Violence against women is one issue that personally tears at my heartstrings, so it brings me great joy to be working a new project with Sanlaap North America (SNA), a nonprofit organization that works to empower survivors of human trafficking in India. SNA commissioned Students of the World (SOW) to produce two short documentary films about their work. This week, one of our filmmakers Jake Hamilton is in Kolkata, India to document their transformational program.
Founded by Sindhura Sarikonda in 2010, SNA works to rescue, shelter and empower women and girls who have been kidnapped or sold by their families into the red light districts of urban India. Their program provides medical care, emotional therapy, education, vocational training, life skills, and job placement to the women and girls. As part of the vocational training program, the women craft jewelry which is sold on zesa.org, and receive 100% of the proceeds.
SNA will use the films we produce to raise awareness about human trafficking, promote their program, and increase sales for their jewelry line.
Jake Hamilton is an Austin-based filmmaker and a member of our professional network. With more than nine years of experience working on award winning narrative, documentary, and commercial productions around the world, I’m thrilled to have him lead this project.
I believe that part of my role on this earth is to inspire and facilitate peace and healing for my friends, family and my generation. My professional background is in filmmaking and digital communications, and I spend a lot of time meditating on how to use media for positive social change.
I am passionate about documentary work, because I believe it is one path to healing. As documentarians we challenge ourselves to deeply explore a topic through empathic and in-person connections with another human being. It requires us to practice deep looking and deep listening in the present moment, and in doing so we also create a space for others to feel heard and understood.
It is a luxury to be able to take the time needed to do this work. The storytelling process takes the love of an artist, and the craft of an alchemist. We absorb a complex piece of a human experience, identify the universal and essential spirit of the story, and translate this into a compelling narrative that will move and inspire others. We need space to explore, to question, to be curious, to take detours, to listen, and ultimately to craft something of value. In the age of instant communications, words and images sewn together slowly and mindfully are increasingly precious.
We are seeing a renewed desire for depth, sturdiness and craft. There is slow food, slow goods, and now “slow journalism” is has been proclaimed as the new movement in media. In his brilliant article ”On Slow Journalism” in the New Yorker Magazine, Evan Osnos says: ”In a sea of ephemera, the sturdiest work is only more noticeable.”
And the sea of ephemera is having a very real impact on our psychological state as a society. Digital distractions that remove us from the experience of living our lives in the present, physical moment, put us at a greater risk of feeling alone and losing our sense of self. We are also at risk of losing our ability to care and connect with each other in meaningful ways. In his recent article ”How not to be alone” in the NYT, Jonathan Safran Foer writes, ”The more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the expense of depth, the less likely and able we are to care.”
Aware of these present realities, I spend a lot of time thinking and experimenting with methods for facilitating peace and healing for my generation. Last year I became a certified yoga teacher and was able to help others relieve their stress and center their minds. I also conducted a digital detox experiment, and for two weeks I lived completely removed from all digital communications. It sounds dramatic, but this experience completely altered my life and gave me incredible insight into myself and others. I reconnected with my sense of purpose and found complete peace in myself. Soon after the digital detox, an opportunity opened up to leave my work as an advertising producer in New York City to help build a non-profit organization called Students of the World (SOW), a national organization of university students and creative professionals who use media to inspire positive social change. Now here I am almost four months later, living a new life in San Francisco.
What I love most about working with SOW is getting back into documentary work. I believe that documentary work is the antidote for many negative effects of today’s frenetic world. It requires us to practice deep looking and deep listening into another human being in real time. When we sit in the presence of another person, and listen to them with our entire awareness, we recognize the essential threads that connect us all. This is true understanding. In Buddhism and in Yoga there is a phrase “Namaste,” which means “The divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you.” When we practice looking closely, we see the beauty and divinity in ourselves, and the world around us.
This is a spiritual experience.
I smiled at you because I thought that you
Were someone else; you smiled back; and there grew
Between two strangers in a library
Something that seemed like love; but you loved me
(If that’s the word) because you thought that I
Was other than I was. And by and by
We found we’d been mistaken all the while
From that first glance, that first mistaken smile.