Images that Inspire
By Janet Eastman
When Fred Stockwell returns to Jacksonville early this month, he will feel as if he’s visiting a foreign land. That’s because the respected photographer has spent almost three years in Thailand, helping people who live in a garbage dump. Time away from the Rogue Valley has changed his life.
And he has the photographs to prove it.
Stockwell will be exhibiting his photographs at South Stage Cellars’ Tasting Room from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9. He has been invited by the winery’s owners, Don and Traute Moore, and their son Michael, to talk about his “one man Peace Corps” –how Stockwell stumbled upon 400 desperate Burmese refugees living in a garbage dump a few miles outside of Mae Sot, Thailand and discovered that bringing them the most basic items of food, clothing and medical supplies has saved lives.
Stockwell has since increased his efforts, improving the water system, distributing blankets and mosquito netting, and helping to restore a makeshift school. But at the end of the day he realizes that buying a $1 pair of rubber boots for a barefoot child is as powerful an act of humanity as any larger project.
Before moving to Thailand in January 2008, Stockwell was an aerial photographer who had lived in Rogue River, then Ashland since 1994. A story about his past and present life was the cover story of the September issue of the Jefferson Monthly, a magazine published by JPR, the regional National Public Radio station.
Readers of the story who knew Stockwell and those who didn’t are now offering to help the men, women and children who have escaped the slave camps, genocide and civil war of Myanmar, also known as Burma. These Burmese are illegally living in Thailand and hide in the dump. Throughout the day, garbage trucks empty piles of rubbish on the land and the Burmese pick through the heaps to salvage materials they can use to build flimsy shelters. They also hunt for plastic bags and bottles they can recycle for money.
Stockwell will spend October in Oregon. He is hoping to meet with small and large groups of students, church members, service club groups and anyone who is interested in learning more about the people he feels responsible for helping, people he refers to as “gentle, generous Buddhists with high moral values and extremely strong family bonds.” Then Stockwell will return to Mae Sot to continue the work he has taken on.
The Moore family heard about Stockwell’s volunteer work and offered to host a free event at their Tasting Room.
“It’s inspiring to hear how Fred has put his life on hold to help people who are so in need,” says Michael Moore. “And it’s uplifting to learn how through his work, each of us can directly help. We’re very honored to be hosting this event.”
On display during the event will be some of the hundreds of images of the refugees Stockwell shot at their request. He will give a short talk about what he’s seen and answer questions.
Signed prints of Stockwell’s photographs will be available for purchase, with all the money going to help the Burmese refugees he has befriended. There will also be a pair of rubber boots, the kind that Stockwell buys for $1 and gives to the children of the dump. Anyone wishing to contribute toward buying more boots can put change inside the boots.
As Stockwell says, “A small amount of help at the right time can go a long way.”