Guest Blogger – Robin Canfield
Robin Canfield is the founder of Actuality Media, an organization that leads global experiential education opportunities for people who want to tell stories that matter. His documentary La Otra Manera is an official selection of the 2018 Show Me Justice Film Festival. La Otra Manera centers on an after-school program in Peru striving to develop each child’s potential and promoting the overall health of the community.
Last night was a morning like any other for me. That’s not to say my days begin by waking up after sunset – I had changemakers to call, people to talk film projects with. And last night the morning light in Cambodia was clearly shining on the other end of the video call.
I am based in Florida, as is Actuality Media – the Documentary Study Abroad organization I am the Programs Director of. The myriad changemakers we work with are scattered across the globe. Prepping for a call to an innovative food kitchen NGO in Guatemala for this summer, or for that call last year to the social enterprise hostel/education center in Peru that you’ll learn more about with La Otra Manera at Show Me Justice this April – those calls were easy.
Lusaka, Zambai – that’s seven hours ahead.
Jodhpur, India – ten and a half hours ahead.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia – a flat 12 hours ahead of me. And putting the call in the morning for the changemakers there isn’t just a nicety. In the developing communities where I am looking to take students and emerging filmmakers, the internet is not usually a reliable (we’ve even begun warning our crewmembers-to-be that they should prepare for an “internet drought”). So if a changemaker has to run to a cafe to get a better signal, it’s a much easier change at 11 AM than at 11 PM. And yes – that has happened.
The effort to schedule calls on the opposite side of the world paid off. Not just because I get to speak with people leading awesome organizations that are doing great work to solve social and environmental issues. There are – unfortunately – enough problems in the world that – thankfully – changemakers abound. I’ve spoken with, and filmed with enough changemakers over the many years I’ve been with Actuality Media that halfway through a call I’m usually holding back from starting in on documentary story examples and ideas that would fit to their work. I get excited by the possibilities but I hold it in because I want to hear it all, and I know if I wait long enough I’ll hear something that tells me what really makes them unique.
On both calls I made last night the organizations had that “more” factor, a twist on stories familiar to me that made them even more worth creating films about.
The first call was with an incubation group that designs products to improve sanitation and water quality conditions. These products are meant to sell on the open market and compete with less solution-oriented products. They aren’t sold by the changemaker, though – as I understand it, they spread the designs to locals across Cambodia to fabricate and sell. This was a unique quality already, but add to that their ultimate goal – not specifically to solve sanitation and water issues, but to render their own organization obsolete and unnecessary. It has been years since I spoke to a changemaker with such an ideal goal.
An hour after the first call, I started chatting with the Director of an NGO in Phom Penh that is adjacent to the city dump. They have support services for local youth in an area where many people are trash-pickers – they scour through freshly dumped trash and debris for anything they can sell. I’ve seen it before from afar when I filmed with a nonprofit school in Guatemala City, right next to the biggest landfill in Central America. Around the neighborhood plastics and metals looked to be erupting from under people’s couches and beds, and out their windows – waiting for the going rate to be high enough before they cash in.
In Cambodia the situation sounds much the same, but with a twist. The organization was previously also an orphanage (trash-picking is not a healthy profession) until the government recognized that many of the orphanages in Cambodia were swindling people with children forced to pose as orphans to bring in donation. All orphanages were outlawed. Now the organization helps re-integrate former “orphans” into life with the family they never actually lost. My amazement was surely palpable, even from 9,500 miles away.
There is a uniqueness to the story of every good changemaker. I’m practiced at finding it. Actuality Media will help emerging filmmakers and storytellers to find those qualities with changemakers this summer. And for you global citizens, students, supporters and audience members – every chance a changemaker has for their story to be told is an opportunity to learn not just what good they are doing, but what makes them unique.
You’ll have many such chances at the Show Me Justice Film Festival this April. Look forward to it, and I’ll keep making calls, and working to create more documentaries to bring you these changemaker stories.