Last night’s See the Light fundraising event at the Entertainment Tonight Soundstage in Studio City was filled with tears, hope, and joy as my friend and mentor, Mark Steines, brought his dream of helping those in impoverished and unstable Sierra Leone in Western Africa to life. He did this by way of his thought provoking photographs he shot and inspiring video that documented his stay there this past April. Just so you know, he took over 10,000 pictures in a week’s time! Anyone who knows Mark and has spent time with him, is well aware of his love, passion, and talent for photography, especially capturing people and the human condition as his subjects. And his photographs on this journey tell the story of the residents of Sierra Leone in a variety of emotional situations-from the sickest patients clamoring for medical attention at clinics (Mark relayed that the ratio of doctors to patients is about 1:65,000!), the haunting eyes of children who have been affected by the civil unrest in the small country which is about the size of North Carolina, and to the deeply religious, God loving people and their overflowing and unshakable faith and feeling of hope. In fact, Mark pointed out that through all of this turmoil and torture (think guerrilla forces going into a village and slicing off the limbs of a 15 month old-really unimaginable circumstances) these tormented citizens do not have broken spirits, which goes to show their strength and resilience. And so See the Light: A Passage to Sierra Leone was born-as a way to create awareness through creativity of the dire situation that is part of everyday life in Sierra Leone.
The journey to Sierra Leone was attended by Mark and many of those with the overwhelming desire to help those in need in need, including Dr. Bob Hamilton who has been going to Sierra Leone through the organization called Lighthouse Medical Missions for over a decade, Erik Photenhauer who by trade is a graphic artist but also served as comic relief with his bright red hair and magic tricks for the people of Sierra Leone, actress Patricia Heaton who was so moved when a medical facility was named after her late mother in the war torn region, as well as over 30 other volunteers, pastor, and medical providers who chose to make a difference. As if this trip wasn’t harrowing enough, there had been some radical demonstrations a week before the group was set to depart and the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, June Carter Perry issued the following statement to the travelers, “the Embassy does not have the capacity to rescue individuals.” Adds a little bit of drama, don’t you think?! Jeesh! However the group never faltered from their mission to serve the people who needed them most. Oh yeah, they did get to stay in a 5 star resort there, but probably a little different from the Ritz experience you have in mind. We are talking taking showers with eyes closed for fear of who knows what water borne bacteria could embed itself in a person’s system, no electricity for the most part, and a dirty mattress on the floor as a bed. Conditions not usually experienced by those living in this country, much less those making their livings in front of the camera.
The event was attended by many in the Hollywood community who were there to support the cause as well as their friend. Those celebrities included Mark’s co-host on Entertainment Tonight Mary Hart, Executive Producer of ET Linda Bell Blue who so generously offered up the space to house the fundraiser, Charlie Sheen, Star Jones, trip volunteer Patricia Heaton, ET correspondent Kevin Frazier who joked that he and Mark both shared an interest in photography but that Mark “took it way to the next level!” and a visible moved Camryn Manheim who choked back tears as she congratulated Mark on his work after the heartfelt video was shown to us. Electric cellist Matthew Schoening provided the stirring background music to go along with this video, which was really the perfect complement to the raw and emotional images being shown on the revolving ET Soundstage and rotating hi-def screens. Bravo to Mark and his crew for creating an exceptional presentation for the audience!
As with all charities, financial support is necessary and in this case, is instrumental in providing clean drinking water, medical services, and education to children so they may be able to create a world in which they would choose to live and be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Click here to go to the Lighthouse Medical Missions website and find out how you can help.
Click here to be directed to Mark Steines’ website where you can purchase his beautiful book See the Light: A Passage to Sierra Leone and view so many of his amazing photos from this trip as well as his other collections.
And don’t forget, tune into Entertainment Tonight today to see more of the footage of last night’s party on the ET Soundstage!