Together by AGCI is a brand new podcast from the creative team at All God’s Children International.


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Episode 25

Every Story Has a Story

You’re listening to together by AGCI. I’m Dayn Arnold.

It’s 2021. We made it. I mean, it feels a little like we’re still experiencing the aftershocks of 2020, but there’s something so hopeful that comes with the new year, especially this one this year brings some changes to Together by AGCI, just another part of the story of this podcast. You may have noticed our intro music is different. New season, new music. In a departure from my usual habit of lengthy intros. I’m going to hop right into my conversation with today’s guest. I hope you enjoy this time as much as I did. Here we go.

So today our guest is a coworker of mine, a friend of mine, someone who has been working with AGCI for longer than I have, who is the voice of AGCI, is how I like to see her work. She is joining us today because she is going to be our new cohost. Everybody welcome, Melissa… Alright, I’ll pretend like I just need to say that last part. So we’ll give a nice warm welcome to Melissa Rush. I’m excited. I’m glad I, you know, Melissa and I have worked together for four and a bit years now. And, um, so when Madi needed to step out because of, um, some new opportunities and we were like, Oh, who should be the other podcast person? It was such an obvious thing that when the suggestion came for you to co-host the podcast, we were like, Oh, well, yeah, that’s the most sensical thing I’ve ever heard in my life. So I’m really glad to have you on the show too. Well thank you.

For people who are not familiar with you, because you are the ghost writer of everything, um, like how long have you worked with AGCI? What kind of got you started with that? Um, you know, tell us about you. Yeah. So I started writing for AGCI in, I guess the fall of 2014. So I guess that’s been a little over six years now. Yeah. So, um, quite a while, and I started off doing, I did a lot of, I would write like waiting child, um, profiles and emails. That was kind of what I first started doing. Um, and that went well. And then, uh, or I, I guess it was, yeah, I kept doing more stuff. Um, and so now what I kind of do, I mean, I do a lot of different things, but basically if there’s, um, a written, you know, whether it’s the giving guide that we just work to send out or a lot of appeal letters or, um, you know, blogs, website, content, um, that kind of stuff. I usually have a hand in it, um, which is really fun. Cause I get to talk to a lot of awesome AGCI families. I get to spend time talking to, um, cool team members and hearing what they’re doing and just like, you know, trying to tell good stories and do it well, which is not always easy. But, um, yeah, I think that that’s one, uh, one of the fun things about, uh, our department is that, you know, let’s say you’re on the adoption team, you’re, you’re going to be focused almost entirely on adoption, or if you’re on the international team, you’re going to be focused more on that, but we kind of get a little bit of everything and we get to, you know… Like I even think about the, um, the podcast episode that we put out, uh, when was that, in November that included even, um, a clip from, uh, that woman in Thailand Pusa with the, the Thai tonal name, which is so fun to say, um, almost like I got so many comments from even our own staff that were like, I had no idea that of anything, any of that, like, it was just it’s, it’s cool to kind of have a, you know, our fingers and our eyes and ears in, in a bunch of different worlds. It’s I think that’s super fun. Yeah, no, it really is. I mean, it, I just feel like there’s so much cool stuff going on and there’s no way because everybody, you know, to do like a good job at what they’re doing, they have to be focused on their, you know, what they’re working on, but it is just such a privilege that we get to, yeah, like dip our toes into all the different areas. And, um, it’s exciting. I think too, like, uh, for you specifically, like within the adoption side of AGCI, like, I think you’ve probably talked to more families, like on a, on a deeper level than most of our staff have or ever will. Like, do you, is that something that you, you enjoy? I love it. Yeah. It’s super fun. I mean, you just get to have these just great conversations with people and hear their story and it will, everyone’s story is obviously really different. There are just some, I don’t know, there’s just like kind of almost, um, I would say like little miracles in every story that, you know, it’s like, they tell you kind of in this conspiratorial tone, like, and you won’t believe like, you know, we needed to raise this much more or, you know, this happened and it just like a check showed up for the exact amount. And I can’t tell you how many of those stories I hear that have those elements. And you’re like, you know, we all know someone maybe who something kind of unbelievable, like that has happened too, but it’s so cool. I get to talk to so many people who have those stories and yeah. I mean, they almost seem like really, but, but they’re true. I mean, it just, so that’s, I love that. I think part of what I enjoy about talking with not only like adoptive families, but even some of our, you know, when, when we’re able to interview people for international stuff, like if I’m interviewing someone in Colombia! Um, the, I guess just it’s like that feeling of being so privileged to have a firsthand account of this person’s actual story where it’s not being filtered through someone like me who has edited down. So it’s like a watchable length. Um, but you, you get to hear the tangents and the rabbit trails and, and the personality. And I don’t know, there’s just something really like, I come off of most interviews just like with mild euphoria or I’m just like, I can’t believe that, like I was that privileged to be able to hear kind of the ins and outs of someone’s experience. It’s just, it’s amazing. Yeah. I totally agree. I mean, it feels like to be trusted with that too is like, just feels so like such an honor. Um, and it always makes me a little sad and it’s, I mean, that’s, you know, a big part of both of our jobs, right. Is to like edit down to just the absolute what’s the essence of, you know, and, but it’s so hard cause like, people are so much more than these, you know, little distilled nuggets, which, I mean, that’s just the nature of the beast, but, um, it’s hard cause you, I mean, there’s so many things where I’m like, Oh my gosh, this story could go in a million different directions. And like, ah, this is it’s, it’s extreme. Yes. I can’t like this doesn’t advance the story. I can’t keep this part, but it’s so hard because there’s such good. I, it can be hard to, uh, you know, I’m just thinking about some of the videos that we’ve put out recently. Like in November we put out, um, a couple of videos that were the adoption stories of two of our, two of our ladies that work at AGCI. And the sad part is that, you know, I’m shooting for six minutes, maybe seven, if I can kind of push it that direction, but like seven minutes out of maybe if they shared with me for an hour. Yeah. You can only tell the smallest little fraction of what their story was. And then you put it out into the world saying, this is someone’s adoption story, but it’s not, it’s like, no, it’s, it’s, it’s a tiny percentage of what actually went down and, and it’s my it’s, it’s their version, but it’s kinda my version of their version. And so there’s yeah, I totally agree. Like there’s, there’s almost a sadness, like put something together and you’re like, I feel like this says what they meant to say. Yeah. But it could have said a lot more if people would be willing to listen for now. No. And I’ve, I feel like I’ve forced you to send me the raw, like files of those interviews. And I just watched the whole thing cause I just cause a lot of these people, I know, you know, I know them and um, it’s like, Oh my gosh, I had no idea that that was part of their story. Or I had no idea. They were like, some of that, some of the things they say are just like super funny too, you know? And you’re just like, Oh, I can’t put that in, but it’s so yes, there’s a lot of things that sit on the cutting room floor that just make me so sad. But that is the nature of this kind of work. I suppose if we weren’t editing, we would, nobody would read it. So I came on board with AGCI at the end of 2016 and we were into 2017 when you and I actually started working together a little bit more frequently. Um, and we took a trip to Colombia in, was it August of 20, August of 2017. And that was your first trip, like going to one of the countries that AGCI serves in. Um, but you had been working for AGCI for two years, almost two years. No three years. Let’s do some math here. You have three, I think three. Yeah. Yeah. It was a big deal to get to go on this trip. Um, and well, yeah, I had been, it, it just completely changed the game for me to actually I’d heard about this. Like I’d heard about the work obviously really in depth and you know, I’d heard kids story secondhand and been writing about that and you know, was obviously touched by it, but I’m actually going there and seeing it, it just, it, it, it changed my life. I would say, actually not just like my work, it changed my life. In what way? It’s hard. It’s so hard to explain. Like, I feel like I can, I, can I tell people this, but it’s like until you and people would tell me this, but until you see it through your own eyes, it’s just, um, I just, I just felt like my, I felt like my heart broke so many times on that trip. Um, just meeting these kids who, you know, normally they’re a photo, maybe a video and some like the fi in the files we get are rough sometimes. I mean, it’ll be like their, you know, eating schedule and you know, like, Oh, they like the color blue. And you’re like, who is this person? You know? And then to actually look in someone’s eyes and be like, this is a person. I don’t know it. Um, it’s it was hard. It was, uh, I mean the trip started off, like, so I was flying, we were flying there. It was actually my 27th birthday. That’s right. I forgot about that. Yes. Which was, I was like, so excited. Um, and on the layover, I think were we in Houston are Georgia, Atlanta. Okay. Atlanta is in Georgia. So one of those ones, um, and I, I like at the Lake on the layover, I got a call that my house had been broken into. And we remember when I met up with, yeah, that was that trip. And I met up with you at the gate and, and you and Kiersten were there and I’m like crying because my house had been broken into. And I was like, so just, you know, I mean, it’s just upsetting, I guess. Um, but I don’t know. I guess it was, it was also just very like, so I was upset because my stuff had been taken and then I get to Colombia and I meet like so many people who the most like, essential, like, I don’t know, pro primals is the right word. Like just the most essential need they have is like not fulfilled. And it, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve never gotten over something more quickly in my life because I was like, this doesn’t matter. The juxtaposition of like, I mean, it’s, it’s easy for us to have our kind of first world needs. Um, I think it’s a little bit different. Like when, when you feel like your safety has been violated and your, your life has been violated in a way that like, it’s, it’s, it’s just odd and uncomfortable, but to have that be kind of your lens that you’re seeing these kids, that their family has been, like, their opportunity has been taken from them. And that’s not something that you can write a police report about and just hope that it comes back like that, that must’ve been really jarring to have a swing. So wildly from one end to the other. Yeah, it, yeah, it was, I mean, it, you know, and I’m not saying, you know, it’s, it’s totally justified to be upset to have your house broken into and, you know, you’re, it’s like violating for sure. But I think just to like, find out about that as I’m flying to Colombia, you know, we get there late that night, the next morning we’re at LACASA. Um, and you know, LACASA is a, is an awesome place. And everybody kept saying like, wow, you know, the kids are so well cared for the caregivers are engaged, which is true. But, um, it’s not like it’s not a home, it’s not a family. No. And that was just so clear to, um, it’s just, you know, there’s like rows of beds, they’re all like very neatly made. And it’s like every single possession that that child has is, is like on the bed kind of. And, um, yeah, it it’s, it’s, I just think it’s like not an experience most people have. Um, and it, it is, we were there to, to meet the kids and like hear their stories and to hopefully we could, you know, create videos and write stories and, you know, take photos so that hopefully they could be matched with a family and be adopted. Um, it’s for me, I just meeting all these kids and knowing that, like, they’re not all going to be adopted, they’re not all going to have a family. I mean yeah. It’s just like, what is their future going to be? Who’s going to be there to like help them through life. Yeah. Um, that was, I mean, I know you have gone on those trips before. Um, I’m curious, like, what, if you can think back to your first one, like, what were some of those, is this resonating with you? My experience, or does this, it does. I think that, um, you know, I have done a fair amount of being in kind of rough places internationally, not, not to like Pat myself on the back about it, but it’s like, that’s been the type of work that I’ve been in. Um, and I think sadly, there’s a difference between the first time that you enter a space like that. And the not first time, you know, and it, I don’t think that I’m jaded or callous, but I think that sometimes the reality of that situation doesn’t hit quite as hard. And I think also when like your job in some ways is more intense than mine is in that, in that context, because you’re having to really actually meet the child and try and write down as many details as you can, and to kind of get to the core of those things. And I get some of that, but I’m also having to think on a technical level, is my camera recording. Is it like, you know, so you’re, you’re having to kind of split your attention in different ways, not to say that, you know, one experience is better or, or not. Um, but I think that my experience can be a little bit different. And honestly like the, the, the times when there is an opportunity to set my camera down, like I prefer if going to be in a new place, I prefer to not come in guns blazing with like a camera in everybody’s face. Like I want to just sit on the floor and play with kids. And yeah, usually our schedules are pretty tight. And so that’s not really afforded to me all that often. Um, that’s not a Boohoo statement for me. It’s just like, that’s kind of, yeah. It’s just the reality of it. Um, but I do, I do think that, um, there are certain kids that hit you in a different way. Yeah. The ones that are really cute, like for, for me, the ones that are really curious about what I’m doing and they kind of hang around and they want to use your stuff and they want to like, yeah. Then I feel like there’s an opportunity to kind of like build a little tiny relationship. And like, one of my favorite things is if I’ve got a camera that I’m not using at the moment, make sure I’ve got a neck strap on them, but like hand them the camera and show them how to use it. And they get so much enjoyment generally out of something like that. So like being able to connect in that kind of way is not as frequent for me, but is, it does remind you that people are humans and more than just like trying to make sure that the color is not all screwed up and that you can hear what they say, you know, the technical sides of things. No, and it’s hard cause there’s like parts where it’s like, I need to get the information. Like I, you know, and like I need to do my job, but then there’s also the part where you have kids, you know, holding your hand and saying like, will you find me a family? And um, you want to tell them like, yes, yes, I will. I will. I will. And you can’t say that. Yeah. Um, yeah. And that is, yeah. When you get the kids that just hold your hand the whole way out of the building and yeah, yeah. Or the ones that, uh, misunderstand why you’re there and think that you are parents who could potentially bring them home. Like that kind of stuff is just heartbreaking. Yeah. And it’s so like, and I know we’ve talked about this in the past, but it’s also tough because like, so many of the kids feel like they need to, um, like almost perform yeah. Perform to, to prove that they deserve yeah. That they’re worthy of being loved. And like, you know, it’s just devastating because you don’t have to do anything to be worthy of love. We’re all worthy of love just inherently. And, um, they haven’t, you know, experienced that yet, which is hard to, um, like fully process, I think. Yeah. And I’m sure that, you know, especially some of those older kids are there watching what happens with the other kids and you get the, really, the young kids that are really cute and, you know, they put on a little bit of a show and it just melts everybody’s hearts. And so they’re like, well, is that what I had to do to get my own family? And, Oh my gosh. Yeah. That, or when they come out and dress to the nines, because they’re like, yeah, this is what I need. This is what I need to find to find a future. I mean, it’s, it’s yeah. It’s devastating. It is devastating. And I mean, speaking of the older kids, I mean, that was another thing we did on the trip was we, um, spent time with kids who had, you know, they were still in the child welfare system, but they had, um, aged out and were no longer eligible to be adopted. Um, and that was that I definitely had a breakdown the day after we spent with them because, um, you know, I remember we went to, we went to a mall, um, do you remember this going to the mall? We got like, went to Starbucks and like, we got, we had like a big lunch, I think. I mean, it was like a tons of meats and the food and Colombia was like delicious. Yeah. But there’s a lot of meat and like beans. Yeah. Very, we had like a giant lunch and it was us and these three kids who were like teenagers. And I remember being like, they see, they seem to enjoy hanging out with us, but I was like, we must be the least cool people. You could hang out with us. We’re like, you know, these like Americans in our like twenties and thirties, like late twenties and thirties who are like walking around a mall. Like, I remember if I was 15, I would have been like, like walking 10 steps ahead because like, I wouldn’t want to be, but they were, they seemed like genuinely, like they enjoyed spending time with us. And then, um, and we just, we had fun. Like we just goofed around, like it was, it was, it was a really fun day. Um, but the part for me that was really tough was I, we got back to, um, the orphanage and they just, we were like parked in front and they just were stalling getting out of the car. Um, you know, Hey, I want to show you the song. Um, Oh, can I have your phone number? So like, you know, we can text and, or, or, or, you know, let me show you this video of my friend, like on their phone. And it probably went on for like 20 minutes until finally it was like, okay, you know, you guys got to go inside and it just made me feel like what’s inside. Um, because they did not want to go inside. And, um, not that they’re being treated poorly, but just to be, they have no like individuality or freedom they’re in a way like they, um, you know, they go to school, but they’re probably, th the rules are so strict where it’s like, they can’t, you know, they’re not, they don’t, they can’t really have friends outside of the orphanage because they’re not allowed to see them. You know? I mean, you think about the quintessential, like high school experiences, you know, going to soccer games or, you know, hanging out with friends, having sleepovers or going to a dance and that not being able to participate in that makes you ostracize from your peers. Um, that’s hard, that’s hard and that’s a lot for anyone to carry, but especially a teenager. And so it just makes it all the more, just, I can’t emphasize enough, like just truly remarkable, the kids who, who stay and finish high school and go to college or start, you know, a career and don’t get pulled into these other paths, because it’s almost impossible, um, to choose that path when you are almost like a prisoner, um, who hasn’t done anything. Yeah. Yeah. And in fact, a lot of wrong has been done to you. And so it’s doubly unfair in that way. Yeah. Yeah. I, if I remember correctly, a couple of the girls that were with us that day are in the dream home or were in the dream home. Yes. Yes. They’re now in the dream home, they weren’t at the time, the dream home wasn’t ready at the time. Yeah. Right. But that the, I guess maybe the redeeming thought thinking about it now is that there is more potential for them now than there was when we met them that first time. Yeah. And that’s what makes me so excited about the dream home and about kind of these like programs for kids who have grown up in this, in the child welfare system, because like, they’re, they’re the forgotten ones, you know, like everybody wants to focus on little kids and, um, but the people and they need our help too. Um, and they, you know, I’m not saying we sh we shouldn’t think about everybody, but for me, I am like particularly passionate about, um, kind of older kids and like, how can we help them and how can we help them create like, meaningful, like independent lives and like, have them have a future they’re excited about. And that’s, what’s so cool about the dream home is it’s really like diving in and, and, and just like fully accepting and loving these girls, like exactly as they are, and just helping them like, Hey, what are you passionate about? What, what excites you? How can we support you in that? And also let’s talk about the hard stuff. Let’s talk about the hard things that have gone on, like, we’re not brushing that under the rug, like that informs who you are, and we’re going to deal with it in a way that is safe and supportive and, um, you feel loved. And, you know, and I think that’s the other thing that a lot of people miss is, it’s like, okay, we’ll give kids a scholarship, give them a place to live. And then, you know, they can go to school and figure it out. And it’s like, if you’re not right, like in your soul, I guess, um, you can’t do the rest of it. It’s just you can’t. And, um, so that’s what really excites me about like the work. And so, yeah, I know I kind of went on and I said it was a little bit getting depressing there, but I just think it’s it, that’s what changed it for me though, is like really understanding, like, these are, there’s just so few options, like without this. Um, so it makes it, it just makes you realize just how important and how impactful it is and it, and it infuses a different level of passion and investment into your work when you come home too. Yeah, yeah, yeah. To have that context, uh, I, it, it allows you to kind of connect the dots in a, in a deeper way. So the, the image that you’re painting for someone else has more detail and has more life to it because you have that context to draw from. Well, yeah. And it’s easy to, I mean, just with anything right. To get like, you know, I’m tired. I have too much work to do. I don’t have time. You know, we all have all these excuses, we tell ourselves. Um, but at least for me going there and meeting these people and looking them in the eye and I’m like, I have to do the absolute best job I can do because of these kids. Because I, I, I, if this makes any difference at all, like how can I not do it? You know? Yeah. So that was the first and only trip you’ve done. I know. Okay. So 2020, which has been a hard year for everyone, um, I was supposed to go to Ethiopia, but that, um, Dana was supposed to go on quite a few trips. Yeah. I had a very full slate until March. Yeah. So, yeah. So that didn’t happen. Um, I’m hopeful that I’ll get to go hopefully sometime in the future. Cause I, I have just heard, particularly from you actually that Ethiopia is just kind of a magical place. I dunno. There’s just something about like, uh, you know, I’ve, I’ve been to a couple of countries in Africa to of you and I’ve, I’ve always enjoyed it. And I, I can’t, I can’t figure out if that’s just the, the white Christian in me, that’s like Africa is the place I should be. You know, there’s a lot of white Christians feel that way. Um, but I think that there is a romanticized version of most places in Africa that, uh, yeah, there’s just something about American Christmas that just like, go for it. And it’s talked about like, it’s a country instead of a continent. Like it’s like cultures in each country. Like I went, okay. I went to Kenya in 2006 and in 2006, I went to Kenya. My sister was teaching at a school there. And, um, I went there and I was like, I’m so excited to like, see some African drumming. And like, because you know, that’s what you say. I’m so excited to see African. Yeah. Well, I’m, I’m a musician at heart. So like, that’s the thing. I’m just like, yes, I love the music from blood diamond. And I’m going to hear that kind of music everywhere. Um, that that’s not at least the place that I was in, in Nairobi. It’s not really a tradition there, that’s not as much a part of the culture. And I was just like perplexed, like, Oh my gosh, like it turns out Africa is bigger than I thought, you know, it’s, it’s good to have those moments. Thankfully, that was a very low stakes moment. Right. I’m like totally embarrassed myself or, um, like where all the drums to everybody there was, however, I went over Christmas and there was a Santa on the side of the road who danced for hours wow. On Christmas day in a Santa suit. So that was amazing. Yeah. Anyway, back to Ethiopia, um, Ethiopia is one of my favorite places to go, partly be like the places that you visit, you know, if, if you have really delightful, awesome people to be with, then that is a part of your experience too. So our staff in Ethiopia are wonderful. They are warm and hilarious, and I just like hanging out with them. So even when I get on a zoom call with them, you know, I, I was talking with AZA the other day and highly like leaned into the camera. He’s like, and I was like, Oh, it’s so nice to see you guys. Um, so like that’s part of the experience, but the other part is I think being anywhere where there’s a really stark difference from your own life, that where you’re not seeing it from like a top down view or I’m like, Oh, thank God I have all the stuff that I have. You know, I could be living in poverty like these people. Um, but it’s just that in, I’ve talked about it before and I’ll talk about it many times again is like the inherent humanity that everybody has and their value in God’s eyes should be their value in my eyes. And, um, so to just ha try and see that world through that lens, I think is a really vital part of that experience because otherwise you’re like, Ugh, I have to poop in a hole. You just put out by everything. Now, granted, I’m not living there. That would be a very different experience. Um, visiting for a week at a time is a completely different experience, but I do enjoy it. I love that Ethiopia is like, it’s so old, it’s in the Bible. Like it, it is thousands of years old with thousands of years of history with, um, parts of history that are yeah. It’s, it’s unbelievable just to, to think how ancient that place is. Um, and that a lot of those elements of that culture have just been handed down. So anyway, I like Ethiopia, I think it’s great, but I especially love our staff there. Um, but if you ever get to go, if you’re tall, like me, you get to sit in the front seat and, and you get to sit next to Wass, who will tell you stories all day long. You can ask him any question about anything and he’ll have an answer. And he loves American culture in, in the most unusual ways where he’s like, he loves old school country music. I have listened to more old school country music in my life in Ethiopia than I have in my regular life. And hearing that blasting out of the windows while you’re driving in the middle of nowhere is, yeah, your brain just cannot wrap itself around that. But anyway, Ethiopia, it’s great. Lots of ramble-y words, but I looked it and I can’t wait to go again. So where did, so one of the first projects that Dana and I actually worked on together was in also in 2017, which was, seemed to be the year, the golden year, 2017. Um, we worked on path to hope and you traveled Ethiopia for that project. Where did that fall in your years of going to Ethiopia? Whatever was that one was trip number two. Okay. Um, and for those of you who don’t know the path to hope it was our series about sponsorship in Ethiopia. I recommend it. I think it’s one of the best things that we’ve created. I agree. I’m super proud of it. I think if you’re new to, if you’re new to AGCI, if you’re new to like what sponsorship is. Cause I know personally before I worked with AGCI, I didn’t that wasn’t something I was super familiar with and it can seem kind of like, wait, what, like, what does your sponsoring someone, what does that mean? And this shows you, this is exactly what that means. And this is why it’s really important and doing it through the story of one girl, like trying, trying to use a single story to kind of represent the whole, um, I had gone to Ethiopia at the beginning of 2017 on a trip with some other staff that had never traveled as well. So that was kind of my introduction to Ethiopia, um, what the work looks like on the ground and in a way, like, I didn’t really come away with, uh, loads of stories to put out into the world. It almost became more of a scouting trip of sorts to where, like, it allowed me to have some context, um, to what are some of the locations that we work in? What are, who are some of the people that we work with? What are the types of stories that are maybe typical for that area for kids and families and kind of in the middle of the summer, I, I pitched an idea to our, our team and just said, you know, can we, I forget the context of it, actually, I forget if, if I’m sure that someone had expressed a need to kind of, uh, tell more about what sponsorship at AGCI looks like. Um, but having been there, I was really determined to see if they would afford me the freedom to try something a little bit different and to really pursue telling one story, to try and get something that like, you can understand the stakes of it. Um, which is always hard because, you know, you can say the stakes are like life and death or this child won’t get an education, but like, what does that actually mean? Um, so, you know, the leadership were like, yeah, let’s, let’s run with it, which I still, you know, I hadn’t even been there a year yet. And I felt like to have earned that level of trust was kind of a big deal. Um, so I really didn’t want to screw it up. So, um, but what, what they gave me that was the most valuable gift was time, time to work on it. And, um, gosh, I, I don’t even know how much time we spent on it, but it was a lot of time. Yeah. I mean, especially for you on your end, I mean, Jane was doing the, the trick is the way that we had to plan it. It’s so difficult to know what you can count on when you arrived there, because, um, there may be, you know, things lost in translation that the staff, you know, they, they may not fully understand the vision or not know how to communicate it effectively to the people that we want to tell their stories, or we might get there and, you know, I’ve had it in places where you expect someone to be in a particular place and they’re like, Oh, they’re gone for the day. And you’re like, Oh, okay, well I guess that’s that. Um, yeah. And it’s not, it’s not a, this thing. It’s not a, ultimately it’s like, they’re their needs have to come first. And that’s, that’s how life is when you kind of live on the Razor’s edge of poverty. Um, so, so we had to plan a more generic story and kind of figure out like, what are the story points that we want to hit? What are the things that are going to be the most important for us to communicate? And we essentially kind of created almost like a fictional character and created a character arc based on the stories that we had heard before. And then we knew, I knew some of the locations that I wanted to be able to shoot in or about where I wanted it to take place. And so we just kind of made this whole plan and figured out what are the things that we need and we had planned it out. So Tati is our host. And so yes, we were shooting as we were flying, which is not the in the world. It was, yeah, it was super fun. It was really fun. And it was, you know, we, we were just trying to do something different and, and have a little bit of an energetic start, which I’m a very low energy person. So that was a bit of a stretch for me, but, but it was really fun. Um, so we, we, you know, usually when I travel, I’m just kind of like, like I just, I travel. And then when I get there, then I start working and this was like, no, we gotta work like the whole time. And you, you can’t afford to just watch movies and sleep and eat for like a day and a half. Was he trying to get there? You had to like, have your camera and be ready to shoot stuff. Um, but anyway, yes, that, that was really fun. And it was fun to, I’d never done anything where I had someone kind of acting as a host essentially. And I felt like that was a really important touchpoint for that series was in, is awesome. One of my favorite people, um, so to have, she’s like, she, it represents the audience and as she is discovering new things, then we, as the audience are discovering those new things. So that was really, really helpful. Um, yeah, so we, we flew there, uh, and our team had kind of down like three potential families that maybe would be close to what they thought we wanted. And, uh, we visited, I think we visited all three of them. There were two that were okay. Um, like we could have made it work. And then there was one that was a little bit more ideal. Um, that sounds like there are like a commodity or like I’m buying fruit at the market or something, but like their stories matched a little bit more closely to the story that we had envisioned. Um, yeah. Well, one was hard cause like we, we had to just because of the way that things were working at that time, like we had to, we couldn’t pick our heroin beforehand, you know, like we had to, we had to just be like, okay, this is our ideal. We’ll see, you know, um, and I remember getting texts from you. I think that were like, you know, updates. Cause I was, you know, back in Portland, like anxiously awaiting it, usually waiting to hear from Dane and to be like, is this going to work? Cause you feel, I mean, you flew to Ethiopia and Todd D was there and also just side note on Tati. She is like, was the absolute best host for that because there’s anyone who has like met her. It’s like, when she looks in your eyes, you feel like she is like seeing you. And it’s like a really unique quality. And it’s like, she’s one of my most favorite people because she just like her heart. I mean, she just cares. Um, and it’s just like, you spend any amount of time talking to her and she makes you feel like special and seen and it’s anyway, I could go on and on Tati. Yeah. We think you’re great. Yeah. Talk to you if you’re listening to this, you’re listening, Dan and Melissa are your biggest fans. We are. So yeah, we, we got there and we, um, we found that girl set all and you know, on a, on a, on a very shallow level, like she had this really unbelievably amazing place that she lived from from a, like from a film perspective, you know, you see her home is like stacked stones and they have like a stone wall around and everything is very, kind of fits your stereotype of a rural Ethiopian Highlands kind of place to live. Um, so that was kind of some icing on the cake in part, just because like, if you have a new audience and you’re trying to get them to like, see, this is a drastically different place. Um, you know, if you’re doing stories in Colombia, sometimes that can be hard because they have a lot of, uh, like sometimes visually it can look really similar to America, but when you have a place that literally has no electricity or running water and is, is just in that way and there’s goats and stuff living within their little compound, it’s just like, it was, it was magic. So yeah, so we, we met this girl and her mom and then, um, we kind of met them at the end of the day, on the first day. And then we let them know that we were going to be back the next day. They seem to be on board with it. And then the next day we arrived and we spent some time with set all the daughter. Um, and then we find out while we’re out, like at her school with her, which by the way it was, it was embarrassing to her to have, and I could see it in her face yeah. To have me there in the classroom, like shooting stuff. So I like, as soon as I figured out that she was just feeling mortified, that we were there, embarrassing her in front of all of her peers. I just, I headed out. I was like, there’s no amount of footage that I can capture that will, uh, restore her dignity. I felt really bad about that. So I, I tried to kind of Hightail it out of there and shoot some other stuff that was going to be helpful at the time. But while that was wow, that was happening. We started getting phone calls and, um, it turns out the, the mother so that all his mother had a combination of a misunderstanding of what we were trying to accomplish and kind of the village gossip of what we were like, what people thought we were there for caught up to her. And we kinda got toward the like mid-afternoon and we headed back to where it’s at all live. And her mom was really upset. And our guys had to have a, a long half an hour, an hour conversation with her. So her neighbors were telling her that we were there to force them, to convert to some other belief system in exchange for, uh, education sponsorship. And it got really intense because the mother was like, absolutely not. Like, that’s not that, wasn’t what I agreed to. And she was super upset about it. So fortunately our, our teammates were highly diplomatic and spent the time to explain to her, like, this is not an exchange. It’s not like we’re giving you something and expecting something in return. It’s like, no, this is, we want to do this because this is the right thing to do. So fortunately they were able to kind of explain that to her cause, but it was touch and go for a while. I was like, Oh man, we’re just going to lose this whole thing. Well, I re I totally remember that happening and being very freaked out. And also let’s just take a second to think about that. Like you’ve invited these people into your home and then you think they’re to like change your belief system and exchange.

I mean, that is like, you would be so upset. I mean, that is it’s, it’s like, I, it’s kind of amazing. You were able to come back from that, which just for the record, not what we’re doing in any way is yeah. Like not at all. Um, but yeah, it’s tough to come back from that what you’re doing. It’s kind of those, um, I wasn’t, I wasn’t scared like for my safety, but I was a little bit like, Oh, have we just kind of like used time and resources on something that’s just not going to work. Yeah. And sometimes you have to be willing to kind of look that in the face and be like, okay, well, unfortunately this is just, you know, we can try and do something. That’s a plan B. But, um, when things go awry in that way, it’s such a valuable teaching time. It kinda makes you think about how you approach entering a different culture with much more care. Um, one of the things that we discovered, uh, maybe a little late, I don’t remember who told us exactly, but, uh, one of our Ethiopian teammates, uh, let us know that when you were like really smiley and like gregarious friendly, um, that is not a good thing in that culture. That means that you are trying to swindle someone or you’re trying to hide something, or like, there’s not a reason that you should be smiling at that person like that such good information to have, because I think like the Western, you know, I mean, if I had gone into that situation, I would be trying to make people feel comfortable in the way that I would do that would be by smiling and being overly, you know, friendly. And that is exactly what we were doing. So we didn’t realize that, like, not only is there a misunderstanding of the purpose that we’re there for, um, we are shooting ourselves in the foot by not understanding something about that culture. And it’s not that there is any way that we would have known that if someone hadn’t told us, like, I don’t think we would have, because most other places that I’ve been, it is helpful to be friendly and smiley. But, um, yeah, it just gives you a whole new set of context or a whole new set of questions to ask. Um, yeah, it was, it was pretty intense, but fortunately, like our team got her back on board. Um, we were able to actually that very evening was when we told them you’re going to receive sponsorship. And so, um, that really helped the mom a lot. If you haven’t seen the videos, um, check it out. The mother’s story is pretty intense, but just their family story is, um, really challenging. So the mom of course is like, she’s going to be defensive. She’s going to protect her family because no one else will well and you know, going in there, she doesn’t know you or AGCI team from Adam, you know, it’s like, who are these? Who are these white people that are coming here and telling me things. And so, yeah, it’s normal to have like a certain degree of a wall up, I guess. Yeah. Oh, one other thing that was going on during that trip that I totally forgot about was, um, I was having intense back pain anytime I was standing. Oh my gosh, that whole trip. So it’s basically the whole time. Yeah. And you’re wa like, you’re not, we’re not driving our vehicle up to this girl’s house. We have to walk at least a half a mile off the road to get to where she lives and we’re walking around all day and I, I kind of forgot about it. Um, but like, yeah, I’ve had back issues for a long time, but like, it, it was especially bad. So like I’m having just like excruciating pain the whole time, like got to hold it together, try this work. This is a lot of balls in the air. And I want to make sure that they all land the right way. So fortunately that all worked out, but that was just like one more element of like good grief. Is there anything else that we can add to this to make this harder? What else can get thrown at you? But the, I mean, the positive part is that we’re on the other side now, like, gosh, almost three and a half years later. And it was awesome. I mean, it worked beautifully and like we both said, I mean, it’s one of the pieces I’m most proud of for sure. Um, and I think it paints a really great picture of the work, Melissa. I am very, very glad to have you as a part of the podcast. Um, I’m so excited to be here. It’s, it’s a privilege. I think that the future of together by AGCI is bright and I’m excited to kind of see what comes next. So thanks for joining me today. And I’m looking forward to talking with you more in the future. What a great excuse to just chat. Yeah, it was wonderful. Thank you for having me. Yeah. Well, we’ll talk to you soon. All right. Yeah.

It’s going to be awesome co-hosting Together by AGCI with Melissa. She’s as genuine as they come.
Typically we are trying our best to be invisible in our work for AGCI, to allow the stories of interesting people to shine through without pointing back to us. But we thought that it might be interesting to see some of the thought that goes into the stories we tell, and give you a tiny glimpse behind the curtain of our creative work. As you can tell, we could talk all day about that.
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