Sheila Flynn OP
Sheila recently exhibited at the Gretchen International Print Exhibition in Switzerland as well as a participant in the GIF Book (31 South African artists contributing an edition of 101 prints) which has been purchased by the Smithsonian. Tsakane, South Africa 

The print's title is 'Load-shedding'. I drew from a real snake skin, using it as a metaphor for transformation. We have to 'let go' to be transformed. The central symbol is an ancient symbol for power - we are empowered by grace when we open ourselves to God's work in us on behalf of others. The smaller symbol in the left hand corner is the 'on-off' button - the power to change and be transformed is in our hands, with grace.

When 13-year-old Sheila Flynn decided to attend a weekend youth camp on the fringes of the Epping forest in Essex, England, she and her friends expected a “wild weekend” of fun. Instead she was introduced to the philosophy of St.Dominic. “I was exposed to this man whose pursuit for truth and his incredible compassion just seared my heart,” said Flynn, who would join a community of Dominican sisters, “and I knew that was what I would become.”

It was a vision that eventually brought the Irish native to South Africa via the United States. And it was in South Africa that Flynn was permitted to fulfill a long-held ambition to study art and share her natural talent with people who needed tools to heal and lift themselves up.

Shelia realized that she wanted to help impoverished women when she offered a ride to two women standing on the roadside during a drive from Durban to Johannesburg. They refused, saying it was not her “kind” of lift they needed and she realized they were sex workers, plying their trade among the thousands of truck drivers who travel the 301-mile (500 km) route each day.

Having read reports of the high number of truckers who use prostitutes while working, she gently asked if they appreciated the risks they were exposing themselves to. She was deeply moved when asked in return if she knew what it is like to hear your child crying from hunger at night.

Overcome by the circumstances that dictate what a mother needs to do for her children, Flynn decided to find a way to use her skills to help women facing grinding poverty each day. She and a colleague, Sr. Mary Tuck, also a Dominican, started looking for an income-generating project for women. Their answer: Kopanang Community Trust, launched in 2001.

Kopanang, is a Sotho word for “gathering together” and the name of the hopeful center where women come together to create works of embroidery, and to share their stories, their problems, their courage and their solutions.

All of the Kopanang women are either living with HIV/AIDS or have close relatives who are HIV-positive or who have died from AIDS. Many also suffer abuse at the hands of their intimate partners. All live in deep poverty. “Here at Kopanang we grow spiritually and emotionally,” says 50-year-old Beauty Mabunda, who has been a member of the Kopanang community since 2006. “Before I didn’t believe in myself, but now I have the strength for whatever I come across [in my life].” Mabunda also participates in Dikaledi (Sotho for “long tears”), a support group for working through problems with a therapist.

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Sheila Flynn OP
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