When we last checked in with Ashley Cooper and Filip Cederholm of Peace Love & Photography in 2012, they had completed the first two letters of their "ABCharity Project" -- an ambitious endeavor bringing together hundreds of children in 26 different countries to form the alphabet in a series of striking photographs at natural wonders, attracting the attention of such notable supporters as South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu. "A" took shape on South Africa's Blauberg Beach, and "B" on Namibia's Swakopmund Dunes. The "C" was scheduled to be captured with 500 kids from Zambia and Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls on September 21st, the International Day of Peace. Sponsors were in place, local officials and tourist boards had pledged their support, and then... a spanner fell into the works.
After a hot summer, the falls dried up. The couple were forced to decamp to Sweden for three months to give the weather a chance to improve. Then, four days before their scheduled return to Africa, Cooper suffered a herniated disc that would ultimately require seven months of recuperation. After such a long delay, and having to fund their project through here-and-there freelance work, one might forgive the couple for moving on; after all, holding the first two events alone would be a remarkable achievement for anyone. But this past May 27th, another 550 children gathered in a vibrant canola field in Trelleborg, Sweden to stand together as the next phase of this globe-spanning, picturesque adventure. Twenty-three letters to go.
Cooper is philosophical about having to go off-script. "If there is one thing this trip has taught us, it's to never get defeated, but to just change strategies. Our determination and positivity far outweigh the obstacles in our way and this has been an uplifting realization amidst all of the chaos." To that end, the couple whose promotional material boasts that they have no plan have... changed plans. They have purchased a camper van they intend to live out of and drive from Sweden to Vietnam, "or as far as we can get with it." The hope, beginning in July, is to stage the next five letters in Europe, one letter and country per month, moving on through Asia including Vietnam and Nepal, and from there through Australia and the South Pacific. They will then hop the ocean and drive north through the Americas, finishing with the "Z" in two years' time at the troublesome Victoria Falls. Once complete, prints of the entire alphabet will be made available for purchase, with all proceeds going to children's charities.
Even with a renewed enthusiasm, and the help of new financial partners like Swedish courier service Ryska Posten, Cooper and Cederholm recognize that the path ahead is a long one, and many challenges await; a dried-up waterfall and an injured back are in some respects only the first in a series of what are certain to be daunting hurdles, especially as they travel through some of the more troubled parts of the planet. However, Cooper affirms that the vision continues to drive her and her partner, and they have found a way to incorporate the occasional stumble into the message they are trying to convey. "The journey is more about inspiring and helping others, as well as completing the alphabet. Obstacles are a great thing because they will become a part of our documentary film and will hopefully show that no matter what comes in your way, if you have focus, determination and a dream you can achieve anything. Even my back was a blessing in disguise as both Filip and I had been going 24/7 since we met, never taking weekends and putting 110 percent into the project. So the rest did both of us good and now we are back and better than ever, so lots of good things are to come."
Those good things will begin at the Cliffs of the Seven Sisters in East Sussex, England, where the "D" will be staged and where Cooper and Cederholm are at present looking for volunteers and promotional partners. And their persistence is starting to generate more media attention: they were contacted by New York-based Yahoo! Studios, who requested to film the couple for an episode of their in-production web series Up Beat, which focuses on people using innovation and creativity to change the world. Cooper says she is amazed by the amount of help she and Cederholm have received, especially when they are not exactly household names, but just two young people with an enormous amount of drive and determination. "It seems that when you take the focus off yourself and put it on others you are somehow provided for in a way you could have never imagined."
The vision of Peace Love & Photography is entirely about putting the focus onto others; in fact, their website speaks about a goal of making a caring lifestyle as appealing a dream as becoming a rock star, and inviting others to take up the gauntlet Ashley Cooper and Filip Cederholm have thrown down. "If we have advice for anyone who is inspired by our work," Cooper says, "be clear about your vision and goals, and no matter what, do not compromise your integrity. Things have a way of working out if you stay true to yourself, your vision and your purpose. It is a lot of hard work, and we have taken many risks, but the truth is we feel privileged to be working for a mission that is ours and that we can share with others around the world."
To learn more about Peace Love & Photography, the ABCharity Project and what you can do to help, please check out their website: http://www.peaceloveandphotography.tv/