Wednesday, April 25 , 2018, 10:13 am | Overcast 55º


Local Photographer Seeks Online Votes in Grant Competition

San Marcos grad Marisa Kaitlyn Heller focuses her work on the plight of children in Cambodia

A Santa Barbara woman’s project that will allow orphaned and disadvantaged children living in Cambodia to tell the world their stories through digital photography is among the projects vying for votes on an Internet Web site in order to win a grant.

The Cambodian Photography Project, developed by Marisa Kaitlyn Heller, is aimed at helping hundreds of children living at an orphanage in Siem Reap and run by Sunrise Children’s Village.

The photo project is dedicated to promoting self-worth, awareness and creativity, giving the children an opportunity to tell their stories through digital photography, while providing valuable skills for the future, Heller said. It is among several hundred nominated for the Grant for Change, which will award a single $10,000 grant in October. The grant is offered by Nau, an eco-clothing designer based in Portland, Ore., and owned by Santa Barbara apparel company Horny Toad.

Voting for the projects ends Monday, when the top five vote-getters, along with five chosen by the company, will undergo further review before a winner is announced.

Click here to view Heller’s project online. To vote, a viewer needs to register with their e-mail address, name and a password of their choosing, then navigate back to the page to click on “rate/share” to cast a ballot. The ratings range from one to five stars.

Heller, a graduate of the University of San Francisco and San Marcos High School, is currently in New Zealand. She launched the photography project after being invited to visit the orphanage while traveling in Southeast Asia. It was while she was at the orphanage that one of the youngsters took her digital camera and started taking pictures.

“At first I was concerned about the camera as it was passed around, flashing among the children,” she said. “However, the resulting images — of eking out a life in an orphanage, of the expressions on the children’s faces and their view of their surroundings — simply stunned me. The images had a unique quality with a viewpoint that could only be captured from a child’s perspective. There was a beauty to the images that came from the heart of the children.”

When her project is complete, Heller plans an exhibition of the children’s photography. She is also looking into developing 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.

“Having grown up in Santa Barbara, I know what a caring and concerned community it is,” she said. “I’m hoping that same spirit will prompt people to vote for my project, which will make a difference in the lives of so many impoverished children.”

She noted that children make up more than half the population of Cambodia and that one-third of the population there lives in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than $1 a day.

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