Rising Senior’s Photojournalism Project Increases Awareness About Environmental Issues in Bangladesh

July 14, 2015
Photo of Bangladeshi School Children by Catherine Baltazar '16

As she enters her final year at Wellesley, it’s clear that Catherine Baltazar ‘16 has already found her passion: increasing awareness about environmental problems. An environmental studies and cinema and media studies major, Baltazar has helped to organize many initiatives on campus to draw attention to environmental issues, including last academic year’s Going Beyond Green lectures series. This summer, she’s been given the opportunity to take her passion for environmentalism even farther—all the way to Bangladesh.

During Wintersession 2014, Baltazar visited the Annenberg Space for Photography Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibit on display was Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change, which showcased the work of several photographers documenting how different societies are adapting to rising sea levels. Baltazar was particularly moved by the work of Jonas Bendiksen, whose photography depicted the adaptations of coastal communities in Bangladesh, a region plagued by destructive floods. Bendiksen became one of her favorite photographers, she said, "because he used his images to speak about an environmental issue that we lack conversation about." She decided that she would one day experience what was happening in the country firsthand.

Baltazar had experience with environmental advocacy at the local level and on Wellesley’s campus, but turned to the CWS for assistance with this bigger venture. They awarded her a grant to complete a self-designed photojournalism project of her own in Bangladesh this June, modeled after Bendiksen’s work.

While in Bangladesh, she is being hosted by the The Asia Foundation, an organization with offices in 17 Asian countries and Washington D.C. with the mission of improving the lives of people living in Asian countries. Baltazar is in their Environmental Program, which is helping communities in Bangladesh prepare for future flooding and other natural disasters by promoting resilience to climate-related changes. This organization will allow Baltazar to visit many of the country’s more vulnerable communities and see firsthand what they are doing to plan for the future.

Since arriving in Bangladesh, Baltazar has visited several different regions of the country, documenting everything from schoolchildren to harmful urban development. As a part of her partnership, the Asia Foundation is publishing some of her work to their official page. Baltazar isn’t due to leave Bangladesh until mid-August, so she has a little over a month to continue her efforts.

Baltazar said that her inspiration to pursue hands-on environmentalism comes from her friends and professors both at Wellesley and off campus; her goal is "to bring back images and write pieces on these communities who still need a voice." In addition, she said she wants to "inspire someone to take action and be an agent of change, like Bendiksen did for [her]."

Story by Jennifer Lyon-Mackie '18, Photo by Catherine Baltazar '16.