Alissa Everett has gone from Peace Corps to investment banking to war photojournalism to fundraising. (All photos: Peter Holmes à Court)
Alissa Everett has traveled to and photographed the world’s worst war zones, from Iraq to Darfur, Syria, and the Gaza Strip. Her photos of pain and suffering made the evening news, but they weren’t making a difference. So she made a change.
While Alissa was covering the underreported and vicious war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2009, she was touched not only by the brutality of the war, but also by the optimism of some of its victims. Despite suffering unspeakable horrors, some of the female refugees had a bright view of the future. “They weren’t looking for sympathy,” Alissa said. “They were looking for a place to start a new life — and maybe a business.”
Alissa knew a photograph of a Congo women’s treatment center might get a couple seconds on an evening newscast and would be soon forgotten — if it was covered at all. She wanted to make a lasting difference in the lives of these women.
So rather than just selling some images and moving to the next war, Alissa returned to the U.S. to exhibit her photographs for a fundraiser, exposing the hope these women had to build a better life. The event was a success, and the foundation Exposing Hope was born.
Everett founded Exposing Hope to help women in war-torn areas build a better life.
It was a project that perhaps only someone with Alissa’s unique background could have pulled off: She’s a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa turned investment banking analyst turned photojournalist. She launched her photography career by quitting her banking job, putting all her stuff in storage, and buying a one-way ticket to Iraq in 2003 “because that’s where the news was happening.”
Embedded with the U.S. 101st Airborne, she was there when Saddam Hussein’s sons were killed in the assault on Mosul, and her photos made the world news. In her global travels, Alissa has been to over 100 countries, doing photo assignments in dozens of them. Her website displays some of the striking images she’s created for UNICEF, news groups, and even a few travel magazines.
In the past few years, Alissa’s Exposing Hope foundation has worked together with Heal Africa to help over 2,000 survivors of sexual violence in Eastern Congo. Donations were used to purchase land and construct safe houses in three villages; train over 1,000 women in reading, sewing, bread-making, basket-weaving, animal husbandry, and money management; and even fund lines of credit to help the women start their own small businesses.
Everett’s mission has found challenges along the way, including gang attacks.
But working in a war zone is a difficult and sometimes very hazardous occupation. There’s a reason Alissa was featured in an episode of the TV show “In Harm’s Way.” When Alissa returned to the DRC in 2012 to help with the safe houses, her group was ambushed, assaulted, and robbed by a gang of gunmen. Alissa was thankful to escape with her life. As the war expanded, the Exposing Hope safe houses were burned down or looted, and the women whom the foundation had helped endured a new cycle of suffering.
Undeterred, Alissa continued with the foundation, and returned once again to the DRC this year to help rebuild and support the safe house project. Recently married, Alissa is even using her wedding registry as a fundraising tool, so far receiving over $25,000 for the charity. Instead of requests for silverware or tea services, she and her husband are asking friends for money for medical care, training, and sewing machines for the refugees.
The return trip was a success, with the safe houses and training programs relaunched — a rare glimmer of peace and hope in the war-ravaged country. But with hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war still needing to rebuild their homes and lives, the work is far from over. Alissa is working on another photo-driven fundraiser this fall in New York City.
Just back from a two-month trip to Africa, Alissa is now home — for the moment. She’s already planning photo trips to Nepal (to document an alternative energy project) and Vietnam (to photograph the impact of human trafficking for PBS).
But wherever she reports from, expect to see beyond the troubles of the world to find some hope for the future. As she says, “My work focuses on the inspiring stories of people surviving in the toughest conditions, of the brave women who rebuild communities and help others recover from conflict.”