When I first heard about the Chiapas Photography Project I thought it was brilliant. Using photography as a tool for dialogue between conflicting religious groups is the perfect way to communicate while connecting communities. It allows the Mayan communities in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, who participate in the project, self expression and, as the various members of various communities are sharing an experience while doing so, it inevitably connects them and eases tensions.
Jaime Henry-White has been a passionate photojournalist since high school, so she was naturally drawn to the Chiapas Photography Project. In high school she participated in a service trip to Ecuador. Currently she is president of her school’s Amnesty International chapter. “Whenever I have a free moment from work or school, I want to invest my time in helping others,” she says as we discuss the various ways in which she volunteers.
She sees photography as a medium for social justice and puts her weight behind her ideals. When Project for Peace was taking proposals from 100 different high schools, she came up with one for the Chiapas Photography Project, and organization that has been changing the landscape of Mayan dialogue in Southern Mexico since 1992. Even though she did not receive the $10,000 grant she applied for, she tried again with a more modest goal: a $2,000 Kickstarter project that succeeded in raising the target amount.
Jaime saved up her own money to pay for her trip to Mexico and spent a month working with Carlota Duarte, a nun from Missouri who founded the Chiapas Photography Project. “The point of the Chiapas Photography Project is not for others to take photos of the Mayan community but for them to represent themselves through photography,” says Jaime, touching on a key element of the organization’s work: allowing the communities their own voice and expression instead of tryingto do it for them.
Carlotta’s staff consists of three women from different Mayan communities. Each follows a different religious tradition, all of which have a history of conflict with one another. In their culture, religion is identity, community is life, and individualism does not exist the way it does in America. Going past the idea of tolerance and having dialogue between different communities has not only helped build bridges between these communities, but gave Jaime a deeper understanding of the need for interfaith dialogue. The Mayan communities of Chiapas also figured out how to make a disposable camera reusable, and Jaime also gained a deeper understanding of the contrast between the need for such ingenuity and the ease with which many folks back home throw away anything that is considered disposable.
Jaime is hoping to return to Mexico but in the meantime she’s busy with college and volunteer work back home. Her attitude is inspiring: “You don’t have to go around the world to make a difference. Don’t be intimidated. One failure just means you can try again.” After all, she was denied the grant she applied for, but her determination still landed her where she wanted to go, doing the work she wanted to. In fact, it was the idea of the grant itself that led her to the Chiapas Photography Project in the first place. “One idea is better when others are helping it,” she says modestly, embodying the idea of community that she continues to work towards building wherever she can.
Women Working to Do Good is a series that Hello Giggles and the White House have been collaborating on. We will bring you stories of women in communities across the United States who we think are stars in their own right. Whether they are young entrepreneurs, active community organizers, or making a difference in a single life or community, we think these women are amazing and want to share their stories with you! Each story will also be featured on the White House blog, and we are working together to bring more strong female role models to the forefront.
If there is a woman in your community who you think should be honored in this series, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!