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In late 2016, Alex through the amazing assistance of his supportive, nurturing and empowering PHaMS (Personal Helpers & Mentors Scheme) worker, created a weekly photography group in conjunction with a mental health NGO. It initially started as a simple thing, with the participants just using their mobile-phones. As time went on however, it became evident that those participants wanted the ability to use digital cameras, to enable them to explore their imagery further, but due to overwhelmingly low socio-economic means for them, that wasn’t possible. Alex had an idea, being the Social Innovator that he is! He reached out to his photography cohorts around the world and asked if they could spare some equipment or financial donations, so as to allow others that couldn’t afford it otherwise, the opportunity to explore digital photography as a regular wellness and social inclusion activity. The results were overwhelming! Within a few weeks, Alex had four cameras and lenses for them! Getting the participants to be able to use them proved to be an insurmountable obstacle however, as Alex was turned away from the mental health NGO, with them refusing him the ability to share his equipment with the participants. So much for the promised “co-design” and “evolving” ability for the group to become something the participants wanted, as the NGO promoted so heavily in their marketing materials!

Traumatised, dejected and without access to the one activity that was keeping him well, Alex withdrew into himself, isolating himself from the world, punishing himself for even trying to make a difference. After all, if the NGO saw Alex’s socially minded efforts as the actions of a troublemaker, formally requesting that he stay away from the one thing that was helping him live well, they must have been correct. Right?

If it had not been for the eternal assistance of his loving partner, and the incredible insights from his Psychotherapist, Alex would have kept believing this. Getting to a point of being able to see beyond the traumatic experience he had been subjected to sparked a new-found determination to take this simple idea of Mindfulness as achieved through the use of a digital camera out to the greater world at large. It was so easy in fact, that it was a complete shock that other community centre’s opened their doors and hearts to this grass-roots idea of wellness for all to be able to have access to. Alex arranged for there to be sessions held in a couple of locations, three times a week. A local Community Health organisation came to the party by assisting him with the use of their Public Liability cover to start off with. A community centre took him on as a volunteer and assisted with a venue, and transport, through the use of their minibus and volunteer drivers. Another community centre allowed him the use of their space for gratis!

Deciding to make a stand against the sort of bullying and denial of access to service that he received, Alex is now very actively involved with advocating for better treatment and respect of individuals that live with mental health challenges in their lives, through a broad range of groups, panels and movements. He is a lived experience representative on panels that influence change for better mental health outcomes. He has some huge dreams for those living with mental health challenges in the Southern suburbs of Adelaide, where he resides!

It is Alex’s hope that through this sharing of the evolution of Happy Snappers as an overcoming of what seemed to be the impossible to achieve, that it may in some way inspire others to follow their dreams to fruition, regardless of what people or organisations may present as seemingly impossible obstacles along the way.

Dream big, think laterally, don’t be scared to reach out & ask for assistance when you need it, keep going even when you’re told “NO!” & reach for the stars! Know that you can do it!

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