Pampering a rescued Asian elephant at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiang Mai, Thailand was one of my favourite experiences in 2015. We joined them in the river and helped them stay cool by throwing buckets of water on them. It was a heartwarming experience and wonderful to watch them play freely after their ‘bath’.
ENP is a sanctuary for rescued elephants from the tourism and entertainment trades in Thailand. Every elephant has a heartbreaking story. To help, you can visit ENP as a day visitor or overnight guest or you can stay longer and volunteer.
Also, don’t ride elephants in Thailand, South Africa or anywhere. They are wild animals even if born in captivity. In order to ride an elephant in the tourism industry they need to be ‘broken’ and there is a lot of evidence that states the process is very cruel.
If you love elephants that much and want to be close to them, please consider visiting them at Elephant Nature park instead. You can walk with them, bathe them and even have your photo taken with them.
I am drawn to learning about the world’s cultures. It is the reason I travel and attend events that focus on art, music and dance. I believe artists and performers are the keepers of traditions, stories, cultural beliefs and the identity of a people.
The Folk Art Alliance brings this together beautifully as they play host to the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In one weekend in July, you meet artists from around the world and learn about their art and culture. It is also an opportunity to make a difference with your purchase. In 2015 there were 173 artists from 57 countries represented at this truly international market.
Mariano’s Tree of Life yarn painting (pictured below) was chosen as the theme image for this year’s market. I had a chance to speak with his son Cilau about this piece.
Tree of Life and Abundance by Mariano Valadez Navarro of Mexico
“On the left side we have the feminine side, on the right side we have the masculine side they represent the balance of the opposites and how it always takes two opposite forces to create life. In this case it’s a girl that’s also following the traditional path. When we see the tree, representing the tree of life and its abundance, it’s abundance is represented through the different living creatures that are living on the tree. Small things such as the bees are important because the bees are a metaphor of ourselves, the bees are hard-working animals, they live in community and they are the caretakers of the queen bee. In our case, we work really hard in the corn fields, we live in community and we are the caretakers of Mother Earth as if it was the queen bee. When we see the moon, the moon is the biggest feminine figure, the fire represents the masculine figure, again two opposite forces that unite and create life. The ones that are in the hands of the male represents the prayer wand that is used for healing physically and spiritually, but also for channelling the healing energy. This is mainly to honour life and it’s duality.” – Cilau Valedez
Yarn painter Mariano Valadez Navarro of Mexico demonstrates his art at his booth at the market. Mariano’s art focuses on the Huichol culture. I would never have believed that his art was created with yarn if I hadn’t seen it for myself. It is full of detail and colour.
Grandfather Fire guides initiates on their Shaman path to higher knowledge, a yarn painting by Mariano Valadez Navarro.
I noticed the art of Manisha Mishra and was particularly drawn to her Tree of Life paintings. When I was in India in February, I met an artist whom I commissioned to create a Gond art painting of the Tree of Life and animals I had seen on my visit to India. Manisha’s paintings reminded me of it, so I stopped to chat with her about her work and purchased a tree of life with a peacock. Manisha is a Madhubani painter from Behar in North eastern India.
I’m not sure what it is about the Tree of Life that I love, maybe it is the fact that it is an important symbol in many cultures around the world. I wear a pendant of one around my neck and it has become a part of my logo.
Here’s what Manisha says about the piece I purchased, pictured below:
“This painting is showing the peacock on the tree of life, the peacock is a symbol of love and we say that all your wishes come true under the tree of life. In our tradition we get married to the tree before getting married to the groom. So we say that the tree takes on all the bad omens so you live happily ever after. That is a Hindu philosophy” – Manisha Mishra
artist Manisha Mishra from India
Wandering the market, I came across these forged-metal cow bells made by Janmamad Salemamad Luhar of India. Knowing that every piece at the market is handcrafted, I was intrigued to find out a bit more about them. I learned that each bell has its own unique sound and that cows were outfitted with them so their owners would find them again just by recognizing the sound. This is an ancient art in Janmamad’s community.
Janmamad Salemamad Luhar of India.
Being from Canada, I was happy to see the Indigenous culture in Canada represented at the market. I met up with Haida artist Gwaii Edenshaw of Haida Gwaii and learned about his art. Haida Gwaii is an archipelago on the North coast of British Columbia and is made up of about 150 islands.
Portrait Moon, made of abalone and silver by Haida artist Gwaii Edenshaw. The moon is Gwaii’s father’s crest and is significant in his culture as it governs the seasons.
Dogfish Mother made of 22kt gold, platinum and abalone by Haida artist Gwaii Edenshaw. He says “It embodies the dignity of our women”.
Haida artist Gwaii Edenshaw
With my 2nd visit to the market and with many of the artists returning, it’s also reunion of sorts. I was happy to see Khin Maung Htwe of Myanmar again. I wrote about his puppetry after the market last year. If it wasn’t for the market, I may not have known about a 600 year old tradition and his puppet theatre in Yangon. I can’t wait to attend a performance when I visit my paternal ancestral home of Myanmar in Yangon this October.
Khin Maung Htwe and Tin Tin OO
I followed the sound of the djembe, a drum that originated in West Africa and came upon a booth of Nigerian drummer, Akeem Ayanniyi. I was reminded of his performance on the market stage last year. It was wonderful to see people joining in and making music together with the drums at his booth.
Akeem Ayanniyi makes traditional West African drums that are played for ceremonial occasions and religious functions. Traditionally drums were used to communicate between villages. Various beats were meant to communicate birth, death or celebration. Akeem is from a highly respected family of drummers and drum makers, going back nine generations.
I couldn’t help but feel like I was travelling the world as I saw a diverse display of folk art and heard a myriad of languages spoken. When I hear languages from around the world especially ones I recognize from places I’ve travelled to, it brings me back to those places like India, Cuba and Morocco.
I was especially happy to see returning artists from South Africa Xolile Ndlovu and my dear friend Lulama Sihlabeni. If you knew me, you would know about my special connection to this beautiful country and people that began with a chance visit to eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre in Khayelitsha in December 2012. It has since deepened through 4 more visits to South Africa and by spending time with the women of eKhaya eKasi after starting a mobile photography program there. Hearing isiXhosa in a place I didn’t expect to hear it brought me right back to my times spent in Khayelitsha.
Bead and wire art from South Africa as represented by Lulama Sihlabeni of eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre.
Nowhere else in the world can you experience this under one ‘roof’, the Santa Fe sky. If you are ever in Santa Fe in July and like the idea of traveling the world in one place and purchasing a meaningful piece of handcrafted art, make it a point to attend. It is truly a one of a kind market that unites people through art.
A photo essay of eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre in Khayelitsha and The Heart of a Woman Project in South Africa (thoawSA), a women’s mobile photography and digital literacy initiative that has been my passion project since May 2013.
I have spent almost two months in over four visits to the centre since December 2012.
All photos by the Andrea except where noted.
Lulama Sihlabeni, director of eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre, stands in front of this multi-purpose community centre in Khayelitsha.
The view from the rooftop of eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre where I first visited in December 2012. eKhaya eKasi is located in a residential area and means ‘home in the hood’ in isiXhosa, the predominant language in this Khayelitsha Township. The neighbourhood has modest brick houses and informal dwellings also known as shacks. The informal homes are made of corrugated metal, tin and wood and residents share a communal water source and toilets. This Township was established during the apartheid era in 1985 and is Cape Town’s largest with over 1 million people.
Women at eKhaya eKasi make bracelets for a Cape Town business. Programs that address unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, health and HIV/AIDS are offered. The skills development programs teach women, mostly mothers and grandmothers, arts, crafts and entrepreneurship. There is an on-site art boutique where participants sell their work to the tourists that visit. Sales provide revenue to the centre so the programs may continue as well as offers an opportunity for the women to generate an income so they may provide for their families. Women are often the sole providers and caregivers in the Township and face challenges such as high unemployment rates, alcoholism and domestic abuse. The centre also acts as a haven for residents and gives them a chance to socialize.
eKhaya eKasi provides space for social services and community meetings. Women in the skills development program serve soup to residents for the Meals on Wheels program. The Elders seated in the photo meet to discuss their burial society. Burial societies are designed to help ease the costs of a funeral by operating on a monthly contribution. The estimate is that two thirds of households in townships participate. The ability to give their family a dignified burial is a significant cultural event.
Veliswa Wowo, a married mother of 4 and founding member of The Heart of a Woman Project in South Africa photographs live chickens in Khayelitsha. Inspired by the model of education and empowerment through the arts, Andrea Rees founded The Heart of a Woman Project, a development initiative that partners with non-profit organizations focused on women’s empowerment and skills development. The goal is to educate women impacted by poverty in mobile photography, technology and social media using donated previously owned iPhones. It aims to empower women to have a voice, access to Internet, a creative outlet and sustainable income through the sales of photographic products. The pilot project and program began at eKhaya eKasi in November 2013 with 9 participants over an 11-day workshop. Participants received 200 postcards of their own image taken in Khayelitsha to sell in the on-site boutique and through partners in tourism.
Work clothes hang on a clothesline outside a shack in an informal settlement that we photographed in Khayelitsha. Informal settlements are areas with makeshift dwellings crammed closely together. Residents do not have access to water in their homes or on their property. They must walk to get water from a communal water source and use communal toilets, which are often in disrepair. Participants in the program are active on social media and use their photos and voice to share Township Life.
Yolanda Nkatula, a married mother of 2 pauses to photograph a ‘Stop Woman Abuse’ mural on Walter Sisulu Road in Khayelitsha. Many of the fences are painted with street art and showcase anything from advertising a local business to addressing social issues.
Aviwe Dalingozi, a participant in The Heart of a Woman Project, photographs children in Khayelitsha as a curious resident looks on.
Retsepile Tom, founding member of The Heart of a Woman Project, photographs an informal settlement. The population of Khayelitsha is speculated to be over 1 million people. This settlement has an approximate population of 11,000 people.
Participants, Yolanda Nkatula and Esther Mahlasela share a laugh as they pretend to be waiting for a bus at this Khayelitsha bus stop. We stopped to discuss the art of capturing street photos.
Yolanda Nkatula and Aviwe Dalingozi photograph the mural on a shipping container, home to Mama Blessing Hair Salon in Khayelitsha. The Townships have become like cities and are made up of small commercial shopping malls and independently owned businesses. These businesses sell their goods and services in shacks, shipping containers or simply on the sidewalk. With high unemployment rates in Khayelitsha, it is necessary to find economic opportunities. Most of the containers and shacks are painted with colourful murals.
Participants walk (and dance) back to the van after two days of photographing Township Life with the goal of one of the images becoming a postcard.
Esther Mahlasela (red hat) sits at the project’s laptop to take her turn learning how to adjust the brightness of the screen. As she placed the pointer on the slider to lower the brightness, she accidentally dragged it too far and the screen went into complete darkness. Development programs give participants the opportunity for peer-to-peer learning, to solve problems and work together. Workshops focused on basic computer skills, mobile photography, social media and digital literacy.
A participant in The Heart of a Woman Project in South Africa folds greeting cards. At the end of the 11-day workshop in November 2013 each participant was given 200 postcards of one of their images to sell in the on-site boutique at eKhaya eKasi. Both products are currently sold in the boutique, globally through the website and postcards are available at The Backpack, an award-winning hostel in Cape Town. It was revealed at the first anniversary photography exhibition and celebration in November 2014 that this program is the highest income generator.
The women get familiar with Hubspace Khayelitsha. Hubspace provides a co-working environment for entrepreneurs in townships. They host a variety of workshops and events and offer advisory service and business support for their members.
Nwabisa Ndongeni, project coordinator of The Heart of a Woman Project in South Africa talks about the program to tourists visiting the centre on tour with Uthando South Africa, a responsible tourism organization.
Nwabisa Ndongeni, mother of 2 and founding member, photographs Henry at the Site C taxi rank in Khayelitsha as Thoban Joppie, a member of the Cape Town Instagram community offers some tips. On June 1, 2014, the women hosted the inaugural #InstameetEKASI in Khayelitsha with members of the Cape Town Igers (instagrammers). It was wonderful to see these two communities come together in their mutual love of mobile photography and Instagram. The ladies enjoyed their time, appreciated the tips and look forward to another InstameetEKASI.
Henry, Site C. Photo taken June 1, 2014 by Nwabisa Ndongeni at the inaugural InstameetEKASI. Nwabisa is one of the founding members of The Heart of a Woman Project mobile photography program at eKhaya eKasi and the coordinator of the program. She has been teaching the 3 newest participants since October 2014.
Velisa Wowo, a founding member of The Heart of a Woman Project mobile photography program at eKhaya eKasi proudly displays a framed image of her photo of a shoe repairman in Khayelitsha. This image is Veliswa’s series 1.0 postcard and greeting card and was taken with a donated previously owned iPhone 4s. The women were surprised with framed photos of their ‘postcard images’ in June 2014. They are on display at eKhaya eKasi and were admired by the community and guests at the 1st anniversary photography exhibition and cultural celebration at the centre on November 22, 2014.
Busisiwe Dalingozi, a married mother of 2 goes through her iPhone photos and shares them on social media. Each participant has their own Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. The ladies use social media to share images of Township life and connect with supporters around the world. They also share the events taking place at eKhaya eKasi such as the Uthando tours, a wedding and a luncheon for Arun Gandhi and Gandhi Legacy Tour that visited in June 2014. To connect with the women on Instagram and Twitter, search for hashtag #thoawSA (The Heart of a Woman Project South Africa) or #eKhayaeKasi.
This is a collage of the women’s photos taken over the first year of The Heart of a Woman Project in South Africa. It was debuted at the 1st anniversary photography exhibition and cultural celebration at eKhaya eKasi on November 22, 2014.
The Eza Kwantu Cultural Group performs at The Heart of a Woman Project First Anniversary Cultural Celebration and Photography Exhibition. Eza Kwantu is a local youth group of vocalists that sing in isiXhosa.
“Photography is more than art; it is empowerment, it is a creative outlet, it is a voice, and it is a source of income for a group of women from a Cape Town Township” – Andrea Rees
eKhaya eKasi generates income through product sales in its on-site art boutique, business to business orders and tourism to support the programs and become self-sustaining. The art boutique focuses on handmade crafts and photography products by artists in the women’s skills development programs, from the community and other areas of South Africa.
The goal is to draw tourists into a community that did not previously have tourism attractions, to offer a cultural exchange and to provide economic opportunity and sustainable income to the artists and residents that partner and work with the centre.
Traditional cooking class
Djembe class (African drumming)
Every sale and visit offer travellers to Cape Town and Khayelitsha an opportunity to make a difference and help improve the lives of those that are impacted by poverty.
In November 2014, I returned to South Africa for my 4th visit, but this time with my husband and 2 sons (ages 9 & 4) in tow. My father also joined us for part of the trip.
If you’ve been following me for a while you would have heard of a women’s mobile photography development initiative I founded, The Heart of a Woman Project. The South Africa project is based at eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre, a non-profit community centre in the heart of Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha.
at eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre, Khayelitsha, South Africa.
Cape Town Tips:
Go on a meaningful and inspiring tour to development projects in the townships with Uthando SA. Uthando is an award-winning fair trade tourism organization doing amazing work. Your tour directly helps the development projects you visit.
Visit the V&A waterfront for shopping or a meal, they have a great playground
Visit Boulders Beach in Simonstown but get off the path and take the boardwalk down to the beach for the best view of the penguins. Swim or splash in the ocean and have a picnic.
Visit Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope, you may see ostriches and baboons.
Visit Muizenberg and watch the surfers or go to the nearby waterslides or mini golf. There is a playground at the main beach and plenty of restaurants. Have a falafel at Yoffi’s
Visit the smaller and less busy St. James Beach, they have those colourful beach huts (change rooms) too and a great tidal pool for swimming.
Drive Chapman’s Peak drive and stop at the lookout points
Have fish ‘n chips in Kalk Bay, try Kalky’s or Lucky’s.
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Family Friendly Safari:
There are an overwhelming number of places to choose from for a safari in South Africa. Not all places are created equal and are family friendly. Some lodges welcome children 6 years of age and older while others children have to be 12 years of age and older. I chose Naledi Game Lodges for our family safari as I had been there a few times and enjoyed the intimate atmosphere. My sons were 4 and 9 years old at the time and were welcome on all the game drives.
What I love about a safari in a private reserve:
You get the knowledge and keen eyes of the guides and trackers
Someone else does the driving so you can enjoy the scenery and take photos
You often get a closer look at the wildlife as you go off-road to follow the sound of the cracking branches by the elephants or follow the lion pride as they look for their next meal.
The drives are 3 hours each but you stop for drinks, snacks and a bathroom break, bush style. My boys fell asleep for a short nap every game drive (early mornings) but didn’t miss any of the action.
Tip: If you visit Naledi Game Lodges, make sure to visit Rosie’s hide while there, it overlooks a waterhole. Enjoy the sounds of the bush and see what comes by for a drink. Have you heard of Africam, 24-hour webcam streamingfrom South Africa? Naledi has 3 webcams on their property, one at Rosie’s, one overlooking the river at Naledi Enkoveni and the newest one is a cat cam (ground level). It was great to show my boys the cams before their visit and we have watched them since our visit.
Naledi is an award-winning luxury lodge, but I think you would be surprised at how reasonably priced it is. They have 2 lodges, we stayed at the Naledi Enkoveni lodge. At the time of our visit I hadn’t stayed at Bush Camp, I have since stayed at both lodges and cannot decide which I like better, both Bush Camp and Enkoveni are a real treat.
Spend 1-2 nights on the Panorama route to enjoy God’s Window and Blyde River Canyon on the way to Limpopo.
Stay at Tsanana Log Cabins at the Africa Silks Farm near Graskop in Mpumalanga. It’s a great place for families on the Panorama route and you can take a tour.
Have pannekoek (pancakes) at Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop
Visit the Giant Baobab tree also known as the Glencoe Baobab near Hoedspruit. It is said that the tree is over 2000 years old. There is a small restaurant on the property, they also serve wonderful pannekoek.