The other night, Maggie Doyne of Blink Now, became the CNN 2015 Hero of the Year.Maggie is a 29 year-old American woman, who has 50 kids and lives in Nepal!
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.
My daughter, Erin and I started this blog, when we first embarked on our journey around the world, creating a film about individuals making positive change. It was then, and continues to be a journey that the two of us share intimately – together as mother and daughter. Our trip was filled with memorable experiences as we circled the globe. Our film has been a journey for our audiences, who were motivated to “do something”, inspired by individuals like Maggie Doyne who has changed the lives of thousands of children. We formed a very strong bond through this experience, and that has become be part of our legacy.
The great news is that Erin is getting married next month, to a wonderful young man named Bryan. My husband and I feel blessed and happy that Erin and Bryan have found one another to experience life together – the joys and sorrows and everything in between. And so another chapter begins in her life and ours.
As I look back, my most cherished memories are about Erin. It’s usually the little moments that resonate the most – like the time she greeted me at the airport after I had been away for a long period of time. She was probably about 5 or 6 years old, and she ran up to me, arms outstretched with exuberance and joy, laughing as she called out “Mommy!” after spotting me in the crowd. I’ll never forget that moment. It was pure love.
Love and relationships are what makes a life worth living. These days, it is easy to lose sight of the simplicity of that thought, because we are all distracted by other things in the consumer culture we live in. I am grateful that Erin and I took time in our lives when we did, to make time for one another. I know that both of us were incredibly humbled by our journey and witnessing what the power of “love” could do, on a global scale. We formed a bond and we will have that bond forever.
So I say to Erin, “Be happy on your wedding day and all the other days that you and Bryan get to spend together. Cherish each moment. It’s what life is made up of – every precious one.”
This photo was taken when we were in Uganda, working on the segment in our film about Wrap Up Africa. This tailor is sewing to be able to pay for her child’s cancer treatments. Founder Letha Sandison established Wrap Up Africa to help aid cancer patients and their families in Uganda. She has also created jobs for artists who design and make buckles and buttons for these garments that reach markets all around the world. In essence she has created a foundation that can sustain itself.
The day had an ominous look to it, with a dark foreboding sky and choppy water on the great Amazon River. Erin and I were staying at the APECA base camp upriver from the town of Belen, one of the poorest towns along the river. We were planning to go there that day, by boat – everything is done by boat – there are no roads.
Pablo, Gina Low’s partner at APECA, assessed the situation and decided to go as planned, but he told us it was going to rain and to prepare for it. The trip to Belen took about an hour if my memory serves me well. It was open water with just a few villages along the way and aside from the sound of our motor and those of other boats off in the distance; there was an eerie silence.
When we got to Belen, the skies let loose. Pablo quickly navigated our boat to one of the shacks along the river. We took refuge in this machine shop and watched the storm play out. We were thankful for the cover over our heads and grateful to Pablo for knowing exactly what to do. I think that is what continually impressed me the most about the people in our film, like Pablo. They were all incredibly independent and resilient in difficult situations. They were people you could trust and that says a lot.
Some of our fondest memories from our journey were from our visit with Maggie Doyne and her children in Surkhet, Nepal. All the kids were such a joy to be around. This young boy at the Kopila Valley Primary School glowed with enthusiasm.
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”.
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.
For those of you who have been asking when Opening Our Eyes will be available – it has been released on DVD and VOD.
A fellow “baby boomer” commented to me recently, “I guess we’ve all abandoned our dreams by now.” I immediately reacted by saying, “Speak for yourself.” I for one can’t imagine abandoning my dreams. Am I odd in that regard? Am I naïve? Am I different from my generation in that I’m still an optimistic dreamer? Or was the fellow who made the remark the odd one?
I’m not quite sure if my hopeful outlook has to do with who I am, or is a trait of my culture as an American or I’m the product of the generation I grew up in? I suppose my hope stems from all of the above. I read an article in the May 20th edition of Time Magazine, entitled the ME ME ME generation – the Millennials. Part of the article talked about basic broad stroke traits of other generations. Generally I don’t like broad stroke summations of a culture or a generation but nevertheless I found some of the descriptions to be pretty much on target.
As far as being “hopeful” the Millennials are more in kin to the Baby Boomers, and tend to believe in themselves and the power of realizing their dreams. They seem to be more interested in what they can do and on a global scale than Generation X, which came before them. Sadly, Generation X came up at time when “greed was good”, “heroin chic” was a style in vogue and ennui ruled the day. Those are pretty broad strokes for sure, but I think the over riding thread that seems to define a generation is whether they tend to be hopeful or not.
I find that I always need to be creating something. It’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s what gives me hope. It’s also what every single person possessed who took part in our film project. They all believed that they were doing whatever was in their power to do and that gave them hope. Of course the key is in the doing and that is why I love to create.
Think about it. You can either give yourself reasons NOT to do something or you can give yourself reasons TO do something. Giving yourself reasons not to do something may seem like it empowers you but it actually leaves you powerless. It puts your destiny in everyone else’s hands. That rarely yields hope. The act of doing something, on the other hand, creates possibility.
The universe holds possibility for anything and everything to happen – we just need to put things into motion to allow them to happen. Nine out of ten things might not work out but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play a part in the process. It doesn’t mean they didn’t have value. Perhaps the value will be realized later on.
“If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story.”
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.