At the ticketing counter, Annie Kendra watched as her luggage was tossed onto a lurching conveyor headed toward the undercarriage of a plane that would soon make its way to the central African country of Uganda.
Across the tall brunette’s shoulder was a carry-on bag with her most precious cargo for the mission trip she was about to embark on: a Nikon D5100 and an array of lenses.
Just ahead of her in line, Mary Dailey Brown had already checked in. Like Annie she, too, had a camera bag clutched to her side to carry on.
Later as the large plane took off, the two watched the cold, grey weather of Michigan disappear below the clouds.
It was five years ago, but Annie remembers the trip like it was yesterday: after what seemed an eternity over the Atlantic, she stepped out into a land where the hot air clung like a wet and heavy towel and the sun’s heat baked like an oven.
As the countryside unfolded before her on their way to the village, more contrast appeared. Mile after mile, the van zoomed by women carrying huge and heavy loads on their backs filled with fuel for fires, water for drinking and washing, and harvests from the fields. The bulky burlap bags were tied with a rope that extended around their foreheads and often a young child or two was wrapped tightly onto their fronts. Mostly barefoot, the women pitched forward to balance as they trod along with their cargo back to their villages.
And as often as such an overly-encumbered woman appeared along the road, Annie noticed, so did a man. But if he was carrying anything at all, it might be a stick, brushing it along the dirt on the road for entertainment. Most appeared to be wandering. Almost bored. He would silently pass each woman, never offering to ease the load or lend a hand.
Annie quietly took out her camera and knew she had a big job ahead of her: to document not just the women’s lives and the disparities she saw, but to use her talents to sow hope for change with the village women and with people back in the United States.
Seven years earlier, a White House Photographer-turned-Church Mission Director had founded SowHope, the organization sponsoring the trip Annie was on. In her mission trips to third world countries, Mary Dailey Brown began to recognize the need for an international support group focused not just on the needs of these countries, but to specifically encourage, inspire, and support the women of these countries.
When she found none, Mary struck out with her husband, Doug, in 2006 to found SowHope, one of the only global organizations focusing exclusively on the holistic needs of women living in extreme poverty. Through partner development, storytelling, and photography, the 501c3 organization has in its 12 years directly impacted nearly 80,000 women in 18 countries around the world by funding projects focused on wellness , education, and economic improvement.
“It has truly been an honor to be a SowHope photographer and help tell the moving stories of these women of faith, courage, strength and tenacity,” says Annie, who was one of SowHope’s first volunteer photographers. “A picture is worth a thousand words and using photos to tell their stories helps those of us in America understand their plight and inspires us to action. In short, it sows hope.”
On Thursday, March 8 from 6-8PM, SowHope will host a Photography Exhibit to showcase the images that Annie and other SowHope volunteers have taken during their mission trips. The event will be held at SowHope’s new office at 3777 Sparks Dr. SE, Grand Rapids. It is open to the public.
The event coincides with International Women’s Day, a century-old global day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and one that marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
“It was important for us to hold our event on this day,” says Mary. “Given the incredible role of women around the world, especially in third world countries, we want to be sure to celebrate them, but also remind people that there is still such incredible inequality. The exhibit can deliver hope both to attendees as well as the women SowHope partners with.”
In addition to Annie Kendra’s photography from her visit to West Uganda, the images from six other photographers will be showcased at the event. Dan Watts has done commercial/industrial photography for over three decades and made a name for himself in landscape and cityscape photography. His images from Ga District of Ghana in West Africa will be featured. Josh Visser traveled to India to capture the difficult circumstances under which women work. The exhibit will feature his image of a woman making gravel that stunningly contrasts the beauty and the burden that women of the Third World so commonly bear. Marney Salmon’s interest in photography began as a little girl. Her passion is taking “people pictures” that use her psychology background to see and capture opportunities that tell a visual story. As a child, Debra Kaiserlian Reyburn grew up with the stunning images of National Geographic around her home. They inspired her interest in different cultures and peoples which led to mission trips to Paraguay, Chile, and Haiti.
Finally, the images of SowHope founders Doug Brown and Mary Dailey Brown will also be featured. The couple share a passion for helping others – and in photography. A large part of Doug’s work with SowHope involves computers and technology. Mary worked as an Official Photographer for the White House, photographing both Presidents Carter and Reagan. She went on to open a freelance photography business in suburban Chicago, then after moving to Michigan, founded SowHope.
The SowHope International Women’s Day Exhibit event is sponsored by the Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, Aquinas College, Be A Rose, and Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW)
For more information, contact Aaron Hoxworth, SowHope Director of Administration, at email@example.com or 616-433-1575.
Laura Huth-Rhoades is a nonprofit consultant specializing in communications and storytelling. She volunteered her time with SowHope to help with this important project. She and her husband and 4 cats live in Lowell, Michigan.