Tag Archives: volunteers
small hill tribe village in the northern mountains of Thailand. We were following Dr. David Mar Naw, as he trekked through the villages, a “one man band”, dispensing medical care and building latrines for Burmese refugees. Some of them had never seen a doctor before. This lady was waiting to have her tooth pulled.
It was painful to watch as the doctor pulled this woman’s tooth, without anything to ease her pain. She was stoic and barely winced. Perhaps she was thinking about the relief she would have, after the tooth was removed.
These people humbled me, in fact I was humbled by all the people we met, along our journey around the world. I will be forever grateful for that journey. It opened my eyes to so many things and I am a better person because of it.
This is just one story that makes up the film, Opening Our Eyes, a documentary about the “power of one” and “making a difference” in the the world.
Most folks don’t realize that when Erin and I went around the world in pursuit of people creating positive change – we weren’t just shooting a movie – we also shot over 5000 still images.
When we planned our itinerary, traveling and shooting on six continents in the summer of 2010, we built in some “free time” to see the sights. It also acted as a buffer in case things didn’t go according to plan. As it happened, everything did go according to plan and we had some wonderful down time in Moscow, Istanbul, Bangkok, Melbourne and Sydney, Australia and India. We shot still images in all of these destinations in addition to the stills that we shot on the movie set, and ended up with a nice archive.
I’ve been editing this archive over the last year and am going to make them available for prints. You can see the first gallery of images, and there will be more to follow over the next few months. A print would make a beautiful Christmas gift for someone special. If you order before Dec. 17th – the prints will arrive before Christmas.
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”.
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.
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
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
Over a year ago, in October 2010, just a month after we had returned from our three-month journey to make the film, I wrote a blog about my new job that I had started just a few weeks before:
“I started a new job this month at the Center for Cultural Interchange – a nonprofit organization that facilitates cultural exchange programs for young people, mainly for high school students. I work in the Academic Year Programs department, which works with inbound foreign high school students coming to study and live in the U.S. You might think: “Wow! That job sounds perfect for you and makes so much sense, given your experience this summer.” And I would reply: “You’re right!” I’m very excited to be working there, and I feel fortunate that I am able to work in a field that I actually care about. I believe that it’s so important for everyone to have some kind of experience abroad, especially for young people, for it is through cultural exchange that we can learn to understand and respect others and ourselves. That is certainly something that I learned this summer.”
If you told me the same thing now, I would reply in the exact same way. In fact, I would have even more great things to say because I have learned so much about CCI (Center for Cultural Interchange) and all of its fantastic programs over the past 15 months. In addition to the Academic Year Program, which brings hundreds of international high school students to the U.S. each year to live with host families, attend school and participate in great cultural exchanges, CCI also brings university students to work, travel and have an internship in the U.S. through the Work Programs department. The Short-Term Programs department also offers a myriad of options for young people to participate in language clubs, direct school exchanges or stay with American host families for shorter periods of time.
Just as it’s important to bring international students here, so they can experience life in the U.S., it’s equally important to provide those opportunities to American students and send them abroad to learn about other cultures. CCI’s Greenheart Travel department provides such an opportunity, with programs for American citizens to teach abroad, volunteer abroad and attend high school abroad. Maggie Doyne is a perfect example of how someone could benefit from such a program – from her experience traveling and volunteering after high school, she was inspired to make a difference in Nepal and started the Kopila Valley Children’s Home.
Volunteering and giving back to one’s community is an important part of CCI’s mission as well through its Greenheart initiative. CCI is known as the “Greenheart of Cultural Exchange” because each of its programs offers all of its participants grants and support to do environmental and social volunteering while abroad. CCI encourages participants to collaborate with their new host community and work on projects to make positive change in a sustainable way. These experiences not only enhance the participant’s program, but also help make a difference in communities around the world.
We are very proud to announce CCI and Greenheart as a sponsor of Opening Our Eyes. We feel that their mission is perfectly aligned with the project and we look forward to future collaboration in promoting the importance of cultural exchange and how one person can make a positive difference in the world.
I was catching up with a filmmaker friend yesterday and he told me that he was going to be working on a pro bono piece for a non-profit charity in his area. I was delighted to hear that because it was just one small sign that maybe – just maybe this idea of “making a difference” is catching on.
To be honest, there may have been a time in my life where I would have been protective of my creative ideas to a fault – but not any more and certainly not in terms of the focus of this film. What would be the point anyway? First of all this film was meant to motivate others to “do something” – anything really that could make our world a better place. And secondly – it really has no bearing on what I am doing – meaning whether or not I will succeed or fail if they do. I realize that someone does not need to lose in order for me to win and vice versa. In fact I’m of the mind that we are all more powerful when we partner and collaborate with one another toward the same end – especially when it comes to sustaining our planet.
It has amused me from time to time when I have seen people click the “unlike” or “dislike” button on this blog or other stories that I have posted on my Facebook Fan Page. Why on earth would someone dislike a story about a 14-year-old girl’s efforts in tutoring others at her school? I wonder sometimes why someone even wants to use their energy in such a negative way and if that in fact brings them pleasure – especially when it is affixed to something that is positive. Quite honestly I don’t check analytics much because I try not to let others negativity or negative opinions of who I am or what I am doing – determine my worth. Most times it’s merely a reflection of who they are or what they are dealing with in their own life. And so I do my best to understand.
But the simple fact is I’m just another human being – no better or worse than anyone else. I’m no saint – that’s for sure. I’m a passionate person and that is sure to rub people the wrong way. In fact there are times when I wish I could take a vacation from myself. I am only human, with my own frailties. While it may sometimes seem like I’m fearless and that everything always goes my way – I can assure you that there have been many sleepless nights where I lie awake playing out all kinds of scenarios in my head that are fraught with peril.
And so these days, I try to accept who I am, and be mindful of how I may affect some people and try to look for the beauty in others instead of the bad. There have been plenty of times I may have chosen to see only the negative side of things and have hurt others in the process but that has only brought more pain in my own life. So if I come across as an obnoxious goody goody at times – it’s because I try to be more compassionate of my fellow man. Do I always succeed? No, I am not perfect. I try to learn from past mistakes and do better the next time.
So please steal this idea – of seeing the good in people – and try to be a better person yourself. Think beyond yourself and your own inner circle of family and friends and go out and make a positive difference in someone else’s life. Imagine if more of us thought like that? And it just might bring more gratification in your own life – than hitting the “dislike” button.
Last spring, my daughter and I set out to circle the globe on a 99-day journey, seeking people who were making a difference in the world. A little more than a year later, we have completed a feature documentary about ordinary people on six continents who have not only had a positive impact on others, but they have had life changing experiences themselves.
This journey and the film were inspired by a
young woman that my daughter had gone to high school with, Maggie Doyne, At 19-years old, Maggie opted not to go straight off to college, but instead traveled on what was intended to be a gap year between high school and college. Five years later, at the age of 24, she has built a home in Nepal for 35 orphaned children, where she now resides and had recently finished construction on a primary school for 250 children when we visited her last summer..
Maggie has caught the attention of quite a few high profile people who have helped her in her mission. Last fall she appeared on the cover of the NY Times Magazine illustrating an article by Nicholas Kristof about DIY foreign aid. She’s a remarkable young woman. But what is often overlooked when one mentions Maggie’s accomplishments is that she herself, has changed her life’s path – before barely beginning.
Maggie is just one of eleven people that appear in our film, Opening Our Eyes. As we traveled the world, my daughter and I quickly realized that all of these extraordinary people had one thing in common, beyond doing good for others. They all had disrupted their own lives and had shifted course. They had discovered their purpose and in the process, found their bliss.
Maggie is fortunate that she made this discovery while she was still young. In a less dramatic way, I had my own awakening early in my career. In the late 70’s, I had just finished studying photography at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California and I headed back East to pursue a career as a photojournalist. It was not the best of times to be starting out as a photojournalist, at least in terms of being able to make a decent living. So, I took a bit of a detour and pursued commercial photography instead. While making the rounds with my portfolio in NYC, I went to see legendary photographer Jay Maisel. Jay was known for his blunt demeanor, and when he looked at my perfectly presented photographic portfolio, he tossed it at me and told me it was garbage. He asked me if I had anything else to show him. I took out my dog-eared photos from my first world journey that I had taken before heading to Brooks. As he looked through my “snapshots” he asked me how old I was. I replied that I was 25 years old. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?” That was a turning point in my life and I never looked back from pursuing my passion.
I suppose Maggie and I are lucky in that we discovered our purpose at such a young age. But in making this film I learned one important thing – it’s never too late to find your bliss.
Yesterday as I was packing my gear for an upcoming three week trip to New Zealand, I had a major flashback to when I was getting ready for a 99-day trip around the world. My daughter, Erin and I had embarked on that journey about a year and a half ago. But this time, I was going solo.
I looked at all the gear laid out on the dining room table, just as I did last year, wondering how I would fit it into one small backpack. I will strip it down of course, taking only the gear that I can manage by myself. For the most part, I will be traveling solo this time. It got me thinking about the round-the-world trip that I took last year with Erin.
I’ve spent the better part of my life traveling the world and taking pictures. Most of those years, I was a solo act, on assignment for various magazines and corporations. Last year, when Erin heard that I would be circling the globe, she wanted to come along. Initially, I hadn’t imagined the trip or the project as a collaborative effort – let alone with my daughter. She had recently graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago and had been lucky enough to get a job. But Erin wanted to be part of this project and journey and so it became a combined effort – a mother-daughter team.
That ended up being the best part about the trip– sharing that experience with my daughter. We’ll have that bond for a lifetime. And now, I couldn’t have imagined doing that journey any other way.
Since then, there have been countless hours/days/weeks/months that have gone into the post-production part of the film, leaving the “journey” a collection of water colored memories floating in my head. I’ve remained closely connected to the project because I’ve been very hands-on with the edit. So for me, those memories remain part of my daily psyche. In that regard, the making of the film has been a bit bittersweet as I am reminded daily – that part of the journey is over.
We’ll always have those beautiful memories burned inside our heads. More importantly, we have a film that can be shared with others around the world, in the hopes that it will provoke thought and maybe even move people to action – to make a difference.
Please share this film. That’s the only way it will happen.