What happens when you give a group of previously marginalized women access to technology?
They begin to change their reality. That’s what Andrea Rees is helping to accomplish in a township just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Andrea is a travel photographer with a passion for capturing the world with her iPhone and documenting it on her blog. In 2012, she jetted off on her first trip to South Africa merely as a curious traveller and photographer but she didn’t quite realize how powerful that iPhone of hers would really become.
She stepped into eKhaya eKasi (pronounced e-ka-ya -e-casee), a small arts and education centre for women. They provide an after-school program for young children, offer skill-building to women, and teach literacy to the community of Khayelitsha. She noticed their little side shop also sells crafts made by locals. Beautifully beaded bracelets, souvenir pins, and heart ornaments made of local fabric called shwe shwe were on display for tourists to purchase but some shelves were empty, and none included photography art or postcards.
Her initial thought: “If they have a product they could sell, they could make money. Postcards are the easiest things to create and something people still buy when they travel.” So she decided she would use her skills in photography to help. She founded The Heart of a Woman Project, a grassroots initiative that offers photography workshops and skills development to women in the Khayelitsha community including how to take photos, use lighting and composition, and editing. This all might sound insignificant to me and you but it is more than just snapping a pic here and there. These women are doing it all with the iPhone.
You see, just last year, Apple released it’s new 5c and 5s series but entirely skipped Africa. In poor countries, cell-phone integration has been linked to positive economic development like entrepreneurship and new business but corporate entities are turning their cheek for wealthier states. Meanwhile, in Khayelitsha, Andrea has taught women how to use an iPhone camera, print photos to create postcards and then sell them to local tourists. In just 11 days last November, the first 9 women produced 200 postcards each to sell at eKhaya eKasi for $1US or 10 local Rand. Now, local retailers are demanding postcards to sell in their own local shops and even nearby hostels.
Andrea’s photography workshop is also having a positive social impact. With the use of portable WIFI units donated to her cause, the women can now share their photos on social media networks like Instagram. With the help of crowdfunding campaigns and some sponsorship Andrea has also been able to hire local women to be Project Leaders, and even provide meals to women during the workshops. “Sometimes, it may be there only meal of the day,” she says.
Empowering through Photography
Most of us would say photography is art. Andrea’s definition was strikingly different: “It’s a source of income and empowerment. Women are telling me they could buy clothes for their family, pay school fees, and put food on the table. They are learning to be entrepreneurs, sustainable, and self-sufficient. That’s what photography is for them.”
Photography is further empowering them use their voice. They started tweeting their own photos, using Facebook and social media to communicate messages about social and political ideas. When I interviewed Andrea, it was the day before the first “born-free” democratic national election in 20 years in South Africa – the first time people born under Apartheid rule will have the chance to vote. Through mobile technology, the women have found ways to engage about an historic election, draw attention to their community, and life in their township.
This photo was taken by mobile photographer Busisiwe Plata, telling the world “this is how we get water in our daily lives.” You could see more of her work on Instagram @BusiePlata
Khayelitsha is Cape Town’s largest township and women are highly disadvantaged here with high rates of domestic abuse, rape, and a youth drop-out. Unemployment is 57% compared to 24% in Cape Town and the average income is $240 US dollars per month for those who do have a job.
Electricity and clean water are an everyday challenge but, despite the struggles a woman can be a driver of change.
“When I first arrived, it was hard to believe these men and women never stepped into an internet cafe, they didn’t know how to “google” something, they didn’t know what it would be good for, how to use it, or where to find it. The basics of computers as simple as these are the little things we seem to take for granted sometimes.”
How You Can Help
Okay, so here is where I encourage you to take action. Here are some options on how you can help: 1. Donate your iPhone (about 12 iPhones have been donated so far) 2. Purchase postcards and prints 3. Become a volunteer 4. Be a corporate sponsor 5. Share this – if you can share this post on Twitter or Facebook your community might enjoy it and there might be others who can help too. Just use one of the buttons below.
The Heart of a Woman Project empowers women impacted by poverty in developing communities through photography, mobile technology and social media, to create sustainable income and small business through the sales of their photographic art products. To learn more, visit the eKhaya eKasi community centre website.