Almost a year ago a dear friend of mine, Jen Lemen went on a trip to Rwanda. Her mission was simple; to go visit another friend's two daughters. The other friend, Odette had been separated from her kids and for a number of complicated reasons wasn't allowed to travel the miles to be reunited with them. It had been over 2 years since she had seen her children and as any mother could imagine, the separation was excruciating. So Jen, a mother herself went in her place--to not only see Odette's daughters but to be sure they were receiving the medical attention they needed as they had both been battling illness. Jen went to Rwanda in goodwill; as a conduit of hope. At least that's how I saw it.
Of course, in the weeks that led up to the trip the friends decided to make the most of Jen's visit and ended up hand delivering a lot more than hope to many more girls than just Odette's daughters but that's another story.
After a 10 day trip, Jen returned from Africa with updates on the girls and recent photos and videos to hand deliver to their mother. But, it was obvious to me that there was so much more to it than that. My friend came back with more than she had ever even left with. As she traveled to a far away place where hope may have seemed unlikely--possibly non-existent--she discovered something astounding. These people who had little food and no clean water eagerly and graciously gave, offering all that they had with joy. These kids, missing their mother, sick with very limited medical care smiled and laughed each day like any other child holding on to something unseen. These bodies, wrecked and ravaged by unspeakable injustice were the same bodies that danced and sang with pride, and outstretched their arms in love. And as she looked through her lens and captured image after photographic image she saw real, true, life-altering hope. In circumstances that might feel impossible to many of us, these people gave to my friend more than she could have ever given to them. I know these things because she came back changed. Transformed. I can hear it in her voice, I see it in her eyes, I read it in her stories, and I feel it in her photographs.
Recently the compelling Name Your Own Dream Assignment was announced. With the generous sponsorship of Lenovo and Microsoft, $50,000 is on the line for someone with a vision, a dream, to use on a photo project that captures in pictures what is important to them. How could I not encourage my friend to toss in her ticket; to create a Dream Assignment that could continue what she had already, quite surprisingly discovered? And now, with the unconditional and overwhelming support from an incredible community of women photographers, she's doing exactly that. She has put into motion a way to continue to seek out and share the hope that can be found in the most unlikely of places. And she and fellow photographer Stephanie Roberts have invited all of us to do the same--to look through our own lenses in search of hope. I know for myself, I want nothing more than to join them. My eyes (and heart) are wide open.