It’s no secret that our childhood experiences profoundly influence our paths in life. Colorado-based photographer Sean Boggs had an opportunity to see that in practice and lend his own helping hand. Sean has known Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra pretty much all his life and watched him create a non-profit that benefits underserved young girls in India.
Ashok, the founder of Ninash.org, was a close friend of my father’s and I grew up watching him build this foundation. I was inspired by him and the work he and his wife did. He had an exciting student travel program where he brought students to India to help build schools in remote villages. I always wanted to go but never had the money. It was $3000 at the time, if I remember correctly. So, I’ve known about Ninash since probably middle school.
Ninash is named after Ashok’s first wife, Nina, who passed soon after beginning the process to help rural girls in the lowest caste of Indian society. After Nina died, Ashok took the reins and was soon joined by his next wife, Linda Drake, another woman dedicated to helping younger generations.
Nina is part of the namesake of Ninash as she died of cancer not long after launching herself into educating the untouchable girls of rural India. Ashok took over and started Ninash. The word Ninash is half Nina and half Ashok. Ashok is married again to a wonderful woman who shares the passion for educating and feeding the kids, Linda Drake.
Linda is a driving force of getting things done. Ashok is now in his late 70s and is not only the inspiration for everyone but has made promotion of literacy among female and minority children as his mission in life.
In less than a month, Sean explored numerous parts of north India, visiting three schools and covering hundreds of miles in the process. Indians are renowned for their hospitability, something Sean — who still keeps in touch with many of the people he met — discovered firsthand.
India is a dream. I loved traveling there and met the coolest people. The beautiful Indian culture of hospitality allowed intimate access into everyday lives that were so different from our own, and a camera is always a passport to culture and adventure. It was a dream for an environmental portrait maker.
I have around 20 people that I regularly correspond with on social media and a half dozen full-on family friends that I made there that will last forever.
While enjoying plates of delicious food and drinking more tea in one month than he’d had in his entire prior life, Sean captured the beauty of a place he’d never been to before. Because of Dr. Malhotra’s contacts, Sean was able to begin his day by photographing children in the streets and ending with shooting a royal princess in a palace that same night! You know then you’re on a special adventure.
One of my favorite places to be is photographing people with whom you share no verbal language.
Employing young locals to run lights and help out, employing real people in real places all with hand signals and honest eyes. It’s so basic and so much fun.
But Sean was there on business as well, getting imagery of Ninash’s growing network of schools. The foundation works with the Indian government of Gujarat to fund the salaries of teachers as well as children’s needs at the Kuran school. The school is open to helping 385 children from all backgrounds. However, Ninash’s schools in Mahapura and Dundlod with more than 1100 children are supported by the Ninash Foundation and compassionate donors from India and USA.
There are three locations with six different schools — three elementary and three high schools.
It’s the people and the way they live their lives that most stuck with Sean, who ended our conversation with a wonderful anecdote about the generosity of his new friends. He made it clear that, though he has much of the world still to see for the first time, he’ll be going back as soon as he can.
In Kuran, Gujarat, I stayed with my friend Ram Gusai, the Hindu headmaster of the school. In the early morning when he went out to pray and make an offering, I accompanied him. The local community has built a small Hindu temple. His offering was to clean the temple and put out flowers. On the way there I saw a woman feeding birds, and afterwards we photographed men feeding cows. Every day, a Hindu’s first move is to take care of someone else’s needs. Streets dogs, ants, cows, birds, and other people — I remember that with a kind of admiration. A strong philosophy to take with me back to the U.S!
Check out more of Sean’s work on his website.