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I was walking around the courtyard of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China. For as far as the eye can see, men played checkers between the columns that line the corridors in the entrance to the temple while women did Tai Chi in the grass and children played nearby. I remember being so energized by getting to witness this expression of culture that I had never seen before.
I went around snapping pictures and asking to take people’s portraits in very bad Chinese. I remembering saying to my friend Danielle, “I could do this forever!” to which she responded, “and you will!” And this is the moment that I remember thinking for the first time that I could actually pursue using media to share culture, bridge gaps, and tell stories of beauty from around the world.
I think that we as humans constantly run the risk of turning inward. By this, I mean that we can easily slip into the trap of focusing on ourselves. I don’t know if it’s all our fault. Our individualist culture raises us to think about ourselves, our goals, passions, desires, and futures.
But all we really want, I believe, on the simplest level, has to do with others — helping others, connecting with others, highlighting others, empowering others. There’s something really beautiful and almost transcendent that happens when you get past ourselves and focus on someone else. Photography helps me do this. My camera allows me to -- quite literally -- focus on someone else.
When I’m photographing people, everything falls to the background and I get moments of connection with others that are different than anything else that I’ve ever experienced.
I once heard that all the problems in the world can be traced back to not seeing others as our “neighbor.” Maybe this is overly simplified, but I think there’s a lot of truth to it. I think for a really long time — for lack of information, or accessibility, or ignorance — we have been content to label people we didn’t know as the “other” and turn a blind eye to their problems.
But because of social media, we live in the age of Palestinian YouTubers and Israeli fashion bloggers. We can, in a very visceral way, engage in the daily lives of a Syrian graphic designers or a Kuwaiti writer. We now have ways of connecting with others we never could have in the past — people that we we can now see have personalities, interests, and struggles. We now have connections to people we otherwise would have had a vague or maybe even nonexistent understanding of, and it is through these connections that we can begin to see others as our neighbors.

These photos were taken for a social enterprise that will soon be launched in Central Eastern India. They will be selling home goods such as soaps and candles produced on the same property as the orphanage in order to cover the expenses of the home and make it self-sustained as well as provide education for each child and salaries for the caretakers. For now, you can learn more or donate at Blessed International.

Anastasia Waltschew 

Anastasia is a documentary photographer from south Texas. She is a firm believer that beauty and human-to-human interaction are part of the antidote to poverty, division, and distrust. Her work seeks to challenge conventional thinking and inspire mutual understanding between peoples, especially in areas of conflict. Whether she’s here or abroad, she’s always in search of broadened horizons, new understandings, the best hummus, and the strongest chai.