Local photographer seeks to help victims of land mines

Before Christopher Briscoe left for Thailand last month, he took his son, Quincy, to see the latest Rambo movie about a mission to rescue Americans kidnapped by violent rebels in Myanmar, the very area Briscoe was headed. When Quincy told him not to go, Briscoe brushed off his son's concerns, saying it was just a movie.

But when he arrived at the border between Thailand and Myanmar, he learned the film hit so close to home that the Myanmar government had banned it.

"Unfortunately, most of us in America just see it as another silly Rambo movie," Briscoe said. "It's a dark place."

The violence was so bad that Briscoe spent only one day in Myanmar, and he had to leave his passport at the border and be out by 5 p.m. He split the rest of his month-long journey between Thailand and Cambodia, visiting overflowing refugee camps and meeting children maimed by land mines left over from Pol Pot's 1970s regime. He returned with a cache of pictures he hopes to turn into a book that will ultimately help the people he met along the way.

Despite the bleak environment, the only grumpy people Briscoe met seemed to be foreigners, he said. When he pulled out his camera and battery-operated printer, crowds flocked around him, eager to be photographed, many for the first time in their lives.

"It was one of the many times in my life that I didn't take my craft for granted," he said. "For me to preserve their families' lives on a piece of paper made me as grateful as they were."

As he snapped photos, Briscoe began to notice the people he met had much more in common with his typical, wealthy clients than he once thought.

"There's a universality I saw a lot there," he said, pointing out a picture of a young refugee boy dancing around in a superhero's cape.

"Just like any other boy around the world who wants a cape, he wants to have special powers and be able to fly," Briscoe said.

Later, he noticed a woman who lived at a dump site sitting in a pile of ash with her children, removing labels from cans so they could be recycled.

"I couldn't understand what she was saying," he said, "but they were laughing and playing and working together, and it was the same feeling I had seen working at the Congressional Country Club in Washington D.C. It was the same kind of love."

In the week he has been back, Briscoe said he has questioned everything he does, down to the amount of electricity his house consumes even when he is not there. He is planning to create a coffee table book of the images he captured to spread awareness and raise funds for the children he met. All proceeds of the book will go to Project Enlighten, a small Yreka, Calif. nonprofit that operates a school in Cambodia and funds scholarships for land mine victims.

"Christopher ... his idea and his willingness to help, I'm just humbled," said Asad Rahman, a firefighter who founded Project Enlighten after his own eye-opening trip to Cambodia five years ago. Although Briscoe and Rahman were in contact before Briscoe's trip, they met face-to-face only after Briscoe's return.

"I'm amazed at his kindness and generosity, and excited about where it's going to go," Rahman said.

Briscoe said he hopes to have the book finished in 30 days, and he is already planning a return trip with his son in July, so he can see for himself what Briscoe says woke him up after so many years.

"I love my country. I love my town. But after going there, I feel like I've been asleep for 20 years, asleep to the struggles of other people around the world," he said.

"This whole story is about struggle; it's about hope and the universal idea that people just want to take care of their families and trying to have a better future."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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