Wellesley Sophomore Launches Art-Based Project to Aid Women Students in D.R. Congo

July 26, 2013

Hanna Tenerowicz '16 Films Documentaries in Democratic Republic of Congo to Connect Artists and Students across Continents

students gather round Hanna Tenerowicz showing images on her camera

Hanna Tenerowicz ’16 recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she filmed a series of mini-documentaries highlighting the ideas and plans of young women in high school.

Tenerowicz began fundraising for the Muanjadi Organization in high school with her French honors society. The organization pays the yearly tuition fees for girls at the Muanjadi High School in the city of Mbuji-Mayi, Democratic Republic of Congo, focusing on girls who would potentially drop out of school and marry in order to save their families the $75 in tuition fees.

“I was (and am) very moved by its mission, so this summer I was really interested in involving myself further with Muanjadi,” said Tenerowicz. She was further motivated by the book she read as an incoming first-year: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn was the Orientation 2012 Common Reading Project selection. 

Half the Sky was really inspiring to me, as the issue of gender equality has always been very close to my heart,” Tenerowicz said. “I liked reading about a few of the ways people can help create gender parity, and was particularly intrigued by the prospect of teaching English abroad, which was originally my aspiration with this trip. As I took several limiting factors (time being the foremost) into consideration, my plans gradually shifted from teaching the students to listening to their ideas instead. But in any case, I am so glad to have read Half the Sky, because I don't know if all this would've ended up happening otherwise.”

This summer, her project was to make a series of short documentaries featuring young Muanjadi scholars. “I asked them to think of ideas similar to microloans that could help their school and community in the future,” she said. “No one knows the issues of Mbuji-Mayi's women like they do, so it was great to be able to capture their unique solutions in such a personal way. For example, one idea I don't think I ever would have come up with is opening a student-run beauty salon, the profits of which would fund the creation of a chemistry and physics lab for the school.”

Tenerowicz hopes to use the mini-documentaries, entitled Portrait of a Brave Woman, to raise money and implement the ideas proposed by the Muanjadi students. “One way in which I'm particularly interested in fundraising is by showing the documentaries to artists and inviting them to make—and hopefully sell—a painting [to fund a Muanjadi student] idea, because one of the ways I raised money for my trip was by making and selling paintings,” said Tenerowicz. She was a featured artist of the month at Colorado’s Roxborough Art Gallery in June and has already sold seven out of the 10 Congo-themed paintings she created for the show.

Tenerowicz also used the crowdsourcing sites GoFundMe and Causes.com to raise awareness and funds for her project.

In her upcoming sophomore year, she plans to declare a double major in comparative literature and art history. “If you ask me,” said Tenerowicz, “art can be one of the best ways to inspire people to create social change.”

Read more about Portrait of a Brave Woman on Our Colorado News.


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