Celebrating Black History Month in a Unique Way - theHumm February 2019
Celebrating Black History Month in a Unique Way - theHumm February 2019
By Catherine WrightCadieux
Just over two years ago when Almonte-based photographer Monique Renaud left for Senegal to do some volunteer work with Women’s Global Engagement (FEM – Femmes engagement mondial), she had no idea how the experience would profoundly transform her direction in life and her sense of self. Her decision to travel to Africa and work at the Gîte-École Mbour (Bed and Breakfast school) for young women was in response to an invitation from her friend, Carole Lepage, President of FEM, the organization that rents the premises and operates the school. FEM was founded in April 2016 by Lepage and her friends Sylvie and Chantal Bourbonnais.
The roots of that incredible journey have sprouted far-reaching branches that have touched the lives of African women young and old, and that have culminated in a breathtaking photography exhibit that will be on display in Almonte during Black History Month.
The exhibit and fundraiser for Women’s Global Engagement will kick off in the Centre for Creative Living at 70 Clyde Street (St. Paul’s Church) on February 8 from 6–8pm. Visitors can also view the exhibit on February 9 from 1–4pm, February 10 from noon to 4pm, and for the remainder of the month (Monique will be present during the weekend of February 8–10). The photographs tell a soulful story and provide inspiration for women of all ages, regardless of their path in life.
FEM supports African women aged 16 to 25 in becoming entrepreneurs in areas such as cooking, baking, jewellery design and clothing design. Housed in the B&B school, the organization’s financial support goes directly to student development. The project is sustainable as it will support young women as they grow their businesses and will set them up for success by engaging coaches to help them implement concrete business plans that will be monitored and adjusted to meet their needs over time. To date, this investment-worthy initiative has helped 90 students and has raised $25,000.
A self-taught and intuitive photographer, artist and author, Monique is a seasoned world traveler who has also spent time in India, Nunavut and Central America. The fruits of those adventures include the creation of several books, such as Portrait of an African Woman, which will be available at February’s exhibit; Espiritu de la Creatividad, which she created while living in Costa Rica; India Starts with an I – Inde, la route en Soi, which she co-authored with Almonte photographer Louise Lafleur; and We are in Every Image That we Make, co-authored with her fellow photographers at the Centre for Creative Living’s Contemplative Photography Group, of which the late Alan Mirabelli was a valued mentor.
For Monique, the decision to go to Senegal was a mixture of fate and a lot of faith! After pondering how and where she could use her gifts as a photographer, writer and artist to serve others, something told her to “just go!”
Monique spent over a month of her volunteer journey traveling throughout Senegal, visiting the coast, the desert and the capital city Dhakar and living and working with 39 young women in a tiny village at the B&B school.
“I wanted to tell this story of how our respective journeys were somewhat similar in terms of self-discovery and the potential life offers those who are willing to see, hear, understand, dare to risk, choose, act upon and let go with total trust.”
Instinctively Monique reached for her camera. “I was mindful of the resistance and stigma attached to the lens by people who have all too often experienced an unsavoury aftertaste.” She quickly became known as Monique Click Click. Day by day as she captured the women’s images, their comfort level, trust in each other and friendships grew.
“Portrait of an African Woman is a tribute to African women from birth to wise elders. The images tell a story of dreams, vision, overcoming struggles and accomplishments by using one’s own unique gifts.”
“In Senegal, the girls were blooming and so was I. I promised that I would tell their story so that they would see themselves and know who they truly are, what they are capable of, and continue to believe in themselves and their dreams.”
Monique hopes that her photography exhibit and her book will inspire others to dig deep, volunteer and ask themselves how they can use their gifts to help them grow, wherever they are in life’s journey.
All proceeds from the Almonte exhibit and fundraiser will be donated directly to Women’s Global Engagement for the benefit of the B&B school in Senegal.
By Sally Hansen
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