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Creatives Set Sights On Ending Poverty

Nov 14, 2018
Article by Claire Van Ryn

Jessica and James Brewer are a couple on a mission. Quite literally.

Jessica, 27, and James, 28, started chugging along the normal path that life tends to track. They got married. They got a mortgage. They worked hard to be successful in their careers. They took the odd overseas holiday. But an unrest was brewing within them.

In 2015 they made a radical decision to sell their Devonport house and completely upend the neat lifestyle they’d been creating. The creative couple, who are graphic designers and videographers and photographers, moved to Mozambique, swapping Tassie’s famed fresh air for slums. This is how it happened.

How did your adventures begin?

We went overseas to a Christian international school that trains people to be released into different countries to do humanitarian aid work. We went to Mozambique for three months, then we served for three months in the red light district in Nepal, helping women to get out of the human trafficking scene. We absolutely loved the heart of the movement there, from having no choices to being offered a job; supported, empowered.

We were then offered a full time position in Mozambique volunteering with Iris Global, which has 40 centres around the world that support the poorest of the poor.

We plan to spend a minimum of nine months in Mozambique each year and then come home to work for three months or so to support ourselves through our photography business. We really love the way people run fundraisers to support such work, but we’re also really interested in being self sustaining.

Um … why?

Haha! Good question. We thought happiness came from success, from pursuing the nice new house and careers and cars. We’d built a house and had a home loan. But then we went to church one day and someone gave us $8000 to go to India. Just like that. We went there for two weeks and got completely wrecked; our hearts were melted.

That was it. We sold our house and were ready to go, but then we both felt strongly that we should wait. We ended up renting a house and God started bringing people to us who needed help with addictions. It was a really incredible time helping in our own community.

We learnt that it’s not about a destination, it’s about a lifestyle.

What exactly do you do?

We use our skills in videography, photography and multi-media to be a voice for the voiceless.

So many times in media, it’s coming from a place of emotionally guilting people into giving. That’s not us. We’re involved in sharing stories and encouraging people that they can partner with people to see poverty eliminated.

Every week is different. We spend a lot of time filming projects, going to the villages and meeting the mamas, playing in the dirt with the kids. We drive, fly and boat into really remote areas, camp in tents, meet the needs of the people there, show a film and share with them. We might spend one week filming our school programs and another doing a story about the lack of clean drinkable water. It’s so varied.

We live on a base with a school, a children’s home, international and Bible schools and a feeding programme that supplies food for 2000-5000 people each day.

What’s the food like?

We eat a lot of rice and beans, or beans and rice!

What’s the worst thing?

That’s hard because we kinda count it all joy. There’s always little wins in the midst of all the challenges. Of course, there is a lot of heartbreak and desperation and poverty. We have friends who live in mud huts without electricity and running water, they have to walk miles to get to a well. A lot of the kids get one meal a day. Despite their challenges they always have joy, always have a smile on their face. It inspires us not to be downcast about the mundane things.

Seeing the contrast between the Western world and a world in poverty is a challenging kind of culture shock. And learning the language — that’s hard!

How have you changed?

It’s reprioritised our hearts and perspectives of life and what really matters.

That perspective is not just a perspective for Africa; it’s for everywhere. We can be unaware of the need because it’s a bit more hidden here. While we’re back, we love to encourage people to see those needs and help. One of the main heartbeats of the organisation we work for is: ‘Stop for the One’, which means not to be overwhelmed by the multitude but think of the one in front of you and do something to help that one person. If you can just be present and alert to them, it’s so good.

It’s taken away pride and ego, and it really has cured a lot of selfishness we had too. You realise how little you really need and become so grateful for the little things. Like drinking water from the tap, a new toothbrush and a hot shower.

You must have so many stories to share…

So many. As designers, artists, videographers (not doctors or nurses) we struggled at first to see how our skills could be beneficial to helping people in poverty.

We spent a week at the Madagascar base; they needed to buy a new building for the children’s home. We did a really basic video (we didn’t even have our gear then), just talking about what they were doing and what they needed. A few months later we heard that the video raised all the funds to buy the new home that those little girls needed.

It was a lesson to not disqualify yourself and your skills. We all have a vital role to play in making a difference in the world.

Photos by Jessica Brewer

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