So, I began my work with Unlocking Silent Histories in October, a whirlwind time for the organization and for me! My Dad had flown in from Texas to visit for 10 days at the same time that Donna, the organization’s founder and director (and my new boss, who I had yet to meet in person!) had flown in from Boston, and the first-year program participants were wrapping up their final films under direction of the youth leaders, and we had a screening planned for the end of the month!
My first initiation to the project and my role within it was to participate in a meeting with Donna (via Skype), Erin, and the four youth leaders – Carmen, Chema, Carlos, and Franklin. It was my first day meeting the leaders I would be working with, and I was nervous, and still not too sure what they thought of me that day, but everything went alright. I’ve gotten to know them, and they me, a whole lot better since then, but I think they were critical of me at first. One of these days, I’ll ask them about their first impressions of me, but for now I suppose I can say, at the very least, that I didn’t totally blow it because they still talk to me (and, as I’ve been visiting family in the U.S. for the past week, tell me they miss me when we Skype, so yea, they think I’m cool.)
Unexpectedly, I ended up staying the night in Panajachel (with my lovely Swedish friends!) so that I could meet Franklin and Carmen very early the next day to go into one of the communities and work. It was a great first experience. I met Franklin at the dock in Pana and we rode the camioneta together, sharing a cinnamon roll and talking about music, while lugging our production equipment around. Then we met Carmen at a bus stop and got into a colectivo van together, got off at a dusty downhill path and descended into the community of Chuacruz where I mostly observed and offered some technological support while Carmen and Franklin worked with three young girls – Mirna, Anna, and another Carmen – to complete their films.
The second day of “work” I remember as sort of a surreal blur. My dad was with me and we got a boat to the beautiful little village of San Juan, where I was going to meet Donna for the first time over lunch. Jim, a retired Hollywood film producer who lives in Guatemala and has been volunteering his time with the project, also joined us, and we enjoyed some delicious food and drink at San Juan’s lovely Wine and Cheese establishment. It was so refreshing to meet Donna and Jim, who were both so open and warm, easy to talk to and pleasant to be around. It didn’t feel like a first meeting – more like a gathering of like-minded friends.
From there, we went over to Carlos’ house. Three of our youth leaders – Carlos, Chema, and Franklin – are from San Juan. Carlos is the one who works in the community of San Juan, and leads his group of students out of his home. There, it was a flurry of activity. I had the opportunity to watch more of the students’ films, and Jim and I gave feedback, talking over strengths and weaknesses with Carlos, Chema and Franklin.
Soon after this, I felt more comfortable working with the project, after having gotten to know everyone a bit. We were still in screening preparation mode, and spent long hours at Jim’s house sub-titling, sound correcting, and exporting the students’ videos in preparation for the show. The night of the presentation at an Art Gallery in Panajachel was a great success – it was a wonderful way to recognize the students and their hard work! I interpreted the entire event, which was a healthy challenge, and the kids spoke beautifully about their processes in creating these works of art and cultural preservation. The turn-out was great, and Donna and I were bursting with pride.
After a couple of months working with USH, I remember having a conversation with my best friend Lauren in New York and telling her – for the first in my entire professional/working life, I feel fulfilled by the work I’m doing. Really truly fulfilled. And it’s still true. I’m excited at every opportunity I get to tell someone about my work with USH. I’m proud of this organization, its mission, philosophy, practices, partners. I’m proud of my role within it. But mostly I’m proud of these youth we work with, and feel privileged, truly honored, to have the opportunity to do this work with them. They have accepted me into their lives, welcomed me as a mentor and a friend, and I’m so, so grateful, and excited to be able to witness the amazing things they’re doing and will continue to do!
The last few months (my first few months with the organization) are probably best told through photos, but here’s a brief run-down of what the youth accomplished:
- A screening of three of the youth leaders’ films in Santiago Atitlan, where the next chapter of the program will soon be formed
- A two-day workshop with Adobe Youth Voices educator Javier Borrayo, focused on advanced story-telling and production skills they have the opportunity to use in a national and international film competition
- Many days of continued production with youth participants
- Leadership development, taking on new roles and responsibilities and preparing to teach new skills
- A two-day Advanced Production workshop mostly led by our youth leaders, focused on strengthening interview techniques, learning new technologies, crafting narratives, and working in production teams
Now the students are in production in their teams and have just wrapped shooting two new films that will be screened in Antigua on March 15th! But more of that to come in Part 3…