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  • Jean-Sébastien Duchesne

Maurice Henri: Cameras for Healing

Maurice Henri is a new breed of photographer. He is not driven by financial reward but by a genuine concern and passion for humanity.

Henri’s interest in photography began as a young man in 1977 while working as division manager at a Woolco store in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His love for the people and scenery of this beautiful province motivated him to pick up a camera and start shooting. When he realized that his hobby was becoming a passion, Henri upgraded his Instamatic to a more advanced camera system and a photographer was born.

Soon, Henri was living a double life. He spent 10 years working a day job in an optical business in Moncton while moonlighting as a photographer on the weekends. In time he was specializing in family portraits and weddings. In 1989 he finally decided to follow his heart. On a Friday afternoon, he resigned from his day job and the very next Monday morning opened his first studio. He ran the studio successfully until 2003 when he decided he wanted to travel more, meet new people, and photograph different locations.

Another turning point for Henri came in 2005 when he decided to join fellow photographer, friend, and mentor Freeman Patterson on a photographic excursion to South Africa. It was an incredible opportunity — two weeks of stunning landscape photography. Henri decided to stay behind for an additional two weeks to see and experience what really interested him, the villages and people of South Africa. He rented a four-wheel drive, hired a translator, and set off to explore.

Henri happened upon a small village in the mountains called Nourivier where he met a very special little girl named Sandouy. He knew there would be many hungry children in this village, so he took with him as much fresh fruit as he could to give them. Sandouy received an orange and made a lasting impression on Henri because she was more interested in hugging and smelling the rare delicacy then eating it. Henri spoke with her and eventually asked if she had a dream. What she replied changed his life forever. Her dream was for her village to have a school where she could learn to read and write and eventually, when she got older, she could take care of her village. Henri was so moved by this little girl’s story that, in the heat of the moment, he promised to help and build her the school she was dreaming of.

When the reality of what he had said sunk in, Henri panicked. How was he going to make this very big promise come true? The solution came to him during a fundraising event that helped launch the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. In one night almost $150 000 was raised by selling limited edition photographs from the trip to Africa. On that same night, Henri also sold a one-of-a-kind landscape photo for $10 000. This generous corporate sale is what built the promised school in Nourivier in 2006.

From the success of the Nourivier project, Cameras for Healing was born. Henri kept thinking of that little girl in Africa and all he wanted to do was help even more. He then spent time thinking and researching art therapy, trauma in Africa, and child soldiers, which eventually led him to a post-civil war Sierra Leone. In this country, 10- to 12-year-old boys had been kidnapped and brainwashed to become killing machines and girls had been forced into sex slavery by the rebel army. This brutal war ended in 2004 after 12 long years of pain and suffering.