China’s One Child Policy is a Two child policy!

Posted: October 30th, 2015

Congratulations to China on this momentous day; or dare I say it  ‘great leap forward’. China has announced that the one child policy is now a two child policy; so says the BBC. I thought It would be a nice occasion to publish some of the pictures from a story done a few years ago made with writer Katy Regan where we explored the policy pretty much coming to the conclusion that things would need to change; read more here.


Big Cats, New Shoes and Police Corruption: Three Weeks in Kenya.

Posted: September 1st, 2014

Today’s Guardian’s Global Development site  is publishing  a story I produced ( with Journalist Zoe Flood ) looking at the extraordinary conditions for the mothers and children  of Eldoret in Kenya forced to scrape a living from the municipal dumps.

Kenya , Eldoret Dump – Living and Working  in Poverty

FlorenceKhalumbia (46) With daughter Alice (7 ) lives just 50 metres from the “California” dumpsite in a one-bedroom hut with her five children. None of the children go to school – she feels that it’s better that they stay home and help their family to earn a living. Eldoret’s main Dump nick named by the locals, ironically, as ‘California’ is home toa community of Kenyans who make their living here recycling plastic, metal charcoal and even scavenging for food either for themselves or for their pigs. The average adult here earns about 150 -200 Kenyan shillings (£1-1.30) The consequences for those who work here on a regular basis including woman and children as young as 7 is tough; with disease, injury, substance abuse and even the threat of violence an everyday reality. 


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Phrases I’m unused to hearing include, ‘Louis get in the car there is a Hyena behind you!” Or “Close the windows or the monkeys will get in”( they did) . I am not used to this level of wildlife.  This is the first time I have been to Kenya. I am here on assignment but am squeezing in a family Safari. Highlight of the trip to the world famous Masai Mara game reserve includes having tea with a lion ( well almost). We got as close as the jackal and vulture waiting nearby, anyway, as you can see here…

A Lion With its kill, sleeping off its meal, in the Masai Mara

A Lion With its kill; Check  more on Instagram #louisquail


The Work With charity Mary’s Meals

Africa is an amazing country with some amazing places to visit and wonderful people but also complex problems. One of the reasons for my visit is to document the work of Mary’s Meals.

Their charity’s mission is simple: to feed children in schools. In places where there is extreme poverty like Eldoret, this means children who would otherwise be forced by their parents to work, instead of attending school, have the advantage of being fed and educated at the same time. Buying food accounts for the majority of the weekly wage for poor families so for them it’s a no-brainer. The children get fed and educated and very often, respite from some tough conditions at home.

A teacher working in one of the supported schools offered an explanation as to why Monday was the favorite day of the week for one child: “For this seven year old, Monday lunch was probably his first meal since the last day he attended school on the Friday.” In chaotic households, with parents often using drink and drugs, the children often have to fend for themselves.

Me and the journalist were won over pretty quickly by two of the girls who would go to school during the week and work the dumps over the weekend .

Lucy Wambui (13 ) photographed in one of the classrooms at Attnas Kandie School.

They are included in the feature. Bright, cheeky and ambitious, ( ‘ I am going to be a journalist like you when I grow up”) Lucy even had the nerve to ask for a pair of shoes. One has to be very careful to avoid such obvious requests for handouts because of unforeseen ramifications; and it can be frowned upon.  So of course we said yes.

Shoes for Lucy  and Sarah

Shoes for Lucy and Sarah

It was worth it and then some, to see the look of pleasure on Sarah and Lucy’s faces.

In our report we concentrated on the mothers forced to work the dumps of Eldoret to make a living. We worked largely on the main dump. It never occurred to me there would be a problem covering an important story with an established charity; until of course we were picked up by the police.

This ended the photography at the dump, something to do with the right papers, blah blah, permission, etc etc. Ultimately, someone somewhere was looking for a handout . I suspect money exchanged hands simply so the charity could continue its work, or face the possibility of  being kicked out of the country. NGOs and their reputation for fair play are not always welcome in a country famous for corruption.

Don’t take my word for it Here is a link to an article to a friend of mine about Police corruption. Apparently the police kill more people than even the armed robbers .

What I did discover was that Kenyans do not get the best deal from their government and the work of charities like Mary’s Meals is still vital. What I also learned, is that despite many risks there are many Kenyans campaigning against injustice in Kenya.I was fortunate enough to meet and photograph several brave and tenacious activists. Boniface Mwangi , well known for his anti corruption activism, is one of the most well known. He is pictured here at the offices of his company . Forced into some kind of retirement for his own safety, he is directing his energy into art as an instrument for social change.

Boniface Mwangi poses on the roof terrace of the office at PWA254.

Boniface Mwangi poses on the roof terrace of the office at PWA254.

Like I said Kenya is an amazing if complex country. My time here was mixed: uplifting, shocking and inspiring in equal measure. But perhaps the best memories are those of the Masai Mara. As this is ( predominantly) a British audience, maybe it is fitting to  end ( in practice with internet tradition) with a picture of a cat.


China, A Travelogue.

Posted: September 23rd, 2011

In April this year, I set off to China to complete a story on the one child policy. I went with my son and my son’s mother (we are not together but we get on well and we wanted our son to have a family holiday). Holiday is not the right word really. We were to complete an assignment for Stella magazine (Fergus Mum, Katy, is a journalist, that’s how we met); a travel story for at least two magazines, the deal was that we would also find time to be tourists with our child. It was not going to be a picnic, or really a holiday for that matter, but we hoped it would be a little adventure.

Did I mention we were also going to throw in four provinces, interview and photograph twelve families? Not really that relaxing then! We were also dealing with a child who is jet-lagged and desperate for fish fingers. In a country where there are virtually no English speakers ( even in the hotels) or even English signs. It was a challenge at times.

It worked though, we managed to have a great time, even though Fergus was jet lagged for a week…..We had to point to food in photographs quite often,( it’s hard to tell donkey from beef in a picture you know but then we thought it was about time Fergus expanded his diet)  And he did. Duck was added, donkey maybe, and lots of other strange things of which I can’t tell you the names. Dim Sum in Hong Kong was a highlight, you get to choose food from waiters wheeling trollies of exotic delights. In Shandong, however, they eat pickled cabbage for breakfast –  what’s that all about –  and no coffee., would you believe it? This was an outlandish and hostile environment to be working in.

On the plus side they did have this great food concept called ‘hotpot’ where you pick and cook the food you want to eat on the table – for example lobster. Very often, restaurants were like an aquarium. This is a definite plus for two parents trying to entertain a six-year-old boy.

China, like the food, is a country of extremes. In a third world country where the average income is equivalent to that of the  Republic of Namibia, who could imagine cities like Shenzhen? A commercial metropolis exploding from nowhere  – twenty years ago it was a fishing port – Or Beijing where four lane superhighways and gleaming skyscrapers have almost erased all the history of an ancient city in the time it takes to decide that an ancient culture is almost irrelevant. (I think they were lucky to hang on to the Forbidden city and managed this only because of the economics of tourism.) Planning permission is not an obstacle for development in China.

It’s a ruthlessly pragmatic communist country where the bottom line is more brutal than in Wall Street. If the Americans put the $ into CAPITALI$M then the Chinese put the ¥ into MONE¥. Every thing has a price, its not surprising they are tipped to be the world’s next super power. I guess corporations are all mini dictatorships so when China embraced capitalism it had all the systems in place to be one vast, Chinese Corporation.

But in China there is always the antidote. An overnight and evocative train ride away from Shenzhen and you are in the rural province of Guangxi.  Even though I had to pay every time I wanted to photograph a water buffalo around the ultra touristy Yangzhou, it was hard not be seduced by the amazing iconic mountain ranges along the River Li, and even bartering on the streets of this reassuringly quaint Chinese equivalent of Windermere was great fun.

Back on the river, we discovered that having a picture taken with a cormorant fisherman was also chargeable. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry really, the octogenarian even had his own business card but then in China, economic success is progress of a sort, why work all day to get a few fish when you can make £15 in two hours? Especially as there is no state pension. Still, how many British six year olds get to pose with a real life piece of Chinese history? The photo we have of Fergus on board the Cormorant fisherman’s raft, is one to treasure.

Down the road In Guilin though I was happy to part with my Yuan when I picked up some lovely Chinese paintings after a demonstration of this ancient art form in the museum, we even had a stamp carved with Fergus name on and Fergus taught the technique by a master artist, a personal highlight of the trip.

So there you are: China: ancient and modern, crass and cultured, rich and poor, communist and capitalist, and is  a country where despite many similarities with western culture, is truly an exotic, mystical place, full of surprises.

In between all the touristy stuff above we did manage to complete the intended assignment, which I will publish in the next blog:  ‘China in Our Hands’ a report on the One Child Policy. Fergus was my mini assistant, carrying my equipment, loading film and so forth. Ha! Was he heck, but he did play with the children and our ‘only’ child was a great ice breaker for all the families we met with their ‘only children’ so really very helpful.

I hope he will have fond memories of this trip, after all he got  to see pandas, climb the Great Wall, meet a cormorant fisher man, bike along the river Li, catch minnows at Splendid China (a huge miniature recreation of all of china’s amazing sites )but maybe not  quite as many as I would hope. After retuning he had a weekend with his grand parents pottering around the shores of North West Lancashire.  “Dad” he said, “I had a great time in China, but I had a better time with nana and granddad.” Brilliant!