In Summary

  • Danielle explains that she does not like perpetuating victim narratives or “poverty porn”. Photographers Without Borders, she says, is a community of storytellers that empower grassroots narratives and everyday heroes.
  • Danielle views ordinary people as potential agents of change and strongly asserts the importance of adapting what she describes as “an anti-oppressive and intersectional framework” in the work that she does.
  • “It is not about giving anybody a voice, it is about amplifying voices. I am very much aware of the risks taken while telling stories and it is unfortunate that so many stories that are unhelpful or untrue get perpetuated in a way that paints a singular picture of places and people,” she says.

A camera in the hands of Danielle Khan Da Silva is more than a device to merely capture the moment. Like a passport, it is a licence to travel and explore and, in the process, tell the stories of extraordinary efforts people around the world make to solve challenges. It is also a powerful tool for change.

A simple photograph, she says, can induce a thousand emotions. As founder and Chief Executive Officer of Photographers Without Borders – a Non-Governmental Organisation – Danielle knows this from experience. She describes her work as a “cross between photojournalism and fine art.”

Danielle was born in Toronto, Canada, on November 25, 1986, to an Indian father and Portuguese mother, who were both immigrants. She is one of two siblings – her younger sister, Chantal, a newspaper editor, lives and works in the United Kingdom.

Danielle wears many hats – she is an activist, writer, public speaker, conservationist and advocate for sexual assault survivors – but she affirms that photography is her passion. Having studied sustainable development, conservation biology and psychology at post-graduate level at the prestigious London School of Economics, her main focus is finding the best ways of communicating the extraordinary efforts of people around the world.

It all began from a young age.

“Photography came to me by accident,” she tells Lifestyle on a recent visit to Kenya – her second to the country.

 As a young child, Danielle loved to paint but, as she grew older, she found it harder to dedicate or find the time to paint.

“When my dad gave me an old camera, it allowed me the freedom to capture moments and create art in an instant,” says Danielle who, as a young girl, carried her camera everywhere.

But it wasn’t until 2008 when she realised what a huge impact photography could make.

She travelled to India and was working on a project that involved “low-caste” members of society often referred to as “tribals” or “untouchables.”

“India was a life-changing experience for me because I was able to learn things that weren’t taught to me in textbooks and at the same time, foster a deep sense of my identity as I traced my roots as well,” she says.

She was working with an organisation which had a medical unit and was helping to cure and identify people who suffered from sickle cell anaemia.

“As I was working with the medical team, I noticed that on paperwork and medical files, alongside the names of patients and age, were the caste and it was then when I realised how systematic the caste system was – deeply ingrained socially and internally,” she says.

It appalled her that this discrimination was taking place on such a large scale to the point where people were being shunned, raped, beaten, set afire, and denied medical care and education because of their social standing.

Danielle wanted to do more after leaving the project, so she asked the doctors how she could assist. They said they needed proper shelters for schools and so she decided to help raise funds for buildings.  But she still thought she could do more.

“It was a matter of deciding what to do next, in terms of creating an impact,” she says.

Danielle turned to the power of the camera. It occurred to her that she could use this power to amplify other people’s narratives, especially the voiceless. It was then, at the age of 21, that she founded Photographers Without Borders.

“For me, planting seeds of inspiration in others is one of my larger goals,” Danielle says

She also decided to further her studies.

“I wanted to have an informed perspective,” she says of her decision to return to school.

“I wanted to have an anti-oppressive and international framework as a basis for my philanthropic work in telling other people’s stories; being true to the story teller, in every possible way,” she says.

Danielle explains that she does not like perpetuating victim narratives or “poverty porn”. Photographers Without Borders, she says, is a community of storytellers that empower grassroots narratives and everyday heroes.  Danielle views ordinary people as potential agents of change and strongly asserts the importance of adapting what she describes as “an anti-oppressive and intersectional framework” in the work that she does.

“It is not about giving anybody a voice, it is about amplifying voices. I am very much aware of the risks taken while telling stories and it is unfortunate that so many stories that are unhelpful or untrue get perpetuated in a way that paints a singular picture of places and people,” she says.

Danielle and HAART Kenya Project Officer, Winnie Mutevu, embrace after an interview. PHOTO | MATILDE SIMAS

That is why, she tells Lifestyle, Photographers Without Borders focuses on grassroots organisations and social enterprises as they are community-led responses to problems at a local level.

“That knowledge and those kinds of networks are priceless in terms of creating change on a sustainable level,” she says.

She gives the example of a human trafficking story she is currently working on with HAART – an NGO dedicated to ending modern-day slavery in East Africa – that she says she has to handle with the sensitivity such a subject deserves.

She further explains that in the work the organisation does, they choose to work with grassroots organisations because of the human aspect of working directly with people and establishing trust. For Danielle, human trafficking is an issue that is very close to her heart as she works closely with sexual assault survivors at home as co-chair of the Dandelion Initiative. Many people that have been in human trafficking situations, she says, are also exposed to sexual assault.

On her visit to Kenya, Danielle explains that every year she and her team do five episodes for their web series which follows a photographer on their journey and shows their viewer the process of documenting through the photographer’s lens. “A project on human trafficking caught my attention and there are a lot of cases which involve sexual exploitation and abuse. People are not aware that this happens every day in their own backyards and I thought that this issue just had to be in my web series,” she says. HAART requested Photographers Without Borders to document the web series. “For me, as I said earlier, it is a very personal issue and I believe it is also important to empower survivors, and help people tell their stories while helping them heal as well,” she says.

Photographers Without Borders is registered in Canada and the USA and includes both paid and volunteer staff.

“We have so far worked with about 100 organisations in more than 30 countries in just over four years, and we provide them with free high quality photographic and video content, so that they can reach their own goals.”

The organisation does not entirely rely on typical funding models.

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