Stories with Faces2Hearts

There are few moments in my life that have made me feel a rush of excitement, fear, nervousness and hope. Staring my master’s in Europe was one of them. Most recently, a whirlwind of emotions flooded my mind when I came across this competition by European Commission (EuropeAid).

Faces2Hearts is a worldwide blogging experience that will take 4 young people on a 5-month journey across 3 continents. They will discover projects, supported by the EU, that change people’s lives for the better. And they will reveal the often unreported stories of the fascinating people they meet – stories of positive change and hope.

 Sunset over northern Laos

Sunset over northern Laos

The competition asked participants to submit a 60-second video and write a brief motivation for the application. The application is shared online for others to vote & comment. I’m writing because I need your support and to explain what this competition means to me.

Before I started my entry I reflected on a question that touches the essence of the competition: why do we tell stories?

The earliest stories I remember are from my parents telling me about their journey around the world – their individual and intertwined journeys of leaving home to study abroad. I remember thinking that my parents must have been brave to step away from their home and venture to U.K. to learn English.

My mom explained how funny she thought it was that there were so many sheep in the countryside of England and how she had to take a train to get to the nearest payphone. She ate food that tasted bland, yet the marmalade and desserts were a pleasant surprise. She transported me to a world outside of my own through her words – through her stories. It was the start of hearing about a reality different than my own. It inspired me to follow in her footsteps and one day leave home to ‘see the world’.

Then I remember hearing stories over a campfire in the dark of night, shoulder to shoulder with my friends and sitting on a log in my youth. We were mesmerized by the flickers of fire that crackled and almost danced with the wind as we took turns to share our own stories. At that moment I didn’t realize that it was sharing stories that brought us closer – stories that made us laugh and cry. I believe it is stories that are at the core of humanity, it’s stories that sustain living culture and stories that document peoples’ ways of life, in an effort to bridge generations together.

 Two girls, classmates, from Bangladesh 

Two girls, classmates, from Bangladesh 

When I was travelling on my own, I took walking tours and stayed with locals. Stories became the medium of explaining history. ‘Here…’ they would say ‘is where this tragedy happened’ and ‘here is where this idea was born’. Stories are a way to retrace both the celebrated and heart-aching moments of the past.

“To understand and reconnect with our stories, the stories of the ancestors, is to build our identities.
– Frank Delaney

When I think about the stories each person carries, the stories that are interwoven with other peoples’ stories, I am floored with awe and as curious as a child who has just discovered a new playground. Ideas swirl in my mind and I’m drawn to documenting my experiences in photos and words.

“You see, I am trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across – not to just depict life – or criticize it – but to actually make it alive.”
– Ernest Hemingway

We tell stories to preserve our culture and remind ourselves of where we came from and where we are going. We tell stories to advocate for a cause, and I saw this in Greenland – where storytellers were defending their fragile and quickly eroding ice and land. They told stories to generations to remind them of the importance of protecting the very thing that sustained them – the earth. I realize stories can be lessons too.

 Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

I deeply cherish my small, but growing collection of National Geographic magazines that document exploration, scientific discovery, study human behaviour, share ideas about pressing global issues – for me the curators represented an in-depth way of telling stories. Embedded in the stunning visual images are well-researched text that narrated fact and findings within a story.

I realize that storytellers – my parents, friends over a campfire, authors of books, elders, National Geographic writers, locals – all practice a delicate art of being human and sharing that humanity with others. I don’t think that we are defined by one story, I think that we are composed of layers experiences that are constantly being added to us like rings of trees. I’m not naive to think that all stories are “easy” to listen to – the world can be a dark place for an individual, community or even a nation who must cope with trauma, natural disasters or conflict, but I’ve also come to see that in these situations ordinary people have the capacity do extraordinary things.

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In my video, I shared that I would travel on three foundations of openness, respect and responsibility. Openness is the word I chose to encompass the open-mind I would carry when meeting people and in different encounters. I would travel with Respect for other cultures, religions, practices and ideas. I would respect the environment, fauna and flora – choosing to celebrate the diversity in nature and cherishing it as part of the journey. I would, most of all, travel with Responsibility. Before departing, I would research the destinations and learn about the ways in which EuropeAid has been involved in supporting development in that area. I would study words and phrases of the local language to form better connections with locals. I would take the time to use local transportation, buy local products, and travel in an immersive way by asking questions, observing and learning.

I entered the Faces2Hearts Competition because I believe in the power, beauty, grace, fragility, strength, resilience of stories. Our stories are the thumbprint of our identity and it’s when we embrace patience, empathy and listening ears that we’re able to unravel others’ kaleidoscope of stories. I think that people crave to understand and be understood – to hear and tell stories.

“Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.” Amy Tan

Lauren Chan