We are often bombarded with stories of war, famine, disease, and poverty that we become desensitized. We walk past these issues of brokenness, favoring ignorance over compassion.
We often think, If I stop, what will happen to me? But if we do not stop, we fail to realize the empowering, restorative, and transformational stories of others around us.
A single image can say so much about an individual. I’ve been a witness to uncounted images that portray the third world as a place of despair. Rather than expounding on uplifting stories of humanity, images have been used to capitalize on individuals, families, and cultures. Worth has been shattered and dignity broken.
My goal as a humanitarian photographer and filmmaker is to not exploit but to leverage stories that empower, restore, and transform. I strongly believe that storytelling through imagery must disseminate truth with dignity.
A couple years ago, I produced a documentary film and portrait book series called While Women Weep, which highlights the stories of strength, perseverance, and dignity of women who inspire hope in Kenya. The majority of women who live in extreme poverty lack essential resources and the critical education needed to survive. Young girls struggle to feed their families, afford rent, and pay for their education. Given such limited opportunities, many young girls feel they have no other option but to enter prostitution to pay for daily living expenses. Rape is too common, especially among Kenya’s poor and vulnerable schoolgirls. The Nairobi Women’s Hospital estimates that a woman is raped every 30 minutes.
While working in Kenya, I witnessed the pain and agony of numerous people living in poverty. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t walk away. God was tugging at my heart, challenging me to stop and listen to the stories of those whose voices are silenced by oppression. I then heard the voice of God asking me, Nikole, now that you have seen the brokenness of women in Africa, what are you going to do about it?
As God challenged my heart, I felt called to start an organization to provide spiritual, educational, and economic empowerment for girls worldwide. From that challenge, I developed a nonprofit organization, Freely in Hope, whose mission is to empower women and children to overcome adversity and live freely in hope by liberating young women from sexual oppression, providing opportunities for dignified work, and advocating security through education.
Our programs include a holistic counseling and skills training program for girls who are survivors of or vulnerable to sexual abuse, scholarships for high school and college for students living in slum communities, and a micro-business training program for widows in the Kibera slum. We currently serve women in Kenya and Zambia.
Through this process of working to advocate for those in oppression, God has been conforming my heart to feel the joys and pains of his. Daily I hear stories of suffering, despair, and brokenness. I meet people who are crying desperately for help. It breaks my heart to know that there are so many others who have not yet felt the embrace of God’s love and compassion. I only hope to fulfill God’s purpose for me by being an activator of his love and compassion by leveraging stories of dignity through the ministry of Freely in Hope.
Daily, as I bring my own brokenness to Christ, he completes me with stories that restore.
In Luke 4:18–19, Jesus states his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
As I strive to execute this mission, the Lord is challenging me to break down barriers of ignorance to proactively initiate love and compassion toward those in desperate circumstances. There, in my brokenness, is where I have been transformed.