Maria is a writer, editor and project manager. After an early start in freelance journalism, Maria now manages communications projects for NGOs, social entrepreneurs and responsible businesses.
Maria’s quest for stories has taken her to the Maldives to witness a new generation of ocean stewards emerge from a swimming programme; to Myanmar to understand the transformative potential of clean cooking for health, climate and deforestation; to Bangladesh to document the first recognised impacts of climate change on the char dwellers, and to the Democratic Republic of Congo to communicate the scale of the on-going crisis of mass displacement, deadly diseases and widespread sexual violence.
Maria writes, edits and commissions communications materials for websites, magazines, events, reports and fundraising and marketing campaigns. She recruits and manages photographers and film crews for events and communication projects and works closely with photographers to create fully captioned image databases. Prior to working freelance, Maria was a communications manager for Oxfam GB. In a voluntary capacity, she helps coordinate a campaign calling for fair treatment of unaccompanied child asylum seekers.
Behind the scenes…
Good communications depend on complete integrity from the first point of engagement with the project, community or people about whom the story is being told, through to the final editorial decisions, on both words and images. That is what I aim to bring to any project.
I absolutely love what I do and there is an immense satisfaction in seeing an assignment come together with words, pictures and film that captures the true spirit behind the headlines. The following images represent special moments from assignments over the years. Photos are my own unless otherwise credited.
Former child soldiers, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Oxfam / Mark Keihlmann
My first story gathering assignment was to the Democratic Republic of Congo with Oxfam GB in 2004. These former child soldiers were housed at a child transit centre outside Beni in Eastern DRC and were in the process of being rehabilitated to their home communities. Many children are exploited by armed military groups in DRC and they can be permanently ostracised by their families as well as traumatised by the horrors they have experienced.
Left: Men with guitars, Masisi; Right: School children, Shariatpur, Char Atra
Oxfam funds many programmes providing water and sanitation to schools and IDP (internally displaced person) camps in the Masisi region of DRC. Masisi is traditionally a pastoralist and multi-ethnic region. Following the Rwandan genocide, there was a huge influx of IDPs and refugees from across the border. After some pretty harrowing visits to IDP camps, these guitarists appeared to come from nowhere and shine a ray of light.
While I was at Oxfam GB, I visited the Char Atra region and the Sundurbans of Bangladesh as part of a story gathering team. We were considering the different ways we could demonstrate the encroaching impact of climate change on a community and how this might intensify over time. Oxfam made many visits over several years to Bangladesh, specifically to the Char Atra region and to Gabura in the Sundurbans. These school children are studying in Shariatpur, Char Atra. Char Atra is experiencing increased frequency and intensity of flooding, cyclones and river erosion. The community mostly works in agriculture, and their crops are being destroyed by these changes. As families lose their livelihoods, children have to work to supplement the household income and school attendance plummets.
Rebuilding a breached embankment, Gabura, Bangladesh
Southwest Bangladesh is especially vulnerable to the effects of rising sea levels which increases saline intrusion and leads to crop failures. In Gabura in the Sundurbans region of Bangladesh, the community was out in force to rebuild the embankment that was breached two months earlier. Sadly, just six months later, Cyclone Alia hit, killing hundreds in the community. Remarkably, Oxfam’s story gathering team was there when the cyclone hit and was able to make an interactive documentary highlighting the impact of extreme weather events on the poorest communities.
Left: Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives; Right: Richard Branson
President Nasheed of the Maldives participated in the 2010 and 2011 SLOW LIFE Symposium. Working with Heads of State brings a level of unpredictability to proceedings as their schedule can never be guaranteed. Yet despite the formality that comes with the office, President Nasheed’s warmth and sense of fun shone through in every encounter.
Richard Branson attended the 2011 SLOW LIFE Symposium. During a scheduled break, we spotted an opportunity for an impromptu video interview and photo shoot, taking advantage of the pontoon that acts as a landing strip for the branded Soneva Fushi seaplane. We marshalled a speed boat to take us to the strip, full to capacity with Richard, the film crew and the photographer. We returned in time for the next session.
Annie Lennox performing at the Skoll World Forum. Credit: Skoll World Forum / Michael Collopy
Annie Lennox performed at the 2012 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship which are awarded to outstanding social entrepreneurs during the Skoll World Forum. Following her performance and after negotiating sign off terms with Annie’s brilliant and formidable assistant, I conducted an impromptu interview with her on her life as a campaigner and a feminist for the Skoll World Forum video archive. Events are always a balance of following protocol, particularly when working with dignitaries, and seizing the moment. The following year, Annie became an honorary Skoll Awardee, recognised for her advocacy for women and children living with HIV/Aids.
Filming in the Central Dry Zone, Myanmar
Juggling the often competing demands of a film crew, a photographer and an interviewer on a shoot can sometimes feel like spinning plates, but when it all comes together it is incredibly satisfying. What is not visible from this peaceful image of Colin, the videographer, and Li Nyunt Aung on his cow cart, is everything that is going on simultaneously and in the background – Owen, the film director, issuing instructions to Owen, Cat shooting from a different angle, and me conducting an audio interview with two local women who told me about the forest that used to fill this landscape.
Often on shoots, someone unashamedly steels your heart. This was certainly the case with Saanee during the shoot of the swimming programme in the Maldives. Working with an interpreter, we could accurately record our conversations. But the unspoken moments with gestures, facial expressions and smiles speak a thousand words.
I’ve worked closely with both Maria and Cat over many years – and have seen for myself the huge impact their work can achieve. And I know why: good story-telling is all about good listening, about empathy, and about a deep personal commitment to helping others create a better world. That’s Illuminate for you!
Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director, Forum for the Future
Soneva has worked with Maria and Cat on an ongoing basis for a number of years and on a number of projects, some of them very high profile and some of them less so. Creativity. Reliability. Consistency. Understanding. Over-delivery. These are the words that sum up our experience.
Bruce Bromley, CFO, Soneva
I have now watched the OXSRAD video six times and I can't believe how awesome it is. Thank you for being able to put into film and words and pictures exactly what we do here at OXSRAD. The video and photos along with the words added to profiles and posters is totally amazing and I don't know how to thank you guys other than assuring you that your fantastic work will help us massively to continue ours and for us to achieve so much more.
Paul Saxton, OXSRAD
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Maria for six years in highly intense and sensitive situations with global spiritual, political and non-profit leaders. She is graceful, yet determined and always achieves the objective while making people feel special. A true gem.
Sarah Z. Borgman, Director and Curator, Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship
Cat Vinton is a photographer with a rare and valuable talent. She tells engaging and emotive stories with her photography, embracing her subject and her viewer with her insightful and sympathetic eye. I would highly recommend Cat to any individual or business hoping to work with her not only for the beautiful and telling imagery she will produce but because at heart she is an empathetic soul and will create work that will live long in your consciousness.
Caroline Metcalfe, Director of Photography, Conde Nast Traveller UK
As a hugely talented ethnographic photographer, Cat combines her fine insights into people, her affinity for nomadic hearts and her love of wilderness with her artistic flair, strong composition and eye for colour. She is creative and never without ideas, unfailingly professional and positive and in general a joy to work with and to know.
Joanna Eede, Features and Photography Consultant for Survival International
Cat has a unique way of connecting with people - you get the feeling she persuades people she may have never even met before to give a piece of themselves that no one else gets.