Nov 3, 2009

96 hours

It was a journey outside the boundaries of North America, outside the comforts of home, outside the civilization that we know, to where the rest of the world does not live as comfortably as we live. The whole experience was just 96 hours, a long weekend, a drop in the bucket. But it’s an experience that will live with me for the rest of my life, and it challenged me to try to inspire people, with my talents, to help others.

For many years I traveled the globe as a documentary film maker with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I was sent to the farthest reaches of humanity, to places you’d never heard of where we’d spend two or three weeks filming a story. We’d get to know people intimately: we live with them, eat their food and film their life styles. Then we’d be yanked back to civilization, never to see these people again except on the films we produced about them.

We went to the rich places and we went to the poor places. Each had their charms. But that was many years ago. In the mean time, my career took me filming television drama and feature films and now corporate video. So the journeys ceased for quite a while, until 2005 when I got “deja vous all over again.” And the feelings of the experience returned.

We landed at just after six in the morning. It was hot and muggy in this Central American country, with the aroma of fresh flowers drifting across the sunrise. We were on a mission with a group of Rotary Clubs from around the Los Angeles area so they could see what was happening to the dollars they had been contributing to individual charities they were supporting. Fourteen clubs and each club had different charity, and each was a subject/a problem, to grab at your heart strings. What I saw was personally awe inspiring.

El Salvador is a country of about six million people, the smallest of the Central American countries. There are two rows of volcanoes that cross the country from east to west and some of them are still active. On the others, people are active because on the slopes that hot lava used to roll down is the best type of soil to grow coffee.

Coffee. The energy boost of the western world. It’s this El Salvador coffee that ends up in places like Starbucks. Yes, we pay a fortune for something that was hand picked by a group of coffee harvesters who have barely two cents to rub together. No, the poor don’t get the great gobs of money that we lay out for our caffeine fix. No, they don’t even have proper facilities high up on those lava slopes. They even have to send their young daughters walkng for hours down the mountain sides for fresh daily bread. And the reason they send their daughters is so their sons can go to school to have an education.

A Rotary Club from Downey California, who had originally given a bakery oven to over 300 or more coffee harvesters in one plantation, were now seeing their money go toward fresh daily bread. The day we were there they baked us a pizza. Rotary are now supplying six more bakeries along the coffee slopes, along the mountain sides, and their daughters are now getting an education.

Across the country past a long row of volcanoes to the east, lies the remote town of San Miguel where another Rotary Club is funding a hospital. Inside the operating theatre, a team of doctors from North America are creating miracles.

The problem with all out poverty is malnutrition and debilitating diseases, and the people who suffer most are the children. Dragging around in the dirt unable to even hobble to school, some blind others with club feet, stricken with polio or other such plights including some hurt from stepping on landmines left over from the savage civil war a few years ago. But there’s hope, as some of these kids are given a new lease on life when Rotary supported doctors straighten out their feet or clean up their sores. And they get up, they can hop, they can walk and run and play. They can even go to school to learn because just down the road another Rotary project is funding an eye clinic started by wealthy and concerned women who saw the need.

Sight is our window on our world and the eye clinics are helping bring these wonders to people everywhere. To poor school children who need glasses. Here the Rotary Club of LA is a prime funder. And they are making a difference helping kids to just be kids.

A film maker, like a journalist looks for a good story to tell and people helping children of the world is a wonderful humanitarian story to bring to everyone. In 1985, Rotary International committed itself to immunizing all children around the world against polio.

With 1.2 million members in 166 countries, Rotary has been the largest private-sector contributor to the polio eradication campaign worldwide. Over 600 million dollars has been spent and it is working. By the end of 2006 polio could be gone. A remarkable accomplishment.

Remarkable? Just a few years ago the Wheelchair Foundation was established and as of today they have delivered hundreds of thousands of wheelchairs around the world. In many places Rotary International has teamed up with the Wheelchair foundation to share the costs.

“In compassion lies the world’s strength.” Or so the Buddha said. The feelings, oh! the feelings when filming someone in need being helped into a wheelchair for the first time in their life. A child smiling and crying at the same time. They speak a different language, but they communicate as they grab on to their helpers with appreciation in their eyes. Oh! the joy, the exhilaration, the experience, first hand. Somehow, being a documentary film maker and showing these acts of kindness makes life worth living.

That is some of my journey to El Salvador. It was 96 hours. A long weekend. But a life changing moment that inspired me to use my talents as a film maker to help people in need.

From this trip, I produced the multi-award winning film "Rotary Helping Children of the World in El Salvador" and two subsequent films, "Mission to Costa Rica - What is a Rotarian" while in Costa Rica and "A World of Peace and Understanding - Arch Klumph" while in Panama. These three films were offered to the Rotary clubs of the Los Angeles district for recruitment, inspiration and as a call to action for Rotarians who, on mass, have the power to change the world for the better.

"It is every man's obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it."
- Albert Einstein

"Anticipate charity by preventing poverty; assist the reduced fellow man, either by a considerable gift or a sum of money or by teaching him a trade or by putting him in the way of business so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding out his hand for charity. This is the highest step and summit of charity's golden ladder.
- Maimonides

“He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much.”
- Lao-Tzu