My name is Lydia Wanjiku, from Kenya, leading programmes at Lensational, a non-profit social enterprise that equips marginalized women and girls with photography and visual storytelling. My passion for women’s empowerment started at a young age. I watched my mother struggled to attain any kind of financial freedom. She was one of the most beautiful women I knew but she struggled with her own body insecurities that showed whenever she smiled at a compliment. After losing my mother I realized I had not experienced many daughter-mother moments that were vital in shaping my adult life and that I now had to learn on my own. It is my aspiration that I live better as a woman as well as support other women to attain financial freedom and confidence.
I learned about Lensational on a job hunt through a tweet by Hivos International. I was running a blog on fashion, intrigued by the psychology of body, embodied/ enclothed cognition. I became fascinated by the power of photography to tell stories and Lensational’s mission captivated me, combining my passion for women’s empowerment and for photography.
In Feb 2015 I joined Lensational as a volunteer and ran my first Programme in collaboration with Mathare Foundation in March 2016. The girls who at the time were barely in their teens had been practicing photography before our partnership and what struck me was their confidence behind the camera. I still recall Mary Wanjiru who is still in the Programme and one of their best photographers and I recall how despite being very shy and quiet, whenever she would hold the camera, her confidence would glow. Later in 2018 I run a Programme with Maasai girls and women from Amboseli Kenya. My encounter with these women would define my course to date.
The Maasai community by nature is very patriarchal and despite modern interventions most insist on keeping their traditional way of life. However, for Esiteti a small village just south of Amboseli national park this is further exacerbated by the remoteness of their land. This means that many girls start a life of unpaid work and family responsibilities as young as four, are arranged into marriage at 12, and start having babies soon after that. The great majority of these women were destined to live a whole life uneducated, lacking basic human rights, with low self-image, no agency over decisions affecting her body, life or livelihood, and, with no hope of any way out.
Lensational is a Non-Profit Organization that aims to empower underrepresented women in developing countries, through photography and digital storytelling to share their personal stories. We sell their creative work on our online gallery and connect them with brands for further work opportunities. Within Kenya, Lensational has worked through local partners on three distinct projects, having trained 150 women with only volunteer efforts and minimal funding.
Our goal is to increase our revenues to be able to empower 100 women by the end of this year ensuring at least half of those women are financially sustainable through our follow up mentorships and economic opportunities, and rapidly scaling that to 100,000 women in 5 years’ time.