MELISSA Histon-Browning is no stranger to adversity, having come through a bout with breast cancer in recent years. But she's hellbent on making a difference in other people's lives.
The movement she began, The Sista Code, has picked up considerable traction in the 11 months since its creation - all because it is making a positive impact on women's lives.
A professional photographer by trade, Histon-Browning was moved to action by a trip she took to Nepal last year as the photographer on a documentary team supported by 3Angels Nepal, a non-profit group that campaigns against human sex trafficking of Nepalese women and children.
"I had the breast cancer," she says. "That was life changing for me. That was 'go hard or go home'. You know what: you only live once."
But the trip to Nepal pushed her further down the track to making a difference in women's lives.
"That trip was life changing, too," she says. "That was the catalyst for establishing The Sista Code. In two weeks there, I was hearing tragic stories of sex trafficking and abuse. Coming home, I could only think 'what can I do to make a difference? I can't go back to my life and pretend that's not going on'. I spent a lot of time thinking about that. I had a lightbulb moment: I can take photos and write. I can share stories of good work, uplifting stories, a call to action.
"There are some who are government activists, I'm not sure I'm cut out for that. Everybody has something they can do."
The Sista Code's Facebook page and own website have quickly taken hold, with the facebook page now carrying more than 11,000 followers. The sites have little bits of encouragement and wisdom, and deeper background. The Sista Code website includes a blog with inspirational articles on topics from cancer to fashion to leadership to relationships and charities, all providing encouragement to women.
While Histon-Browning has cut her commercial photography back to one day a week to concentrate on The Sista Code project, it's much more than a website.
Last year Histon-Browning launched The Sista Code Supper Club on White Ribbon Day, with attendees encouraged to bring a suitcase or bag full of clothes, books and toys that could be donated to Jenny's Place women's refuge.
Now, she's created another event: "gotyourbacksista" on Friday, June 12, which is aimed at spreading kindness and making a difference from women to women.
"I believe we all have a choice about how we live our lives and how we treat each other," Histon-Browning says.
"Our purpose in life is to be there, to support other people. It is living consciously. To say, on this day and from this day forward, I'm going to spread some kindness."
In the short time since she's put out the word, the idea has taken hold. "Women are resonating with it," she says.
"I think it goes to show at our core, we all want to do the right thing. I think that is the momentum we are getting," she says.
The gotyourbacksista concept was born out of an opinion piece that Histon-Browning wrote for the Newcastle Herald in March, near International Women's Day. In the story Histon-Browning wrote, "Women must start uplifting one another, treating each other more kindly and celebrating other women's successes and wins, especially in the workplace. It often seems that the people who are hardest on women are other women."
Histon-Browning sums it up like this: "It about gender equity. The gist was gender equity starts with women. They need to be kinder to each other. We need to have each others' backs. When I shared it on social media, women started commenting on Facebook with 'I've got your back, sista'. I thought there's something in that. It's sending a message to women that we need to have each other's back.
"That's what it's about - women supporting each other, instead of taking in corridor gossip. We can achieve gender equity if we start treating each other as equals."
Social media knows no limits: the majority of The Sista Code's followers are in the US, although Newcastle is the biggest city of supporters. The hashtag gotyourbacksista to raise awareness of June 12 as a day of good deeds by women towards women has attracted attention by followers in the US and Australia.
"It's a beautiful thing," she says. "There was a woman from America - Arizona - who said 'I can't wait for this day'. A woman in America inspired by women in Australia, women in Newcastle. That's getting global reach."
She makes no apologies for the advertising carried on Sista Code's website. "It's not a money-making machine," she says. "It helps cover my costs. The Sista Code costs money to run. I am looking for corporate support so it can be sustainable."
She has expanded her network to Sydney, recently conducting a fund-raising event for Women's Refuge there, with plans for more. And she has a couple of bigger projects with national organisations in the planning stages.
She has her eyes firmly on the main picture. "In this world, when we turn on the news we see images of ISIS, murder, terrorism - that can be disheartening and depressing," she says. "That's part of the reason this resonates. At our core, we are good people."
■ Donate clothes and blankets to your local women’s refuge or homeless shelter.
■ Give a lovely compliment to each woman you come across.
■ Make dinner and deliver to a busy, working mum who may need a helping hand.
■ Send an uplifting letter or postcard via ‘‘real’’ postal mail to a friend.
■ Take a bunch of flowers to a special friend, your mum or sister just to let them know you appreciate them.
■ Secretly pay for a coffee for the woman sitting next to you in a cafe. It will make her day.
■ Place inspirational affirmation cards or hand-written thank-you post-it notes and place on the desks of your colleagues at work.
■ Make a micro-loan donation to a woman needing financial assistance in a developing country at kiva.org.
■ Donate blood at your local blood bank.
■ Volunteer to read, chat or play cards with a woman in your local nursing home.
■ Compliment a work colleague to her boss.
■ Babysit for a single mum for free so she can have a little ‘‘me’’ time.
■ Offer to return a shopping cart to the store or trolley bay for someone loading
groceries in their car.
■ Be encouraging!
■ While you’re out, compliment a mum on how well-behaved her child is.
■ Help someone who needs help with heavy lifting: a mum with her stroller or an elderly woman with her groceries.
#gotyourbacksista for instagram or twitter, or visit the website thesistacode.com