Steph Davies, from Cardigan, West Wales, tells us how she made her daydream a reality and set off on a journey of discovery to Patagonia to meet (and interview) Welsh descendants and develop Project Hiraeth.
During the summer of 2013, I decided to hand my notice in at work.
I had a brilliant job at a creative agency but I had this idea that I couldn’t let go of. I wanted to head to Argentinian Patagonia for a few months to find out more about the Welsh Colony.
During the first half of the 19th century, individuals in Wales were inspired by the idea of establishing a Welsh colony. They wanted to leave for numerous reasons; to escape poverty, to seek religious freedom and to establish a new country where Welsh would be the language of religion, government, trade and education. In Wales at that time, it was not possible as Wales was gradually being absorbed into England.
On 28 May 1865, a group of 153 Welshmen and women set sail for a new life in Argentinian Patagonia to save and hold on to what they believed in; their religion, dying language and culture.
I wanted to explore the Welsh Colony and to document and celebrate their stories. It was coming up to the 150 anniversary of the Welsh colony in Patagonia and it seemed like the perfect time to take on this trip.
One summer evening in 2013 - I decided to stop talking about this idea that I had about researching the Welsh in Patagonia, and to get on with it. I finally quit my job.
I can’t quite work out why I didn’t do it sooner. Well, I can…I was scared, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing - I didn’t even know anyone in Patagonia, but I had to make it work. I became self-employed so I could balance paid work with unpaid Project Hiraeth, I moved out of my house, stayed with friends and lived out of a tiny suitcase for 7 months to save money.
It wasn’t easy, but I’ve been lucky that the tiny negatives have been nothing in comparison to the extreme highs.
Lows include my first attempt at getting Project Hiraeth on Kickstarter not being approved, not receiving Arts Council funding, teaching myself how to work alone, broken promises from brands and businesses, stress and relying on favour after favour from my incredible friends and family.
These tiny struggles were nothing in comparison to the highs which include tightening Project Hiraeth and getting it on Kickstarter - then reaching my Kickstarter goal, re-applying for Arts Council funding and receiving it, being approached by TED to speak at their TED event in 2014 (which I was unfortunately in Patagonia for) and to write an article for the TED x London Business School newspaper in 2014. Project Hiraeth has received numerous amounts of press and support including interviews from BBC Radio Wales, support from The Welsh Affairs Committee, National Library of Wales and The British Council.
In March 2014, I landed in Patagonia. I interviewed and filmed 40 different people both in the community in the Andes and in the Chubut Valley; all who had a Welsh connection, all from different backgrounds and all with a different story to tell. I returned to Wales with over 40 hours of film and a lot of stories. The films were edited, and the stories were illustrated.
During Autumn 2014, the project research was used to write Key Stage 2 reports for the Welsh assembly and during the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, I worked with a fantastic team to create a website.
Project-Hiraeth website un-earths the fascinating history of the Welsh experience in Patagonia in time to celebrate the 150 anniversary of their voyage. The website allows others to explore the history of Welsh Patagonia and voyage through a large collection of stories from Welsh Patagonia - through text, film and illustration. This website went live during March 2015.
During February 2015 I was approached to write and publish a book of stories from the Welsh Colony in Patagonia - this will be printed during September 2015.
What’s next? I’ll be working with the Welsh Affairs Committee on an exhibition during July, I have been invited to speak at PenFro Book Festival in September and I’d like to get schools in Wales and Patagonia using the website as a resource. Other than this, I like to keep a reminder of how lucky I am that I’m doing exactly what I day-dreamt about when I was sat in that office - if anything, I hope this is an inspiration to anyone who has a project or an idea that they want to follow. Exactly as the Welsh did when they set sail for Patagonia.
View the Project-Hiraeth website
Selection of illustrations from Project-Hiraeth website below (illustrations by Lucy Burns)