In this photo series, Australian photographer, Tobias Clarke, currently based in Kigali, Rwanda, aims to capture the power of women who have experienced suffered but yet have found the inner strength to rise above their past problems. "So often here in Rwanda I speak to these women and hear their stories; their striving to be more and to propel their children into a future they never had." says Tobias. "In these series of photos, I wanted to celebrate them as women and to highlight their beauty and femininity and not focus on their poverty. As I spent time with each amazing woman, hearing her story and taking her photos, I was moved to the point of tears, but also so proud to hear and see each woman react so positively to these powerful moving photos."
"Jacqueline Mushimiyimana is a seventeen-year-old girl. Because of the extreme poverty in her family, she left her rural village and moved to the capital city to find work to help support her family at home. While she was working, she was befriended by a much older man who promised her the world. But all he gave her was his child, which he left her to take care of on her own. Underage and without the emotional or physical support of the father, she had to return home to her family." Jacqueline was able to find support from Shelter Them, a local charitable organization in Rwanada, to help raise her precious son. With the support received, Jacquline is able to provide her son, who she has named love, with a future that is brighter than her own past.
Shelter Them, the organization which supports Jacqueline, operates in Rwanda and was born in the hearts of two twin sisters, Josephine and Jocelyne, who currently live in Canada. During their first visit back to Rwanda after over a decade since they left as refugees, they were immediately struck by the unforgiving living conditions faced by many children and their families in their home town. After returning to Canada, they reflected on their own journey and the hardships they witnessed during their visit. Impelled to act, they began mobilizing their friends and community members to begin their first child poverty alleviation activities that ultimately gave rise to Shelter Them. Over 10 years later, the organization has grown to provide support for children and their families, including shelter, healthcare, emotional support and access to employment, often where the family is run solely by the mother. Vestine and Jeanine, also photographed in this series are two of many women who experienced violence in their past, but with support, they were able to remove themselves from the ongoing cycle of abuse they had been experiencing for years.
"Vestine Nyiramwiza started her family as a young sixteen-year-old girl and over the next eighteen years endured physical abuse from her “husband”. Eventually, he decided to leave Vestine and their seven children in pursuit of another women, but still continued to return for unwanted visits which resulted in their eighth child. Without a job or any source of income, Vestine found it impossible to provide for her children. Sadly, the cycle of poverty has now extended to her oldest daughter, who is now back at home with a new born baby. Shelter Them is working with all the family to help provide a safe stable home and a future for this family which is free from the burdens and shackles of the past."
"Jeanine Kantengwa's escape from oppression and poverty is attributed to her oldest daughter, Laurence Uwacu. Laurence dreamt of a better life for herself than her mother had; she wanted education and wanted to be in a position to help her family. Jeanine’s family was murdered in 1994 during the genocide which ravaged Rwanda. Escaping the pain of all her family being killed, Jeanine resorted to alcohol. At the age of 15 she became pregnant and over the next few years had another child with the same man. He then stole the title deeds of Jeanine’s land, sold it and ran away. Desperate for someone to care for her, she lived with another man who gave her three additional children who then left and abandoned them all to a life of no hope. The eldest daughter, Laurence, was not content with what their life held and soon she came across Shelter Them while roaming the streets searching for a way to help her family escape the tiny two square meter room which was their entire house. Hearing the sounds of children playing Laurence asked if she to could join in, and because of this simple request, Jeanine, Laurence and the rest of the family’s future is much brighter."
These women, with all of their past experiences, still exude such positive energy when you meet them. They do not focus on the past and what that past means for their current everyday life; instead they focus on the future, thankful for the opportunity to provide a better life for their children.