Prize-winning photography student returns from life-changing UN internship
22 Feb 2011
When CIT student Pamela Martin won an internship with the United Nations in East Timor for her environmental photography she knew she would get to see what life is like in one of the world's poorest nations, but she certainly didnít imagine she'd get to experience it so closely.
The day after she'd been photographing at the Dili hospital, however, she found herself back there, this time as a patient.
"Ending up back there was really scary," Pamela, 37, says back in Canberra, her internship cut short due to a wrist she broke when she slipped during a photo shoot at a monument in Suai on East Timor's western border.
"I walked up to the monument, which has about 15 stairs on it, to photograph the names of the people in Suai who had been killed in the 1999 massacre. So I did a close-up of some of their names and it was the wet season and they have those slippery tiles all through Asia."
Her two wrist bones were snapped and her $6000 camera was smashed in the fall but with no X-ray machine in the district she had to wait until the following day before she could be flown to Dili on a UN helicopter to be taken to the hospital.
"They don't have a lot of drugs and they don't have the best facilities but they did they best they could."
Pamela says she had the comfort of knowing she was travelling to Darwin the next day for further treatment but she realised that for the East Timorese being treated at Dili Hospital is as good as it gets.
"I just started becoming aware of everyone else around me - that's their medical treatment, thatís all they get."
Talking to the student doctors there Pamela heard horrifying stories about injuries sustained in a desperately poor country where the water is polluted and families rely on wood-burning stoves.
"A lot of the children die from dehydration because they don't have clean water and they have a lot of third degree burns in that hospital because many East Timorese don't have electricity," Pamela says.
As a result of her experiences, she plans to hold an exhibition of her works to raise funds for Dili Hospital.
"That's why I do photography, I guess, because I really love that aspect of it - that I can go somewhere and have this experience and take photos and then I can take it back to people who may never go there and build awareness around issues that are important to me and should be important to other people."
With one more semester to go before completing her degree, Pamela is also building an impressive portfolio in environmental photography. She has photographed humpback whales in Tonga and last year spent five weeks in the Azores photographing sperm whales after gaining hard won permission from the Portuguese Government.
"That was a fantastic experience as well, I've just been very lucky."
With an adventurous spirit and real talent, Pamela, who already has a degree in graphic design and currently runs a spa and pool business with her mum, is well on her way to turning what was once a hobby into a vocation.
"I just really want to inspire people to walk in my shoes and see what I see," she says.