attack if the number on his dice combined with his own health is greater than his opponent.

“This game challenges the mind and skills of its players. It can be quite complicated if you are playing it for the first time but after you get a hang of it and you are familiar with some of the pieces and their abilities, things get more exciting,” said Russell.

“I have taken years to test this game and refine the rules and methods.  I usually have friends over to help me test out the game,” he said.

Russell hopes to patent his idea and have it developed into a full- fledged video game. He also hopes to have his own line of toys that are sold in stores. “Making toys keeps my brain active with positive and creative thoughts. It gives me hope that someday in the future, I will be able to share my game with the world,” said Russell.

Many thanks to Community News Commons for publishing this article

Monday, February 25, 2013

Squawking Seagulls

The sound of their squawking reminded me of my life in an island. I have seen these birds flying carefree above me but I always wondered what they look like up-close. Every creature created by God is beautiful even if its a scavenger. I was lucky that these guys were comfortable enough to be photographed. Did you know that gulls have prophylactic unhinging jaws which allow them to consume large prey?