Milk guzzles from inside a silver pitcher, whizzed around by the wand of an espresso machine. The sloshing sound wafts inside this quaint and cozy coffee shop tucked away in a low-key street in Downtown New York bordering SoHo and Little Italy.
The cool melody of reggae music emanating from the speakers seem to harmonize with the steam blowing off from the counter where the lovely barista juggles between fixing cups of iced coffee for eager customers and slicing a cinnamon-raisin loaf for a table of tourists remarking in a heavy Italian accent what I could only guess as praise for this really tremendous find that is Oro Bakery and Bar.
Sitting comfortably across from me, with a cup of coffee cradled between his palms is Brad, the one person who was, not only instrumental in bringing this cafe to life, but who was also the brains behind Oro’s trademark look and feel — a cafe/bakeshop by day, a French bistro by night. With thousands of coffee shops dotting all over New York, you got to hand it to Brad for coming up with a place that truly strikes out for its ambiance and that fuzzy feeling of enjoying your afternoon cup of cappuccino as if you were just sitting at your favorite couch at home.
Brad’s profession is one that I have rarely come across…well, actually it’s the first time ever that I met someone of his kind. As you can see, Brad is a restaurant designer, one of the many things this aesthetically-minded Jack of all design trades specializes in.
I came across him when a good friend and I stumbled upon this other remarkable coffee shop by the West Village several weeks ago where I made an ecstatic comment about the La Marzocco espresso machine they had over there, Brad overheard it, and before you knew it, my friend and I found ourselves another really interesting person who had a good story to tell.
Double majoring in Engineering and Theatre is in itself unheard of, but being that he has always been fascinated with Art in regards to its technical and creative aspects, Brad skittered into restaurant designing several years after he established a good career designing theatre sets in Broadway, as well as movie theatres, health clubs, public space lobbies, and more. His work allowed him to thoroughly enjoy the facets of engineering and laying out and making sure all the spaces fit together.
The opportunity to design his first restaurant project presented itself a couple of years ago when his then-girlfriend (now his fiancee) endeavored to open her own resto/cafe in the West Village. Her initial meetings with an architect and interior designer did not produce the idea she was gunning for. Thankfully, Brad acted on it quick, and with careful planning and a natural eye for what is visually tasteful, Mama’s Mudsliders emerged as a hip, must-visit cafe for the caffeine-holics, sugar junkies, and even for those who just want to find a good place to sit down, relax, and enjoy a good drink.
At present, Brad still designs other spaces not particularly entailing the food industry. He engages himself in various commercial establishments that stimulate his mind to come up with a space that combines the necessities of function with the right mix of form to make it attractive and enhancing to the patrons. However, Brad’s true fascination lies in designing smaller, more intimate spaces such as Oro and Mama’s Mudsliders.
Brad takes a sip of his coffee, and with a grin explains, “When you’re working on small projects with people with smaller budgets, you sort of take on multiple roles. But at the end of the day because it’s so micromanaged and you’re so involved in it, it’s like having a kid. And then you feel so proud when you think about how if you hadn’t been there for that afternoon, that pipe would have been painted black instead of gold, and suddenly that space would’ve felt totally different.”
I couldn’t help but agree. I take a sip of my own organic, Summer Passion tea which is greatly soothing my jagged nerves from the hubbub of the day at work. I glance to my left and catch sight of a sole, enormous photo-installation of what seems to be rooftops of classic Downtown buildings at the wall spanning the counter.
Brad follows my gaze and with a smile spreading upward his lips, he adds that he captured that photo himself, too. I smile back, acknowledging to him that it’s only natural that the designer of this really cool place should at least leave a discrete yet striking signature to complete the picture.
*Special thanks to Horst Dieter Baum for the photograph above.
Jeremy started banging on the keys of the piano as a toddler, when he had not even learned to walk completely on his own yet. He would crawl on his father’s keyboard, his tiny feet and hands pummeling the black and white keys, a cacophony of haphazard notes blaring around their living room.
Now, thirteen years later, this 8th grader has mastered the beautiful and magical craft of playing the piano with such finesse and artistry that nothing could sound more poignant and haunting as the immortal tunes of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, and all of the classical greats he belts out with this dazzling instrument.
Jeremy actually started having formal lessons when he turned 7, but even before that, this virtuoso had already showed signs of extreme talent with the piano. Turning 13 in a few days, Jeremy admits that it can be challenging to juggle schoolwork, playtime, and piano practice all at the same time, but thanks to the full support and careful guidance of his Mom and Dad, Jeremy has managed to accelerate his talent while maintaining his honor status at school.
And of course, in between practices and homework, Jeremy always finds time to have a little fun in between…well maybe, a little too much fun (or so his Mom thinks) especially when he gets his hands on his video game consoles and that indispensable faux-music instrument phenomenon also known as “Guitar Hero.”
But with all the hardwork and dedication he exerts for his piano playing, it’s only but natural that Jeremy finds other avenues of unwinding his mind through the different activities he also enjoys, namely reading books and magazines, watching cartoons and sport matches, and sketching. From the onset, his parents had encouraged that Jeremy cultivate his artistic side, thus, they sent him to one of the more prestigious music schools in Philadelphia, where, with the conduction of a solid piano teacher, Jeremy has honed not just his skill but also his showmanship.
In May of this year, Jeremy was handpicked by his teacher among all her students to perform in the school’s annual certification concert where after a rigorous performance, he would earn a certificate to advance to the next level. His performance was nothing short of extaordinary, and Jeremy recalls that it was to date, his most important event ever.
“I have one more year to go then I’m going to be in high school. It will be busier than ever,” Jeremy remarks. “The aim starting now is to get more experience with going to competitions and more recitals, and with a life like this, you might think I’d be tired. But, actually, I’m not. I love playing the piano. I like having this. It makes me feel like a star, maybe.”
A star, indeed, he is to those who have seen and heard him play the regal instrument with the ease and passion of modern day concert pianists such as Lang Lang or Vladimir Ashkenazy, who are two of Jeremy’s idols. But on a regular day such as this, you’ll most likely find this really special kid enjoying what any average adolescent boy would — frolicking with his Wii while blasting The All-American Rejects on his headphones.
A note from *the storyteller:
Jeremy does Chopin (and how!) in this beautiful rendition of Etude Op. 10, No. 3 in E Major… or more famously known as “Tristesse” (read: “Sorrow” in French)
The cool Hudson River breeze blew softly, flicking a few strands of her hair in the wind. Isha lifted her hand, tucking the strands of long, black hair behind her ear, her gaze shifting to the silver waves lapping upon the hull of the yacht we were riding on in this beautiful summer day in New York.
Suddenly, the yacht made an unannounced stop right in front of the omnipotent monument that is the Statue of Liberty. Isha excitedly perked up, her body swiveling to the side as she retrieved her point and shoot digital camera and snapped a couple of pictures of the colossal statue, the pinkish-orange sky hovered around it. She took a quick glance at the screen of her camera and with a huge grin, she showed me the pictures she had just taken. I smiled back, impressed at the composition of the photographs.
Isha reiterated once again that I should have given her a better heads up about this yacht cruise so that she could have at least taken her digital SLR camera gear with her, instead of this pocket-sized camera she toted around with. I apologized for the third time, explaining that I really wanted to surprise her with this treat. I wanted to make it extra special because my dear friend of 10 years would be returning back to our hometown of Cebu, Philippines after a 5-year stint in New York so that she could finally pursue her lifelong dream – a career in photography.
Isha moved to New York in 2003 for her graduate studies in Business and Arts at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Prior to that, she had a fledgling start as a photographer in Cebu, but once she was finished with college, her parents encouraged her to append her studies and it was decided upon that the best training ground for her would be at the FIT which happened to be located at the “capital of the globe” — meaning, New York.
There is that undeniable fact known to the world that New York is the land of milk and honey where exoduses of artists happen daily, these wandering souls making their giant leaps into this dazzling city of promise in pursuit of their respective dreams. Isha was no different from the rest of these dreamers, striving to succeed in grad school and carving a name for herself with her photography as soon as she would set foot in this arts and culture hub.
Indeed, Isha accomplished much at FIT, and in the last few years, she managed to land a couple of lucrative job opportunities in the fashion industry. Her photography slowly started picking up, too, especially with wedding photo gigs that came her way. All in all, Isha was slowly living well into the way of her dream.
But as life happened, Isha begun to realize that New York was not the oasis she had thought it would be. The city had presented her with so many golden opportunities, but somehow, there was still something amiss. At first, when the answer started revealing itself to her, she was a bit reluctant to realize it, but soon enough, she understood that she could not deny it any longer. No matter how great and significant her experiences were in New York, Isha discovered that the only place where she wanted to fully focus on her photography and art was nowhere else but home — in Cebu…
Five minutes after our yacht made that sudden halt in front of the Statue of Liberty, the motor of the vessel started guzzling again. Heading west, the yacht drove further and further away from the Statue and into the dimming evening where not too far away, the skyline of New York’s skyscrapers lit up, an entire island twinkling with a million tiny lights from every window. Isha gazed at the sight, a sigh escaping out of her lips. She clasped my hand and thanked me for the very wonderful gift of this moment to experience and view New York from the best angle possible, one last time before she would make her astounding move back to the Far East.
I clasped her hands over mine, assuring her that she’ll always have New York. Isha nodded with a grin as she glanced at me, the reflection of the glorious and shining New York skyline bouncing off on her sunglasses. Before our yacht returned to dock at the pier by South Street Seaport, I asked my dearest friend what was the greatest thing New York had done for her.
She kept still for a moment. Then, with the smile returning to her face, she replied, “I guess you can say I found myself in New York, if that’s as cliche as it gets. Because of your independence, you learn more about yourself. You learn your priorities in life and you learn to be stronger and most of all, you learn that life is so short just like what they say, ‘It’s a New York minute.’ As crazy as this concrete jungle is and millions of people passing by you every single minute, somehow in that middle of all of that, you figure out who you are, what you want to be, where you want to go, who you want to be with…and then you just go for it.”
As soon as we descended the yacht as it made its docking into the pier, Isha snapped a photograph of me, but not before she remarked one more time that I should have really told her about this in advance because it would have made the perfect landscape photo shoot. I laughed and promised her that upon her return to this beautiful city, another yacht cruise adventure would await her.
A note from *the storyteller:
Isha has now returned to the Philippines where she will soon wed the love of her life while fulfilling her dream of becoming a renowned photographer. You can check out her amazing and picture perfect collection here: Patricia Mancao wedding photography
Not too long ago, I had completed writing this screenplay about one of the greatest conquistadors in the annals of history, a story that had always captivated my imagination and sheer interest for the last 13 years. When I was doing my full research on the subject, one facet of the topic that thoroughly enthused me was the amount of information and detail that encompassed about the galleons used by the expedition, those gargantuan, three-masted sailing ships used in the 16th century by the Spanish armada.
For Dan, creating the miniature versions of these galleons and massive vessels is just equally daunting and detail oriented. I came across Dan at the South Street Seaport where a perfectly-crafted model of the Sovereign of the Seas, the British Navy flagship during the mid 1600s was displayed at his table. Catching sight of the precious ship model instantly roused my attention, as I had longed to see a physical representation of these colossal warships after reading so much about them. Thankfully, Dan was the kind of captain who had all the information for his fleet of model ships.
Like most renowned navigators who undertook their monumental voyages in the centuries past, Dan discovered the wonders of model ship building, literally, by accident. He had torn off a joint in one of his knees, which prohibited him to enjoy his favorite hobbies of racquetball and high-end furniture building for a long time. A friend bestowed the then trial attorney a wooden ship model kit to while away the time and to keep Dan doing what he enjoyed — and that was creating things with his hands.
After finishing the wooden ship that his friend gave him, Dan realized that he loved the process of model shipbuilding, most especially with the historical research that entailed with it. Soon enough, he ventured into hobby shops to collect more model kits, as well as acquired magazines and books on the subject, and then joined a club of model shipbuilders. Twenty years and a flotilla of impressive naval models after, the passionate hobby turned into a beloved livelihood for this skilled artisan.
In 2004, Dan retired from the active practice of law to devote his attention and energy to model shipbuilding, which allows him to not just build wooden ship models, but more importantly, to conserve history and restore the interest for these ships and stories, especially among the young ones. Aside from being a full-fledged builder, Dan also shares a lot of his time and knowledge with the South Street Seaport Museum, Christie’s Auction House, and his most exciting project at present is spearheading a restoration of some portions of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s model ship collection.
He also gets commissions from private collectors who rely on Dan’s technical and theoretical expertise to restore their antique bone and ivory models that date to as old as 200 years, some of them handcrafted by prisoners back in the day. Over the years, Dan also built something of an equally colossal nature that didn’t really involve any masts or rigs but is something just as dear to him — his private research library with an extensive collection of over 400 books and periodicals on anything and everything that talks about ship building and historical voyages.
Pointing to the tight-knots on the lateen rigs of the Sovereign of the Seas encased in glass on his table, Dan explains with a smile glinting on his eyes, “Shipmodeling itself is the highest and most difficult aspect of the craft of modeling because the ships themselves are so complex. If you think about it, the large war ship was at the cutting edge of technology of every culture that it’s ever been in until the jet airplane came along. They’re so complicated, they’re so interesting, that building miniatures of it, for me, is as interesting and enjoyable.”
I nodded at this, amused, and for a moment, an image flashed in my mind of the great Ferdinand Magellan walking towards the forecastle deck of the Trinidad and looking out into the calmness of the uncharted horizon, still waiting to be discovered, an ocean’s reach away.
It’s been a while since I last posted a story here and I feel terrible that I have not been updating this blog, even when I had already interviewed several really interesting people over the course of the last few weeks.
I guess when you live in the brisk, urban wilderness that is New York, no matter how you try to coordinate things around you in a carefully planned schedule, you still end up shoving a lot of things in the back burner. Unfortunately for me, it’s been a rigorous workout in juggling my priorities and updating this blog has been one of the things I had to set aside for a bit…well actually, way much longer than I should have.
Moving on, I did get a crucial update from one of the people I’ve interviewed and it is with great sadness that I relay to you that my favorite Singing Newspaper Lady of all time, Flor, has been on indefinite leave from her beloved job as she had to have some tumors removed from her throat. Her daughter, Carolina, was kind enough to keep me updated about her mother’s condition, and thankfully, Flor seems to be recovering well.
However, she is still in a bit of a critical condition as her doctors have to monitor her progress over the next weeks in the hopes that the tumors will not grow back, nor will her thyroid be affected in a harmful way. But I do ask each and everyone of you to please keep Flor in your thoughts and prayers as we all look forward to her full recovery so that she can return to the job that makes her the happiest.
Alright, I appreciate you taking time to gloss over this update. Summer is officially over now, and hopefully with Fall comes a better sense of time management for me. In the meantime, please do come back and check this blog in the next couple of days as I guarantee you that I will be posting more stories again of all the real, beautiful, and really awesome people I’ve met during my most favorite season in the year!
New York, NY
A writer goes through regular bouts of mental blockage all throughout his or her career, that dreaded phase of the writer’s process wherein he or she goes through an instantaneous, dark corner in his or her mind when no words seem to cohere together and all attempts at cleaving meaningful ideas turn out empty.
As much as writer’s block could be a very difficult hurdle to overcome, there are fateful instances when they also serve as sources of inspiration for the struggling writer. In the case of Kent, a newly-published fiction writer, the obstruction went well beyond writer’s block. It was a chasm so wide and deep that stretched out for more than a decade of Kent’s life. But it was for this very hiatus from writing that actually molded Kent to become more productive with the pen.
Kent has always loved writing, be it poetry and prose about love, war, death, growing up, and just about everything that fascinated him in his teenage years. When he reached 17, writing turned to passion from a mere hobby especially after he met and eventually dated this girl who shared a little, private game with him wherein she would spontaneously mention any scenario and Kent would have to come up with a story based on that scenario. Their little game inspired Kent to write more and more, and then one eventful day, the scenario she blurted out was “a boy in the desert and he doesn’t know how he got there.”
It was that very moment that Misha was born.
Misha is the story that Kent drew up in his mind ever since that day, and some of his family and close friends would eventually know about this boy in the desert who didn’t know how he got there and the adventure that would follow him as soon as he discovers where he is. The story lived inside Kent’s head for a while, but as the years passed by and life just took its regular toll, Misha faded deep into the recesses of Kent’s subconscious, and along with it vanished his passion for writing.
Years and years flew by, and Kent found himself climbing the corporate ladder where he worked mostly for the fashion and jewelry industries in New York. About a year ago, while he was pretty much enjoying his daily routine surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues, Kent’s life took a sudden turning point – he was fired from his managerial job. It was the first time for him to ever undergo such a tough blow, especially that it was a job he thoroughly enjoyed and he knew he excelled at. The circumstance got Kent spiraling down a place where he had never been to before, a dark place that abounded in confusion, despair, and loss.
Yet, something inside Kent brought a flicker of light amidst the darkness. He recounts that phase of sheer isolation and smiles as he says, “But in that confusion, I had to find a place in myself, and I started thinking, ‘Okay, I’m not happy. I got fired, you know this is not good.’ So I was a couple of weeks like this. And then I thought to myself, ‘Okay, Kent, think of a time when you were happy.’ So I started going back to all of my happiest days — when I got married, when my nephew, Tennessee, was born, when Lisa (his little sister) was born… all the happiest days of my life. And then I remembered a span of time that wasn’t just a happiest day, but a time, like a time period. And in that time period, I remembered that I used to love writing.”
After finding the courage to accept his painful loss, and then realizing that with it came hope, Kent started to pick up his pen once again. With this newfound self-motivation, he finally created the story of Misha that has always been with him all along. Right after he made his epiphanous discovery, Kent took his mother, his wife, and his little sister to dinner and declared to them his intention of becoming a published writer. He believed that if he really wanted this enough, he had to declare it to those whom he loved as that would push him even more to really make it happen.
Six months after that momentous dinner with the women in his life, Kent was holding in his hands his very first published book ever, “Misha: The Desert.” Another six months passed by and then his second book, “Misha: The Island” was published. As of recent, Kent is now working on his third book, “Misha: The City.” Kent convicts that it took more than half his life to finally push him to just write the one story he always wanted to write, but he sees now that the timing was perfect. And from the darkness of something, he is humbled to come out to something amazing, as well.
Kent currently works at another fashion-related company during the day, but at least with this job, it affords him a lot more spare time to write. I tried to ask him if Misha was, in a way, a character based on his own life. Kent mischievously affords me a wink and a grin and explains that he can’t even really say if Misha is the boy or if it’s the place. I chuckle for a bit and realize that he’s right. If I want to find out, I guess I’ll have to experience the story myself by reading the books, just as Kent lived through his own life first before he could finally build the fantasy world he’s always dreamed of.
A note from *the storyteller:
1. Misha: The Desert and Misha: The Island are available for purchase online at Barnes and Noble. Click on this link to find out more: the Misha adventure series
2. Kent’s full interview can be streamed here: Story by Kent
It’s a given that New York City moves at breakneck speeds, hence the term, “New York minute.” People are always rushing: commuters dash madly to slip past through the closing doors of the subway, pedestrians sprint wildly to make it to the next side of the street even when the walk sign is flashing red, and bike messengers zap through the narrowest gaps between taxi cabs and delivery trucks. For a city that’s known to never really sleep, New York functions at its own maddening pace unparalleled in any other city in the world.
Yet, amidst this crazy hustle and bustle, there is a certain New Yorker who stays calm and collected in the face of New York minutes. Her placidity with the way she works, even in the most extreme of weather conditions, has made Flor the local newspaper vendor favorite of hasty New Yorkers speeding through Madison Square Garden. They adore her so much, they actually take a few seconds’ pause out of their automatic routine to pick up their daily paper, smile and say a word of ‘hello’ or two.
So what’s Flor’s secret to garnering the admiration and love of these snappy denizens? There’s a lot, actually, but her biggest advantage would have to be the catchy theme song she composed, her trademark jingle that’s known to have made an entire block of passersby surrounding her newspaper stand sing along to the jolly tune with her several times already.
Flor has been a mainstay on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street for the last 7 years, a familiar sight and sound to commuters rushing to Penn Station inside the massive Madison Square Garden. She arrives at her newspaper stand approximately a few minutes before 1 pm each day and stands there until she closes shop eight hours later. Her equally energetic daughter, Carolina arrives a couple of hours after, to help her mom hand out the papers especially during the late afternoon rush hour.
As soon as Flor croons to her trademark jingle of New York Post and the New York Times…Daily News! her loyal customers flock to her stand and pick up a copy of the day’s periodicals, with Flor calling each one of them by the moniker she has devised for them. Her personal favorites are “Sexy Legs” (for a very svelte lady business executive who is among Flor’s biggest fans), “Beautiful Eyes”, “Sexy #1,” “Sexy #2,” and the best one of all, “Mr. Papi Chulo.” For non-regular customers and the general clients, Flor addresses them “Mister” and “Miss,” but not without a smile on her lips and a twinkle in her eyes, of course.
To reciprocate her pleasing disposition in handing them their daily serving of news, Flor’s customers have taken to calling her all sorts of terms of endearment – “Sweetie,” “Mami,” “Miss Lady,” and the most appropriate one of all – “The Singing Newspaper Lady.” Carolina explains that at their house, there is a large shelf that holds all of the gifts, cards, and souvenirs Flor has received from her beloved customers all over the years which she treasures dearly.
On this sweltering Friday afternoon, Flor is radiant with a huge grin on her face as she turns to her daughter and remarks something fervently. Carolina nods her head, a smile also spreading on her lips. She then translates her mother’s words, “I love this place and this location so much that I feel only GOD would take me away from this spot. I love my customers so much and I enjoy my job a lot that I do my best to do it with much originality and kindness and love that come from my heart. I want if ever I am to die my ashes should be spread around this area. You see, if you just learn to appreciate and enjoy what you do, and it could be something really simple or something really big, you will never call it ‘work.’ ”
A short while after, a family of four arrives with a little boy and a little girl rushing up to Flor and wrapping her up with their tiny arms in a tight embrace. The late afternoon rush hour is coming to an end, yet hundreds of straphangers still zip by, with a few of them stopping by Flor’s stand to pick up their paper. One of them flashes her a wide smile as she hands the gentleman his change in less than two seconds. Inside Flor’s apron are rolled up singles by the bundle, already segregated into certain amounts for easy exchange.
Carolina points out that that is also one thing why customers appreciate her mom a lot, with the way Flor has maintained an efficient system of newspaper handing and change giving that affords them the least amount of downtime in their hurried pace.
Adds the mother of the two children, both of whom Flor has seen grow up from their tender days as babies to their hyper ages of 5 and 3 respectively now, that the reason Flor is such a big part of these commuters’ daily lives, not just as their newspaper vendor but as their dear friend is that she never changed ever since she started doing this. She always wears the same smile every single day, and no matter the weather, no matter how awful her day has been, she always her cheery song to make even the most impatient New Yorker’s minute, a pleasing, albeit short one.
a note from *the storyteller:
To hear Flor’s jingle, check this video out. Or better yet, go stop by and tell her “Hi” over at her stand right outside MSG on Seventh Avenue, closer to the corner of 32nd Street.
Steve, very early on in his life, always had this desire to help people in need. The arts has been a passion of his, too, particularly with film and theatre, and he has always dreamed of dedicating his life in the service of those needing assistance the most, preferably if it could involve something with media. Little did he know that one day, after a long, hard road, he would get to forge both of these passions and truly make the kind of difference in this world that he’s always envisioned.
Like most people though, Steve set aside his dreams for a bit and took the safe route. After garnering an MBA in Harvard in the 90s, Steve set out to advance his career in Marketing with American Express. At the same time, he was enjoying life with his partner of 15 years who was a social worker for an AIDS-based Nonprofit Organization. Steve felt that albeit he was not directly working in Nonprofit, his partner’s involvement in one kept Steve’s dream of helping others alive.
Sadly, his partner passed away some time later in the decade, and not only was it a painful loss, his partner’s death also made Steve feel that his family unit that saved the world perished as well. After a while, Steve finally realized that it was high time to make those dreams happen. He left his promising career in the leading financial institution in search of one that would grant him the opportunity to harness his potential and really help those in need.
The journey to reaching that one dream job took quite awhile for Steve to reach. Nonetheless, it was a stimulating and valuable journey that took him to several companies that heavily dealt with media, and a couple of them engaged in the nonprofit sector, likewise. He was able to discover the power of film and what it could do to help the less fortunate throughout those years, which eventually led him to the ultimate designation…
Whenever the words “genocide” and “calamities” come to mind, it’s but natural to imagine assistance going to the affected areas in the guise of the Red Cross, UNICEF, and the United Nations. After all, these are the same organizations that provide the refugees with food, clothing, shelter, and all the other necessities that they need to rebuild their lives once again.
However, there is one organization that works toward helping the refugees of war-torn countries in Africa such as Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, and Uganda deal with something more unquenchable than physical nourishment, and that is where Film Aid International comes in.
Steve got on board Film Aid as its Executive Director since last year and it has been one amazing experience for him ever since. Film Aid lives by its mission: Projecting Hope and Changing Lives Through the Power of Film, a statement of such substantial value for an organization that is empowering the displaced and the desperate, one film at a time.
Steve explains that Film Aid basically screens films at refugee camps in Africa for the purposes of inspiring the refugees and giving them some form of solace in their distressful situations. These films are not just solely intended for its entertainment value, more importantly they educate the refugees with matters that need the most attention – HIV prevention, malaria detection and cure, ending the exploitation of women, and so much more.
The films greatly brighten the refugees’ lives, giving them a chance to mingle with one another in a communal setting. Film Aid takes the service ten notches higher by instilling a program that grants refugees the opportunity to make and shoot the films themselves, with the training and equipment provided by Film Aid, of course.
Steve could not have defined it any better as he said, “The common thread is the impact that film can have on people and how it can improve their lives whether it be their psychosocial well-being, to the entertaining aspects of seeing a film together, to their creation of films that gives them information that saves their lives like how to prevent HIV or how to avoid getting malaria. When they make the film themselves, it makes everyone else appreciate it more because it’s not like someone from the US with a film degree is talking about these malaria nets. Rather it’s someone among their fellow refugees, in their language who respects their culture, talking to them about the need or impact about what a malaria net can do to help.”
In the near future, it is Steve’s biggest hope that Film Aid will expand beyond refugee camps and work with people in other dire situations around the world using film and video. For now, his focus is to gather more awareness for the work that Film Aid does and let people realize that film is indeed a very mighty tool in bringing about hope and change in this world.
The refugees may not get the ultimate theatre experience like most movie going audiences — leather-cushioned seats, airconditioning, free-flowing popcorn — but each scene that projects onto the wide screen is enough to give them assurance that life does go on after war and disaster, and with people like Steve around, happy endings are not just for the movies.
notes from *the storyteller:
1. If you wish to make a donation or help Film Aid in any other way, please feel free to visit: Film Aid donor page
2. To hear Steve’s full length interview, you can click on this link: Story by Steve Enjoy!
With his first name rooted in the Kenyan term, “Kikuyu” which means “Quiet Warrior,” Kamau possesses a calm, warrior-like prowess indeed, especially when he is doing what he is most passionate about – photography and event designing.
The latter is what Kamau dedicates his life to for the most part, having designed and produced events for over ten years for private companies and non profit organizations in the arts and culture industries. His major project as of today is to aid the Brooklyn Artists Gym (BAG), an artist studio and gallery facility in Park Slope that aims to provide easy access and a community-based space for a wide range of Artists in Residence. In congruence with BAG’s mission of helping make it possible for artists to further their work and careers at a reasonable cost, Kamau endeavors to use his skill and passion to organize and execute a successful fundraising event for this esteemed organization.
Like the warrior carefully assessing the surroundings from all sides before making the big attack, Kamau has come highly prepared for the initial brainstorming with the director and the creative staff behind BAG. Over a banquet of pizza, salad, and wine, Kamau’s first strategy is getting the BAG team to participate in an Idea Workshop, wherein members of the team personally and collectively pitch in their concerns and suggestions on certain bullet points for the proposed fundraiser. It is not only an exercise in sharing ideas, but mostly it is giving the team, and Kamau most especially, a chance to fully re-orient themselves with what the organizations is truly about and how can they, as a community and as individuals further progress the goals of BAG.
Kamau’s fervor for event designing manifests in his energy as he leads the team in putting out ideas and talking points. Over the course of his career, he has come to realize that a lot of the things that develop human beings and even civilizations revolve around specific events that have been carefully planned out. But what is most gratifying to him is how a lot of unexpected things take place at these events he has helped design, particularly in his hometown of Pittsburgh where he organized this poet/musician gathering called “Midnight Espresso.” In these sessions, random people with common interests have met up, and to Kamau’s amusement, many of them eventually hooked up, got married, or collaborated on more major projects.
That is why Kamau has kept the flame burning with what he does as it has helped him see the meaning of community at a more heightened level of awareness, especially with the core group of people he directly works with in coordinating these events with all these institutions, small-scale and massive alike. At the long, rectangular table at the BAG office, Kamau is pleased to see the influx of ideas and reactions among the team, even when a lot of the concerns raised do seem like the challenge to financing this event might be a lot bigger than they would like to think. But Kamau is not one to get discouraged easily. The quiet warrior within knows that no event fueled with the right amount of passion and perseverance is too impossible to execute. He eyes the team one by one and gives them a friendly reminder that by this gathering alone, they have already accomplished a very big step.
Kamau beams with pride as he explains what event designing truly means to him, “Today’s meeting at the Brooklyn Artists Gym was an event. There wasn’t any ticket price, no music, no DJ, but people were connecting and laughing and joking, and drinking and eating. They were participating and creating this visual that represented the brainstorming session…so even in creating an event I like to think and be purposeful about the events that make the events. So I think that before I get to the events that help me do some good, I make sure that everything along the way in the creative process is also fulfilling.”
A note from *the storyteller: Kamau’s blog is also a constant source of inspiration. Please check it out: Depth of Field