Mobile Photography Empowers Women in South Africa and Fights Poverty

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I’m pleased to introduce a guest article by Andrea Rees about ‘The heART of a Woman Project South Africa’ which aims to help and empower the women through the arts and mobile photography and give them to tools to provide an income for themselves.

What began as a solo trip to South Africa in December 2012 to take in the country’s nature, adventure and culture became a life-changing project, not only for the participants, but for myself as well.

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On December 10, 2012, I visited Khayelitsha, with Uthando South Africa, a responsible tourism company based in Cape Town that takes visitors to the townships. Khayelitsha is one of South Africa’s largest and most impoverished townships with unemployment as high as 80% in some areas. I wanted to learn how the majority of South Africans live and it was an opportunity to support the local economy through the tour. I visited 3 amazing projects that day, but it was the first stop at eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre that made the most impact.

December 10, 2012 - eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Photo by Andrea Rees

December 10, 2012 – eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Photo by Andrea Rees

I learned about the Women’s Skills Development (WSD) program that teaches mothers art and crafts such as beadwork and t-shirt printing as a means to support themselves and their children as the crafts are sold in the on-site art boutique or through corporate orders. As a professional photographer and a mother of 2, it spoke to me. I thought of their children and I thought of my own children. They are mothers just like I am. Our dreams for our children are much the same. We just want our children to be happy and healthy and for them to have a better life than the life we have.

I thought of my Grandmother as she came from Myanmar, a developing country, as a single mother. It is only by chance that we are born, where we are born. If there weren’t people to help her in her journey to Canada, life could have been very different for her and for my father.

The model of education and empowerment through the arts inspired me and I wondered how I could use my 10 years experience in photography and entrepreneurship to help. After I returned home to Toronto, Canada, I began research to find out more about the centre. I formulated ideas and put together a plan to offer a workshop and The heART of a Woman Project (thoaw) was born.

I don’t have a solution to end poverty, but I have a skill I can teach and a way they can earn money. Every little step leads to bigger steps. This is about empowering the women to be self-sustainable for the long term. I wholeheartedly believe in the idea that anyone could make a difference and Lao Tzu’s philosophy “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

December 10, 2012 - The view from eKhaya eKasi’s rooftop in Khayelitsha, South Africa. This neighbourhood is a mixture of make shift homes made of corrugated metal and small brick homes. Photo by Andrea Rees

December 10, 2012 – The view from eKhaya eKasi’s rooftop in Khayelitsha, South Africa. This neighbourhood is a mixture of make shift homes made of corrugated metal and small brick homes. Photo by Andrea Rees

In March 2011, during a milestone birthday trip to London and Paris, my dSLR remained in my hotel room the entire time as I loved the results I was achieving with my iPhone 4 and the Hipstamatic app, even from a moving bus and through windows. After I returned home I put together a photo book of the trip that I made in iPhoto. When I received it, I raced through the photos and was amazed at the quality of the images before me and KNEW that mobile photography had arrived.

With the constant advances in technology and apps, I knew the potential of the iPhone and how so much could be achieved with just one device; from creating the image to post-processing to sharing on social media to printing through apps that specialize in iPhone photo products or even your home printer. The learning curve is easier, the phone is mobile and unobtrusive and the costs affordable, especially as I sought used donated iPhones for the project. People are always upgrading their iPhones. I know this because 2 of mine are now in Khayelitsha!

With the help of donors through crowd funding on Indiegogo, a sponsorship for a participant from MobiTog, and 11 donated previously owned iPhones from family, friends and mobile photographers from Canada, USA & England, I returned to eKhaya eKasi and taught an 11 day workshop in photography, mobile technology and social media to 10 unemployed women from November 15-29, 2013. One woman found a job while during the workshop and dropped out of the program early on.

I used a very visual tactic in teaching the women photography. I had them gather around me as I photographed and explained what I was doing. I also had them take their turn and I would literally hold 2-3 iPhones side by side with their photo displayed and we’d vote on which was the better image and discuss why. MobiTog jumped in with amazing support and encouragement once they learned of my project and members created visually dynamic tutorials for the ladies to use as reference for on-going education.

Screenshot of Darren Richard’s composition tutorial.

Screenshot of Darren Richard’s composition tutorial.

Esther and Veliswa learn how to ‘pinch’ on the iPhone. Photo by Andrea Rees

Esther and Veliswa learn how to ‘pinch’ on the iPhone. Photo by Andrea Rees

After teaching the women how to use an iPhone and composition, we took the workshop in to and around Cape Town so the women could practice photography at will. On our 2nd day together, we had the amazing opportunity to tour Cape Town on the hop on/hop off bus as City Sightseeing sponsored the red route tour and sent blogger Nicolas Van Zyl to cover our visit. You can read about that here – City Sightseeing and The heART of a Woman Project. We ended the day with a gorgeous sunset from Signal Hill and a lesson in silhouette photography.

Andrea and the participants after a morning tour of the Red Route with City Sightseeing. Photo by Nicolas Van Zyl, blogger for City Sightseeing Cape Town

Andrea and the participants after a morning tour of the Red Route with City Sightseeing. Photo by Nicolas Van Zyl, blogger for City Sightseeing Cape Town

We stopped in for a photographic exhibit at The National Library of South Africa. I couldn’t resist the window light on the 2nd floor of the library so I took a moment to teach them about window light portraits. Photo by Andrea Rees

We stopped in for a photographic exhibit at The National Library of South Africa. I couldn’t resist the window light on the 2nd floor of the library so I took a moment to teach them about window light portraits. Photo by Andrea Rees

Ntombebhongo Pikoli poses as I teach the ladies how to photograph a silhouette on Sunset Hill in Cape Town, South Africa. My hands are pictured with Nwabisa Ndongeni’s hands. Photo by Aviwe Dalingozi.

Ntombebhongo Pikoli poses as I teach the ladies how to photograph a silhouette on Sunset Hill in Cape Town, South Africa. My hands are pictured with Nwabisa Ndongeni’s hands. Photo by Aviwe Dalingozi.

The ladies enjoy their first sunset from Signal Hill, a popular spot in Cape Town, South Africa to watch the sun dip into the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Andrea Rees.

The ladies enjoy their first sunset from Signal Hill, a popular spot in Cape Town, South Africa to watch the sun dip into the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Andrea Rees.

On our 3rd day together, we toured the Cape Peninsula and enjoyed a visit to Table Mountain, thanks to a sponsored visit by Table Mountain. It was the first time the ladies had visited this very popular tourist attraction and a memorable time for us all. The money raised through crowd funding paid for transportation for one vehicle and Uthando South Africa, the tour company I first visited eKhaya eKasi with in December 2012, provided the other vehicle for transporting the ladies to and from Khayelitsha for the 2 days. I am grateful to all our sponsors.

I felt it was important for us to be away from Khayelitsha to allow the women freedom to get to know the iPhone and photograph. A group of 10-11 people photographing with iPhones in the township could draw potential unwanted interest. The workshop continued at eKhaya eKasi for the rest of the week.

The ladies taking photos from the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

The ladies taking photos from the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

Nwabisa Ndongeni photographs the Table Mountain cable car in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Andrea Rees.

Nwabisa Ndongeni photographs the Table Mountain cable car in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Andrea Rees.

We started the second week by photographing around Khayelitsha on November 25th and 26th. The plan was to print 1 image per participant as a postcard. After 2 days of photographing in Khayelitsha, I then went through all the images (3000+), post-processed 1 from each woman and submitted the files to a local printer to be printed as postcards. The idea is for the women to earn a sustainable income through sales of their photographic products to tourists in their on-site boutique at the centre. I wanted the initial product to be relatively easy to make and not too costly to produce so it could be available for sale at the end of our time together. I also wanted a product that could be sold for less than $5 USD each.

Most people, especially tourists to South Africa, don’t think too much about spending $5, it’s a gourmet coffee to North Americans or Europeans, but to a woman in Khayelitsha that is about R50 (50 rand). That could feed someone, clothe someone or it could provide transportation to look for a job.

Retsepile Tom photographs an informal settlement in Khayelitsha, South Africa Township. Photo by Andrea Rees.

Retsepile Tom photographs an informal settlement in Khayelitsha, South Africa Township. Photo by Andrea Rees.

I captured this moment of Yolanda Nkatula and Esther Mahlasela at a bus stop in Khayelitsha, South Africa as I talked about capturing portraits. Photo by Andrea Rees.

I captured this moment of Yolanda Nkatula and Esther Mahlasela at a bus stop in Khayelitsha, South Africa as I talked about capturing portraits. Photo by Andrea Rees.

Yolanda Nkatula captures a photo of ‘ Stop Child Abuse’ and ‘Stop Woman Abuse’ murals in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Photo by Andrea Rees.

Yolanda Nkatula captures a photo of ‘ Stop Child Abuse’ and ‘Stop Woman Abuse’ murals in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Photo by Andrea Rees.

The ladies walk back to the van after photographing shops in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Photo by Andrea Rees.

The ladies walk back to the van after photographing shops in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Photo by Andrea Rees.

On November 30th, 2013 we had a braai (barbecue) to celebrate the workshop and each of the women received 200 postcards of one of their images so they could immediately be made available for sale in their on-site art boutique. It was a beautiful moment as each woman entered the room, one at a time, to see their postcards for the first time. You could see the pride in what they had accomplished.

A photograph of the postcards before the women saw them. Each participant received 200 postcards of their own image. Photo by Andrea Rees.

A photograph of the postcards before the women saw them. Each participant received 200 postcards of their own image. Photo by Andrea Rees.

Nwabisa Ndongeni signs postcards as a ‘thank you’ to donors. Photo by Andrea Rees.

Nwabisa Ndongeni signs postcards as a ‘thank you’ to donors. Photo by Andrea Rees.

Yolanda Nkatula wrote a thank you postcard to iPhone donor, Mariellen Ward. Photo by Andrea Rees.

Yolanda Nkatula wrote a thank you postcard to iPhone donor, Mariellen Ward. Photo by Andrea Rees.

This is Esther Mahlasela, a single mother of 4. Fellow ‘heart of a woman’ South Africa participant Veliswa Wowo took the above photo on the top right. The bottom right photo is of Esther’s postcard. I had no idea that the Full Gospel Church of God was also Esther’s church until after it was printed.

This is Esther Mahlasela, a single mother of 4. Fellow ‘heart of a woman’ South Africa participant Veliswa Wowo took the above photo on the top right. The bottom right photo is of Esther’s postcard. I had no idea that the Full Gospel Church of God was also Esther’s church until after it was printed.

This is Aviwe Dalingozi. I took the photo of Aviwe photographing the girls as a passerby looked on, not knowing it would become her postcard photo. Photos by Andrea Rees

This is Aviwe Dalingozi. I took the photo of Aviwe photographing the girls as a passerby looked on, not knowing it would become her postcard photo. Photos by Andrea Rees

A photograph of a photography print shop in Khayelitsha, South Africa by Yolanda Nkatula.

A photograph of a photography print shop in Khayelitsha, South Africa by Yolanda Nkatula.

A photograph of a shoe repairman in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Postcard 1.2 by Veliswa Wowo.

A photograph of a shoe repairman in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Postcard 1.2 by Veliswa Wowo.

    A boy in his father’s shop in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Postcard 1.10 by Nonkuthalo Nobangela

A boy in his father’s shop in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Postcard 1.10 by Nonkuthalo Nobangela

    Boys in Site C in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Postcard 1.3 by Nwabisa Ndongeni

Boys in Site C in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Postcard 1.3 by Nwabisa Ndongeni

The postcards have been selling at eKhaya eKasi, but currently there is only one Tour Company that brings tourists to the centre. I am hoping the women’s social media efforts can draw more tourists to visit Khayelitsha and eKhaya eKasi. Postcards sales began immediately as I offered a special 1.0 series pack of all the postcards, some bonus postcards and the official thoawSA bracelet. All 15 postcard packs I had ordered from the women sold out in 24 hours to supporters in Canada, USA, Brazil and England. The centre was closed for winter holidays most of December and part of January, yet sales has been over R5000 which is about $500 USD as of early February 2014.

We recently acquired our first retailer, the award winning The Backpack hostel in Cape Town, recently named best budget hotel by Lonely Planet. It’s where I stay when in town and every morning, co-owner Lee Harris and I would sit down for a chat, as Lee would ask how the project was going. The Backpack now carries the postcards in their community shop. We hope to have more retail partners in tourism and Fair Trade as well as more tour companies that can bring tourists to visit Khayelitsha and eKhaya eKasi.

A photograph of the postcards on display at The Backpack, an award-winning hostel in Cape Town. Photo by Lee Harris | the Backpack.

A photograph of the postcards on display at The Backpack, an award-winning hostel in Cape Town. Photo by Lee Harris | the Backpack.

Now that The heART of a Woman Project South Africa (thoawSA) mobile photography program has been implemented and postcards are selling, I wanted to share words from the women themselves.

A screenshot of Busie’s postcard image and a heartwarming message from her.

A screenshot of Busie’s postcard image and a heartwarming message from her.

“It all started when the co-ordinator of EKhaya EKasi approached us (women) and told us about a lady who will be coming at the centre. She told us that she will be teaching us photography with an iPhone. Her name is Andrea Rees, she was here in South Africa for only two weeks. So in that two weeks we had to learn firstly how to use an iPhone before we could take pictures and also we were introduced to some other social networks that we didn’t know about (Instagram) and also she taught us more about the others we already knew (twitter & Facebook). So in that two weeks we learnt how to take good photos and make postcards and sell them at the centre (EKhaya EKasi ) and to other places around Cape Town. After that two weeks she left and we continued with what she taught us and we are still learning more while she is away she’s still helping us. She changed our lives for the better because since we started selling the postcards we have been getting some money. The money has helped us a lot, we are able to buy more food and clothes for our families. We are still looking forward with the project wishing to grow further with the photography and possible going to going to over seas with it. I would like to say thanks to Andrea Rees for making a difference in our lives and that she should keep on helping the less fortunate people where she can just like she did with us.” – Nwabisa Ndongeni

The power is not only in the 9 talented & very capable women, who can create quality images using a mobile device, but that they are empowered, they are earning some income and they have a voice as they are engaging on social media too. They are connecting with people around the world. They are sharing a bit of their daily lives in Khayelitsha and bringing awareness to their talents & the programs at eKhaya eKasi, a place you too can visit if you’re in Cape Town just as I did on December 10, 2012. It’s how it all began.

THOAW is committed to providing on-going guidance, support and education to help the women on their path to sustainability. With funds raised from crowd funding, THOAW has provided a mobile Wi-Fi unit and monthly Internet for 3 months so the women can log on to various social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You can follow the project on Twitter and Instagram by following hashtag #thoawSA. You will see tweets and photos from the women and myself. Feel free to connect and follow them.

Nwabisa Ndongeni has recently been chosen to help facilitate and lead the project. I am currently mentoring her on a daily basis in the business aspects of photography, social media and as well as continuing her education in photography. It is a slow process due to the sluggish Internet at eKhaya eKasi, but it is working and technology is wonderful.

With donations, product sales and sponsorships, we’ll be able to continue to pay for many of the expenses necessary to keep the program operational. VadoVia, an iPad travel app that I had the pleasure of working with, has recently provided a Bronze sponsorship. Thank you VadoVia.

Funds provide Internet (in-house, internet café and Nwabisa’s connection) so the women can stay in touch, use social media and continue their education. Funds also go towards marketing, purchasing display materials, printing, producing more photographic products such as greeting cards, provide transportation for meetings and acquiring more retailers and a small stipend for Nwabisa, mostly to encourage her and demonstrate the possibilities.

I am planning for another crowd funding campaign with 3 specific goals in mind.

  • Produce a coffee table book of the women’s images, profiles of the participants and behind the scenes of our time together.
  • Participate in Month of Photography in October 2014 with an exhibit as Cape Town is World Design Capital
  • Provide another workshop. The workshop will go more in depth on how to select the best images, post-processing and preparing images for print as well as more basic computer skills training is needed.

Postcards and prints are available in our shop online. Profits from each purchase support the women’s path to sustainable income as they are paid their price. The remainder is reinvested into Project South Africa. The goal is for the women and the program to be completely self-sustainable not only in photography, post-processing and producing products, but also financially as well as they run their own small businesses or as a collective. With mobile technology and Internet, they can arm themselves with knowledge and knowledge is power. The world is smaller because of the Internet.

During my visit to South Africa in 2012 I learned of Ubuntu, a wonderful philosophy and a beautiful word in the Xhosa language, the language of Nelson Mandela and the ladies of The heART of a Woman Project South Africa. In summary as explained by Nwabisa, it is a very powerful word that means ‘humanity’. Ubuntu speaks of the interconnectedness of all people. It is caring, respect, love, community, compassion, openness and sharing to name a few adjectives that describe the essence of the word. It means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are.’ Thank you to everyone that has supported us and continue to do so.

We invite you to become a part of this initiative by purchasing products, becoming an ambassador and spreading the word, donating, sponsoring or volunteering (from your home). This project relies entirely on the interests and good will of individuals and businesses that recognize how important it is to transfer skills and empower women.

For more information, please visit http://www.heartofawomanproject.com.

  • This is such a great project to be involved with – I highly recommend it. It’s doing some real good, for people who really merit it.

    It is also pretty uniquely ‘involving’, as the women over in Cape Town are connected to Andrea and the project using Facebook, Instagram and Google+ (well done Andrea for arranging that!).

    • Darren,

      Thanks so much for your comment here on Mobiography and for your continued support. Connecting the women to the people that are supporting them in terms of encouragement, or donation, has always been one of the main goals of this initiative. I’m so happy that the connections from South Africa to USA, Canada, UK and wherever else are happening. It makes the world a smaller place.

      Andrea