This inspiring story of female empowerment is submitted by Interprize member and good friend Purnima Gauthron.
Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’d like to share an unusual story and slideshow from a first-of-its-kind community project. It is a story of innovation by rural women farmers without an education.
Vanastree, a rural women farmers co-operative in the western hills of India, is dedicated to promoting forest garden biodiversity by cultivating and conserving traditional seeds, spices and plants. Vanastree means “women of the forest”. The agrarian communities there are part of an age-old way of life where the wilderness, spice orchards, paddies and homesteads are closely intertwined.
Started in 2003, Vanastree has grown from one woman farmer in one field to 150 women farmers in several villages. Today, Vanastree is fully owned and run by rural women farmers who are creative and resourceful, hard-working and gracious. As a Vanastree trustee, I have learned much about the authenticity and security of food sources.
To go on with the story, late last year when the failure of the monsoon rains affected the growth of new crops, the women of Vanastree struggled to keep up their livelihood and faith. They were down to eating one small meal a day.
Rather than solicit donations or media coverage , the group decided to embark on a bold and buoyant experiment to document their own lives in order to bring more awareness to their situation. Their experiment wasn’t about weaving or crafting or painting, although they are fully skilled in village arts. It was about learning to use sophisticated cameras to photograph their lives, their land, and things around them. Remarkably, they had never before held a camera. They called their experiment Land and Lens.
I must admit that I was initially skeptical about the Land and Lens project but we went ahead with a firm belief. Using three second-hand DSLR cameras and an obsolete laptop, the Vanastree women were trained by an intern from the U.S. in the art of photography and the operation of a Nikon Series-X DSLR camera.
We met with our first group on International Women’s Day: Wednesday, March 8th. We covered the basics of camera care and some introductory principles of photography. The group was also taught how to clean and care for their camera equipment .
The first hands-on exercise was portraits. After import and review of the photos we could see a remarkable natural eye in the students for composition and subject matter. The second assignment was shapes, colors, light and textures. Again reviewing the photos, the compositions that these students seemed to intuitively grasp were far more advanced than we could have anticipated.
At the end of their training, eight women farmers at Vanastree , armed with DSLR cameras, continued the grunt of their daily field work in the hot sun, … except that each had transformed from farmer to artist. Their photographs and voices in the Land and Lens video, is worth watching. Click here to view the Land and Lens video.
I have to consider that these women and youth possess some kind of undistracted “village eye” in their intent observance of light, shape, and composition. We now have a group of women farmers at Vanastree who happen to have a lot of raw talent in photography! Land and Lens will be promoted at several venues around the world this year.
Vanastree also offers a free internship program to foreign students to study and experience what it means to own and cultivate a small piece land for a living. Trekking from the coasts to the jungles, collecting seeds for Vanastree’s seed bank, and working with the women who propagate them year after year, these students return home knowing that they would never take a bite of food for granted again.