Photos: Andrea Rees

Not too long ago, we asked our MatadorU students and alumni about their accomplishments in 2013. I was really impressed to hear about Andrea Rees’s success with her new project, The heART of a Woman. In a nutshell:

[The heART of a Woman is] an initiative to educate and empower women in developing communities in mobile photography to have a voice and small business through the sales of photographic art products.

In 2013, Andrea traveled to eKhaya eKasi, an art and education center in the Cape Town Township, to kickstart the program. She ran workshops with the goal of empowering women to create a sustainable income for themselves through a creative outlet.

I caught up with Andrea to learn more about her work.

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CW: Tell us a little about yourself.

AR: I am a professional photographer and entrepreneur of 10+ years in Toronto, Canada, a mom of two boys, wife, avid iPhone photographer, and traveller.

What inspired you to start “The heART of a Woman”?

In May 2013, Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures and the Planeterra Foundation created the G Project and made an open call for ideas to make the world a better place. I had been formulating ideas of how I could help eKhaya eKasi since my visit there, but it wasn’t until the G Project that I put pen to paper and came up with The heART of a Woman Project. Although my idea didn’t make it to the next level of the competition, it received great support. I feel it was a success because it allowed me to bring the idea public and gain feedback. There were 350 ideas and I finished 20th overall. The top 16 advanced to the next round.

Why did you pick South Africa?

In December 2012, I visited 3 projects in Khayelitsha, a Cape Town township, with a responsible tourism tour company as a solo traveller to South Africa. The first stop was eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre. I was inspired by the model of education and empowerment through the arts. As a woman and mother, it spoke to me because the people it serves primarily are unemployed women, mostly mothers. I thought the centre was a perfect place to pilot the project, as it has an infrastructure in place for welcoming tourists, and it has an art boutique that sells its handmade crafts.

How did you get the word out about your project? How did you raise money?

I got the word out initially on Facebook and Twitter because of the G Project and then in person at TBEX. I continued to Tweet and Facebook about it, wrote blogs, talked to my fellow travel bloggers at Travel Massive Toronto meetups, and just spread the word whenever I could.

I crowdfunded on Indiegogo to raise funds for the workshop, and I also collected eight used iPhone donations from family, fellow travel bloggers, and mobile photographers from Canada, the USA, and the UK. As well, the mobile photography community started to take notice, and a piece was published about it on wearejuxt.com. MobiTog, an online mobile photography community, also jumped in with incredible support, and raised funds to sponsor a participant. They also helped create visual guides to have as reference for the participants.

Some travel bloggers and other bloggers joined the Blogger program and wrote about the project or hosted a widget on their blogs. I also got a bit of media attention in Toronto and Cape Town. A piece about the Indiegogo campaign was published by Jaunted.com that I had no idea about until a guy in Cape Town told me about it on Twitter. He then connected me with a wonderful lady in Cape Town tourism. She secured tickets for us through City Sightseeing Cape Town so that we could tour Cape Town on the hop-on/hop-off bus and photograph at will, and she took me out to dinner. They sent a blogger to cover the story. A friend of mine also connected me to the person in marketing for Table Mountain and they too gave us tickets to visit. It was quite the experience, as the ladies hadn’t visited either of these attractions, and they loved it.

Tell us about a memorable moment from your time spent with these women.

Oh this is difficult, there were so many. I would say the moments that will stand out for a long time were the “in between times” when we were driving from place to place or having a meal together, or the very simple act of our daily greeting in their language of Xhosa, which became a ritual I looked forward to every day. I think I even got pretty good at pronouncing the words. They called me “Sisi,” which means “sister.” “Molo Sisi, unjani?” “Molo Sisi, ndiphilile enkosi. Unjani?” “Nam ndiphilile.” This means: “Hello sister, how are you? “Hello sister, I’m fine thank you. How are you?” “I’m fine too.” I learned a few more words, but I think when you can at least greet someone in their own language it can go a long way to breaking barriers of language and cultural differences. I’m continuing to learn more Xhosa.

One particular memory: There were 10 of us piled into the combi (touring van) that seats six in the back. Music was always playing on those drives and we were dancing in our seats at times. The energy was particularly high as we had just finished two days of documenting township life. Everyone was full of smiles — the kind that can light a room — and there was a lot of laughter. Though they spoke in Xhosa much of the time, I laughed along with them. I was really present and I just remember feeling grateful in that moment. It felt like just an ordinary day in some ways and that I was just a part of this group of women. I didn’t feel like an outsider. I felt like family.

How has “The heART of a Woman” made a difference so far?

Aside from the confidence the women gained in the short time we had together, new skills learned and a new creative outlet, they have started to earn some money. When their work was developed, they started earning money when some friends attended the braai (barbecue) and purchased some postcards right then. Additionally, I pre-purchased 15 postcards from each woman to sell as a special postcard series pack, which also included a postcard I had taken of all the women and a bracelet I commissioned. I sold out of the packs in just over 24 hours.

One of the women shared that she was able to buy train tickets for her son so he could try and find a job. Another shared that she was able to buy some shoes, and another shared that she gave some money to her grandmother. The same friend that attended the braai told me recently she returned to the centre and saw tourists purchasing some postcards from the boutique.

Did you experience any roadblocks along the way?

The biggest roadblock was not raising enough funds and not having enough funds. I was able to conduct the 11-day workshop on a limited budget, but more funds are needed to move to the next phase.

What’s next?

Continue getting the word out about the project, create a coffeetable book of the project — their photos, my photos, their profile photos and words they wrote so we can raise more funds. I need to edit all their work, set up an online shop, market the centre and products, and make sample products for sales. The profits will go to the women and back into the community and the project. With funds raised I was able to provide a portable wifi unit so they can engage on social media, and funds will be needed to continue to pay for prepaid data for the unit. I will continue to get the word out so more tourists will visit, which means more potential sales and income to the centre and community.

How can people get involved?

People can find me on Twitter and Instagram @thoawproject, by my travel blog ID @wanderingiphone, or by following the hashtag #thoawSA to connect, help spread the word, donate, and volunteer. You can visit the website to find out more information about donating, sponsoring a participant for the project, and volunteering.

If you’re travelling to Cape Town, visit the centre, take a tour of the facilities and ongoing projects, and support the local economy and these hard working women and mothers by purchasing their crafts and postcards. You can even spend a night in their small B&B. I’m discussing ideas and plans about leading a volunteer and tour group to Cape Town this year. We’re working on setting up a volunteer program there.

Travel bloggers, iPhone photographers, photographers, and other bloggers can all help as they have experience in social media and photography. In fact, anyone with some good working knowledge of iPhone photography, editing on iOS, and using social media can help. I taught the women the basics; now they just need to build on it. If you can’t donate financially at this time, consider volunteering and/or being an ambassador of the project to help get the word out.

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