Green eyes, dimples, and freckles- these are things you notice that my sister Maria and I have in common right off the bat. Get to know us better and you’ll notice we both love coffee and being apart from each other is really hard for us. A few years ago I would have told you I was the storyteller of the family, but it turns out that’s something we have in common now too.
Maybe I was too busy basking in the glow of my own skills around the campfire to notice my sister as a budding storyteller, but it kind of snuck up on me. She’s been an amazing photographer and videographer for years, but it wasn’t until we traveled together to Colombia on a service trip that I realized what a truly amazing woman my sister is.
I had been to Colombia two previous times with an organization called Children Beyond Our Borders and was psyched that Maria was joining me on my third trip last summer. CBOB’s slogan is Education = Empowerment, Add yourself to the equation. And that’s what we did. We added ourselves to the equation by working with youth affected by armed-conflict and social injustice, leading workshops that helped these children develop the life skills necessary to lift themselves out of poverty.
Despite her limited Spanish Maria developed some of the strongest bonds between volunteer and child that I have ever see. A lot of it had to do with her naturally caring personality and adorable smile, but she was also able to relate to the children through photography. They were constantly clinging to her to see their own faces on the LCD screen of her camera.
“Sometimes it’s even hard for me to describe my trip to Colombia,” said Maria. “And the best way I can tell you about it is just showing you it, through all my pictures, through all my video.”
This year, Maria went back to Colombia without me. When I asked her what moment stood out the most she said it was when two girls, Eliza and Maria,(it seems all the best people are named Maria) showed her Polaroids I’d given them on my first trip to Colombia.
“One of my favorite moments of this year was when Eliza and Maria still had the Polaroids that you had given them three years ago,” Maria said. “To me a picture means everything. They saved them. They still had them.”
As I reach back now, trying to convey what its like to be there, I find myself falling short. The right word doesn’t exists to describe how beautiful, yet heart wrenching it is to see the pictures of Maria and Eliza. Where my words fail to convey how it feels to see a child’s reflections in a dirty puddle on a trash-strewn street or the way a single ray of sun shining through the trees can light up their faces, Maria’s pictures are there. I look at them and I’m right back in Colombia.
And the best part is her pictures and videos take people who haven’t gone there too. Looking at her pictures it’s impossible to not want to help these kids. Not because you see them and pity the children, but because you see them and instantly recognize a common human bond too strong to ignore. I look at her work and I know she’s surpassed me. My little sister is a storyteller. She’s an amazing, world changing storyteller. If you think I’m biased take a look at this video she produced about her experience on the trip.
“Through this video I don’t even think translations are necessary,” said Maria. “If someone is speaking Spanish hopefully with how I portray the image enough you can understand it. The same with English. If someone Spanish is watching it they’ll be able to understand it even without understanding the words.”
Maria will tell you herself that words aren’t her thing, but her videos and photos make them superfluous anyhow. The kids Maria and I have worked with have stories so different from our own, but she’s not just showing you children living in poverty in South America. She’s telling a story about love and hope. It’s a story about families who want what so many here in America want, an opportunity at a better life. It’s a story that can be told in Spanish and English or through a few stunning photos, because it’s more about what we have in common and can share with each other, than what makes us different.
“I created some of the most beautiful memories that I’ll have for the rest of my life,” said Maria. “When ever I look back at each picture of each child I can think back on every single moment I have with them and I know they feel the same way.”
Through stories we’re going to change the world. Z Productions is in our future. The details aren’t too clear, but we already have the family Z tattoos so the rest of it kind just seems downhill from here.
So to my little ria,
Your work inspires me everyday. I know your photos and videos will continue to inspire others as well, to make the world a better place. I could not be more proud of the storyteller you’ve become.
Love you always,
Women Working to Do Good is a series that Hello Giggles and the White House have been collaborating on. We will bring you stories of women in communities across the United States who we think are stars in their own right. Whether they are young entrepreneurs, active community organizers, or making a difference in a single life or community, we think these women are amazing and want to share their stories with you! Each story will also be featured on the White House blog, and we are working together to bring more strong female role models to the forefront.
If there is a woman in your community who you think should be honored in this series, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!