Testimonial from

I have been very lucky that during my time with GVI I have been able to work with a lot of incredible women. I believe empowering women sometimes is just hearing their story and sharing your experiences with them so they know that there are lots of women from all different backgrounds that come together to make a difference. From some of the special teachers I have made relationships through working in schools with GVI to girls that I have gotten to know in the communities I have worked in, I have had an opportunity to meet some amazing women. There are two very special women’s empowerment groups I have had the privilege of working with. When I was in GVI Kenya I worked with the Meta Meta Subira Women’s Self Help Group which I did artistic and marketing work for. While I worked with GVI Cape Town I created a women’s empowerment group through teaching young girl’s creative photography. GVI Kenya worked with the Meta Meta Women’s Group long before I came there. The women have had countless volunteers helping them with setting up their business for a couple years and I was very fortunate to come in at the end to help finalize the amazing work that others have done. Essentially the reason these women began this group was to empower each other. They live in a very conservative Muslim community and unfortunately sometimes women are perceived lesser than a man and their voice can not be heard. They found that together, they had more of a voice. These women have been taught the traditional craft of hand weaving palm into anything from baskets to placemats and coasters. A group of fourteen women who have been taught this trade by their mothers and grandmothers. They came together to build an incredible business. The funds that they make from selling their crafts help them support each other and their families when they go through hard times. Due to some issues with “safety” tourism has significantly dropped over the past year and all of the people relying on tourism now have to find other means of income. The women depend on the sales to tourists and now we had to think of ways to continue their business. So we came up with a marketing strategy to get their product out to an international seller which is something no one has done where they are from. I worked with them day in and day out to create a polished and professional catalogue that would show case their crafts to a potential buyer. I also did portraits of each of them and accompanied their story so that people could relate to these strong and passionate women. Though GVI is no longer in their community these women continue to better their business and use the marketing tools that I made for them. These women taught me so much about camaraderie as well as so many other things. They were funny and patient and always loved to sit and watch while I worked. You could tell they unconditionally appreciated all of the work we did. I got the opportunity to hear about their lives and learn about special things from them like how to cook as well as weave (which I am terrible at). These women were just amazing and made a lasting impression on me for the rest of my life. It has always been a dream of mine to teach Fine Art photography. Not at a traditional western standard but to give someone an opportunity to learn something that they may have not been given the opportunity at any other point in their lives. When I originally came to Kenya I was un able to integrate my creative photography program but I was able to take the time to structure it so when I arrived at GVI Cape Town the dream became a reality. Within my first couple weeks I was having meetings with out base manager and she made it happen for me. When I first approached the Grade Seven teachers at ACJ Primary School in the township Nomzamo they were very supportive of the program. One teacher said it would be great for the girls to learn that there are other careers outside of hair dressing in the world. When I first met the girls they were very unsure about what we were going to do but were very eager to learn. On our first day I taught them about the history of photography and why photography is important as a means of art and communication. They understood the importance of when to take a photograph and more importantly how to made a decision about what they are photographing. Our first time photographing as a group, we went to a local beach. One of the girls admitted to me that she had never seen the ocean in her life. When we got to the beach I discussed with them all the different types of photography, in particular taking portraits. I explained if they take a portrait of a stranger they must ask permission. There was a part of me that was worried about these girls photographing Afrikaans strangers, but to my surprise the strangers were very accepting and supportive. After photographing I asked the girls what it was like to interact with people they have never interacted with and they said they didn’t expect them to be so nice. Having these girls go outside of their comfort zone to be creative was really an incredible thing. To me, that is women’s empowerment. In the end, the girls took some stunning photographs that I believe tell an incredible story. The photographs from the beach, as well as photographs they took at their school came together to tell a story without them even realizing what they did. The staff at the school was very supportive to the girls telling them to save their money to buy their own cameras as well as praising them for creating such beautiful art. I was very impressed that the teachers and staff saw the photographs that way. Both projects I worked on really helped me to see a side of women’s empowerment I wasn’t expecting to see. It was interesting working with the women as well as these bright girls. I learned there is a lot in my life that I am fortunate to have and most of all it the fact that I have the ability to do anything that I put my mind to. Though the reality is I may never meet any of these women again, they all impacted me in a special way and I am incredibly fortunate to have had this experience with GVI.

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