A runaway child bride, an American photographer and soap are changing lives in Ethiopia. While in Ethiopia this past June on a 10x10 pre-production trip, I met many incredible people doing amazing work to improve the lives of girls. One of them was National Geographic/VII photographer Stephanie Sinclair. Over breakfast one morning, she showed me a short video from her near decade-long work documenting early child marriage through photography. The powerful images and stories Stephanie shared left me chilled, angered and moved. Stephanie, who strives to change lives through her work, was compelled to start a soap-making cooperative in Ethiopia after meeting Elsa.

Nearly 10 years ago, when Elsa was just a child, she ran away from her family on her wedding day to escape from an arranged marriage. With nowhere to go, she was trafficked and forced into sex work. Elsa is now rebuilding her life through the soap-making cooperative. She and her nine-year-old daughter have just moved out of the red light district and are able to focus on a soap-making business without fearing for their safety. Even more importantly, this move signified Elsa’s final departure from the sex industry, a nightmare she had been living for the past ten years.

As Stephanie’s experience shows, one person’s story can inspire people to take action that will make a difference in many lives, multiplying the impact. Elsa and her daughter’s bravery offer hope for other girls facing similar challenges. And Stephanie’s dedication to making her photos and stories profoundly affect the lives and futures of these women is truly inspiring.

Stephanie Sinclair’s images are also featured in a story on child marriage in the June 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine.