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HomeNewsArchivesOn Island Profile: Sonya Melescu

On Island Profile: Sonya Melescu

April 15, 2007 — Sonya Melescu is one of those rare people who does the things most of us think about, dreams we put off until the time is right. Melescu puts her feet where her dreams are — she moves on them.
She is, in her own words, "Huge on human rights." She says, "Being a woman, my concern is more with women, with children — it's horrible what's happening in the world with humans." Melescu is a successful wedding photographer, a skill she uses to fund her wanderlust.
This is not what she wants to focus on, however. Her focus is using her skills to bring change to the lives of women who live in unbearable conditions: genocide survivors, refugees.
In February she returned from a month-long stay in Rwanda, where she worked with an international organization that helps women in war-torn regions of the world. "I want to use photography to make a difference," she says. "I think can be a powerful tool."
Melescu moved to the islands from New York in 1994. She had an established career in fashion photography, but something wasn't right. "I wanted to get out of the city," she says. St. Thomas beckoned, and she's never looked back.
She has done very well in wedding photography. "Too well," she says. "Now I need some time for myself. The wedding business is a means to an end. It supports my traveling. I make money to spend when I travel. When I come back, I'm broke and I start over again."
Melescu says the way she feels now goes back to her childhood. "When I was in school, my best friend was a black girl," she says. "She couldn't stay over at my house, and I couldn't stay over at hers. It hurt both of us terribly. We were scared, both of us."
She has a son, James, now 30. "My son was the same way, growing up in Detroit," Melescu says. "He always brought home kids who were learning disabled, or from another country — Korea or Japan. They would be my son's friends."
About nine years ago, Melescu started a project not knowing where it would go, and she is still working on it. "I began taking black-and-white photos of pregnant women in their ninth month," she says. "I think it's that is the essence of womanhood. Now I know where it's going. I'll sell it and use the money to help fund a place for female victims of genocide."
Cuba beckoned to Melescu about five years ago, where she learned firsthand about living conditions there through a "fluke."
"Through my driver, I met his family who lived in a couple tiny rooms," Melescu says. It was an experience that stuck with her. "I smuggled myself back into Havana and brought them clothing and things they needed. I didn't trust the mails."
After the Cuba experience, Melescu was inspired. She did her homework online, and through the Asian Institute of Technology she found a monastery that doubled as an orphanage in Thailand, where she could help.
"I taught English to the children there," she says. Then, after about a month, she traveled to Tibet. "I found a women's association for volunteer work in Dharmasala, India helping with Tibetan refugees who had traveled for months across the Himalayas," Melescu says. "Some of them were missing fingers or toes from frostbite, or had been imprisoned or tortured by the Chinese." And, she says, she had a remarkable photo op: "I was able to photograph the 21-year-old Karmapa Lama. He is next in line to the Dalai Lama."
But her real adventure was yet to come.
"I've been sponsoring women for about five years with Women for Women International. which I first heard about on 'Oprah,'" Melescu says. "It was started by a woman named Zainib Salbi who grew up in Iraq under Saddam Hussien. Salbi is an internationally acclaimed activist.
"You can sponsor women through their website, and I did that right away. I'd write to the women, and they could write back through translators, but I had a huge desire to meet the women I was sponsoring."
In the meantime, Melescu's life had taken a romantic turn. "I met a wonderful man, Chris," she says. "He's from Boston, where he taught music for 28 years, and now he has moved here. We planned to go to Africa together, but he developed a serious eye infection that prevented his traveling."
In Rwanda, Melescu's mission was to meet Patricia, one woman she had sponsored. "I asked my driver, Seth, and he knew where she was," she says.
"We drove for miles and then had to walk over this mountain a few more miles. Seth told me she was building her own house from the money I sent each month. Just $27 buys so much.
"We came around a corner, and there she was, a slender woman walking with three huge rocks on her head. She took one look at me and said, 'That's my sister.' We embraced. I was in tears. Our situations are so different, but we experience the same feelings. It's a huge thing. That's why I want to use my camera as my tool to tell this story."
For $27 a month, a Rwandan woman can buy a goat for milk, chickens for eggs and clothing, Melescu says.
"Patricia built her house from that," she says. "She carries these stones. She is only about 110 pounds. I work out and I'm in good shape, but I couldn't lift one of those stones above my shoulder." In fact, the youthful-looking Melescu weighs about 110 pounds herself. She is a tall, slender woman, with intense hazel eyes, a welcoming smile and a long brunette mane tied neatly behind her back as though not to direct attention to herself. She seems unaware of her sometimes mesmerizing affect on people once she begins relating her adventures.
Melescu's North Side apartment reflects her life, filled with color, photographs, beads, prints and paintings. Her small studio's computer spills over with disc after disc of amazing photographs. Rwandan women shyly smiling into the camera. Patricia posing with three rocks on her head in front of her mud-and-stone house.
"Most of the women had never seen a white person before," Melescu says. "They called me muzunugu, white woman."
Melescu wants to put all her photographs on CDs, and use them to get funding to bring awareness of the conditions in the troubled country, and to educate those children. "I want to be a voice for the kids in these countries," she says.
To find out more about sponsoring women, see www.womenforwomen.org. For wedding photographs, see http://www.virginislandsphoto.com.
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April 15, 2007 -- Sonya Melescu is one of those rare people who does the things most of us think about, dreams we put off until the time is right. Melescu puts her feet where her dreams are -- she moves on them.
She is, in her own words, "Huge on human rights." She says, "Being a woman, my concern is more with women, with children -- it's horrible what's happening in the world with humans." Melescu is a successful wedding photographer, a skill she uses to fund her wanderlust.
This is not what she wants to focus on, however. Her focus is using her skills to bring change to the lives of women who live in unbearable conditions: genocide survivors, refugees.
In February she returned from a month-long stay in Rwanda, where she worked with an international organization that helps women in war-torn regions of the world. "I want to use photography to make a difference," she says. "I think can be a powerful tool."
Melescu moved to the islands from New York in 1994. She had an established career in fashion photography, but something wasn't right. "I wanted to get out of the city," she says. St. Thomas beckoned, and she's never looked back.
She has done very well in wedding photography. "Too well," she says. "Now I need some time for myself. The wedding business is a means to an end. It supports my traveling. I make money to spend when I travel. When I come back, I'm broke and I start over again."
Melescu says the way she feels now goes back to her childhood. "When I was in school, my best friend was a black girl," she says. "She couldn't stay over at my house, and I couldn't stay over at hers. It hurt both of us terribly. We were scared, both of us."
She has a son, James, now 30. "My son was the same way, growing up in Detroit," Melescu says. "He always brought home kids who were learning disabled, or from another country -- Korea or Japan. They would be my son's friends."
About nine years ago, Melescu started a project not knowing where it would go, and she is still working on it. "I began taking black-and-white photos of pregnant women in their ninth month," she says. "I think it's that is the essence of womanhood. Now I know where it's going. I'll sell it and use the money to help fund a place for female victims of genocide."
Cuba beckoned to Melescu about five years ago, where she learned firsthand about living conditions there through a "fluke."
"Through my driver, I met his family who lived in a couple tiny rooms," Melescu says. It was an experience that stuck with her. "I smuggled myself back into Havana and brought them clothing and things they needed. I didn't trust the mails."
After the Cuba experience, Melescu was inspired. She did her homework online, and through the Asian Institute of Technology she found a monastery that doubled as an orphanage in Thailand, where she could help.
"I taught English to the children there," she says. Then, after about a month, she traveled to Tibet. "I found a women's association for volunteer work in Dharmasala, India helping with Tibetan refugees who had traveled for months across the Himalayas," Melescu says. "Some of them were missing fingers or toes from frostbite, or had been imprisoned or tortured by the Chinese." And, she says, she had a remarkable photo op: "I was able to photograph the 21-year-old Karmapa Lama. He is next in line to the Dalai Lama."
But her real adventure was yet to come.
"I've been sponsoring women for about five years with Women for Women International. which I first heard about on 'Oprah,'" Melescu says. "It was started by a woman named Zainib Salbi who grew up in Iraq under Saddam Hussien. Salbi is an internationally acclaimed activist.
"You can sponsor women through their website, and I did that right away. I'd write to the women, and they could write back through translators, but I had a huge desire to meet the women I was sponsoring."
In the meantime, Melescu's life had taken a romantic turn. "I met a wonderful man, Chris," she says. "He's from Boston, where he taught music for 28 years, and now he has moved here. We planned to go to Africa together, but he developed a serious eye infection that prevented his traveling."
In Rwanda, Melescu's mission was to meet Patricia, one woman she had sponsored. "I asked my driver, Seth, and he knew where she was," she says.
"We drove for miles and then had to walk over this mountain a few more miles. Seth told me she was building her own house from the money I sent each month. Just $27 buys so much.
"We came around a corner, and there she was, a slender woman walking with three huge rocks on her head. She took one look at me and said, 'That's my sister.' We embraced. I was in tears. Our situations are so different, but we experience the same feelings. It's a huge thing. That's why I want to use my camera as my tool to tell this story."
For $27 a month, a Rwandan woman can buy a goat for milk, chickens for eggs and clothing, Melescu says.
"Patricia built her house from that," she says. "She carries these stones. She is only about 110 pounds. I work out and I'm in good shape, but I couldn't lift one of those stones above my shoulder." In fact, the youthful-looking Melescu weighs about 110 pounds herself. She is a tall, slender woman, with intense hazel eyes, a welcoming smile and a long brunette mane tied neatly behind her back as though not to direct attention to herself. She seems unaware of her sometimes mesmerizing affect on people once she begins relating her adventures.
Melescu's North Side apartment reflects her life, filled with color, photographs, beads, prints and paintings. Her small studio's computer spills over with disc after disc of amazing photographs. Rwandan women shyly smiling into the camera. Patricia posing with three rocks on her head in front of her mud-and-stone house.
"Most of the women had never seen a white person before," Melescu says. "They called me muzunugu, white woman."
Melescu wants to put all her photographs on CDs, and use them to get funding to bring awareness of the conditions in the troubled country, and to educate those children. "I want to be a voice for the kids in these countries," she says.
To find out more about sponsoring women, see www.womenforwomen.org. For wedding photographs, see http://www.virginislandsphoto.com.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.