Six down, twenty to go.
When Ashley Cooper and Filip Cederholm of Peace Love and Photography started their ABC Charity project last year, they had only the vaguest inklings of the adventure that lay ahead. The concept was simple: A human alphabet, formed by hundreds of children gathered in a scenic location. One letter per country. Sell the prints and donate the proceeds to children's charities.
A couple of roadblocks sprang up; an uncooperative waterfall and an injured back that set the couple's schedule back several months. But the end of 2013 has seen them roar forward with three letters staged in Europe and the Caribbean, and 2014 finds Cooper and Cederholm looking to continue their odyssey through Asia with one new letter each month. From the perspective of snowbound office workers trudging through a slog of a commute beset by the polar vortex, the sheer tonnage of world the two have experienced over the last several months alone is an enviable aspiration. But it's never been about witnessing exotic sunsets or far-flung vistas, nor is it even about creating pieces of art.
After staging the letter "C" in Sweden, the couple moved on to the "D" in Germany, where 400 schoolchildren gathered in a lush field of verdant grass in front of the Alps and Neuschwanstein Castle. Next saw 300 kids gathered inside a 15th Century mountain fort, 300 meters above sea level in Croatia, to form the "F" -- smaller location, smaller letter. However, the hole in the alphabet would not linger for long, as the "E" took shape on a beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, with the support of an unexpected celebrity ally: New York Rangers goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist, who sponsored the event along with his wife Therese and their friend Sam Giertz, says that what he loves about the project is "that it's kids helping kids." The letter events are full day happenings with food, music and entertainment, aimed at getting kids all over the world, regardless of income or social status, engaged with the idea of helping others.
From Ashley Cooper's perspective, the ABC Charity is on the verge of blossoming into a global movement, as the couple are beginning to see an outpouring of support and awareness that has taken years to incubate.
It's a huge change from the first letters where it felt like more of a struggle to get people involved. Proof of this is all the people we have contacting us -- from volunteers and teachers to the kids themselves, saying what an honor and life experience it was. What keeps us going is actually reaching people and starting to prove, even to ourselves, that together we can make a difference.
The theme of connection, of teaching children who, in some cases, have never had the means to venture beyond the confines of their hometown that they are an integral part of a global community -- and have the power to impact that community, through the smallest of actions -- remains a driving force. It's one that resonates wherever the couple travels, and transcends both borders and languages.
Half of the 500 children who gathered on the Punta Cana beach came from a school supported by "Together for Better," a charity operated by Ebba Lovenskiold, which works to secure the right to education for youth in need. Some of the kids had never walked on the beach before, even though they lived only 15 minutes away. Cooper's emotion is palpable as she talks about them seeing the beach for the first time, and the caring shown by the more privileged children who also participated. And she is quite humble when the discussion turns to the notion that the memories of the events have been entrenched in those young minds with as much clarity and permanency as the sublime photographs they have helped to produce.
We've received messages from kids, parents and teachers saying that their kids are so proud to be a part of this project. The kids from South Africa are still talking about our event there [the "A" on Blauberg Beach] a year and a half later, and [she blushes at this] some even remember the sandwiches our volunteers made for them.
This past week, the couple staged the "G" with 500 children from the Klong Ji Lad School in Krabi, a small scenic town on the west coast of southern Thailand. The next two letters are planned for the rice fields of Vietnam, and the famous Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, with hoped-for stops in Singapore and Nepal to follow. Summer will see them back in England with a second attempt to do a letter at the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters in Sussex, with Cooper and Cederholm steadfast in their commitment to their goal of completing the alphabet by December of 2016. After Thailand, it's seven down, nineteen to go, and an ever-increasing trail of goodwill and hope behind them.
To learn more about Ashley and Filip's journey and find out how you can help, please visit www.peaceloveandphotography.tv or www.abccharity.org.