The experiences of 20 women who all share in a bond with Horowhenua have their unique stories told in an exhibition on display at Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-pō in Levin this month.
The Our Voices – Horowhenua exhibition during March uncovers the personal voice of 20 women - aged between 23 and 87 - who live in Horowhenua.
Our Voices - Horowhenua was the brainchild of Levin woman Kristy MacGregor, who is also founder and editor of Shepherdess Magazine.
McGregor originally set out to create an opportunity for women across the Horowhenua District to tell their stories, through portraiture and the written word, and then exhibit them within the community.
"The exhibition gives the voices of 20 women, of all different ages and walks of life, an opportunity to shine and share what is important to them, the trials they have been through and where they have found hope and fulfilment," she said.
"Each story is unique, but they are all connected by a common thread – finding a sense of belonging in the Horowhenua."
As part of the 12-month project, several writing workshops were held.
"They were evenings of camaraderie and exploration of the written word," she said.
"For most of the women it was a very new experience to put their stories on paper and have them read by a general audience. We wanted the women to feel empowered and have their voices heard.
"Our writer, Carly Thomas, worked with each of the women over a few months to put their experiences on paper. Women were asked to give some insight into what has led them to where they are today.
"Our photographer, Helen Lea Wall, then went around the district to capture each woman in a place that was meaningful to them and their story.
"The result is an exhibition that has a huge amount of heart. It's women's stories, in their own words. We were really conscious of capturing the diverse range of people that live here. Our youngest participant is 23 and our oldest is 87."
McGregor hoped the exhibition would be the start of a much bigger project to uncover stories of people living in provincial New Zealand.
"We are now looking to take the project to other rural communities so that their voices can be heard too," she said.
It mirrors a successful project she did seven years ago as a young woman living in the outback of Australia, giving voice to people from a tiny rural town called Yaraka, to widespread acclaim.
The Our Voices – Horowhenua project was supported with grants from Creative New Zealand and the Horowhenua District Council through the Creative Communities Scheme.
Meanwhile, Shepherdess is focused on connecting people through storytelling, events and community building, and also publishes a quarterly magazine of the same name.
McGregor described Shepherdess as a social impact initiative focused on sharing the stories of vibrant rural communities across New Zealand and connecting people through storytelling, events, and community building.