"While organizing a charity event for Nepal, I went through thousands of different photos taken after the earthquake. Suddenly, quite by chance, I was struck by one image. Omar Havana, with one single shot, managed to capture the essence of that culture, wounded by the earthquake, rising from the ruins like Buddha with his ineffable smile. Omar’s photographs will enter the history of Nepal and his endurable love will be of tremendous support to the Nepalese people."- Bernardo Bertolucci in his foreword to Endurance
"For twelve hours, I was under the debris of the guesthouse where I worked that collapsed over me; I was surrounded by 37 colleagues and friends, all dead. I thought that I was also going to die. At the moment when the army and the neighbors rescued me, I knew that I had lost both legs, but also that a new life started for me.” – Ramesh Kharit, 18 years old, Kathmandu.
On April 25th, 2015 Nepal was hit by the devastation of Mother Nature: an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 that killed almost 9,000 people and injured more than 22,000. In the aftermath of that fateful day in April, almost three million people were made homeless, as hundreds of thousands of homes and other buildings were turned to rubble. In the months following the earthquake, aftershocks continued to hit the country on an almost daily basis; a magnitude 7.2 hit the country in May adding more devastation.
I witnessed the earthquake first hand. I hit the streets of Kathmandu minutes after the first tremor, racing down six flights of stairs with my wife and neighbors. On our way down the walls started to buckle around us. I was filled with fear and had no idea what was happening but, as we emerged onto the street, I felt sure that we were some of the lucky people.
As a witness to the earthquake, I know the resilience and endurance of the Nepali people first hand. On the very first night after the earthquake, neighbors and friends set up camp in open spaces throughout Kathmandu, in fear of sleeping in damaged buildings as aftershocks kept rocking the country. It was those neighbors who shared the little food and blankets they had with me and others who found themselves in need. This experience, coupled with many others like this, inspired "Endurance,"
In the midst of the chaos, the country became a united family; minutes after the earth shook in Nepal, people hit the streets to search for signs of life and to dig people out of the rubble. Since then, the Nepali people have struggled day and night, working to rebuild their country.
Moments of Joy
Days passed with the small airport overloaded before international rescue teams could arrive in Kathmandu. Hope had faded. The number of people confirmed dead increased significantly. When rescuers did arrive, an occasional ray of light pierced the darkness of devastation and sorrow.
At the ruins of a hotel, where dozens of people had perished, Pemba Lama, a 15 year-old boy, was rescued alive by Nepali Army and international rescue teams. He had survived for five days, surrounded by the dead bodies of his work colleagues, drinking little drops of water condensing on a t-shirt hanging over him in the pile of debris. After Pemba, several more people were found alive, examples of the strength and persistence of the people of Nepal.
Meanwhile, the dead were being cremated day and night.
The People Not the Government
For months, the population of Nepal has been waiting for the Government to release the more than four billion dollars pledged by the international community for reconstruction but the passivity of the Government has forced many of them to take control of the situation.
Demolishing houses with ropes and their hands, while salvaging bricks and pieces of wood to rebuild their homes, has been the goal of the population for months, while local and international organizations have put their efforts into medical support, education and providing help to those in need across the country.
Inspired By the People
The plight of the Nepali people inspired me, not only to be a better photographer but to ask what I could do to be a better person. I asked myself, “how can they still smile after all that has happened?” I wanted to understand what spirit made this possible, to understand what was behind their resilience and to capture it with my photography. For several months I traveled around Nepal, a country I loved, discovering stories like that of Pemba Lama, who survived five days under the rubble, or Pawn, whose mother hugged and lay over him as the earthquake began. She died but he survived with injuries only to his legs.
From Bhaktapur to Gorkha, from Kathmandu to Sindhupalchowk, everywhere I went, the fight of those who I found impressed me. People invited me to enter their homes, to share a tea, to pose for photos. “Endurance” little by little became a reality.
As I came to grips with my own psychological trauma, the stories of those I met served as a kind of therapy, helping me realize that my trauma was shared. My love for Nepal grew as the people made me feel part of a country suffering the same trauma. I cried, smiled, felt the pain of those who were sharing a moment with me. I could not let their stories be forgotten. I felt more and more that it was my duty to give them voice. To alert the world to the depth of their struggle and the spirit with which they fought to rebuild their country.
Though my work became the primary source of photographs of the cataclysm in the international news (a partial list of publications that used my images is at the bottom of this page) my primary focus became the recovery efforts.
A colleague once told me, “If the story is not told, it does not exist.” I want the story of the Nepali people’s response to the earthquake to be remembered. Endurance will be a humble tribute to and a legacy for those who are working hard to see their nation rise again.
Renown around the world for its extraordinary Himalayan landscape, Nepal should really be recognized for its extraordinary people. Endurance tells the story of their resilience, the story of a life spirit that spreads, like the smiles on their faces, over the streets filled with debris and the ruins of their homes.
We intend to distribute Endurance to libraries and community organizations in Nepal.
Endurance, The Book
Endurance will include over 70 black and white photographs shot across Nepal, immediately after the earthquake and in the months following. It will be printed at Ofset Yapimevi in Istanbul in a hardbound edition, measuring 22 x 33 cm., on 170 gsm paper.
Film director Bernardo Bertolucci, who used images from Endurance for a fundraising campaign in Rome to help Nepal, will write a foreword. Other contributors include: South African photographer Gareth Bright, AFP Nepali journalist Paavan Mathema and Amir Thapa, Senior Program Officer for International Medical Corps Nepal.
About Omar Havana
Born in 1975 in Madrid, Spain, Omar Havana has been pursuing his dream of photography since the age of 23. In 2009 he committed to becoming a photojournalist. Since then he has traveled to over 60 countries and published extensively in international media. Covering stories in Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Libya, Egypt, Nepal and Cambodia. Omar’s work has been published in National Geographic, Paris Match, Al Jazeera, The New York Times, The BBC, The Financial Times, ABC News Australia, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN and The Atlantic, amongst many others. A partial list of outlets that published his images from Nepal can be found at the end of this biography.
Omar has also collaborated with many international NGOs, including Handicap International, Amnesty International, Heifer International, Action Aid Greece, International Medical Corps, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, WaterAid Nepal and the International Federation for Human Rights, among others.
Selected interviews with Omar Havana in the news:
The story behind the photos of Nepal’s devastating Earthquake. TIME Magazine.
Omar Havana. Au Coeur du Nepal. ActuPhoto Magazine (French language)
Nepal smiles in face of earthquake in Omar Havana’s photos. RFI International
Omar Havana alerta ante el olvido tras el terremoto. The Huffington Post (Spanish language)
A photographer’s tribute to Nepali quake survivors’ strength and resilience. South China Morning Post
Terremoto en Nepal: Reconstruyendo pasos. El Pais (Spanish language)
A partial list of outlets that published Omar Havana's images from Nepal:
TIME Magazine, Paris Match (France), National Geographic, Al Jazeera, The Atlantic (USA), The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Expresso (Portugal), El Mundo (Spain), National Geographic (Japan), La Vie (France), Veja (Brazil), Zeit (Germany), CNN, Stern (Germany), The Star (Canada), The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), The Telegraph (UK), The Huffington Post (Spain), The Independent (UK), RFI International (France), France 3 TV, 20 Minutes (France), Cadena Ser (Spain), Stuff Magazine (New Zealand), Panorama Magazine (Italy), South China Morning Post (China).
FotoEvidence was founded in 2010 to continue the tradition of using photography to draw attention to human rights violations, injustice, oppression and assaults on sovereignty or human dignity wherever they may occur.
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Every year, an international jury grants the FotoEvidence Book Award to one photographer whose project demonstrates courage and commitment in the pursuit of human rights and social justice. The selected project is published in a high quality, hardbound book. The winner and four finalists are exhibited in New York each Fall at the time of the release of the book.
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