These trips have a been a whirlwind. Nairobi, Kenya in August. Lima, Peru in September. We’re headed to Bangkok in November. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to partner with Good Deeds Day and to see some of the positive work they encourage and support around the world. To borrow a phrase from their website, “Good Deeds Day is a global day that unites people from 108 countries to do good deeds for the benefit of others and the planet.” Not bad work. And although they build energy around a global day of good, their efforts encourage service, volunteerism and doing good throughout the year.
These trips have been an amazing way to gather short stories from more than 40 countries (so far) as Good Deeds Day brings partners together in regional conferences. I’ve learned to pack light (relatively) and navigate international power sources for the lighting gear. In spite of the short trips, I’ve chosen to squeeze in a little sightseeing instead of sleep (generally the right choice) and I’ve met some amazing people.
Communication was simple in Nairobi as the conference was run in English, but in Lima, Spanish was the language of choice. That meant I had some serious learning to do. I studied German in high school and college, having falsely believed that was my family heritage. I can count on five hands the number of days that has actually helped me in life. I’ve made a few failed attempts to learn Spanish over the years, but alas, my language brain is not too strong.
I brought my friend and colleague Jason along as a translator. We met 20 years ago on a building project in Honduras and we have stayed in touch ever since. He helped me add a few key phrases to my limited vocabulary. “Stand here, please. Smile. Look this way. One more, please. Perfect.” I already knew how to say hello and thank you. And Jason did the heavy lifting of helping explain the process to folks.
It added a new layer of complexity to the already busy process of a studio session, but we found a rhythm. We gathered more than 100 responses to the question, “What inspires you to do good?” We produced the final images in Spanish and in English. I’d be surprised if there weren’t a few small errors in the end results, given the pace of the process, but there was an amazing amount of learning that happened in those few days. It’s the only way I know how to do this: Try…see what fails…and do better the next time. It’s the template I’ve used all my life.
We squeezed in time for two long form interviews, one with Wilson from Ecuador who serves on international disaster recovery teams and was comfortable doing his interview in English, and one with Patricia in Lima who runs educational programs at Peru’s Holocaust museum. Patricia preferred to share her story in Spanish. It’s a slow process to work with a translator, and I was worried that we would lose the connection that typically forms during an interview, but it worked.
I made sure that Jason sat right beside me, so we were both in Patricia’s line of sight. She and I made eye contact when I asked the questions and when she responded, even though we couldn’t understand what was being said. I didn’t want to interrupt her responses, so we didn’t do a word for word translation. We recorded the interview, so I can get that later. Jason just translated the general idea of Patricia’s responses so it could inform my next questions.
It’s going to take a while to get these stories posted online. With a full travel schedule and busy programming days, there’s not much time for editing. But we are starting to compile a new body of work around international stories. It’s a big world, and there are so many creative ways that people find to build connections and bridge divides. There’s so much we can learn from each other. I can’t quite see how this will all play out yet, but I have a feeling it will become more clear over the coming days and months and years.
There is a saying I heard in Africa that I am willing to embrace. “I don’t know how I will do it…but I will do it.” For now, I’ll leave you with a few of the English version stories we found in Lima. We’ll share more on social media over time.
What inspires you to do good?