Leigh Righton, Photography, Story

Coffins, Cookies and Chai

This time two years ago I was exploring India. In some ways it feels like years ago, but simultaneously somehow also feels like just a blink of an eye. Time sure likes to play tricks..

One of my favourite moments travelling along the Southern Coast of India was in Kerala. My friend and I spent a few days in a little town and our guest house was near a row of coffin makers “shops”. Every day we walked by we were both fascinated by them, and finally one day we stopped and said hello and asked to photograph the craftsman. He didn’t speak a word of English, but his smile and soft demeanour made him so approachable.

While we were photographing him it started to rain, and very quickly it began to pour.. full on India monsoon style. The man’s wife wandered over to us and by using hand gestures, invited us inside for tea and out of the rain. She walked us into their home, which was tucked behind the “storefront” She sat us on a bed (there was no couch) turned on their little TV and another man came in and put the channel onto the only one showing something American, and it happened to be Good Will Hunting. Their kindness and generosity was overwhelming, and her chai was the most delicious I tasted in India, but it was difficult not to notice the coffin and wooden crosses half finished sitting on another bed just beside us. My friend and I got the nervous giggles when we were alone in the room for a moment and she whispered to me, “the next thing you know, we wake up in that coffin!”

The next thing we knew, we were actually totally awake (thank you chai) and she lead us back into her kitchen and then out through the back to a little mini farm. It was this amazing little house and it was easy to see she was so proud and happy to share and show us. No wonder the chai was so good, it had fresh goats milk.

The rain had subsided by then, so she sent us on our way with a truly memorable moment that had us full of cookies and tea, but also this other warm fuzzy feeling that I get just thinking about it. No words that any of us could understand were exchanged the entire time, I wish I could have learned more about them, but we communicated with smiles and nods, and that was enough.

Leigh Righton

One Year Today

Travel adventures.  I am feeling oh-so nostalgic as it was one year today that I jumped on a plane with Charlyne Yi and Jennifer Hee to embark upon a journey I couldn’t have possibly prepared myself for (although I sure tried)  Most people, including myself, assume that if you’re going to get ill on a trip it would be during your travels through Sri Lanka or India as your body tries to process new foods and new environments.  I however, found myself running around Los Angeles on my one day layover, trying to find a doctor who would accept my travel insurance and put a stop to the fever and general ailment that had me eyeing my proximity to the bathroom wherever I was.  Thanks to Charlyne, who selflessly used up her day to prepare for our five week adventure, to help me resolve this issue before we had to sit on a 16 hour flight.

This trip was over a year in the making between the three of us and Nick Hindman at Orphan Sponsorship International, who generously hosted and planned our visit with the kids.  Charlyne and I had only just got to know each other when she extended an invitation for me to join her and Jenn on this trip that they were planning together.  I knew Jenn was amazing when she welcomed me along as a travel buddy without every having met me.  The first time I saw her in person was when we got in line at the LAX airport to check in together for our flight.  I felt like I already knew her well after all the time we spent chatting and making arrangements over email.

Fortunately, for everyone, my symptoms were cleared by the time I stepped onto our 16 hour flight to Dubai en route to Sri Lanka.  It felt like a miracle, and surprisingly not one of us got sick the entire 5 weeks.  I guess I just got it out of the way!

I could write a million stories about this trip, but for now, here’s a little montage of our adventure that Charlyne created.  It gives me memory goose bumps.

Leigh Righton, Photography

Two Girls – India

I have so many stories from my trip to Sri Lanka and India last October that I guess you could say I’ve been saving them up, hoping to find the right outlet. Even with all these months passed since my return, I still find myself at a loss as to where to begin and what to share.  I am still digesting it all, 8 months later.

I am working on an exhibition to cover my work with the kids in the Sri Lanka and India Orphan Sponsorship International programs, but while that may still be months down the road, I’ve felt compelled to start sharing parts of my journey now.  I can’t tell you why I’m starting with these images, my library from our adventures is full and diverse, but you’ve got to start somewhere and for no known reason at all, this is where I’ll begin.

In India we were  introduced to a group of 42 beautiful young girls involved with the OSI program in India.  These two girls were not a part of the program, but they had snuck into the big open room where we were getting to know the OSI girls.   I had just given a few girls some point-and-shoot cameras and was watching them start to practice.  At one point, I noticed these two girls sitting off to the side watching.  I walked over to them, said hello and giggled with them for a few minutes.  For some reason I found smiles and laughter to be a common way for me to introduce myself to the kids I met there, it worked well since we couldn’t communicate with each other with out native languages.  These two were very sweet and smiley, and pretty quickly they jumped up and waved me over to another area of the building. With every step they would  look over their shoulders to check that I was still with them. They made sure I saw everything in the room by pointing around at each object.  Then they had me walk with them through an arched doorway that felt a little like a hidden cave.  This is where they stood proudly and rather epically. This was obviously the big deal room, even though it was small, it felt important. After the short tour we headed back up to the group.  A few minutes later I saw one of the program facilitators ask them to leave.  Woops, I think I got them in trouble…





Leigh Righton, Photography

2013 Applied Arts Award Winner!

I’m very honoured and excited to be included as one of the 2013 Applied Arts Award winners for the image below in the Personal Photography category.  This photograph was taken while visiting the India program of Orphan Sponsorship International during house visits to children in a slum community.

The true value for me in this award is to share the amazing work that OSI is doing in India & Sri Lanka.  This image represents so much to me in regards to my amazing experiences with the kids and what I hope to achieve by continuing my photo project with them.

The image will be published in the May/June Photography & Illustration issue.  Congrats to all the award winners!

Applied _5071

Leigh Righton

Video – Orphan Sponsorship International

This may be more of a memory keepsake for myself and travel companions and the kids we worked with in Sri Lanka and India, but I think the smiles and joy is contagious!  Thank you to Nick Hindman of Orphan Sponsorship International for having us and helping us, and thanks Jennifer Hee and Charlyne Yi for being the best travel buddies ever!

Video by Charlyne Yi:

Leigh Righton, Photography

Orphan Sponsorship International- Photo Project

To those who aren’t familiar with my current travels and the project I’m involved with, here’s a little rundown.

While this trip has been in the making for almost two years, my two friends and I have finally joined in Sri Lanka and now India to visit with and work with Orphan Sponsorship International. We began in Sri Lanka where we stayed in an apartment alongside the 10 wonderful kids who live in the boarding house created by OSI.  Nick Hindman is the founder of the organization, and a true hero.  I wish I could find the words to describe how selfless and inspiring this man is.

Before I traveled I reached out to my friends and the online community asking for any old point and shoot cameras that were collecting dust to be donated to a project I wanted to do with the kids.  Thanks to these generous people, I was able to put 6 cameras in the hands of eager kids across the world.

Our time in Sri Lanka was much more intense, we were able to see the kids whenever they weren’t in class and were able to spend a lot of time getting to know them and working with them more closely.  We learned one of their dances and picked up a few words, it was a learning exchange.  I showed the kids some photography and my friend worked on music with them.

During our visit in Pune India with the program there, we had a more limited opportunity to spend with the girls.  Here there was no boarding house, but a program in place that worked with 42 kids within the Janata Vasahat slum community.  We were able to join them on a number of their activities, and one FULL field trip day into the India country side.  We were also honored to be invited into their homes where we visited some of their families and met with the kids one on one, what an experience!  I was able to work with four of the 42 kids in the group on this photo project and their eyes sparkled when they took hold of the cameras, it was so much fun to work with them, even with the limited time we had together.

Both the boarding house in Sri Lanka and the girls in Pune India were given the cameras to continue the project.  I am hoping to follow up in a future trip to continue our workshops and work together.

When I return home I will begin to work on the next phase of the project and I look forward to sharing it with you!