“It’s not about charity, it’s about sharing skills with the unemployed mothers and young women in South Africa to empower them to take what they have learned and to build a self sustaining small business and a better future for themselves and their children.” – Andrea Rees, Founder & Director of The Heart of A Woman Project.
Andrea Rees, a professional photographer in Toronto, is using her passion for and skills in photography to empower, educate and support unemployed mothers and young woman in South Africa. After visiting eKhaya eKasi Arts & Education Center in Khayelitsha, South Africa (a township outside of Cape Town), Andrea was taken aback by the numerous issues woman faced in this township.
“Unemployment rates are 80% and most live on a few dollars a day or less. Many still live in makeshift buildings without electricity or water.”
Inspired to make an impact in this community, Andrea developed The Heart of a Woman Project (THOAW), an initiative which provides the women of this community the tools and education to create a sustainable income and battle poverty through the use of mobile photography.
I asked Andrea to share some information about the inspiration behind her project, the successes and challenges that have come with it, and taking on a grassroots project and turning it from an idea to a reality.
Can you tell me a little about the goals and mission of THOAW?
The mission is to educate unemployed mothers and young women (15 years+) of eKhaya eKasi Arts & Education Center, in mobile photography to empower and to fight poverty by creating a small business and sustainable income through the sales of photographic art products in an on-site art boutique.
The end goal is that each project participant will use the mobile photos they take and produce 200 original art cards to be available for sale in the on-site boutique at eKhaya eKasi Center and through distribution in the Tourism and Fair Trade industry in South Africa.
What inspired you to begin this project? What drew you to empowering and educating women?
In December 2012, I visited eKhaya eKasi, an art and education centre in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town, South Africa. I learned of the many issues women are faced with. HIV/AIDS is an epidemic; unemployment is high as is domestic abuse and alcoholism. For many, education does not advance beyond the grade 9 level and there is very little social assistance available. Women are raising their children alone. Grandmothers are raising their children’s children.
The model of education and empowerment through the arts and the mothers inspired me. As a woman and mother, the visit to eKhaya eKasi and Khayelitsha spoke to me. I realized the women are mothers just like I am and all they want is what I want for my children — to be happy and healthy and to have a better life. As a daughter and granddaughter of immigrants from a developing country, Myanmar (Burma), I know how easily it could be me, how easily it could be my children.
Why choose education through mobile photography and why the eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Center?
After a trip to Europe and then later to Africa, I created a coffee table book of my iPhone images. The quality of the photos in that 8.5×11 book, many of which were full page images, were amazing. Right then, I realized the quality and the power of mobile photography. I have watched mobile photography flourish. Companies have come out with products for printing images from their iPhone or mobile camera and turn them into greeting cards, magnets and even canvas prints. We can create, edit and print right from this one device. It’s amazing and such a powerful tool. It is the camera that is always with us.
eKhaya eKasi is an Art & Education Center that works to benefit the Khayelitsha community through programs that target illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, the AIDS epidemic and lack of social services. The eKhaya eKasi Center is the perfect model to pilot this project as it is already established in the community and serves over 400 women, children and men and welcomes tourists from around the world.
What has been the biggest surprise and the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome since you’ve started your campaign?
The biggest surprise has been the amazingly wonderful people from all around the world that find out about the project and want to help – with donations, by sharing on social media, by blogging or writing about it and donating iPhones. Twitter has been especially amazing. People I have never met and some I had never talked to have made donations or have simply helped by retweeting. It’s incredible and makes the world smaller. It is the vision I had for this project – that anyone that wants to help can do so from wherever they are.
The biggest challenge is that while we have donations, we still need more – a lot more. My largest hurdle is getting people to read about the project and realize they can make a difference. It is amazing what $10 and $25 can do. They might think that can’t help and it is true one $10 donation can’t do much, but many $10 donations can do amazing things. It takes a village. It’s not about charity, it’s about sharing skills with the unemployed mothers and young women in South Africa to empower them to take what they have learned and to build a self sustaining small business and a better future for themselves and their children. The model of arts and education is working. This is just another avenue, a more modern avenue if you will. I love the arts and crafts they create at the Centre, I couldn’t stop buying them when I was there. Providing them with access to mobile photography also gives them access to mobile technology, additional transferable skills and connects them to the world. The possibilities are endless.
Find a passion. Because whatever that is, it will get you through all the ups and downs, highs and lows and the long, often lonely days and nights. There are people to help along the way, but no one will be more committed and more passionate than you. That’s just the way it is, and that passion will keep you going.
What are your campaign’s greatest needs right now and how can people become involved?
The greatest need is to continue collecting donations – monetary donations along with new or used iPhone 4/4s. Crowdfunding ends October 21st! Donations can be made online by visiting: http://www.heartofawomanproject.com. We are looking for donors, sponsors, volunteers and used iPhone 4/4s. Anyone can help, as little as $10 goes a much longer way in South Africa.
If you would like learn more about how to get involved, you can connect with Andrea on twitter at @thoawproject, #heARTSouthAfrica or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about THOAW, what participants will learn during the project and how it makes an impact visit http://www.heartofawomanproject.com.