We hear many inspiring stories from our customers and friends of Vanguard, but we thought we’d particularly like to share this one with you.
We chatted to Stephen Collins, a South West based photographer who is currently fundraising to complete the build of a school in Uganda for orphaned and vulnerable street children, inspired and named after his daughter Emily who lost her battle with bone cancer at the age of 26.
Tell us a little about Emily
Emily loved travelling and was amazingly competent at turning an adventure travel dream into a practical and affordable travel reality. I remember one Friday night her telling my wife, Sarah, and I shortly after she had finished a very long stint in hospital that she and a girl friend were going to India on Wednesday! She’d booked a flight, worked out an itinerary that would see her pack her rucksack and travel around India for 6 months on roughly £4 a day. That included travelling on buses, eating street food and and staying in cheap dormitory style accommodation. Bearing in mind that she had just been told that she probably only had 3 months to live it obviously came as a big shock to us.
It goes without staying that despite our reasoning she went anyway and we ended up meeting her Kolkata and travelling ‘her way’ for a couple of weeks to Varanasi! I’m not sure how she did it and managed to look so well and beautiful considering her health issues and her travelling conditions, but she did.
Emily (left) and her friend Helen at dawn on the River Ganges in Varanasi
While she was away she would spend hours on the phone to us. She and Sarah were always discussing food, while Emily and I talked horses and travel. When she was home I took hundreds of photographs of her and her friend’s horse
Emily enjoyed travelling so much, and wherever possible we tried to meet up with her. We travelled around Sri Lanka as a family and then left her there to volunteer in a school for deaf children for another 3 months. We also backpacked around Cambodia with her, and when she left on a bus to go to Vietnam we didn’t think we would ever see her again, but we did.
She was very skilful at packing and would manage to squeeze everything into a 55 litre Osprey backpack, with a 15 litre day pack for her personal things and passport to carry on her chest, and with that she travelled all around Australia, Asia, India and Nepal.
She even did a road trip through 10 countries in a lorry from Nairobi to Capetown and stayed and worked on a number of horse ranches in South Africa to earn her keep. She often fell ill and spent much time in hospitals around the world and was even flown home a couple of times as a medical emergency. Doctors everywhere were amazed that someone with such a poorly functioning heart still was still alive, never mind travelling through remote areas of the globe.
To record her journeys, Emily travelled with an old battered iPhone and a 35mm compact camera, taking thousands of photos. She kept all of her jpg files on SD cards, and carried them in a small bag in her rucksack, bringing home and sharing the memories. It didn't always work out though. Sadly on one trip to Sri Lanka, her bag was stolen and she lost all of her memories of the whole three months.
How did Emily come to help others, despite her health issues?
Emily was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was 16 and started an eight-month programme of chemotherapy intravenously into her heart. She underwent surgery to replace her left knee and part of her femur, and then completed her chemotherapy. Sadly the powerful drugs had damaged her heart and she suffered a stroke, and almost died. Another extensive period of hospitalisation followed and she was discharged with a severely damaged heart.
Defying medical advice and showing great courage, she travelled to Uganda and spent four months as a volunteer to help improve the lives of street children in Jinja, later returning to Uganda for five months where she met Martin
Duhimbaze, a social worker, in Rukungiri with a vision to save orphaned children from the terrors of living on the streets without provisions or protection. After returning, Emily stayed in close contact with Martin, sharing his vision, and although she wasn’t able to stay in Uganda, she returned to England determined to encourage her family and friends to support Martin’s efforts.
When she learned that he had rescued 8 children to remove them from danger and give them a chance in life, she persuaded more people to sponsor these
children. There are now over 120 children, with many of them being sponsored through Emily’s efforts. Martin has continued to develop this good cause into a fully regulated charity - Our Fathers House Ministries.
Through the years, Emily also volunteered in the Dominican Republic, South Africa and Sri Lanka. However, her heart was slowly getting weaker and on two or three occasions she was warned by her consultant that she could possibly only have 3 more months to live. Undaunted and undeterred, she continued to travel but eventually her heart could not keep up with the demands of her young body, and she died just after her 26th birthday in Ecuador in August 2017.
Her passing broke many hearts, including her friends and the children in Rukungiri, and the money raised at Emily’s funeral was donated to Martin Duhimbaze to enable him to buy land and animals to provide food and opportunities for the children. This was the beginning of our mission to help raise funds to build a school to help these children in memory of Emily.
Tell us about the school?
The school currently being built will eventually be three stories high, although we are trying really hard to get the ground floor finished and operating this year. We estimate it will cost approximately £120k to finish the ground floor completely, and so far just over £75k has been raised. When this first phase is complete, the builders will come back next year in school holidays and start building the first floor.
A lot of the original costs went into building the foundations, and then ensuring that ground floor roof was strong enough to support a total of three stories.
There are lots of photos from Martin of the manual building process but this week they have started putting in the windows and some doors which is wonderful news.
In memory of Emily’s commitment and efforts, Our Fathers House Ministries asked if they could name the school after her, the Emily Collins Schools. This is a lovely tribute, and I am determined to help carry on the vision that Martin and Emily first discussed so enthusiastically, to take orphaned and unprotected children off the streets and give them a chance in life.
How have you been raising funds to help towards the school building?
I had always been a keen amateur photographer from an early age and, indeed, I had a Halina 35x camera as a teenager and bought a Praktica 35mm with my first ever pay packet! As my wife Sarah will testify, many cameras and lenses have come and gone since!
Until this project to build the Emily Collins School became a reality I had never printed even one of my photographs, but following encouragement from friends, I put on a photographic exhibition and used the mounted prints to fundraise for the school by asking people to donate at least £25 per print. These prints are now available on my website to try to reach a wider audience.
We also turned 30 or so of my photographs into greetings cards, and we have been blessed with a generous local printer, ICG Cards, who allows us to give away a card in exchange for a donation of at least £1 per card, and still raise funds for the school, and we've given away around 1,500 cards so far. You can see the gift cards here, and 2021 Christmas cards are available here.
Another successful avenue of fundraising has been the production of wildlife calendars. I’ve printed three different versions for the past two years. One of harvest mice, one of birds and one of wildlife and they’ve all been very well received. They are printed A3 portrait on high quality stock, and we’ve sent them to donors in Australia, USA, Europe and Middle East as well as here in the UK. Again they are in exchange for a donation of £15 and 2022 calendars are available here with a choice of:
I also have a photographic studio in the garden and we’ve raised funds through family portraiture, but Covid-19 has kept that unusable since the outbreak. Hopefully we can get it going again soon.
More recently, an opportunity arose when I was asked to be the photographer for Pains Fireworks. As a result, I now travel to sports arenas taking photographs of their pyrotechnics in amazing settings. Mostly it has been sport related so far, but as a sports nut that works for me. They receive the photos they require and then they donate to the school for my work - a perfect symbiotic relationship perhaps.
I have also recently started highlighting the opportunities to just make a donation. This could be through sponsorship, such as as sponsoring a bench desk for the school children for £31, or just making a donation.
Since starting this, I've found people have been much more generous, and usually donate much more than the donation asked for. Indeed I think people love to give generously for a good cause, but sometimes they like something tangible as a reminder of their giving, and the cards and calendars are perfect in that regards.
Despite this, we’ve still got a way to go to raise enough funds to complete the ground floor by the end of 2021 when we plan to return to Uganda, let alone the need to raise funds for the additional floors. This means that most of my days are taken up with with either taking photographs to raise awareness, or for future prints, cards or calendars.
How can people help?
If they like any photos, calendars or greetings cards, or would like me to take photographs of or for them in the studio, or on location in exchange for donations to the Emily Collins School, then please contact me. Alternatively, they can make a donation, become a sponsor or a partner. Either way, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I don't take any expenses from the donations I receive. Every penny goes to Our Fathers House Ministries in Uganda to help build the Emily Collins School.
They can find out more on my:
How did Emily’s death influence your lives moving forward?
When Emily died in 2017, my wife Sarah and I decided to semi-retire and focus on travelling the world as Emily had done. I’d worked as an independent management consultant for almost 30 years and Sarah, although a qualified biochemist and marketeer, had been working as a personal tutor teaching French to people of all ages.
Our overseas travels since then have seen us backpacking to various areas of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru and while we were there we trekked over the the Andes to Machu Pichu.
We’ve also travelled the length and breadth of India by bus, train and plane, and we followed in Emily’s footsteps and hiked in the Himalayas in Nepal, before visiting Sattal in North East India.
We’ve also driven across Western Canada and Vancouver Island with our daughter Olivia and we all hiked in the Rockies, and even visited a glacier in
So as well as the aim to raise funds, Emily has inspired us to explore the world. Two amazing legacies.
What gear do you use?
I’m definitely a Canon man nowadays, although many years ago I was a follower of Lord Patrick Litchfield and David Bailey, so I used all Olympus gear. That changed about twenty years ago when I moved to Canon and have stayed with them ever since.
I mostly carry a 1DX Mark III and the 5D Mark IV with my zoom lenses ever present, but I also have a canon 500 F4 Mark II, an 85mm f4 for portraits, and an 100mm f2.8 for macro. I love the Canon range and it would be nice to have more options, but as I don’t have an income from photography I can’t really justify any more expenditure on gear from our savings.
I tend to travel with my Canon 5D Mark IV with my holy trinity of lenses (the 100-400mm, 24-70mm and 16-35mm) and 1.4 extender which usually gives me enough to cover most things. The downside of course it weight, especially when carrying extra batteries, chargers etc. and it feels even heavier when you’re hiking over the Himalayas, Andes or Rockies, or walking through the jungle in South America in 30° plus. However, the kit gives me the ability to take the shots I want, and not worry about missing one.
Since Emily had her bag with three months of photographs stolen, I’ve also carried a portable hard drive with me and upload them to that, and onto the internet wherever I can, although that can be terribly time consuming and slow when you’re travelling.
To carry this gear around my backpacks have fluctuated from hiking rucksacks to all the usual photographic main brands, but a couple of years ago I came across Vanguard at Birdfair, and since then I’ve bought various things from them including binoculars, a monopod and ball heads.
Now I’m moving to their backpacks and hard cases. I love the Supreme 53D roller case, and that gives me great confidence in keeping my gear safe wherever I take it, even if it has to go into the hold of an aeroplane. When we travel light though I tend to pack it into a tattered old rucksack so as not to draw attention to it.
As Sarah says… you can never have too many bags!
T&Cs for the free print competition on Facebook
To help share this story as widely as possible to (hopefully) help Stephen sell more images/cards and raise funds for the charity building the Emily Collins School, we are giving you the chance to win a print of your choice from Stephen’s website, with a set of gift cards for the two runners up.
All you need to do is “Like” and “Share” the Facebook post by Sunday 14th November and the winner will be announced in the comments on Tuesday 16th November 2021.
- For the chance to win the free print simply "Like" and "Share" the appropriate Facebook post by midnight on Sunday 14th November 2021
- First prize will be a print of your choice (see options here), and two runners up will receive a pack of gift cards each (gift cards can be seen here)
- The winners will be selected by VanguardPhotoUK and their decision is final
- The winners must have a UK delivery address
- The winners will be announced on the comments on Tuesday 16th November 2021
- The winner will need to private message VanguardPhotoUK, they will not be contacted separately
- The prize must be selected by 18th November to ensure a rapid delivery. In the event of confirming the prize after this date, delivery will not be made until the end of December.