Five years ago, Mr. Harrison was a nightclub promoter in Manhattan who spent his nights surrounded by friends in a blur of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. He lived in a luxurious apartment and drove a BMW — but then on a vacation in South America he underwent a spiritual crisis.
“I realized I was the most selfish, sycophantic and miserable human being,” he recalled. “I was the worst person I knew.”
Mr. Harrison, now 33, found an aid organization that would accept him as a volunteer photographer — if he paid $500 a month to cover expenses. And so he did. The organization was Mercy Ships, a Christian aid group that performs surgeries in poor countries with volunteer doctors.
“The first person I photographed was a 14-year-old boy named Alfred, choking on a four-pound benign tumor in his mouth, filling up his whole mouth,” Mr. Harrison recalled. “He was suffocating on his own face. I just went into the corner and sobbed.”
A few weeks later, Mr. Harrison took Alfred — with the tumor now removed — back to his village in the West African country of Benin. “I saw everybody celebrating, simply because a few doctors had given up their vacation time,” he said.
Mercy Ships transformed Mr. Harrison as much as it did Alfred.
[Excerpt of a NYT article by Nicolas D. Kristof]