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12/
03

Grit and Grace

There are times in your life when you make a decision that becomes momentous in hindsight and you don’t quite realise at the time that your life is never going to be the same again. Whether it’s somewhere you go or someone you meet, we all lose a piece of ourselves and find another in the most unexpected places.
For me that place was Malawi.

While working with the Human Kind Project as a photographer, it was so easy to get ‘lost in the lens’, focusing my mind on the light and the beautiful faces all around me. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country and its people and the sense of privilege I felt to be there.

I heard stories of women starting businesses and transforming the lives of their families with seed money of only $50. Rising and lifting others, while overcoming the belief that they were born into a state of hunger and that was how they would remain. But through sheer dedication and force of will they transformed the lives of their families for generations.

But there is a sense of dislocation you sometimes feel as a photographer. Almost a dreamlike state of otherness. I understood the stories of the women we met but I don’t think I truly connected to the simple, heartbreaking truth I witnessed.

Then I met the Grandma in pink.

I was photographing a group of laughing and chatting women. We were laughing together when, with the help of a translator, they began to tell us their stories. There were nine of us gathered there but when the lady in the pink blazer began to tell her story, she focused her whole attention on me and it was to me she told her story.

The aura of strength and authority that poured from her while she gave her story to me was like nothing I had ever felt before. She did not break eye contact and I could not…

She said: “I am 65 and living positively with HIV. But look at me, I am strong. I am proud of my clothes and I look healthy. I have built a life that I can look back on with proud memories. “

She was mother to five children who had all died from AIDS and she was raising her three grandchildren alone. She had been sick for several years but felt too scared to take the test.

It was then that The Hunger Project came to her village and helped her and supported her while she took the test that confirmed she was HIV positive. The Hunger Project Animator (leader)convinced her to join a group to help her manage her medications, become future facing and move forward for herself and her grandchildren.

“Without that group, I think I would be dead. But they made me strong. I am now an animator and I help people to get tested. I help teach woman to be empowered in protecting their health and having safe sex and I help people who get a positive result plan their future.”

She beat her chest with pride as she spoke of the woman she had become and her responsibility to her family and her community. And she was thanking us. Thanking us for being her partners and coming to hear her story… I was the one who felt blessed that day.

Someone told me something once that really resonated with me. They said, “it takes two things to successfully run a business… grit and grace”. I have tried through my working days to reflect these traits but in that village, I saw the personification of the dual qualities of grit and grace… in one human.

What I remember is the resilience of that woman and her pride in a life which had tread a path of isolation, fear and sadness for such a long time. She rose up and she found hope, happiness and a strength of spirit that inspires me to this day.

If she can do what she needed to do, then so can I. We didn’t speak the same language and we will probably never meet again but I feel a connection to her and I feel grateful. That is why I continue to support The Hunger Project. It ‘s a project of hope and opportunity. It gives thousands of people the chance to be great.

A friend of mine, Glen Carlson said you should give so it hurts… the money or time you decide to part with… you should notice. Because for me, when I look back on my life, I want to feel as proud as the Grandma in pink.