Saturday, March 30, 2013

March Updates: the Portrait of a Brave Woman Project

Hey everyone!

Long time, no post - sorry about that! A lot has happened since I last updated this blog. First and foremost, I found out that I will have to fund my trip without help from my school or any other big organization, so as I was brainstorming ways to do that, I ended up thinking up a big idea: its name is the Portrait of a Brave Woman project.

I will attach the formal proposal and budget to this post, but the basic idea is this:

In the month and a half or so before I leave for the Democratic Republic of Congo, I will be making several series of paintings, each series highlighting several elements of a Mbuji-Mayi girl's life story. I will be displaying and (with any luck) selling these paintings to raise money for my plane ticket and other travel-related expenses.

While in Mbuji-Mayi, I will still be teaching English to a group of girls at the Muanjadi High School, but instead of making one long documentary, I will be making mini-documentaries about each of my students' lives, struggles, and stories. I will also ask each of my students to decide on a Personal Goal (an aspiration for her own life) and a Community Goal (some way in which she feels the community around her could be improved, an opportunity she wishes she could've had growing up, etc.).

Upon returning to the U.S., I plan to share these short documentaries with local artists and high school art classes, who will be encouraged to create a short series of paintings about a particular girl whose story touches them, as I did. The proceeds of these paintings will go towards 1) the girl's Personal Goal (i.e.: become a nurse), as well as 2) her Community Goal (i.e.: raise money to train some midwives for her village to decrease the death toll incurred by childbirth), and 3) sustaining the Portrait of a Brave Woman fund, which will allow an American student to teach at the Muanjadi high school during future summers.

This project will empower the Congolese girls, improve their communities, and create meaningful cross-cultural connections for Western artists and buyers. I plan to actively collect feedback from artists and buyers on the personal impact of the girls' stories and share it with the girls themselves. I hope that this will give them confidence, and a sense that they matter. Further, the proceeds of any series an artist chooses to make about a girl's story will benefit the girl and her community directly, which will empower her by showing her that she and her story have the power to improve her own life, as well as others'.

Any Portraits (the capital 'P' denotes not a single painting of the girl herself, but rather a series of portraits about her story) created by the artists and student-artists will be sold at a Douglas County School District-wide silent auction in January, which I hope will become an annual fundraiser for the Portrait of a Brave Woman project and the Muanjadi Foundation.

Thanks so much for reading, and if you want more information, be sure to check out the formal proposal and budget below! If you have any further questions,  don't hesitate to email me at


I aspire to start a program called Portrait of a Brave Woman. This project’s goal would be to forge intercultural connections between residents of the first and third worlds, as well as to personalize members of each of these broad groups through both visual and written storytelling. This program would allow artists in the U.S. to learn about the stories of girls at the Muanjadi High School in Mbuji Mayi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and to foster a more personal connection with any of these girls by creating a “Portrait” of her. Because defining a woman and her accomplishments by her physical appearance is one of the factors holding our world back from full gender equality, however, there would be a catch: the “Portrait” must consist of several pieces, none a traditional, straightforward portrait of the woman herself. Through this approach to portraiture and storytelling, we allow each of these women to take on a more complex and multidimensional identity, and we therefore create a more adequate expression of her real life, story, and identity. 

Each series of artworks will then, together or individually, be displayed to buyers, who will also have the opportunity to make valuable intercultural connections while supporting an honorable cause; communication between the girls, artists, and buyers will be encouraged and facilitated through this program. Each girl will also have the opportunity to set two specific goals which her Portrait would benefit: one personal goal, and one community goal. The proceeds from the artist’s depictions of her story would then go towards a combination of her Personal Goal, her Community Goal, and sustaining the Portrait of a Brave Woman program. 

There is nothing more powerful than sharing one’s story, and there is arguably nothing more empowering than learning that one’s story has touched someone else and helped to make a difference in others’ lives. Due to this, the Portrait of a Brave Woman program could be applied to any number of nations, organizations, schools, cities, artists, and buyers in the future, and create an amazing number of personal connections which shatter the culturally and geographically imposed boundaries normally limiting our perspectives. 

The program itself will entail several steps and will follow a specific timeline in order to grow in the most effective and meaningful manner; my proposed timeline is as follows: 

March 18 - 24, 2013: Contact three of the girls whom Castle View High School has sponsored through the Muanjadi Organization; learn about their personal stories, their lives, their favorite things, and how they would describe themselves. 

May 18 - June 29, 2013: Create the first Portraits of the students interviewed in March, display and sell as fundraiser for trip to the Muanjadi High School. 

June 30 - August 1, 2013: Travel abroad with Sandra Bea, the founder of the Muanjadi Organization (with which this project will work closely), to the Muanjadi High School; implement several of the program’s abroad initiatives, including: teaching a summer English course at the school, interviewing students in documentary format, and (potentially) instructing the students on the use of a class blog to share their stories, and setting up regulated student internet access via a local internet café. 

August 1 - September 1, 2013: Return to the U.S.; continue with personal Portrait creation and sales; compile short documentaries on each girl interviewed; work towards the creation of a Portrait of a Brave Woman website to increase the accessibility of girls’ stories; speak with local artists, art teachers, and advanced high school art classes about the Portrait of a Brave Woman program (screen some of the short documentaries, discuss my experience with the girls as well as their living conditions, etc.) to spread the program’s influence and initiate widespread participation. 

September 1, 2013 - January 31, 2014: Continue to spread word of Portrait of a Brave Woman program at Wellesley (by presenting at the Fall Tanner Conference and working with Wellesley College’s Amnesty International and Peace Coalition groups); begin to plan and facilitate an annual January Muanjadi Organization/Portrait of a Brave Woman silent auction fundraiser with Douglas County public high schools - work of student and professional artists will be displayed and sold, proceeds to benefit the girls’ Personal Goals, Community Goals, and the Portrait of a Brave Woman fund (to allow others to go abroad and continue the summer English course at the Muanjadi High School, sustain the Mbuji-Mayi students’ internet connection plan, etc.). 

If you'd like, you can also check out my Causes page for Portrait of a Brave Woman here:

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