Missoula Artists to Africa

Missoula -->Africa
Othakarhaka Arts and Empowerment Camp for Girls

3 Missoula Artists head to Africa to share their knowledge of the arts empowering the young woman of Malawai to express themselves through dance and writing.

Heather Adams, Gillian Kessler and Katrina Johnson along with a group of 12 others journey to Africa to help change the lives of young women in the remote village of Mulanje. Heather Adams, Executive Director of the Downtown Dance Collective, Gillian Kessler, Middle school teacher at Missoula International School, and Katrina Johnson owner of Amplify Film Group decided it was time to follow their passions and use their talents to help empower teenage girls in Africa. 

These 15 artists will set up the first, and hopefully annual, Arts and Empowerment Camp.

Our goal is to create the  Othakarhaka Girls Empowerment Art Camp that will use dance, music, art, photography, creative writing and storytelling to help these young women tell their stories.

This art camp will work in conjunction with Othakarhaka Foundation which is an organization with 1300 unpaid volunteers who are changing the face of their 10 villages through sustainable educational, environmental and agricultural interventions. These interventions are helping diminish the extreme poverty in the area and empowering women. Othakaraka means "Paying back the kindness". 

We believe the arts help develop a person’s self-worth, and can contribute to a girl’s ability to grow academically. And the stronger a girl’s education in Malawi, the better her odds are in life. An educated Malawian girl has better health, lower risk of pregnancy or HIV, and is less likely to marry as a teenager (source Educational Mgt Statistics System Bulletin, 2013)

      For more information about the Othakaraka Foundation and its creator, Ida G Puliwa, follow this link.
Click Here

The team from Missoula to Africa plan to leave July 28th  and in addtion to bringing supplies for the camp, we will bring basic supplies to help these girls and the vulnerable living in Mulanje. In Malawi, a population of about 12 million, over 600,000 are orphans, the result of widespread HIV/AIDS, which kills nearly 80,000 people per year.

Gillian Kessler

For the past 15 summers, I have heard stories about the remarkable work my father, a physician, has done in Malawi. I've seen images of him walking with young children, talking with young mothers, and bringing his grace and expertise to the poorest nation in the world. This year I am ready to join him, my sister, and fellow dancers, writers and artists on this journey of connection and understanding. As a teacher, I have had the opportunity to help inspire young writers over the past 20 years. I believe in the power of stories -- that our inherent creativity can lift the weight of our collective burdens. Creativity is that rare and precious gift; we all contain our own unique seeds of creative potential. But the process of giving the world our creative gifts is a luxury. I hope to help provide the young women of Malawi with an opportunity to let the world hear their voices. I hope to bring their voices back to my community in the United States so that we can further our sense of connection, understanding, empathy and truth.

Gillian here with her sister, Hilary Thomas, also joining us on our trip.
Katrina Johnson
Katrina Johnson is the owner of Amplify Film Group. She started the company to produce more positive videos and films and resides in Missoula, MT. She has always wanted to travel to Africa to help those in need since she was a little girl. In school she was always asking for the country of Africa for projects and even came up with a sustainable growing plan for the desert at age 5. During college a very powerful photography exhibit showing a small child in Africa too weak to travel to a food tent moved Katrina to make a difference. She has decided to drop everything and jump on the chance to help orphans in Mulanje. She will create a documentary of the travels and hopes to bring back a powerful story of healing through dance and artistic expression.

Heather Adams
She is the Executive Director of the Downtown Dance Collective that strives to bring Every Body Every Abilty the opportunity to dance and experience the performing arts.  Her life long dream has been to travel to Africa and experience the sights, sounds, movement, people and animals of Africa.  Driven by a very deep need to conserve this beautiful world we live in, do something that makes a difference and to be any where near a wild elephant, Heather is dedicated to being a conduit for learning and love on both continents.


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