The Perky Grasshopper
I have earned myself a few “endearing” nicknames on this response here in the Horn Of Africa. “Miss Perky” — which is probably self explanatory. And “young Grasshopper,” which I think I actually first called myself since I have so much to learn about relief work!
Yet being fairly new to World Vision and considering this is my first deployment, I have been given a lot of grace to try new things and experiment with new ways of communicating what’s happening “in the field.”
My skill set coming into this response was two-fold: 1) former TV news reporter 2) social networking junkie. You combine that with a highly inquisitive, adventure-seeking, people-person and you can see why this blog is entitled “The Perky Grasshopper!”
Yet, I have learned a few things along the way. One: I have more to learn than I ever realized. Relief work is complicated! In fact, the more I learn, the less I feel I know. Two: it’s okay to fail, keep learning and move forward. That’s how we improve ourselves and one another.
Despite my ignorances and mistakes, I have found that I absolutely love relief work! To me, nothing is better than throwing on my backpack, ball cap and cargo pants and traipsing off to all parts of the globe to see for myself what’s really going on and how we can help.
It’s not always glamorous work. Many of my colleagues have warned me that sleeping in tents and bucket “showers” in the field are fairly common when there’s no hotel or guest house nearby. I have eaten things I don’t even recognize, and have had so much dirt and sweat covering me that my next nickname may be “Pigpen!” But my favorite part of “emergency comms” has been finding those people who need our help, hearing their stories, and brainstorming solutions.
My role is just a small one — I have been using my “flip” camera to vlog and interview people while posting nearly real-time updates on our World Vision social networking sites. It’s been such a privilege to take viewers into the tents of Somali refugees, inside medical tents to see malnourished children or even to view behind-the-scenes moments with our World Vision staff as they work. I have been shocked and horrified by some things I’ve seen and heard. On the other hand, I have laughed, played and sung songs with countless Somali children.
I have realized there’s an appetite for real, honest and transparent communication that comes from the heart. Social networking sites and these fancy lightweight cameras are so enabling to grasshoppers like myself. But I also think they are making the world a smaller place.
For example, I’ve been able to talk to Somalis about their situation and seconds later have their story and pics up on Facebook and Twitter. We no longer need to wait for the traditional network news team to show up with all their lights, producers and satellite trucks to tell these stories, usually in a quick 15-second sound byte. Relief organizations and the people we are trying to help are more enabled than ever before to tell first-hand stories of the reality of the situation as we see it.
Trust me — there are still biases and edits. I won’t show viewers some of the more gruesome or disturbing images I have seen. And you probably wont hear me say anything negative about my organization. ;-)
But I do think there’s a massive shift taking place in emergency communications that’s more raw, authentic and empowering. More of us have more of a voice and we are being heard by people in all corners of the world.
“Old school” relief communicators aren’t out of date. There are still a lot of cultural sensitivities, organizational politics, and relief work nuances I know very little about. My one year in World Vision pales in comparison to the decades of wisdom and experience accrued by many of my colleagues and mentors. Plus, some of my biggest heroes and role models in World Vision have stories that make the hair on the back of neck stand up! These relief “cowboys,” as they’re called, made incredible sacrifices to be the original cutting-edge storytellers, and they are still paving the way today.
Bottom line: this grasshopper is nearing the final stretch of her deployment, realizing that it’s good to get out there and try new things … but I still have a ton to learn. Yes, grasshoppers are fast, “perky” and able to hop into all new territories quickly, but grasshoppers are also fairly green in color … and that’s likely no coincidence, either.