My answer to the question, "So, what do you do when you're not shooting weddings?"

November 4 | Guest post by Angela from Milestone Images
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Here's a guestpost from a longtime sponsor, Angie from Milestone Images. It's a look into what (awesome!) photographers do when they're not shooting weddings. Plus there's a few wedding photography discounts in there, too.


Milestone Images is also featured in our Offbeat Vendors guide!
When I made the switch from newspaper staff photojournalist to full-time autonomous photographer, I knew weddings would be one of my primary sources of income. I also knew one of my biggest challenges would be battling burnout and finding new ways to document the same things (brides! grooms! bouquets! rings!) over and over again. Working with offbeat couples absolutely helps me stay out of a creative rut, but I also challenged myself to book at least one inspiring, humanitarian trip around the world every year.

Which is how I found myself in Rwanda last month.

I spent the first two weeks of October shooting for Indego Africa, an NGO (non-governmental organization) based in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Indego Africa, whose name is a syllabic abbreviation for the words "independence," "development," and "governance," is not a traditional charity. It's social enterprise, and it's awesome.

After the 1994 genocide, Rwanda found itself in a state of transition. The government began encouraging people, particularly women, to form cooperatives as a strategy to fight poverty. These cooperatives pool resources and produce clothing, handicrafts and other sellable goods. However, the co-ops face a lot of challenges, including lack of market access, education and resources. That's where Indego Africa comes in. Their strategy is two-fold.

First, they provide education, because knowledge is power. Indego Africa partners with other NGOs, college students, and training programs to offer education in business, finance, and marketing, as well as literacy lessons in English and Kinyarwanda. Second, they connect the artisan partner cooperatives with a global market. Indego not only sells the products made in Rwanda through their website, they also foster relationships between the women and high-end retailers in the U.S. Originally, the Rwanda cooperatives only sold traditional handicrafts such as hand-woven baskets. Then the woman realized, "Hey, if the world wants to buy reusable market totes, funky accessories, and pretty yoga bags, why don't we make those?" So now they do!

Indego Africa's products are currently sold on their website, as well as by a number of high-end retailers, including fashion designer Nicole Miller, Anthropologie, and Bikram Yoga. Indego Africa returns 100% of the profits to the women in the form of fair wages AND investments in additional education and resources. They are committed to complete transparency in terms of their financial dealings and ethics, and they have been accredited by the Fair Trade Federation.

Here's the best part: It's totally working.

Prior to working with Indego Africa, the majority of the artisan partners carried water for approximately $0.25 a day. Between March 2009 and March 2010, the artisans saw a 517% increase in the number of their families eating three meals a day, an 800% increase in the number of women reporting that the children in their care (many women are raising orphans of the genocide) attend school on a regular basis, and a 300% increase in the number of households with running water.

The knitters who recently worked on the Anthropologie scarves earned, on average, half the money they need for the year in only two months. Some of the more experienced knitters earned a year's worth of wages.

The thing is, those statistics, while impressive, don't even begin to convey how inspiring these women are when you meet them in person. One of the cooperatives formed out of a support group for survivors of sexual violence who either contracted HIV or bore children (or both) as a result of genocide rape. Another cooperative employs widows of the genocide who work alongside women whose husbands are incarcerated for genocide crimes. They are the very heart and soul of Rwanda's commitment to reconciliation and a better future. Best of all, they're doing real work with dignity. They are pro-active business parters, not passive recipients of charity, and it's amazing.

I believe so strongly in this cause that I completely volunteered my time and efforts for three weeks in October: two in Rwanda, and one in New York documenting two of the Rwanda women artisans on an exchange visit with Nicole Miller. (Full disclosure: I received a third-party grant that covered my travel expenses and accommodation.)

Indego Africa already lists all the ways that you can show your support for the women in Rwanda with your wedding here: Indego Africa Weddings. Their ideas include incorporating Indego Africa's products like baskets and table runners into your decor and centerpieces, giving wine coasters and bottle covers as favors or presents or requesting a charitable donation in lieu of gifts.

So, here's the deal: Offbeat Brides always save 10% from me, but I would love if you'd please consider supporting Indego Africa, even if it's just by buying a cosmetic bag to give as a gift to one of your attendants. As such, I am offering a matching donation up to $350, which is the price of a small coffee table book wedding album. That's right: if you donate or buy $350 worth of Indego Africa products and provide proof of purchase, you get a free album PLUS 10% off. (Plus, your attendants get gorgeous market totes or yoga bags as gifts!) Even if you can only give $10, I'll reduce your wedding package by that amount, up to $350. This offer expires on December 1st, 2011 so you can save on your wedding photography AND get some holiday shopping done. Everyone wins!

If Indego Africa sounds great, but you have another cause near and dear to your heart that you're supporting throughout your wedding planning, I want to hear all about it AND I want to work with people like you! You will save 15% on wedding photography if you book me with a contract and a deposit by December 1st, 2011.

Last but not least, being in Africa meant I only got to shoot one October wedding this year, and October weddings are usually among my favorites! October 2012 brides, I still have a handful of dates open. You, too, can save 15% if you book by December 1st.

When I use my time and talents shooting to showcase a cause I believe in, by the time I get to your wedding, I come to you fresh, alert, and engaged, with my soul fulfilled. Here's what I want to know in the comments: How are you supporting causes you believe in at your wedding?

To find out more about weddings and more, please contact me at angela.gaul.jackel@gmail.com or through my website.

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  1. What a great post! Thanks for sharing about this amazing organization.

    Instead of buying favors for our guests, we are donating a chunk of money to the non-profit that is most near and dear to my heart, Camp Okizu. It's a camp for families with childhood cancer, and as my younger brother had cancer when I was a teenager, it's a special place for me and my family. I still go whenever I can as a counselor. Since friendship bracelets are a big thing at camp, all of my guests will receive a handmade friendship bracelet with a note about how money was donated to camp in their honor. I'm so excited to share my big day with the organization that made me the person I am today!

    • My FH and I have been thinking of St. Jude. you can get bookmarks and even material to for your guests to make donations as well. It would be more heartfelt if the kids made the bookmarks but that may fall under child labor.

    • That's awesome, Ruthie. I've shot two camp weddings now, but the favors were all very s'more-centric. I love the idea of friendship bracelets as a way to unite everyone. Have you thought about doing a ring-warming where you pass the rings around to your guests and ask them to silently offer a warm wish, loving thought or personal prayer? You could tie them together with a friendship bracelet. Pardon me while I get carried away. 🙂

      I used to volunteer in the pediatric oncology ward in the playroom, in part because creating normal childhood play experiences, especially interactions with the patients' healthy siblings, was so incredibly important. St. Jude's is a wonderful cause, too.

  2. this is awesome! and definitely something to keep in mind since my Fiance and I really want to incorporate something charitable into our wedding day.

  3. This is a very cool post and I love some of the stuff on the site to buy. I might need to get a new yoga mat bag!

    I would love to see more sponsor posts like this of what they do when they aren't doing wedding stuff. Organizations they support, how they give back, etc. I love getting to know the people I buy from and who they are, rather than just being in another big box store. Go small businesses!

    2 agree
  4. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. I just ordered from them and will be keeping them in mind when I get married. (I'm not doing favors, but I WILL be donating to fair trade organizations.)

  5. I saw that sewing machine and thought "whoa that's so old" and then I thought "yeah, but that's a model that doesn't require electricity." Then I reflected on my own sewing machine at home and how much I fight with it, but at the end of the day the thing would be useless if I had no power. What I saw as an outdated tool isn't a rudimentary one. The things we've upgraded from here in our fast-paced NEW STUFF culture can still change – improve – people's lives.

    I consider myself up on my women and community-oriented NGO info, but thanks for that perspective the article helped me gain on technology!

    • You are so welcome; thanks for finding this post useful and weighing in. The women are incredibly resourceful when it comes to the sewing machines and supplies, because you're correct- the power comes and goes. These are foot pedal machines.

      When Nicole Miller was visiting one of the co-ops, she was stunned to see that the woman had figured out a way to sew invisible zippers in shorts without zipper feet attachments for the machines. The first thing she did when Emelienne and Therese got to New York was give them zipper feet. They were so excited; I have a video of this moment that the organization will be putting up soon. It's the kind of thing that artsy-crafty gals (myself included) can thoroughly appreciate.

      1 agrees
  6. Oooh! I saw these pictures and thought to myself "is this Rwanda?" And I was right!

    Two years ago, I spent 2 months in Rwanda, and it was absolutely fantastic. It is such a beautiful country, and there are such wonderful initiatives happening there right now. I'd love to go back.

    I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to go there.

    • I feel so lucky! Mel, you're exactly right; that's just how I felt, too. I came home and told my husband that one way or another, we're going to Rwanda together at some point. 🙂

  7. I wrote a term paper about sexual violence in the DRC and Rwanda last year and the research that went into it constantly ruined and inspired me. This is one of those inspiring things! I'm so so happy to see OBB sharing this wonderful story and one awesome Offbeat Sponsor being so darn fantastic. Go Angie!

    My partner and I are having an 'I Do' Foundation registry and giving donations in lieu of favors to a wonderful organization called Ramapo for Children Inc. It's a not-for-profit that supports kids with emotional, social, and developmental challenges. The biggest aspect is their summer camp program, Camp Ramapo, which I got the absolute privilege of being a bunk counselor for a few summers ago. It's a great way to help this place I love and to get the word out!

  8. I *love* that I opened the website this morning and saw that photo and knew IMMEDIATELY it was in Rwanda. I used to live in Rwanda and knew it couldn't be anywhere else 🙂 These photos are gorgeous.

  9. I'm blown away by these women and the work they're doing, and as the lucky recipient of one of their necklaces, I can tell you that their work is even more beautiful in person. Thanks for opening up this world for us, Angie, and

  10. Just wanted to weigh in and note that Angie has done something very significant by writing this post. As a social worker, I can't stress enough how important awareness is to any cause! Angie is doing her part to spread information about Indego Africa, and those of you making donations or connecting components of your wedding to a charity are doing the same! It's such a noble move, and I am inspired by you all!

    Also, I'm not sure how many above or how many to come have already booked their wedding photographer, but if you haven't, I strongly recommend considering Angie! Although I've only just this week been able to officially book her for my wedding, Angie has been chatting with me and supporting me for months! I can't speak highly enough about her personality, flexibility, and professionalism. I believe her photos here and those throughout her website and her blog speak for themselves, and my fiance and I are seriously thrilled to have her documenting our day! If her packages don't suit your needs, she has no problem customizing one for you, and the 15% off discount is SUCH a plus! Even if you're not an October bride, 10% off can make a big difference, and if you're already planning to support Indego Africa, she'll match your donation in your package. I think that's pretty amazing.

    So, just wanted to give Angie a shout out, because she really is awesome, and I feel I owe it to my fellow Offbeat Brides to share when I make a great find!

  11. My cousin Sarah is in the second photo down, she's the retail director for Indego Africa. I absolutely love your write up about the amazing NGO she works for. I am truly envious of her creating such a meaningful life! Thank you so much for the amazing photos and for sharing them here.

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