Looking Out from Behind the Viewfinder: a Christmas Story
One of the benefits of my profession is the unusual access my work gives me to the lives of others. The people who hire The Edge invite my crews into their corporate culture. They share their goals in front of our cameras, celebrate their successes, articulate their business processes, and demonstrate the creativity and synergy of their teams. It’s a privilege to be given that kind of window into the inner workings of another organization.
While a cameraperson is, to some degree, an independent observer of events, the viewfinder is only a partial shield from the reality of what is being filmed. The videographer is always a witness to the story. And sometimes the story is so powerful that the person behind the camera transcends from documentarian to humanitarian.
I remember vividly a young girl I filmed in Nicaragua in December, 1997. I had volunteered to travel to Managua, the capital city, with an international relief agency called Samaritan’s Purse. I was to shoot footage of their “Operation Christmas Child” program as the group established impromptu medical clinics and distributed the Christmas “shoebox” gifts to Nicaraguan children.
One of the places we set up in was the mountainous village of Suslee, in a beautifully lush but incredibly poor coffee-growing region. Here, a family subsists on about $30 a month, and there is little to no medical care. The locals formed long lines to see the volunteer doctors and nurses and receive donated eyeglasses.
While the doctors tended to maladies from malnutrition to tuberculosis, I noticed a girl with painful skin rashes all over her face and hands. She looked close to my son’s age at the time and she had contracted septicaemia, the doctor said—blood poisoning from an untreated infection in her hand. She had cut herself with a machete while working in the coffee fields.
Here is a clip of some of the footage I shot that day:
After filming this poor girl, for the first time on the job, I went around the side of a mud-and-grass building, set down my camera and cried. I deeply felt the inequality that had denied this girl—and many thousands like her—the kind of treatment my son would receive in Canada. I cried that I could do nothing to help her, and that the doctor’s intervention might not save her.
The incident pulled my eye away from the protection of the viewfinder. It made me deeply sad, but it also allowed me to truly see and connect with another human being. By taking off my “blinders,” by documenting and sharing her suffering, perhaps I could help to save others.
Each Christmas, I encourage my family to take off their blinders, see those in need around us and take action to make life a bit better for someone else. In the comments section below, I hope you’ll share a holiday season moment that touched you deeply.
I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday and health and prosperity in 2012.