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Mission to Montellano

Martha Grenon | Dominican Republic

Dr. Joe Neeley sets up his dental office at the Makarios school in Montellano, DR, February 2012. The school was founded in 2004 by Makarios International, an NGO.

In February 2012 I accompanied my dentist, Dr. Joe Neeley, to the Dominican Republic. For a week, he and his assistants worked on teeth, while I documented his mission in the town of Montellano. In conjunction with Makarios International, an NGO, Dr. Neeley worked at the organization’s school, providing free dental care for students and staff. Makarios helps Dominicans and Haitians in extreme poverty gain access to education and healthcare. AIDS/HIV is a huge problem in the region, along with sub-standard housing and lack of electricity and clean water.

I visited the settlements of Chichigua and Poncho Mateo, where most of the students live, and saw first hand their impoverished home environment. At Colegio Makarios the kids get two meals a day, along with uniforms and shoes. The people are grateful for this help, knowing that education is the best way to fight poverty.

Since Hurricane Sandy, help is needed more than ever. Before the storm hit the US it wreaked destruction in DR and Haiti, and wiped out medical and dental equipment and classroom supplies at the school.


Although I have taken photographs since receiving a Brownie camera for my tenth Christmas, I didn’t think about being a photographer until much later in life; I had other lives to live.

In the early 1980s, caught up in the Austin music scene, I began taking black and white photos again, processing film and prints in various makeshift darkrooms; eventually, I was able to set up my own darkroom at home. That, along with my first visit to Albania in 1992, made me realize that making pictures was, finally, what I really wanted to do with my life: Document the world.

In my trips to the Balkans I concentrated on the people living in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. Events went from good to bad to worse at a rapid rate during that time and, although I was unable to cover the wars, I returned almost yearly to document the changes. In 2008 I focused on the Roma (formerly known as “Gypsies,” a term that stems from ignorance and prejudice) living in the region, and published a small book of photos, “Minority Report: Lives of the Roma in Albania and Kosovo,” in 2010.

More recent projects are closer to home: “Barton Springs Underwater,” photos taken where I swim every day, and “Mission to Montellano,” documenting the pro bono work of my dentist in the Dominican Republic. Dr. Joe Neeley travels there every year to make a difference in the lives of impoverished students at the Colegio Makarios, a school on the north side of the island; staff members are also treated. In a world without clean water and electricity, with many unemployed, Makarios has brought hope by providing education and healthcare to the people living in the area. My journey there in February 2012 with Dr. Neeley gave me the opportunity to record the good work of this dedicated man and his assistants and introduced me to the warm and welcoming people of the Dominican Republic.

The camera is my license into other worlds and other people’s lives, and my inquisitive nature jumps at the challenge of navigating terra incognita. Essentially, I lead several lives, and making photographs has been my means of understanding and integrating these worlds, both here and abroad. I do not truly feel I chose photography; photography chose me.


Makarios International

3267 Bee Cave Rd
Suite 107-71
Austin, TX 78746





Website: www.marthagrenon.com


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