Stephanie Eatherly
2012/08/15
By : Cyntnia La Grou
Like most kids growing up around Nashville, Stephanie's early musical roots took shape in middle school when she started playing drums. Although she admired her father's entrepreneurial skills, her mother's creativity as a photographer inspired her to study design. While studying at Middle Tennessee State University, she combined her talents after meeting Jared Micah and Hats, a local band with whom she toured during spring and summer breaks.

As designer and photographer, however, Stephanie marches to the beat of a different drum. Her artistic journey and passion to see the world started to take off when, after reviewing her photography portfolio, two of three local design firms encouraged her to pursue photography. Her travels took her to Germany where she worked along-side an art collective: Pick a Pocket - a group of young artists who use their craft to raise awareness about extreme poverty. Stephanie was mentored by professional photographers while working alongside them in the dark room and on the field. There she took the position of lead designer responsible for branding, fundraising, and promoting the organization.

In 2009 she visited the remotest regions of Ethiopia with a small team from the collective. The group was collaborating with Lale Labuko, a visionary tribal leader who was working with his own indigenous communities, helping them abandon harmful cultural practices and adapt to the changing world. (Story here)

During their stay, they encountered a group of young girls who worked in a garbage dump in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The girls scavenged through filth to find sellable metals and recyclables to provide for their families. Some were no older than eighteen, others as young as nine. The team started an after school program with the goal of finding sponsors to pay for school fees, supplies, and uniforms for each girl.

Monday thru Saturday, thirteen of the girls made the trek to a rented house on the outskirts of the dump where they were given English lessons, tutored in their subjects, and received a warm meal. On the weekends they had the chance to wash their clothes and watch movies on the staff's laptop.

Stephanie produced a short documentary for the project - the Koshe Project. The opportunity to share a meal with the girl's families in a small hut community, as the girls laughed, danced and played soccer - left a life changing impression.

Before the trip to Ethiopia, Stephanie's group had been compiling stories about their journeys. In 2010, she and five other photojournalists and writers headed to Mumbai, India to complete the book "Reject this Reality". The trip took them to the largest red light district in Asia: Kamathipura. She and fellow photographer, Melody Wilson, were awarded the chance to document one of the brothels. They were led by a translator, a local nun who worked at a near-by children's home, into the workplace of several women. It was a normal work day as two young ladies were just finishing their lunch, getting ready for their shifts in the evening. They explained that the residual cast system and resulting lack of education and husband, prevented them from finding work other than the sex trade. Both were forced to the red light as a last resort. As several men and women passed by their dirt-covered room, the women described one horrific story after another.

Amazed at the strength and beauty of these women, Stephanie started brainstorming. In a burst of enthusiasm, she visited a market in the city to purchase beads, wire, and other jewelry making tools to help them start a jewelry business. Short of time to train the women, she used some of the supplies to develop the craft personally and support her ongoing travels.

Stephanie left Germany in the summer of 2011 to continue her education as the next step on her journey. Her passion to see the world has taken her to Germany, Italy, Spain, Romania, Hungary, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, UK, Kenya, Ethiopia, India, Canada, and most of the states. She is now a senior at MTSU studying organizational communication and nonprofit management. Stephanie has devoted her summer months as a communications, social media and design intern with Compathos. She explains, "Through school and travel, I am part of a growing network of like-minded socially conscious people. Since working with Compathos, I have been able to grow that network. I know that wherever I end up will be in an environment in which I can help make the world a better place."

In the coming year she will be choosing between grad school and finding a job in the international development sector - all while continuing her mission to create art that connects the West to the Third world. She dreams of working with Fair Trade USA, and would love to create real world and virtual environments for the arts, music, and fair trade products with proceeds going toward helping those less fortunate. "I have a passion for the third world because I've seen the desolation and heard the cry of those in extreme cases - those are the ones I want to help."
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