Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Behind the Scenes – Part IV (Clabucet 35)

"What we can't do alone, we can do together"
35 Clabucet St, Bucharest, Romania
Soooo… We’re down to day no. 4 of the shooting, Sunday, October 13. And even though 13 is known for its bad reputation, it was a good fulfilling day for us.

Due to the fact that we’re working mostly with volunteers, people who have a life outside Light into Europe, who need to handle jobs and family and their own affairs, it was impossible getting them together for a pre-shoot session where I would have had the chance to explain everyone their role in this project. So, we have been a bit unprofessional about this, but as I’ve done NGO work for quite a number of years and know how things go, I do not panic easily (hehe).

Still, when we got at the Light into Europe center (I was late, as usual, and almost got lost (as usual!!!)), we had more people there than I had planned for. No biggy. The more the merrier. The only thing was that the script I had written for this event had a logical flow to it where all the participants had a clear intervention and dedicated time. Now I had to mentally insert all these other scenes that should also connect logically to everything else I had already planned (which means that right now I’m working at reorganizing the entire thing while we still have fresh in memory what we did on Sunday).

So now we’ve got 12 people nibbling on the goodies Cami brought, spread all over the house waiting for us to arrive and explain what we’re about to do. I luckily get picked up by Cristi and Denisa on the way, just as I was struggling to differentiate right from left on my IPhone Maps (I am mentally challenged when it comes to orientation people, it’s a fact!) and I am so excited I won’t spend another half hour wondering whether I’m holding the phone wrong or my cerebellum is malfunctioning worse than the usual. Silviu, poor thing, had actually called me before to ask whether I want him to wait for me at the subway so we can both go together. But as I had missed three alarms that morning (that morning and all following mornings this week – Jim knows!!! Slap! Slap!), I was really late so I advised him to go ahead because I’ll manage on my own. Bullshit!

So by the time we arrive, everyone’s already there chatting the morning away. The center feels so cozy and warm and despite a throbbing headache literally pumping in my temples I mange to spring a smile and say hi to everyone as I roam aimlessly throughout the house. I ask Andra to kindly make me a coffee so I can open my left lazy eye as well and I go about the place to try and bring everyone together for the general debrief. I find some sweets and I indulge like the scavenger I am, building a serious sugar mustache. My coffee arrives and I gulp down half of it in a spit, which I usually don’t (ever! – it takes me about half a day at least to drink my cup of coffee) and now I feel like my brain is sober enough to be coherent. I feel guilty because everyone is looking so nice and ready and they are all so enthusiastic. I’m the only one looking like I’ve been run over by a truck (Monster Truck!) so I try to put some muscle into it and make things happen.

Everyone gathers in the room downstairs, waiting for me to begin, and in my head I’m making a silent calculation on how to fit everyone in the scheme, give them a fare chance to show their work in the foundation but also still keep the documentary at a decent length. I do not want to offend anyone because they are all important players in the everyday activity of the NGO so I have to find a way and do this. I glimpse at Cristi and I can tell he is a bit overwhelmed with the crowd. I know he did not expect so many people. On the other hand, neither did I. But they’re all so nice and literally drinking in my words as I explain the plan that you couldn’t possibly feel any other way but happy to have them there and therefore, to have the chance to get deeper insight knowledge of what’s going on behind the scenes within Light into Europe.

From left to right: Mrs. Lili, Anca, Viorel, Oana, Andreea and Andra. Cristi of course :)
Left to right: Mrs. Sandica, Camelia, Mrs. Lili and Anca
Mela. Yes. Professor Barbu and Dan
My Paris Hilton picture. Pouting. Silviu managed to capture this side of me haha

Vali and David standing in the door.
I am totally hectic in finding info on the participants that I did not know of, but amazingly, my brain stocks all the information in a proper manner and they all fall into categories in my head, which in turn makes it easier for me to immediately change the script in my mind. We start shooting backwards haha. As in, what you’ll see first in the documentary was actually filmed last.

We start with Mrs. Lili, actually Mrs. Lacramioara Pintelei, an active member of Light into Europe and one of the oldest employees. She’s handling the Creative Activities part in the foundation. In a way, I am happy to start shooting the day with her, because her “office” placed in the attic, is the most gorgeous, welcoming and sweet place in the whole house – if you’re asking me! It’s so small, so tight and filled with boxes, and materials, and paper, crayons, scissors and God knows what else that it took us a little while to fit the equipment without bumping into something (Cristi had a few short, hopefully not very painful encounters with the ceiling!). Mrs. Lili works with Mrs. Sandica and Camelia and the three of them are the “golden hands” team. The things these three ladies make have a soul. They pulsate life and love and honey and colors everywhere. We pressed “Record” and then we sat aside watching them speak and work and we did that for about 15 minutes when I finally brought myself to say “Cut”. And then we continued the discussion because their stories and many years of working together cannot be told in just 15 minutes. As you already know from the previous blog, Mrs. Sandica is deaf, but so is Camelia. The three of them work with both hearing and sight impaired young people so I can only wonder and bow to how a deaf person can work with the blind when I, with both senses intact, find it hard to work with either. I will not say more about this episode and just attach a few pictures to say the story for me. And you will have seen nothing, I assure you.

Up in the attic with Mrs. Lili, Mrs. Sandica and Camelia
Years of practice and dedication
New projects in progress
We brought the sun in the attic with all the lights we installed in that small place

From Petra with love for her mom, Mrs. Lili

Needless to comment. The deaf kids and young people are creating many of the things you see here. And it's not easy.

Next, we moved down the corridor, still in the attic, to find a more computerized room, where we set up Anca and Dan. Anca has been literally working with Light into Europe for 7 months and she has no other volunteer work prior to this. But after her experience with us, she is hooked for good. Dan on the other hand (and I very much enjoyed this contrast), is one of the oldest volunteers in the foundation, activating for about 7 or 8 years already. But even though the volunteering time gap between them is obvious, they did have one thing in common: they were so friggin’ camera shy! I spent 20 minutes with them in the same room and they wouldn’t shut up for a second, ‘cause they were so nervous and agitated. Then next thing you know is I start recording and they both go on Mute mode. What is this? I’m laughing, seriously laughing because I know the kind of verbal flow they have and right now they act like cornered puppies. Anca starts speaking but she stumbles a few times. They look like they are about to make a life saving statement and they must be extremely careful at what comes out of their mouths. Eventually we make it, but as I said on Sunday - guys, it’s a promise! I will include a scene “behind the scenes” just for people to know exactly the kind of wonderful personalities you have and not the extremely up-tight, serious, frightened kittens you showed on camera. Uh uh can’t wait! Haha Good job though!

The Red Bull team! Energizers man, energizers!
Next, we go downstairs and film Petruta and Viorel. They are the ones doing the personalized school manuals for the sight impaired children. There are other employees and volunteers that visit the children and measure their level of blindness, conclude on the children’s needs then turn to Petruta and her colleague to come up with larger font and pictures in the manuals all kids use (including our own kids in normal schools), so they can also read (sometimes using special magnifiers). The space they work in is filled with shelves upon shelves of books in Braille and behind the door we found a whole wall covered in white sticks, neatly organized, in different shapes and lengths. We spend a moment with them so we can get a sense of their activity and see them working on the computer or photocopying books at the big printer in the middle of the room. Then we start shooting. (for some stupid reason I don't have a picture with Petruta and Viorel right now but I shall add a few later!)

We’re done pretty fast here. We’re done pretty fast almost everywhere (if we disregard our constant want to hear more, chat more and learn more!), and even though it felt a bit overwhelming, things really moved fast and we got what we wanted sometimes out of the first try – which is a miracle considering Saturday… And because I’m done with my coffee, we decide to film Andra next in the kitchen. She is sight impaired to a level where she can see something but not that much. She helps around the center with cleaning and keeping the place organized. The center, even though located in a house, is not as big as many think. There are boxes stashed everywhere, from behind doors to up on the closets, even in the kitchen. The Braille typing machines are all nicely wrapped sitting on shelves in the rooms at the entrance. As Cami said “if only we had 20% more space, we could make this place look less cramped.” Right now it looks like a storage room in some parts. And you cannot throw away much. The suit cases with the special reading magnifiers alone take up room, the typing machines, the toys and the books… Plus, as any other foundation, there is a whole room dedicated to legislation, organizational and financial issues. Nevertheless, despite it all, there is such a warm pleasant feeling when you step inside. I always loved this about NGOs in general. They look more like a home, not an organization. In every corner you can find something to relate to, something to attract your attention or to make you want to touch. Like I did with Mr. Iepurila (Bunny Long-Ears hehe). I think I carried him around the place for half the day, ‘cause he’so fluffy and lovable (there’s a kid in me who will always run the show sometimes and I cannot/will not want to fight her hehe).

Anyway, I could spend the next five pages describing the center, but let’s go back to Andra who did an absolutely incredible job. To make her life easier, Cami put large print written signs on all the drawers and closet doors in the kitchen for her to be able to read them. She is a natural before the camera and we only had to film a few shots before having everything we wanted.

Then we turned to Light into Europe’s newest addition, Andreea, who has only been working at the center for a few weeks. She will handle the blind children’s evaluation and work closely with Petruta and Viorel to come up with the necessary personalized manuals. She’s a very sweet girl, lively and volunteer, ready to help with anything she can. She has Claudia with her, a girl about 10 years old (my wild guess), long hair, beautiful eyes, a little lady all together. She’s rather silent but always smiling, which I enjoy a lot. She has a poor sight and must use a magnifier to read. Other children may only need a special lamp to read normal font text, but her eyes cannot endure that light. The two of them make a demonstration for us on how to use the lamp and what it takes to evaluate a child’s reading performances when they have been affected by blindness in different stages. Filming them is easy. They are dedicated to their cause and take every minute filmed very seriously.

Two minutes of explanations and they were good to go

This is only a sample of the detailed work they have to go through with the sight impaired children in order to evaluate their needs
And we’re done here too. We have finally arrived at the entrance in the center where we find Oana. She is also sight impaired (and hearing impaired as well to a certain level) and she uses a special computer with (gigantic!) writing in order to read. She is the welcoming committee at the center, so she is strategically position close to the entrance. Oana is – and I’m trying to find the perfect word – Gentle. Soft. Kind. Smart. Witty. A lot of perfect words to describe her. She does everything we ask and shows us how she uses her machines to enlarge the writing. But the scene closest to my heart was when we asked her to pretend we are walking through the door and she should welcome us. Even though we explained that in the actual documentary there will be music and she won’t be heard, only seen gesturing, when we started filming she waved at the camera and said “Hi Cristi! Have a really nice day!” with the most sincere and sweet voice ever. And she did it twice and it sounded just the same. I guess Cami and Stan know why they’ve chosen her as the welcoming person in the foundation. ‘Cause she’s got what it takes.

Eventually we moved to the last group (the first shall be the last though hehe) settled in this comfy room, filled with toys, a piano and a dark wooden table that Cami described as “the table which heard so many stories, seen so many parents cry and witnessed many efforts all these years.” Yes, Cami is here (I have given more details about her and Stan in a blog a few months ago called Moments to remember), and Professor Barbu, as well as Vali and his son David. We bring Andreea in too because she’s new in the activity and her participation can only help her get used to things and discussions in the foundation, so why not have her in? I have never met Professor Barbu before, but he’s such an incredible man. He reads lips, having a hearing disability, but he can speak rather intelligibly so we were happy to have him introduce himself and discuss a bit his collaboration with Light into Europe without using Cami as an intermediary. He has written a few very interesting manuals on sign language as well as a history of sign languages across the world – which I should really get my hands on, ‘cause it sounds really interesting! – and from the way he speaks I could tell how close he is to his students and how involved he is in turning around the odds for them so they have an easier life. He is the kind of professor you want to have in school, the kind of person that would make you want to stay during the break just to hear a bit more of his stories.

My endles directing skills. I like it because it means a lot of talking on my side and talking is something I can always do very well hehe

A true Professor, even in looks.

That's the way to do it!!!!
David, Vali, Prof. Barbu and Cami

Moving on, Cami of course, has her chance to discuss personal reasons as well as the activity in general in Light into Europe.Stan and her are the best people to ask when it comes to knowing more about anything: services, beneficiaries, sight/hearing impaired difficulties etc. The stories these two can share are beyond our imagination and will overwhelm you if you just take a moment to listen. This is another thing I like about NGOs. They make a better person out of you. Even if you don’t think you have the time, the focus, the dedication or even the heart to help – they will change that for you and teach you that you do and you can.

I should have left those last remarks for the end of the blog. It looks like a good finale. But inspiration comes as I go so I’ll have to come up with another end now haha. Next, we have Vali and his son David. Vali is also hearing impaired but uses sign language a lot to get along. I first met him at Stan’s place helping around with logistics and it looks like he’s also activating in the foundation in many other projects. He’s the kind of person that speaks through his eyes. Very vivid, bright warm eyes, you just take a look at him and you feel positive. His son has no disabilities, is very outgoing and amusing. The really nice thing about my encounter with them, is that outside Vali’s disability they are perfectly normal family. They were hurrying home to finish homework where Vali helps David.

And this I guess brings me to that resounding end where I say the abnormality about these people is only in our eyes and ears. These people live their lives in the dark or surrounded by shadows, in total silence or barely hearing a murmur. And that’s normal to them. But they are abnormal to us. We are afraid to let deaf people drive because they can’t hear incoming traffic, when actually they are statistically proven to cause fewer accidents than normal drivers just because their more acute visual senses and awareness. We do not let the blind people sit with us because their eyes look funny sometimes and that takes our coolness away, when in fact they are such smart funny people and they way they “see” the world might teach us one or two things on how to live using our full potential.

Hell, this is a good end. Think about it ladies and gents. The reason why we’re doing this is not just to raise funds, but to also raise awareness. To let you know that volunteering in any type of NGO is not about giving money. But it’s about giving some of your time and attention. If one weekend you’d like to give up your time at the mall in our favor, we’d gladly cope you in our projects and perhaps you can spend the afternoon painting some classrooms for the deaf children. Putting together a few games for the blind kids, helping Mrs. Lili with her creative workshops and learn a little about sewing. And then the wonders your own hands can create will amaze even yourselves. Or perhaps you can give a helping hand to Cami and Stan who are overwhelmed with the situation sometimes, and assist them in keeping a few lists of people and send out some invitations on their behalf for some of the events they’re organizing. There is always something to do and we could use an extra pair of hands to help.

So. I hope you enjoyed today’s blog. I’ll keep you posted on how things go from now on.
We should have everything done by November 23rd. So fingers crossed. The hard part is just about to start.


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