Lima through a lens: A chat with Hayley MacMillen

Hayley MacMillen spent a month in Peru documenting light access issues.

Electricity is something most of us take for granted.  Charging a computer, turning on the kitchen lights, toasting a piece of bread…with the flick of a switch or the plug of a cord we have access to safe, reliable, constant, unending power.

This is not the case with many people living around the world today, as Hayley MacMillen discovered when she visited Peru in Summer 2011.  Through a Weinberg Grant, MacMillen traveled there to document, using video and photography, light access challenges among Peruvians in the nation’s capital. On Tuesday afternoon, she shared these experiences at Global Cafe’s Students in the Field series.

MacMillen, a philosophy major and global health studies minor, participated in the Global Health in Europe program last year.  The summer before, fellow global health minor Caity Callahan brought her an interesting proposition.  Callahan had been contacted by Novica, a company that sells handcrafted products online, about finding ways to provide light for artisans after daylight fades; she wanted MacMillen to document the process.  Without hesitation, MacMillen said yes.

“I basically spent my junior year taking as many journalism classes as I could, playing catch up so I could get there and know what the hell was going on,” she said.

By the time she arrived in Peru, she had a firm understanding of the journalistic issues at stake, as well as the kind of story she wanted to tell.  Though Novica had helped bring her down and was interested in getting a story on its micro-lending programs, MacMillen saw a conflict of interest in only reporting the story they wanted.  She decided instead to pursue the issues that interested her most: getting safe electricity to Peru’s poorer inhabitants.

“This is the more compelling story, this is the story that’s actually here, and this is the story that’s going to help me avoid those ethically murky areas,” she said of her decision at the time.

Throughout the next three weeks in Lima and a further five days in the Peruvian countryside, MacMillen learned a lot about electricity in Peru.  For one thing, the issues were very different in the city and the country.  In the city, where access was easy but electricity was expensive, many people simply piggy-backed off neighboring lines, but this was unreliable, illegal and sometimes even dangerous.  The country was a purer example of a lack of access, MacMillen said.

Through video and photography, conversations with artists and a personal blog, she recorded her experiences and interviews with the people she met.  Now that she is back in the United States, she is trying to figure out what to do with the thousands of photos on her computer and working on putting together her video essay.

“It’s really a documentary, but that just sounds so intimidating,” she laughs.

Hayley MacMillen was named the 2011 Lee F. Anderson Memorial Global Education and Engagement grant winner.

Check back with the global health portal in the coming months to view MacMillen’s video.  In the meantime, feel free to check out her personal blog, Lima Through a Lens.

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