|"Making desks at the Bibi Jann School in Tanzania" Copyright © Steve & Joanie Wynn, All Rights Reserved
How a "Journey for Good" Became Journeys for Good
For those who are curious about voluntourism, whether it has an impact or not, it is important to consider the stories of those who have experienced it. Joanie and Steve Wynn captured the experiences of a small cadre of women, six in all, in Tanzania during an engagement with Road Monkey Adventure Philanthropy. Although the Wynn's were in Tanzania to work, i.e. produce a video of the voluntourism journey of that group of women, apparently they were both greatly moved by the experience. So much so that they started JourneysforGood.com. To learn more, I caught up with Joanie Wynn for this issue of The VolunTourist Newsletter to answer our 3Qs.
1) What was the inspiration behind Journeys 4 Good?
"As a voluntourist, there are so many amazing opportunities to give back and to experience other cultures in rich and deeply satisfying ways. Our website, journeys4good.com, celebrates volunteer travel success stories through blog posts and featured videos. We showcase ordinary people who have the desire to help and the willing spirit to use their sweat equity as a way to meaningfully connect to the world. Our hope is that Journeys for Good will show people that anybody can be a voluntourist, and that the dividends of the experience can be life-changing.
The catalyst for the idea came in the summer of 2008, when my husband (Steve Wynn, co-founder, Journeys for Good) and I set out to produce a documentary on an amazing volunteer trip to Tanzania. The trip was organized and led by Paul von Zielbauer and his company, Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy.
We followed a group of six women in a hands-on volunteer project at a school for AIDS orphans outside of Dar Es Salaam. Our group built desks, refurbished classrooms and installed a clean water filtration system at the Bibi Jann school. We had the opportunity to work side by side with locals, including teachers at the school and carpenters who were there to assist with the project.
Subsequently, we had the opportunity to cover another volunteer trip, this time in Nicaragua. There, the volunteers built a playground for impoverished children of Cusmapa.
Both trips gave us a glimpse into the power of volunteer travel. As storytellers, we were deeply inspired by both the volunteers and the local people who came to help.
When we returned home, we finished our documentary on the Africa trip, A Journey for Good: Tanzania, which aired on public television across the United States in 2011. We also established a YouTube channel so that we could share shorter clips and outtakes from the experience.
"Somehow, though, these volunteer trips were different. Perhaps it was the transformative nature of volunteer travel itself, going somewhere and really connecting on a personal level with local people to affect positive change. Perhaps it was the timing. We were both excited about using our creative talents to launch a “new chapter” in our careers. In either case, a seed had been planted. Beyond those first projects we set out to produce, we knew that these were the kinds of stories we wanted to continue to tell."
Throughout our careers, Steve and I have both traveled extensively. Steve has been a broadcast cameraman for many years, traveling the world for Travel Channel, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. I traveled as a producer of marketing video for movie studios like Disney, Dreamworks and Sony. Together, we had traveled throughout Africa to produce a series of videos for Conservation Corp. Africa.
Somehow, though, these volunteer trips were different. Perhaps it was the transformative nature of volunteer travel itself, going somewhere and really connecting on a personal level with local people to affect positive change. Perhaps it was the timing. We were both excited about using our creative talents to launch a “new chapter” in our careers. In either case, a seed had been planted. Beyond those first projects we set out to produce, we knew that these were the kinds of stories we wanted to continue to tell.
We know firsthand the benefits and rewards of volunteer travel.
With Journeys for Good, we hope to tell the stories that will inspire people to travel with purpose.
2) As someone with a media background, can you speak to the importance of video production and its ability to tell the compelling back stories as well as actual experiences that are voluntourism?
"There’s that old saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words”. In our opinion, video takes that a very large step further. Professional quality video really has the ability to capture an experience in a way that goes beyond still images. It can take the viewer inside the volunteer trip, providing a sensory experience for both the eye and the ear. It brings a location and its people to life with compelling images and sound. Interviews bring you closer to the participants, allowing you to hear their reasons for traveling, how they feel along the way, and in the end, how it has affected and transformed them. You can meet the local people who are benefiting from the trip. You can see the progress as the volunteer projects unfold. Most of all, you can get a feeling of what it might be like to go on that trip yourself. Music can make the video even more compelling, reaching a viewer on an emotional level.
From a sales and marketing perspective, tour operators and NGO’s can benefit from video in numerous ways. Of course, it can be used on websites and You Tube to entice potential voluntourists. It can also be used as a publicity tool to interest broadcasters and media outlets.
As a case study, the video we captured for Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy was used in myriad ways by founder Paul von Zielbauer. We produced a mini “web commercial” which he posted on his site. In this short video, he was able to describe, in his own words, his vision for the company and the kinds of volunteer travel experiences he was offering.
On the publicity side, Paul could provide CNN and MSNBC News with broadcast quality footage that was featured during their news stories. He shared the footage with Oprah and Outside magazine editors who were putting together stories on him.
Beyond publicity and marketing, Paul received exposure from the documentary which aired on public television stations across the U.S. We also continue to feature his video on the Journeys for Good website and You Tube channel. This is a prime example of how video, captured once, can be repackaged to serve many masters.
All this aside, it’s important to carefully consider the quality of the video. So often, we see video produced on a flipcam or handicam with poor image and audio quality. In this case, we believe that high quality still images are preferable.
In short, a good video can bring the viewer as close to the experience as they can get without getting on a plane.
|"Steve Wynn surrounded by future videographers" Copyright © Steve & Joanie Wynn, All Rights Reserved
3) What elements of a voluntourism experience do you think are not easily communicated through video?
"Having truly had a transformative experience myself, I can say that even the most amazing video doesn’t hold a candle to the real deal.
In my case, the experience I had in Tanzania was life-changing. My most memorable images are the faces of the children.
When we first arrived at the Bibi Jann School, I was deeply moved by the school children, who welcomed us with a performance of traditional songs and dances prepared just for us.
At another point, a group of the youngest children crowded around me to look at a photo I carried of my little boy, Ryan. Each child took a turn holding the picture. They held my hand and studied me with huge, curious eyes. Those sweet faces are images I will carry in my mind, and in my heart, for a lifetime.
Then there were the “bibis,” or grandmothers -- the women who cared for children of Mbgala who had been orphaned by AIDS. Their faces were deeply creased with hardship and loss, yet their kindness shone through in their warm smiles and hugs.
Each day, we were invited into the home of the school founder, Fatuma Gwao. She prepared lunch for us, sharing the very best of what she had. This was a very special, personal opportunity that most travelers never get to experience.
"At these moments, I realized why this type of trip was so important. Beyond helping this particular school at this particular moment, we were ambassadors, of sorts. We had come from a place so completely foreign to theirs and yet, we shared a human connection that I trust will last beyond the scope of this one project. Through our shared endeavor, our big world became a bit smaller."
Each day, we worked alongside the teachers and local tradespeople from the tiny village. Though I didn’t speak Swahili and they didn’t know much English, we communicated clearly with broad smiles and the universal language of a common goal. We all felt the same sense of pride on the final day when the children filed in to see their brightly painted classrooms and new desks.
At these moments, I realized why this type of trip was so important. Beyond helping this particular school at this particular moment, we were ambassadors, of sorts. We had come from a place so completely foreign to theirs and yet, we shared a human connection that I trust will last beyond the scope of this one project. Through our shared endeavor, our big world became a bit smaller.
Another irreplaceable dividend of volunteer travel is the bonds that are formed when you travel with a group of like-minded people – people who, like you, have traveled across the world to try to make a difference. Though we are scattered across the US and Canada, I still have ties to the women on that trip. Recently, I met up with some of them in New York. Though it was many years later, it was as if no time had passed. We will always share a common experience that is uniquely ours.
Lastly, there is no substitute for the senses of accomplishment and renewal you feel when you return home with a new perspective and deeper appreciation life’s gifts. This is the gift that returns infinitely more than you gave.
To be sure, there is no replacement for the first hand experience of a volunteer vacation. Our hope is that, in telling the stories, we will intrigue people enough to look further. With Journeys for Good, we are sending out an invitation that we hope at least a lucky few will accept.
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