Former Leeds College of Art lecturer sews the seeds of change

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When artist and university lecturer, Sarah Brown visited Madagascar for an extended holiday she had no idea it would change her life forever.

A successful embroidery artist, creating installation artwork for galleries based on sewing techniques, Sarah also lectured at Leeds College of Art.

In the summer of 2011, during her summer holiday, she signed up to visit Madagascar for eight few weeks, with a charity called Azafady, as a way to see some wildlife she hoped would inspire her art for the coming year.

“I wasn’t being altruistic at all,” says the 32-year-old from Otley. “I thought it would be good way of getting closer to the wildlife than on a safari.”

During her travels Sarah was amazed by how people improvised to fix things and solve problems and the amount of visual culture there was in the hair plaiting, basket weaving and roof thatching she saw.

It struck Sarah that, with just a little direction, some of the women’s creativity could be put to great use.

She said: “I realised that something had to be done and with the help of Azafady I could do something to help them. There was potential for a project that used people’s creative skills to bring an income stream in to the village and help women lift themselves out of the poverty trap they had fallen into.”

She rang her parents back home in Otley and told them that she was going to pack up her comfortable life in Yorkshire and move to a wooden house in Madagascar with no electricity or mod cons.

Sarah wanted to work with Azafady on the project and needed their help to get it off the ground.

Sarah is now determined to stay until the project is fully sustainable and the women can generate income without her support.