Photography by Francesca Russell Photography & Films
Meet Sarah. She is Beauty Revived.
When I began searching for the mother that I wanted to photograph for the “50 Most Beautiful Mothers” campaign, I knew I wanted a passionate working woman, who was pursuing her own dreams and providing a service to the community, while at the same time raising a family. What better role model for cultivating strong, independent, loving, and compassionate children who would continue the work of making this world a better place?
Sarah’s name was passed on to me by a mutual friend, and I knew immediately that she was the one whose story I wanted to share. What she is working to do for women and children around the world is nothing short of inspiring.
Sarah is a mother, professor, and an activist. A graduate of Smith College, Columbia University, and New York University, she has taught in many schools throughout New York City. While at NYU, she became involved with Village Health Works, a health clinic in Burundi, East Africa, as a volunteer. Sarah heard that the clinic was in desperate need of pajamas, as newborn babies were dying because they were unable to regulate their own body temperatures. She got in touch with 15 friends, asking for pajama donations, and within three days over 200 pairs of pajamas were contributed.
That was the beginning of BENNISON. Sarah now heads a company that sells premium children’s pajamas – all handmade, with the finest 100% Pima cotton, by mothers and grandmothers in Lima, Peru. Each sale funds the collection and donation of more pajamas to children in need, and also funds specific projects related to maternal and children’s health. To date, Sarah has given over 4,000 pajamas to children in need around the world.
Sarah writes: “I believe in the power of small acts to make a big difference for others. In my teaching I seek to represent the unrepresented and to guide students to see themselves in new ways, to see potential they may not know exist. I am passionate about doing what I can to touch others’ lives, even if it is just one pajama at a time.”
When I met Sarah and her children at their New York City home, I was struck by the enthusiasm Oliver (10), Charlotte (9), and Dorothy (6 1/2) have for their mother’s company and its mission. They were so excited to put their BENNISON pajamas on for photos and Dorothy enthusiastically showed me a big map with pushpins placed where pajama donations have been made around the world. Sarah shared a sample of the truly genius packaging for the pajamas. It is made up of 18 squares of water-soluble, non-toxic, biodegradable soap paper, which dissolves in a very small amount of water. Poor hygiene is another big issue in impoverished communities, leading to serious illness. This soap paper packaging is a small step toward helping to alleviate this problem. Charlotte and Dorothy both took turns dissolving the soap paper in a bowl of water with their mother, fascinated by how it worked.
Sarah says, “In a world full of categories where we are often marked by our differences, the experience of motherhood is universal. When I became a mother I gained an acute understanding of how the experience of motherhood crosses all boundaries: geographic, cultural, and class, to name a few. My sense of empathy became further heightened, and I realized that all of the many feelings birthing and motherhood evokes: vulnerability and empowerment, weakness and strength, hope and fear, dependency and independence, are shared. Through motherhood, I felt connected to other women in the world in new and profound ways.”
When I asked Sarah what her hopes for the future are, she said: “I hope that my business continues to grow and that we can keep giving pajamas to children in need. I am working to develop a service program for students at a school in New York City, and I hope I can make that successful so that more kids engage meaningfully with the diversity of the world. Most importantly, I hope my children stay healthy and intellectually alive.”
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world”, Mahatma Gandhi said.
Sarah Bennison is doing just that.
About the Photographer
Francesca Russell is a family photographer specializing in documentary photography and video sessions. Francesca has also worked for the past twenty years as a professional stage manager, both on and off-Broadway, and toured the country for four years with the first national tours of Monty Python’s “Spamalot” and “Rock of Ages”. It was while traveling that she purchased her first DSLR and began documenting life backstage. In recent years Francesca has turned her focus to photographing the everyday lives of her children, Lila and Logan. In addition to photography, Francesca is also an avid knitter, crafter, list-maker, meal planner, adventurer, learning addict and project-a-holic. She resides just outside New York City on Long Island.