I know I usually just write about my weddings but I’m feeling inspired. I just came back from the Women in the World conference at Lincoln Center and the stories I heard from women around the world have me fired up. As most of you know I started as a photojournalist. I wanted to change the world with my camera. Over the years I’ve journeyed away from that profession for a number of reasons, but I have always felt that it is my true calling to use my camera to effect change in this world. I’ve been feeling that more and more these past couple months and am now actively looking for a project to work on. So it must have been fate that my friend offered me an extra ticket to this incredible conference.
I went to be inspired and to find a story that needs me. I found so many I don’t know where to begin. What happened to the Arab women who helped lead a revolution in Egypt? Will their Arab Spring turn into an Arab Winter? Will they have a voice in their new government? Or did they risk their lives for nothing? One of the revolutionaries summed it up: “There is no Spring without flowers and there can be no Arab Spring without women!” Or what about under age marriage? Everyday-EVERYDAY-in this world 25,000 girls under the age of 18 get married. It’s still legal to get married in West Virginia at age 12! Or the Kamlari girls from Napal. I heard from Suma who at age 6 was sold by her parents to be a servant girl where she was beaten everyday. She was rescued by Room to Read Girls Education program. She wrote a song about her experience and sang it to us all. “Selfish were my parents, they give birth to a daughter…” listen to it, it will give you chills. To see her standing on stage, knowing all she suffered….20,000 girls a year are still sold into Kamlari. Then there was Molly Melching, who has been fighting to end female genital cutting for 20 years. She brought with her male tribal elders who ended up being her biggest asset. This man participated in FGM practice for most of his life. It was hard for me to believe that someone could honestly be ignorant that genital cutting is harmful but they simply didn’t know any better and were doing what their fathers had done before them. It wasn’t until he took a basic education class that he understood the consequences of this practice. “Intelligence is the only thing that will help to change a deeply entrenched tradition.” Once he understood he was “deeply pained and saddened to say that every woman in my family had this done.” He did his research, learned from Muslim leaders that this was not a religious necessity. He talked about putting on his shoes and going to see his extended relatives in other villages in order to educate them and bring about change. They believe that by 2015 the practice of FGM will be eradicated in Senegal. Or how about the Burmese Spring that’s getting ready to bloom? Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was even freed from 15yrs of house arrest and is now campaigning for a parliamentary seat. We heard from Zin Mar Aung, a Burmese woman who was imprisioned for 11 years in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT for handing out pro-democracy leaflets. When asked how she possibly survived such isolation she said “Someone can imprision your body but not your mind.”
At this point my heart is full and my mind is spinning. There is so much that needs to be done. It’s overwhelming and where do you start? It was then that 17 yr old Talia Leman took the stage. She started at age 10 organizing kids to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. She and kids across America ended up raising $10 million! She started Randomkid.org, a place where any random kid can help solve real world problems. “You don’t have to wait to grow up to be somebody, you already are somebody!” Then I heard “Think what can be, unburdened by what has been.” by California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Those statements really hit a nerve for me. I think sometimes I don’t try things because I feel they’ve already been done. I give up before I’ve started. Or I think I’m not good enough. Well guess what? I am good enough, and even if it’s been done it hasn’t been done by me. We all have the ability to make real change happen in this world. As one of my southern photography professors put it “Keep a fire in your belly”. That’s southern speak for stay informed and be passionate. Go out and be part an active part of the world!
All this said I’m getting involved. I’m still not quite sure exactly what that means but I’m going to start here:http://www.womenintheworld.org/learn-more. I plan on traveling the world and documenting women and girls in their struggles and their triumphs. Everyone is talking about socially responsible business these days. While I don’t claim to be a business on par with the likes of FEED, I do want potential clients to know that by hiring me to shoot your wedding you’re helping me to fund personal documentary projects that will help effect change in the lives and rights of women and girls around the globe.
It’s through story telling that we gain awareness. Awareness will bring about education, and it’s education which will bring about real change in this world. I’ve heard the call and I’m going to do something about it. So can you.