It was on a trip to South Africa in 1991 that Irene Staehelin first became aware of the San (Bushmen) rock paintings. Questions about the origin and meaning of this art led her to the history and present destitute conditions of the descendants of Southern Africa’s original inhabitants.

From 1993 onward Irene Staehelin worked as a photographer in Southern Africa.  She made contacts with groups that supported the human rights and development of San people.  Inspired by the philosophy of Cultural Survival (www.cs.org), an indigenous non-governmental organization in Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA) founded by the late Prof. David Maybury-Lewis, Irene Staehelin completed her studies at Boston University with a Master’s degree in Anthropology and the Graduate Certificate in African Studies.

Concomitantly, she began establishing !Khwa ttu
> www.khwattu.org, the San Culture & Education Centre near Cape Town.  Numerous visits to indigenous cultural centers in Canada and Western USA, as well as witnessing successful and failed development projects in Southern Africa provided valuable insights for the establishment of !Khwa ttu. Irene Staehelin also assembled an international network of scholars and development experts as consultants for the project.