Tag Archives: helping others
Maggie’s story and the path she decided to take early on in life, has touched the hearts of people around the globe and changed the lives of hundreds of Nepalese women and children.
Maggie was a high school classmate of my daughter, Erin. After graduation, Maggie decided to take a gap year and travel before heading off to college. Eventually, she ended up in Nepal and saw a country devastated by 10 years of civil war and thousands of orphaned children left in its wake. She used her babysitting savings to buy property and build a home for herself and orphaned children – she was 19 years old. Maggie has 50 children now, has built a primary school for 250 kids and is currently building a high school.
When Maggie accepted the Hero of the Year award the other night, she said; “ And to all of you in this room and who are watching, please, please remember that we have the power to create the world that we want to live in”. She’s done just that and has inspired countless others, to do the same. She inspired my daughter and I to seek out other individuals all over the world who were creating positive change and to make a filmabout them, with the hopes it would inspire others to make a difference.
Imagine if we all thought like Maggie and believed we all have the power to create the world that we want to live in. The fact is we do have that power. It starts with the little things we can do – in our own lives, in our family’s lives and in our communities. Small things have a way of growing into big things. When you educate one child, you change a life that has the potential to change other lives.
Maggie, you continue to inspire me. You are a bright light in a troubled world and a beacon of hope. Congratulations for this well deserved honor.
If you’d like to watch Opening Our Eyes, a film about Maggie and other change makers, you can view it here.
Tom and I will be headed out tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn. We’re bound for Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter Erin, her boyfriend Bryan and his family. For me, it’s also a welcome road trip and a journey home to my birthplace. It’s funny how things have a way of coming full circle. I was born in Chicago and left to head “East” with my parents and family when I was a young child. But for someone like me, who has moved more than a dozen times in my lifetime – Chicago feels like home. It’s where my roots are.
I’ve been a bit of a “rolling stone” over the years, but I’m also extremely grateful that I have been able to share many of life’s incredible experiences and travels with Erin and my husband Tom. It’s been a gift, to be able to combine my passions with my career and family. This Thanksgiving I am mindful of my blessings and am most grateful for what I have.
One of the things I am most proud of is the creation of the film, Opening Our Eyes, that I made in collaboration with my daughter. The journey in and of itself was rewarding, but I have found that sharing it has not only inspired and motivated others to create positive change, it has also enriched my own life.
If you would like to see the film or share it with others over the holidays, we are now offering it online. We are also offering a Thanksgiving special.
Click here and use the coupon code “THANKSGIVING2013”.
The journey is over and the memories have begun to fade. But the legacy lives on in the film my daughter and I created, when we set out some 3 years ago seeking individuals who were making our world a better place. And indeed, we found many people – ordinary people who were doing extraordinary things. And every one of these people had one thing in common – they had found their purpose in helping others. The more they gave – the more they got back in return. But none of them “gave” with the idea of getting something in return. It wasn’t about getting money, favors, recognition, or other ego related pursuits, it was about caring for their “fellow man”.
I think that the biggest reward for me in making this film, was sharing that experience with my daughter. She was fortunate to have been born and raised in a beautiful and privileged part of the world and I wanted her to have a greater global perspective. It’s almost impossible to “care” for your “fellow man” when if you don’t have an understanding of who they really are. We all hear about conflict and our “differences” that seem to keep our world divided, but for many of us it’s too distant and outside our consciousness and the confines of our own daily reality.
The truth is the world seems like it’s gotten a whole lot smaller since I was my daughter’s age. It’s amazing how technology has connected us all. What’s even more amazing is the “reach” each one of us has. It’s not very difficult for “one person” to get their message out these days – globally – and instantaneously. Think of the power in that. I realized that first hand with this film and how it has connected people all over the world. I am grateful that I live in an age, when I am able to use my craft, to spread the message about the power each one of us has in making a positive difference in our world – the “power of one”.
But it starts with each one of us, in our own communities and with the people we have relationships with. We can all be a little more thoughtful of how we treat the people we know – that is if we can get outside our own egos. It may be as simple as stopping ourselves before we say something, or do something that could affect someone negatively and ask, “how would I feel if I was on the receiving end?” It’s the little things that we all do and say, that can affect someone, either positively or negatively and that in turn goes on to affect more people and it starts to ripple through “community” and beyond.
I think we all need a reminder from time to time that it serves no purpose to dismiss or treat anyone with disregard, anger or contempt. It only serves to make us bitter inside. I have learned that lesson more than once in my life. The older I get, the more I realize that I’d rather harbor thoughts of love, kindness and forgiveness than hold onto negative ones. Ultimately, life’s too short to focus on the negative.
We each have our own perspective and we each get to choose the lens we see “life” through. I choose a lens of love, respect and caring. I haven’t always chosen that lens and no doubt there will be times in my life, going forward, when I will falter and start seeing life through the wrong lens. Please, let me know when I do.
In some ways we have never been more connected than we are right now – at this juncture in the timeline of mankind. In other ways we have never been more disconnected and detached. When I embarked on a 99 journey around the world almost 3 years ago to date, I suppose in some ways I was looking to get more connected with what was happening globally, in a real sense. These days, it’s too easy to fall into a cyber world, where most of our connections are intangible. Call me old fashioned, but I feel the need to connect with people in real terms. When I returned from my journey, I had not only connected with people from all around the world, I had connected with myself and what part I was meant to play in the timeline of life.
As the years have ticked away, I have tried to remain true to myself, especially in how I apply that to my craft and my career. This past weekend I had an assignment for Kiwanis Magazine. The assignment was to photograph volunteers from the local Kiwanis and Ki Clubs, repairing a home at the NJ shore that had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy. I had not been down to the shore since Sandy, but I knew this area had been the hardest hit in the state. While much of the debris has been taken away, there’s an empty and desolate presence especially in the poorer towns that had no money to rebuild.
The task on hand for the volunteers that day, and there had to be about 30 people who showed up, was to install new sheet rock and insulation, put in a new bathroom and do general clean up of the property. It was a modest home in a very modest neighborhood of houses that had been salvaged amongst the ones abandoned. The first thing that hit me was in fact – this is someone’s home. As much as I was there to photograph the volunteers, my eye was drawn to the personal effects of the owners, pushed up into the corners of damaged rooms along with their Easter decorations in rooms they were living in. Life must go on.
The day was filled with positive energy. Kids were painting, raking, cleaning storm drains while older tradesmen were working with other volunteers and teaching them their craft. And at the end of the day, everyone walked away tired, but feeling really good about the contribution they had made. I’m sure some of these kids had to do some kind of community service as part of their school mandates, but could I tell that every one of them got a lot more out of the experience than just school credits. I know I got a lot more out of it than a paycheck and some photographs in a magazine.
After the chores had been done and I had gotten the photographs that I needed, I took a drive with my husband along the ocean road. It was a new landscape, changed by a hurricane that hit hard. But I felt hopeful and humbled once again about the power that’s in all of us to make a difference.
“This could be one of those rare moments in life when you can go back in your past and make things right for your future.”
I was in NYC last night and I saw this sign in a shop window. It wasn’t a big sign, but nevertheless it caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks. It was the second time this week that I had seen that very same phrase written. How odd and what an uncanny coincidence to see these same words written in two totally random places, in the same week. I thought, “if only it were true”.
It’s not possible to change the past of course, but I started thinking about it and what I would change, if I could. There were lots of things that came to mind immediately, that in hindsight I might have done differently. But when I really started thinking of things that I’ve done in the past, in terms of what I would change to “make things right for my future”, there were only a couple of changes I would make.
The fact is that even the things that I wish I could change the most, probably had to happen for one reason or another in order to have a brighter future. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it.
One thing I love about the New Year is that it gives me a feeling of renewed hope and that we all have a fresh start to “get it right” in the coming year. I’m not one to make grandiose resolutions because they leave me feeling like a big loser weeks later if or when I falter. I’d rather simply focus on each new day and be the best I can be.
I am not perfect and I never will be. I am a work in progress and each day, week, month and year I strive to be true to who I am and not let others deter me from my purpose. I will try to remember that no one can really change the past but we can let go of it. But “letting go” is not trying to erase the past. Attempting to do that really only harbors negative energy inside. The very act of trying to repress or block something from your past is in fact the opposite of “letting go”. To really “let go” is to be able to forgive yourself (or others) from past mistakes, and move forward in a positive way. I try to embrace each new day, and give it and everyone I know the opportunity to “make things right for the future”. I can only hope that others will do the same. Imagine the power in that thought.
Be kind, be loving, and focus on the best in others – not the worst, because isn’t that what you’d like others to do for you? When you start to live life this way, you’ll probably never even have the desire to want to go back and change your past.
Once again, I try to make sense of another senseless act of violence – this time one that snuffed out the lives of 20 innocent children. Every time there is another tragedy caused by guns, we question our firearms laws and vow to do something about the “problem”. The usual discussion takes place with lots of talk on both sides of the issue and then dissipates – until the next tragedy.
I think the “problem” goes beyond the discussion of a “right to bear arms”. I think it speaks to a greater problem and that is how we deal with our fellow man.
Too often we judge others without knowing much about their circumstances. Too often we seek to be understood but don’t place importance on seeking to understand someone else. I think this happens when we become too insular – when we don’t allow ourselves to become in tune to the rest of the world or even our own communities.
Some simple thoughts on how we can become more compassionate:
- Seek to understand – not just to be understood. I wish I had a dollar every time someone said to me “my point is…….” – I would be rich. Every time you are tempted to make “your” point – also make an attempt to understand someone else’s.
- Learn to forgive – Human beings are far from perfect. They do things and say things they usually wish they hadn’t. When we forgive others for the hurt they’ve done to us, we free ourselves from the pain as well. When we don’t forgive, we keep the negativity inside. It ends up consuming us. Try forgiveness instead.
- Don’t judge others – There’s an old saying “people who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw rocks”. Don’t judge others unless you want to be judged by them.
- Don’t bully – There are many ways people bully – it’s not always overt. Bullying really means forcing your way on someone else. When you ignore someone, you are being just as much of a bully as someone who is more aggressive. Essentially, you are no different in how you go about “getting your way”.
- Treat people how you would like to be treated. Stop and think before you speak and act. Would you like to be treated that way. I’ve never liked cliques for this reason. There’s always an exclusionary aspect to a clique. There’s always judgments being made about who should and shouldn’t belong.
- Do things for someone without the expectation of return. The rewards of giving are just that – the act of giving itself is the biggest reward you give yourself. When you do something and expect something in return and it doesn’t happen – it takes away the joy of giving.
- How many times have you told yourself that you will be more caring and giving? And how many times do you let that thought slip into oblivion without acting on it. Next time you say that – follow through.
- Every simple act of kindness adds up. Imagine if we all did something kind for someone every day. Just imagine.
- Look past the someone’s exterior. It’s hard sometimes to look past the actions of someone. We end up questioning and taking things personally when in fact many times someone’s actions have nothing to do with us
- Live a compassionate life and teach your children through your actions what that means. It starts there. Showing compassion is one of the best ways to make our world a better place. You will set an example for your children and they will pass that along to future generations.
What are other ways we can be compassionate?
“Compassion and happiness are not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.” ~Dalai Lama
“My Voice” and not being afraid to use it. To be truthful, there are plenty of times that I’m afraid to exercise my voice, but I am much more fearful of the consequences if I don’t. There have been times when I have distanced friends or made colleagues step away from me because I have spoken up for what I feel is the right thing to do. It is never easy but I would rather live in a world where I fight to give my protagonists the right to exercise their voices, rather than be quieted by them.
To be born at a time in America when all it’s people had a shot at the “American Dream”. Sadly, that has changed over the last 40-50 years. It used to be if you got an education and worked hard, you could provide for yourself and your family. That dream has become harder and harder to achieve as the gap between the “have’s” and “have not’s“ has widened. How much wealth and power is enough for the smallest percentage of Americans? And why does it come at the cost of so many? I am a true patriot of this country because I still believe that we can get back to the beliefs and principles that our country’s founders held true.
My health even though I pray each day that I remain healthy. Even though I spend a small fortune for my annual health insurance premium, it comes with a very high deductible. Because of the high deductible, it’s really catastrophe insurance and in paying the rising costs of those annual premiums, I find it very hard at times to find the necessary funds to cover the out of pocket costs for preventative care. How does that make sense in a civilized country – that only the very wealthy or the ones lucky enough to still have benefits at work can afford to maintain their health?
My family and friends. I have come to learn the true importance of having a family and a handful of friends that I know I can really count on to always be there for me. We may disagree at times and even become estranged, but it’s those “real” relationships that have weathered the ups and the downs and are my foundation.
That I have shelter, food and other basic human needs because so many people don’t. I have traveled far and wide throughout my entire life and have seen the desperate situations that some people have to live with in all corners of the world. But I don’t have to go far anymore to see first hand, homeless people and hungry children. It’s so easy to turn a blind eye to those in need and make judgments about how those folks got to that point. It’s so easy to tell yourself that there is nothing you can do about that and that you can’t possibly help all those people. But it’s really not that difficult to do even the simplest of kind acts for somebody who doesn’t have as much as you. Try it and in doing so you get so much more in return.
My vision and that I’m bold enough at times to trust it . Sometimes, it is far too easy to follow the trends and think that is the safest route to take, but in the process you end up robbing yourself from who you really are and have to offer. Whenever, I have looked into my heart and followed my path, good things follow. It may not happen immediately, and along the way the “misses” sometimes are more than the “hits”, but I know if I stay on course, it will lead to what I am meant to do.
What are your thankful for this Thanksgiving?
This blog is two-fold. First, a brief announcement about some exciting news we received recently – we have been accepted into the Naperville Independent Film Festival! Naperville is a suburb outside of Chicago, so it is especially exciting for me to be able to go to a film festival that’s local enough to drive to and bring friends. Even more exciting is that we have been nominated for the Best Documentary award AND we were notified that there will representatives from a distribution company at the festival! We’re looking forward to attending in September.
I also wanted to share a message from CCI and Greenheart’s President, Emanuel Kuntzelman. CCI and Greenheart is an official sponsor of Opening Our Eyes; it is also the organization where I work. It is a cultural exchange organization that facilitates many different exchange programs, one of which brings high school students to the U.S. and places them with volunteer host families and high schools for the academic year.
We are currently in the home stretch of looking for host families willing to provide homes for the students arriving to start school this fall. Emanuel sent the message below to our field staff, which works to place these students with families and schools. However, I felt that his ultimate message about the power of the individual in changing lives really resonated with Opening Our Eyes’s message:
Steve Jobs once said that “People with passion can change the world for the better.” At CCI we have lots of passionate people ready to do just that. In these final weeks of searching for host families, I would like to remind all of us why we are putting in the extra effort.
You are not just a sole person in your community, but an extraordinary member of an amazing team. You are a change maker, one of hundreds at CCI and Greenheart, that are creating a world that will be more peaceful and understanding through your hard work. The phone calls and networking and extra hours of searching for host families add up to more than just meeting a goal; you are making a real difference in not only the life of an exchange student, but the lives of the host family, their friends, the family of the exchange student and the ripple effect goes on. This is the expanding power of one. One more placement by one more person adds up to many changed lives for years to come.
Thank you in advance for tapping into the power of one–your own, individual effort–to make this happen and help get all of our students placed. When all of our students arrive later this summer, the most important number of all will still be “one”: the one sense of accomplishment that each of us will have in knowing that we did our part to use our passion to change the world, one placement at a time.
Here’s to all of you–the fantastic powers of one adding up to far more than the sum of individuals.
With energy, gratitude, and best wishes for the weeks ahead,
Emanuel Kuntzelman, President
Center for Cultural Interchange and Greenheart
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student for this coming academic year, or you know someone who would be interested, please visit CCI’s website to learn more. You can also call the CCI office at 1-800-634-4771 if you have any questions.
I ran into someone over the weekend who I had not seen in many years. We had been good friends, but we had drifted apart, over some disagreements, that neither of us could even remember. I’m sure those disagreements seemed important at the time, but now they just seemed trivial. We both realized that we had let our egos get in the way of our friendship and instead of trying to heal the hurts that had severed our friendship – we put more angst, anger and sadness in its place.
I started thinking about the kids that I met at the Oasis Youth Network
in Sydney, Australia, when Erin and I were there, shooting this segment of Opening Our Eyes. One young man was telling his story of growing up in a broken home, with parents who were drug addicts and gamblers. He talked about stealing money for his lunch when he was a kid, and never having clean clothes to wear to school. He talked about getting into a life of drugs and crime and eventually being sent to jail, away from his children and everything that was good in his life. And then he talked about how Oasis had given him his life back and how Paul Moulds in particular had given him a “second chance”.
When we interviewed Paul Moulds for our film, he made a comment that still resonates with me to this day, almost two years later. In talking about kids who grew up in homes like the one this young man described, or worse yet, kids who were homeless and trying to scrape out some kind of life on the streets, he said: “we try to help these young people by training them and finding them a job – but who is going to be willing to hire them when they have no address, no education and no record of employment?” He went on to say that no matter, how much pain some of these kids had grown up with or how many wrong decisions they had made in their lives, that he still believed in giving them second chances. I remember thinking at the time that the world needed more people like Paul – people who believed in giving others, a second chance.
We all say and do stupid things in our lives and in the process, we end up hurting ourselves and the people we truly care about. We’ve given into our “precious egos” when we behave like that. Ultimately, many of us come to realize that we only bring more pain in our lives, by continuing to hold onto the hurts from the past, instead of letting go of our egos, and giving someone who may have done us wrong – a second chance. I think sometimes in our efforts to protect ourselves from being hurt by others, we bring more pain to our lives by shutting the door on second chances.
Jackson Browne writes, “It seems easier sometimes to change the past”. Unfortunately, we can’t change the past, but we don’t need to keep holding onto it. While it’s not easy to give someone a second chance, it feels so much better to leave the door open to possibilities. Imagine what the world would be like if we all thought like Paul Moulds, and thought that everyone deserves a second chance.
Chris Guillebeau wrote in his blog today “When I became an optimist after years of seeing the glass half-full, it was largely a practical choice. I just realized I was tired (literally) of putting my energy toward negative thoughts. It was draining and decapacitating. I vowed to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore anything else as much as possible.” I can’t wait to meet Chris next week at his World Domination Summit in Portland, OR. In fact I can’t wait to meet all the people who attend this conference and think the same way Chris does.
Chris went on to say “Embrace the WOW. When someone does something interesting, appreciate it for what it is. Stop judging or discounting their achievements.” That sentence really resonated with me because there are days when I feel that no matter how much I have accomplished in my career and in my life, there are people who try to marginalize my achievements.
When I start to feel frustrated by people like that, I remind myself of what Ronni Kahn of Oz Harvest told me on a July day in Sydney, Australia “Don’t do something for the recognition – do it for the sake of doing.” Ronni was one of the many inspirational people my daughter Erin and I interviewed, on our trip around the world in the summer of 2010, during the making of our documentary, Opening Our Eyes.
I think back on all the travel logistics I needed to coordinate – our itinerary would have made one of the best travel agents panic – let alone figuring out how to do it using airline miles and hotel rewards. I also needed to think about the gear we would need to shoot both stills and video, that would fit into 2 backpacks. And I needed to make sure we had the necessary visas and vaccinations.
When we got back, I had over 5000 images and 150 hours of film to edit. Within two very long, bleak winter months in early 2011, I managed to lay down an initial rough cut of 3 hours of interviews. While I was doing the rough edit, I was also running a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter to get funds to pay for a professional editor. I knew that would ultimately make all the difference in the world as far as how the film was cut – and it did.
It will be a year, next month since we screened our first “sneak preview” at the State Theatre in Traverse City, MI. Since that time, we’ve been honored at film festivals receiving awards for Best Documentary, Best Humanitarian Documentary and Best Trailer. But that stuff is for the ego and while it was sweet to receive those awards, the biggest reward for me, was the “journey” itself. I don’t mean just the trip itself, but all that I learned along the way. That’s the part that’s hard to explain, especially to the people who seem to “judge and discount” the achievements of others.
Like Chris Guillebeau, I made a decision some years ago to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore everything else as much as possible. I need to remind myself of that every day and walk away from the things and the people who don’t bring value to my life. Life’s too short for that. When I keep that in mind, I stay on purpose and that’s when the good stuff happens.
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” - John Ruskin