When I began work on this project, my first daughter was a little over a year old. I had never been away from her for more than a few hours at that point, this so my decision to accept a job that would take me away from her for nearly 3 straight weeks was not a decision I took lightly. I stepped back and did some serious thinking, and decided that although she would probably not remember our separation when she was older, she would be able to watch the film I was making about a group of heroic girls taking great risks to make things better for themselves, their communities, their country, and the global environment. Beyond that, my decision felt like it was about more than just my own life and my own daughter. This film was a calling to support women and girls everywhere and my decision to do this work was inspired by my need to tell these important and uplifting stories.

I am now the mother of two young girls, and a woman myself, so issues of gender equality and equal opportunity for women are something I confront on a personal level every single day. I realize that my daughters and I are very lucky to have been born in the United States where, although we don’t have total equality yet, the situation for women is far better than in many other places in the world. The story we tell in Daughters of the Forest is set in Paraguay, where the situation for women and girls is bleak. Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in South America, and this story is set in a region where close to 80 percent of teenage girls are pregnant by age of 16. For these girls, becoming a mother at such a tender age often means that they find themselves with few options for education and employment, so they end up poor and powerless.

Although I was originally brought on to this project by producer Carl Byker strictly as the cinematographer, I knew my involvement would be much deeper the instant I met the girls. The girls of the Centro Educativo Mbaracayu school are truly incredible. They are resilient, hard-working, optimistic, and inspiring. Despite the fact that they were born into a culture that does not value education for women and girls, and a society that actively expects nothing more from them than to become wives and mothers, these girls were willing to stand up against tradition and make great personal sacrifices simply for the chance to learn.

Their greatest role model (and now one of my own) is the tireless Founding Director of the School, Celsa Acosta. Celsa is one of those people who can actually make you believe that real, long-lasting, far-reaching change is possible – and that sometimes all it takes is a hard working, charismatic leader who can galvanize people to work together. Along with a group of visionaries, Celsa founded CEM and helped convince local families, and the girls themselves, that although the idea of an all girls boarding school in the middle of a remote forest preserve teaching technical and environmental stewardship skills was a radically new idea, it could provide a path to a better life for these girls and for the communities they came from. Motivated by her own experiences as a young single mother who managed against all odds to complete her degree and become a lawyer, Celsa continues to work every day to blaze trails for women in Paraguay and improve things for all the graduates of the school whom she considers to be ‘her daughters’.

Like Celsa, I take my work (as a Cinematographer, a Journalist, a Director, and a Mother) very seriously, because there are still relatively few of us out there both mothering and working in this demanding field. When I first started out I looked long and hard to find role models I could turn to for advice when I felt crushed by my commitments to my work and my commitments to my family, and I was shocked to find so few people I could turn to. Although things are improving in this regard every day, we still have a long way to go and I am honored to now have the chance to serve as a role model to young women coming up in the profession today.

For all of these reasons I consider it a privilege to have worked with such a great team of people to tell the story of these Daughters of the Forest, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share the stories of these brave young girls with audiences all over the world.