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Photo Exhibit “Stirs Fire,” Shares Stories of Pain, Resilience

Thursday, October 14, 2010

People say that a photograph is worth a thousand words. In the case of world renowned photographer Phil Borges, one could argue that there aren’t enough words. Since August, USD has hosted Borges’ exhibit, “Stirring the Fire: A Global Movement to Empower Women and Girls,” in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ).

The photography serves as a call to action and celebration of the women and girls — mostly in developing countries — who have broken through barriers of tradition and oppression to become catalysts for change in their communities. Their stories shed light on specific gender issues worldwide while revealing practical pathways for women and girls to achieve gender equality.

The free exhibit is open to the public through Dec. 15 at the IPJ Fine Arts Gallery. Countless members of the community, USD students and faculty and young school children have come through IPJ’s doors to catch a glimpse of the faces Borges has captured on film.

Diana Kutlow, senior program officer at IPJ, who worked to bring the exhibit to USD said, “As part of the Social Issues Conference, focusing on artists igniting social change, there is no better example than Phil Borges. His photography tells stories, brings us closer to individuals whose lives seem very far away, and moves us from audience to actor by making us see how we can make a difference.”

Empowering women has been found to be the most effective strategy for addressing poverty and building stability in the developing world. In July 2010, the United Nations showed its support by creating the first UN entity dedicated exclusively to gender equality and women’s empowerment. This achievement further legitimizes a growing conviction that the world’s women deserve the world’s attention, and investing in women is a key to solving some of the greatest global challenges we face.

As one observer of the photos, Fatima Ibrahim of Somaliland said, “Women and girls are the future for change. The peace of the world depends on the empowerment and education of women.”

Last week, IPJ hosted students whose lives have mirrored Phil’s work. Students from the AjA Project, a San Diego-based non-profit that utilizes photography-based education programs to transform the lives of displaced youth, brought refugees from Burma, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. They use cameras to adjust to their new surrounding in San Diego.

Another group, Outside the Lens, is a San Diego-based youth media literacy program in which students tell their unique personal stories using photography, writing and other digital media forms. ARTS (A Reason to Survive), a non-profit offering art programs that help heal, inspire and empower young people facing life challenges, also brought students.

The students spent time with Borges, and were able to share their experiences with each other.

In addition to Borges’ exhibit and his appearance during the  Social Issues Conference, there was also a formal announcement of the “Stirring the Fire Fellowship.” This is a $3,000 grant made to USD by Borges himself to help support a USD undergraduate or graduate student do an international study, volunteer, internship or service-learning project focused on one of the following issues related to gender and social justice: education, economic security, health, leadership, trafficking or violence against women.

— Melissa Wagoner

Photo courtesy of Phil Borges’ “Stirring the Fire” exhibit.

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