I chose the Thai word “pêe saao” (translation “older sister”) for the title of this series to denote respect and to infer the validity of the unique experiences of each woman pictured. Education is often made possible by comparing the similarities and differences of our own life experiences to those of others. The communities and relationships women create cross-culturally play an important role in improving the individual well-being and gender equality internationally. Stressful transitions can be eased through relationships that promote empowerment rather than dissipate it.
For this series, I photographed the women I met and became close to throughout northern Thailand. Some of the women come from communities of privilege, very much like myself, which have allowed them to study and travel freely. Some of the women pictured are Stateless, a nomenclature that essentially sanctions them without identification and as illegal refugees within their own country. Some of the women are Thai Karen, which means they are citizens from ethnic minority hill-tribes who live in close-knit villages with varying access to electricity and water. All the women pictured live or work within a one-hour drive from each other. Some know each other and some do not. Through these relationships, I began to feel at home in an unknown place. I witnessed how a simple friendship can overcome language barriers and cultural differences.
Friendship can create the space for education, conversation, and inspire change.
It is common in Thai to use familial titles as personal pronouns when referring to people you know but have no blood relation to, or even when addressing strangers. I found this metaphoric to the larger concept of a human family; we were all sisters regardless of background. Many of the women had different views about what defines success and beauty, but we were all interested in teaching and learning together.