What It's all about!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Small Moment - Life changed!

Small moments can change a life:

In the village of Roong, Cambodia, while our E3 film crew was in the village school, talking to several of the kids about their school and life experiences, I lingered outside to hang out with some of the kids in the courtyard. I soon discovered one of the Cambodian women we had brought with us was standing in the distance braiding hair.  Having braided lots of heads in the past, I hurried over to see if I could join in on the fun.  The girls were a bit shy and hesitant at first, but I could usually coax them in, as I combed and braided each head of long black straight hair.  What a fun quiet moment, no words spoken, just a tender touch of affection, as they stood quietly accepting the attention. I stood there wishing my own 3 girls were there to share this small moment, with me, and these beautiful Cambodian schoolgirls.

There is something magical about the power of touch. You know how it always feels so good when someone combs your hair.  I wondered how often these girls have the chance to even wash their hair, much less have someone comb and braid it for them.  
It was a small thing, a small moment in time, in a small village far removed from the busy world. I watched those girls relax and stand patiently enjoying that one small moment, and my life was changed!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sewer kids in Mongolia

Mongolia - Sept. 20011
The last stop in Mongolia, after visiting and taking photographs of 4 very different and very wonderful families.  We had captured what we thought we had been there to accomplish, but little did we know, we were in for more significant life lessons.  

While walking around the city on Sunday morning, we ran into an American couple. In communicating with them and letting them know what we were doing, and why in all places we were in Mongolia - they got really excited and told us about a woman who lives in the U.S. but grew up in Mongolia.  Her name is Nara Thompson, she runs an organization call Care 4 Kids, which helps homeless kids find shelters and provides for them, who just happened to be in Mongolia that week.

Nara was very excited to talk to us, and our new American friends put us in contact with her. That Monday after calling back and forth, Nara organized for us to spend time in a shelter for kids in the middle of Ulaan Baatar the capital city of Mongolia.  This shelter for "sewer kids" as she referred to it, had about 18 kids at the time we arrived.  This number varies according to the number of kids the police pick up off of the streets.  The shelter is run by police officers which impressed me. The kids are usually repeat visitors, and are familiar with the shelter and those that run it, as they can stay for up to 180 days, while the police officers try to locate their families.
These shelter kids are not orphans! They all have parents, and all are homeless.  The kids are generally abused or ignored and left on their own to try and find food and shelter and usually end up causing trouble somewhere along the way.  They are tough kids, no doubt about it. They have learned to fight for what they need.  The shelter gives them a safe warm place to sleep and food to eat, along with some structure and an opportunity to let them know that someone cares!
As we spent time taking to Nara and the kids along with a few of the caretakers, a lot of realizations came to the surface.  Of course until you actually spend time with these individuals it is hard to comprehend how desperate and hard the lives of these children are.  
We took one young boy, Sharaa who is 11 yrs. old, and did a quick little interview with him.  Like any  11 yr. old boy in Mongolia, he loved soccer, his favorite food is stir fry, and when he grows up he wants to be a policeman. Why a police officer we asked,  Sharaa responed " I want to save people and protect them, and because the police help me."  

Maybe unlike most 11 yr. old boys, Sharaa has lived on the streets now for 3 years, and when asked if he could wish for anything what would it be? Sharaa's response - a home. 
How many 11 yr. olds do you know that is living on the streets, and in the sewers? How many are usually beat by their parents, or have alcoholic parents that have no home and are abused by many of the other sewer kids, both sexually, verbally, and mentally?  

While standing in the big room with the kids watching TV (they have a small little t.v. for all of them to watch), we were interviewing another child, and in the back ground two of the boys started literally beating each other up. To the point that one got thrown on the top of his head as the other boy punched him and flipped him over.  We walked toward them to get them to stop.

The individuals running this shelter are angels! Understanding that these kids need far more than they have the resources to provide, they continue daily to have great hope that somehow, someway, maybe they can make a difference, and that others will catch the vision of what is needed and offer help too.
- the only girl at the time in the shelter & Nara -
At the end of our brief visit, Nara gathered up all the kids to have them sing to us. First she had Sharaa sing a song for us, it was truly amazing.  He had a beautiful voice, and sung with conviction and intensity. He pretty much blew me away!  After he finished they all chimed in and sang two songs for us, again I was in awe.  One of the songs had a chorus that said something about thanking God for sending those that care.  To see a group of kids sing with such passion, it did not matter that I could not understand the words, my heart was melted as I looked at those dirty scruffy Mongolian faces longing for love, longing for a home, longing for someone to help them.

What to do?? First of all I would adopt Sharaa in a second if I could and if I knew it was the right thing to do.  BUT, realizing that sometimes even what we want, doesn't always happen, comes the realization also that we can still make a difference.  Even a small amount of money can buy a pair of shoes, or feed the whole bunch of them for a week. Money - although that seems to be what it is always about, I learned long ago that its not about money, but more about who we are, and doing all we can with what we do have.  It doesn't take tons of money to make a difference, only the action that follows the desire to make that difference.

When we serve others - we serve God and that is the bottom line!

Thanks Nara for your inspiration and your love!! These kid's lives will be different because you have loved them.  My life is different because I met you!

Hopefully we can all follow Nara's lead, and do everything we can to love the precious beautiful children in the world!

Nara Thompson

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

5 for 5 Countries to Give Books!

We are on country #5 - Cambodia!! Just finished our first shoot and loved every second.  One of the things that stands out the very most to me in every country - the lack of books! These beautiful countries with beautiful families seem to have this one thing in common - the lack of a solid education for so many hopeful kids.  They ALL need books and they ALL want better educations.

A bit of what we experienced:
Mongolia - kids traveling 11/2 hours to stay with grandparents during the week to have a better education, and even then there are 40-50 kids in each classroom, with out enough teachers and supplies.
Philippines - schools full of uniforms and smiling faces, teachers worn out making their own visual aids copying 30 times by hand, and using old recycled worn books to teach from.
China - traveling library to remote areas with kids hungry for education and craving books in English.

In every country that we have visited so far we have been able to meet contacts that are anxious and willing to help us distribute our Spread the Words Books, and in every country we have kids anxious and waiting to be able to learn.

I think we are as anxious to finish our trip as we are to be on our E3 trip - ONLY because as soon as we are done we get to start printing and shipping books! The more books we print and sell the more we get to send all of these adorable kids books. And give them an opportunity to see their own potential and opportunities that await them in the world.  It also really hit me in these countries, through the people that have been helping us, that the kids that know English, have the greatest opportunity for the best jobs. 

Sooooo - we keep up this steady pace, up early, tired backs and eyes, 24 total bags to transfer on and off twice a week on airplanes, in taxis, to hotel rooms, usually one meal a day, squishing into small places hoping for the perfect shot, and frustrating technical problems.  BECAUSE - we want to share these amazing wonderful lives - AND we want to take books to all these beautiful kids, and teach them so much more than English.

Country 5 - Cambodia - more families, wonderful hostess, tuk tuk rides, great food, AND more kids hoping for a better life for themselves and their families.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Slow Internet and our 4th country!

So here we are again - this time in Manila, Philippines! After what was suppose to be a quick trip and get here with plenty of time to see a little of Manila, ended up being a rather long trip, with a 45 minute delay on the airplane before taking off. After finally getting here at 5:30, we discovered a strike of some kind going on and all traffic at a complete halt for another 45 minutes or so, then on to our hotel.  After getting to the hotel - we discover that although they claimed to have wifi! Nope no sir. They had super duper slow computers in the lobby of the hotel - no can do! We have 6 laptops going constantly and 6 iphones usually tweeting or FBing or something. So we loaded our 24 pieces of luggage back into our van and headed around the corner to our final destination The City Garden Hotel. BUT don't let that confuse you! It is indeed a really nice hotel - with wifi that is fairly fast - BUT walking outside at 10 at night, not the best choice.  Soon discovered we are gaining a track record for finding hotels in the "red" districts of big cities!! hahaha - So you just hide out in your room at night, and they don't seem to bother you!  Can't wait to start filming beautiful families tomorrow! That will help boost our opinions of the Philippines I'm sure!! :)

Soooo - we spent 2 full days in the beautiful city of Hong Kong! I loved Hong Kong and would love to get back there to visit again soon.  The contrast with the 1000's of high rise apartment buildings was really quite something to behold.  Some buildings that were years and years old which was very evident.  Others brand new and beautiful and obviously very expensive to live in, both standing side by side in this amazing city.
Just flying in late at night, the view was spectacular. The buildings and dark green hillsides, all reflecting in the bay was stunning.

We had 4 great family shoots.  Day one - after the dad got home from work, and their 2 cute little kids, in a really tiny apartment on the 14th floor.  The two apartments that we went in to shoot were both so very little. Probably about 500-700 sq. ft.  Kitchens that you could barely turn around in. Bedrooms that are smaller than my closet (and I don't have a very big closet).  All apt. complexes are heavily guarded with security guards and they all have on their front doors these big steel bar'd gates.  I did wonder how they would ever get their furniture up there, and through the really small hallways that lead into their houses.  It was a pretty crazy sight.

Most people in Hong Kong are very friendly, and many speak English. Especially the kids because they all learn English in school.  Interesting fact in one of the kids class that we went talked to, she was 9 and in Hong Kong the native language is Cantonese, but in school they teach Mandarin and English. Since China began ruling over Hong Kong again, and China speaks Mandarin, they don't like the kids speaking Cantonese, and therefore if they get caught speaking Cantonese, they get in trouble.
Many of the kids speak all three languages and can get some of them mixed up a bit.
I was so very impressed with the kids and their English. So clear and without much accent.

Hong Kong to me felt very safe, and really pretty clean. It was much more hilly than I envisioned, and so  very very green. It was fun driving around town in taxi's so that we could see the beautiful and diverse city.  We did however take the train a few times, and it was really clean and very new looking.

I wish we had had time to get to Hong Kong island and see all the fun tourists sites. BUT with 2 short photo days per country, that just doesn't happen.

Summary - We loved Hong Kong! Loud fun people! The cutest tour guide ever - Clover Cheng! She was a pocketsize firecracker.  Food, eh not my favorite, but was okay.  Once again beautiful families, adorable kids, fun pictures, Mr. Steve's amazing eye, catching Hong Kong and its beauty. Good times, ohhh and a really great contact - Perry Ho - our 2nd family shoot. Perry is happy to help us find the right printer for our books!!! Good news all around. AND - the best part, Perry and his wife Elsa, who actually live in mainland China, I think started this little organization that is a traveling library, and are ALWAYS looking for book donations - especially books teaching English!!

So far we are 4 for 4 to be able to donate books in each country.


Me again - with the slow internet I have not uploaded this yet - hopefully tonight.  We have had a great time in the Philippines. I will blog from our next country to report. This last day here was fabulous! All families were so happy to help, and it is so evident that they are such a happy people! As you will see in all of the amazing photos!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Catch up time!!

Okay - so it is time to catch up. 
I hate it when I wait so long to blog - but life is a wee bit crazy right now.
We are in the middle of Mongolia right now,  getting ready to bid farewell tomorrow morning.  Mongolia is our 2nd country of 14 that we are heading too.  It is one of those things that every time we arrive at a new place, we kind of stop and pinch ourselves to make sure it isn't all a dream!

Top 5 things I loved about Japan - (would be 10 if I had more time!)

1 - Beautiful happy people
2 - Amazingly clean everything!
3 - Green lush countryside & Mr. Fuji
4 - Kind humble people
5 - Taking pictures of beautiful places, families and kids

We had a whirlwind amazing time in Japan.  We shot 4 families with kids ranging from 4 mos. to 13 yrs. old. We photographed them laughing, playing instruments, playing traditional games, jumping in the air, playing with chopsticks, blowing bubbles, riding unicycles, posing in front of Mt. Fuji, showing us how to make yummy octopus dumplings, lighting  sparklers, reading books, with loving mom's, with caring dad's, and as happy families.

We took our shoes on and off so many times I stopped counting.  We loved saying arigato - which means thank you over and over just cause it was fun to say - well and because we wanted to thank them all!! 

Our awesome videographers took miles of footage and have posted some of our video's on FB and our website. Denver's GoPro video captures our quick travels through Tokyo perfectly.  

After great success in Japan - we boarded our next flight to Ulaan Baatar Mongolia, which is our current location.  We have had just as much fun and success here.  Every day we have so much fun photographing the families that we just can't wait until the next shoot, and each family is as unique and beautiful in their own wonderful way.  Literally every family we shoot, we fall in love with the family, and after over 2 hours with them, we have to say a sad goodbye.  

Some highlights from Mongolia -
Family with 5 children living in a tiny apartment of a war torn country, on the 12th floor of an old Russian apartment bldg.
Seeing the family of 5 play with each other, share their hobbies and interests and feed us some beautifully made traditional foods.
Family with 2 girls - age 14 and 11, living in a small Ger - a one room home where everyone sleeps, eats, cooks, dresses, plays, studies, and everything we do in life.
14 year old girl - so mature, taking online classes (and they don't have the internet) hoping to be a doctor someday, like her grandfather.
Cutest mom and dad as they interacted with the girls.
Family with 3 little kids living in a smaller Ger.  Stoic mother that we only saw smile maybe 4-5 times the whole time we were there. 
Traveling 1 1/2 hours to Ger out on the plains of Mongolia.
Incredible day - beautiful weather - the most authentic looking family we could have hoped for. Truly best day ever!

Cutest Grandma living with them. Thanking them after a picture perfect day, and Grandma grabbing us and smelling us! Tradition in Mongolia.
AND - every house we went to - they invited us to sit down first, eat prepared food for us, including homemade cheese (not a fan), Mutton dumplings called - Buuz, Airag - fermented milk, pretty much gave anyone who drank too much a little buzz!

To top it all off, we ended up at a Shelter in downtown U.B. that takes in kids, that are homeless. They all have parents, and the goal is to find the parents, and return them if possible.  It is not a great situation because most of the parents are abusive to the children and can't take care of them.  They are tough children and have already had very hard lives.
We took some fun pictures of them smiling and goofing off with each other. The heart breaker came when we interviewed a few and the responses were: What is something you really hope for? - "A Ger (home) for my family."  and "To have a pretty wedding dress."
We had a great visit with a woman named Nara Thompson who is involved with the shelter, and Mr. Steve took several pictures we will give to her for her cause.  She is a remarkable woman with a great love and passion for helping these children.
As we got ready to leave, the children (all boys and one girl) sang us 2 songs.  They were some of the most beautiful songs I have heard. One boy in particular, had an incredible voice, and sang a beautiful solo.  Then as the whole gang sang, our hearts were touched as we remembered once again - that Heavenly Father loves ALL of His children. He know them, and He expects those of us that are so very blessed, to use our blessings to help those that are less fortunate in this life.

Every day, is a blessing to me! Every day, strengthens who I am, as I learn about these incredible happy families. Mr. Steve has captured in his photos lives that now get to be shared with so many, and we hope that it will make a difference in their lives, as they see and feel the greatness of children and families all over the world!

And we're off - to another wonderful country - Hong Kong!