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Local woman's Cambodia photos up for grant award

Written By vibykhmer on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | 6:50 AM

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A local woman’s photo project to highlight the plight of orphaned and disadvantaged children living in Cambodia has been named a finalist for a major grant.

Marisa Kaitlyn Heller’s Cambodian Photography Project is among 10 finalists — selected from nearly 300 entries — vying for a single $10,000 grant offered by Nau, an eco-clothing designer based in Portland, Ore., and owned by Santa Barbara apparel company Horny Toad.

Heller’s project is aimed at helping hundreds of children living at an orphanage in Siem Reap and run by Sunrise Children’s Village, with whom she has partnered.

“The children at Sunrise and I appreciate all the people who went online and voted for this important project,” she said, referring to the eight-week online voting window which closed Aug. 31 that helped determine the finalists. “We’re honored to be in the Top 10 from among all the worthy projects.”

Heller, 24, launched the photography project after having visited the orphanage while traveling in Southeast Asia. While she was at the orphanage, she gave her camera to one of the youngsters, who began taking pictures which she said simply stunned her.

“The images had a unique quality with a viewpoint that could only be captured from a child's perspective,” she said. “There was a beauty to the images that came from the heart of the children.”

Her photo project is designed to foster a sense of self-worth, awareness and creativity among the children, giving them the opportunity to tell their stories to the world through their own digital photography. It is also designed to provide them with valuable skills for the future, she said.

Children make up more than half the population of Cambodia, she noted. One-third of the country’s population lives in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than $1 a day.

When her project is completed, Heller plans an exhibition of the children’s photography. She is also hoping to develop an educational component, allowing the children in Siem Reap to share their images and stories with other youngsters via e-mail or through blogs and Internet postings.

Heller, 24, is a graduate of San Marcos High School and the University of San Francisco. She is currently living and working in New Zealand.

Her project and the other finalists can be viewed on the Nau Web site at
http://www.nau.com/collective/grant-for-change. The winner is expected to be named before the end of the month.

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