Thursday, April 10, 2014

Love, Security, Responsibility, Work, and Sharing

All of our International Volunteers make a strong and lasting impression on the children of NPH. At times we are lucky to have a particularly talented volunteer join the NPH family with strengths and skills that create a deep and lasting impact on our organization. Hunter Johnson joined NPH Honduras as a volunteer Communication Officer, and after completing his volunteer year he was hired to create a new series of videos to showcase the NPH homes. He visited all the NPH homes, capturing beautiful video footage of our kids, staff, NPH leadership, and programs. You can see the video he created to celebrate NPH's recent 60th anniversary as well as his other videos here: https://www.youtube.com/user/nphinternational, and read about his adventure below.

Thank you, Hunter. We appreciate the work you have done with NPH.

I still can’t quite believe it. Three things that I’ve come to enjoy most in life are creative video making, traveling to unknown territories, and goofing off with adorable little kids. So when NPH International first approached me with the proposal of a project that is essentially the ultimate combination of all three seemingly unrelated elements, it felt like a dream. Then I agreed to do it, and it was no longer this far-fetched fantasy. It became an incredible, worthwhile reality.

So, what is this task, you wonder? It’s rather straightforward when written out clearly: NPH wants new videos that highlight the programs, properties and people of its nine homes across Latin America and the Caribbean. Working as a one-man camera crew, I would spend a week at each of these locations to capture everything. Then I would edit the footage together to produce a collection of videos for the NPH website and to help with general fundraising. This is what I signed up for, but, as you might imagine, I got a whole lot more out of it than what was listed on the job description.

Let’s rewind a second.

I first came to Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos™ as a volunteer in January 2012 to work as the Communication Officer at the home in Honduras. I clearly remember the initial feelings of being overwhelmed and intimidated by the foreign language, demanding work schedule and large quantity of kids that engulfed me from the first day I set foot here. But, I also recall the following months with equal vividness: greatly improving my Spanish language skills; learning to manage my job with competence and efficiency; and finally, abandoning the notion of our children as a giant number and beginning to know them on a more personal and profound level. Now, this place feels like home. I walk around the property with the same comfort I’d walk around my house back in the States. But still, even with all this newfound confidence, I can’t say I was entirely prepared for the epic journey that lay ahead. The fact of the matter was, it took all that time and effort for me to become comfortable at one NPH home, now I was asked to go to eight more.

Nevertheless, I finished my time as a volunteer in Honduras, packed up my clothes and camera equipment for four months of travel to nine countries, and on May 3rd of 2013, I set off on the exciting new adventure.

Well… not quite…

One positive quality this journey reinforced was patience, and I was tested on it right from the very start. You always have to have a plan, but you also have to know that this plan could be delayed, altered, or totally scrapped at any moment. So, two failed attempts to cross the border into El Salvador due to rejected passport stamps and one minor bus crash later, it was actually on May 6th of 2013 that I set off on the exciting new adventure, this time deciding to start the journey in Guatemala instead.

Okay, fast forward again.

This time even further, to where I am currently: in Honduras, sitting in my office, having completed the long tour to all eight other countries and in the midst of what is sure to be a lengthy and detailed editing process. Looking back (literally) at my visits to the NPH homes as I browse the 700-plus gigabytes worth of video footage and photographs, I am now removed enough from the big trip to be able to reflect upon the people I met and moments I experienced that all add up to a larger, more comprehensive understanding of the enormous NPH family.

Since returning to Honduras the question I’ve been asked most often by the children is which home I liked the best. I can’t respond to this question because I simply don’t have an answer. No single home jumps out at me - instead, all the homes are brought to mind. Every home is unique in its size, architectural design, and rhythm of life. The individual children, employees, and volunteers that live and work at each NPH home combine to produce a special environment that distinguishes it from the rest. So, when I’m asked this question, how can I respond? The homes seem so different they’re almost incomparable.

As I dig deeper and deeper into the video archive I’ve begun to notice a pattern not quite so obvious at first-glance. My video footage is organized by country and then further broken down into folders sorted by category: school, nutrition, work, healthcare, free time, religion, etc. Looking through these folders for each country I’ve made a profound observation: The homes are a thousand times more similar than they could ever be different.

Looking beyond the exoskeleton of the superficial characteristics of the homes and seeing right into the heart of the organization is where the real truth lies. What is incredibly uniform across all the countries is the one, omnipresent philosophy that the founder Father William B. Wasson laid out for us. Love, Security, Responsibility, Work, and Sharing: these core principles are smoothly woven in many layers into the video footage I’ve collected. The reality is, while the homes may be in different countries and the children come from various backgrounds, the reoccurring trends in the footage I’ve captured goes to show just how in sync and harmonious these places truly are.

Let me give you an example. When I’m editing a video and I’m looking for a shot of a happy child, the fact that I have literally hundreds of shots to choose from which depict children from all the homes joyously smiling at the camera, playing freely with their friends, or laughing in the arms of a caregiver is a definite sign that NPH does good work. It’s a definite sign of the organization’s consistency. This is the principle of Love, captured in its many forms.

The same can be said of the other NPH pillars. Security is a shot of a young caregiver in Nicaragua tucking in a toddler in at night. Responsibility is a clip of a girl studying in Peru for her exam the following week. Work is a recording of three teenage boys in Mexico harvesting fresh tomatoes to serve for lunch. Sharing is in a video of a child in the Dominican Republic happily splitting her juice amongst five of her closest friends. Of course the contexts in which these principles manifest themselves is always diverse, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what nearly a terabyte of high definition video footage says about the values of the NPH family.

Apart from the actual video being a testament to the mission of NPH, the many personal memories from the trip deeply engrained in my mind also continue to resonate within me. Visiting this many countries so quickly produces a whirlwind of recollections, and some things, unfortunately, blend together. But others don’t. I met so many good-natured people who come to NPH to dedicate their time to do something far beyond them in scope, but when taken one small step at a time, progress can be seen. Some people stay for six months, others stay for 30 years. Simply being in the presence of these individuals and witnessing their dedication, it’s impossible not to remember them and become inspired by their determination.

Interacting with the children in each country was the most significant part of the journey. In each country I roamed the property freely with my camera, attempting to take video of the kids in their most natural states. Of course, sometimes things weren’t as genuine as I hoped, and kids would put on Oscar-worthy performances for the camera. Like for example in Haiti, when 12 boys “prepared for bed” as they stood in two perfect lines and vigorously brushed their teeth, staring directing into the camera lens and trying their best to smile without drooling toothpaste onto their T-shirts. But much more often than that, the moments were truly authentic, and this honesty is felt when playing back the videos.

Some of my favorite memories are the times I shared with kids without the camera as a barrier between us. Usually there was at least one child who decided to become my best friend/personal assistant in each home, carrying my tripod and camera bag everywhere and laughing uproariously at each one of my really-not-funny jokes. Some children opened up to me and told me their pre-NPH story. Most didn’t, and we just took each other for who we were, in that moment. I had so many identities over the course of the tour. These have included uoontair (Spanish pronunciation of my name), Cazador (the word “hunter” in Spanish), Hamster (because I guess it sounds like Hunter?), and my personal favorite, the original blue Power Ranger, as I convinced (I mean, really convinced) about 20 young boys in Bolivia that this was my previous occupation before coming to NPH.

The travels were a true test for me on many levels. Both physically and mentally, things could be demanding. Mentally, because the sheer amount I was expected to document sometimes seemed enormously overwhelming to do working alone. Physically, in that I may have been sick with some sort of illness for nearly half of my time on the road. But that part is over, and now that my reality is a more static one - very static as I find myself editing video at my desk for close to 8 hours a day – I can undeniably see the value in every moment I experienced during the voyage, as challenging or effortless as it was, and I wouldn’t change a thing even if I could.

When I think back at the four months I spent floating from one NPH home to the next, I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to better know the breadth of the mission of the NPH family. I feel blessed to have been able to use my personal strengths and skills for a cause in which I truly believe. And finally, more than anything I feel blessed to have met and shared quality time with so many playful, curious, and motivated children who refuse to dwell on the unfortunate realities of their past and are ecstatic to receive a second chance at being a normal kid with an exciting and optimistic future.





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