Struggles may come and struggles may go, But the strength of a woman lives on, Together we can, together we can …

Fifty women sway and sing, their rapt faces the many skin colors of South Africa. One of them has composed a song, the song they’re living in The Mama Project.

In 2016, the rhetoric of the U.S. presidential primaries made Sara Stackhouse want to draw women together across borders, across race and class divides. A founder of Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Boston, she knew the arts can wake people to their common humanity, no matter their external differences. She and her husband had worked in an orphanage in Cape Town, so she began with women there. The following year her friend and former general manager at Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Heather Fields Stern ’94, joined her.

“We’re opening a safe space where women can eat together, make art, and share their stories,” said Stern, a professor at Suffolk University. “Just doing that breaks barriers between cultures and socioeconomic divides.”

The women who come represent a variety of nationalities, races, cultures, and languages, including Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English. Calvin grad and Cape Town resident Naomi Jackson Sabatta ’93 has joined, too. They call themselves The Mama Project, and the art they create each year during a two-week workshop culminates in an exhibit and performance.

The skills, confidence, and friendships they’ve developed have led the women to “support each other in ways they hadn’t ever imagined,” Stern said. “They’ve literally worn a new path between their communities. Now they walk to each other’s houses and stand together when they confront struggles.

“Our dream is to create an arts center and have an arts bus,” Stern continued, “so all the women can stay connected all year. When they’re isolated, that’s when women feel helpless.

“We’re also asking, ‘How do we do The Mama Project in the U.S. and break down our barriers?’ South African mamas can teach us so much about community and resilience.”

To learn more about The Mama Project, visit