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Phil Borges and BRIDGES

Phil Borges was a dentist. Now he’s a photographer. He’s focused on the disappearance of cultures, telling us that in this next generation, we’re going to lose half of the living languages in the world. An elder dies every two weeks and take a language with her. Borges wants to document these cultures we’re losing with photography and storytelling.

He starts with photos of Tibetan nuns and monks, as well as of the Dalai Lama. He visited the Dalai Lama in Tibet, then snuck wallet sized photos into Tibet, handing them to Tibetans, who clutched the photos to their foreheads or chests. Listening to the Dalai Lama speak to a set of monks and nuns who had been arrested, beaten and otherwise abused by Chinese authorities, he was moved to hear him say, “Treat your enemies as if they were precious jewels, because they build your tolerance and patience on the road to enlightenment.” He notes that young Tibetans are starting to question whether non-violence is, in fact, the way to achieve change for Tibet.

The next set of photos are from the Ecuadorian Amazon, where he visits the Rwani tribe, who’ve been fighting against the use of their community for oil exploration, chasing off seismologists and oilmen with spears and curare-tipped darts. In Pakistan, he and his son visited the Kalash, a group of animists who live near the border with Afghanistan.

These sorts of encounters have convinced Borges that Dennett is right – children have to encounter other cultures, ideas and religions so that they’ll have the mental flexibility to live in our world. With that in mind, he’s helped found BRIDGES to Understanding, a project that tries to help communities learn digital storytelling, expressing issues in their community. He shows us a film made by a young man in Guatemala about the aftermath of a mudslide that killed 600 of his neighbors.

Borges’s goal is to give indigenous people a voice, and to help combat the insular nature of the US. He reminds us that a recent National Geographic survey suggests that young adults (18-26) were the second-most ignorant in the world about geography. 70% couldn’t find Iran or Afghanistan on a map, while 50% couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps projects like BRIDGES will help Americans, as well as indigenous people, through the sharing of stories.