I have always had this feeling that I should be doing something special with my life, which is a big cosmic finger, because at 34 years old, I still have no idea what that something is… Meanwhile I am trying to live every moment.
My husband John Leonard and I just completed 20 months of traveling through Latin America, because early in 2012, we decided to become mini documentary filmmakers.
We sold our stuff, mobilized a small business, bought a camera and left Australia to travel the world and capture the stories of people who make a difference to their communities.
We called our website Five Point Five because we were inspired by this short film about Narayanan Krishnan, a chef-turned-humanitarian who now improves the lives of impoverished people in India.
Krishnan says, “We all have 5.5 llitres of blood. We are all the same.” We took this a step further, we believe that as we all have 5.5 litres of blood – we all have the ability to make a difference.
Sometimes a commitment is all you need to make a difference
With no prior experience, John learned how to make and edit documentaries watching Youtube clips in a hostel in Venezuela. After a few weeks, we were ready. We visited the slums in the north of Colombia to shoot our first film about a former street kid – Oscar, who turned his life around and set up two schools for kids from the slums. Without grants, aid and outside funding, he gives these kids hope for a better future. His commitment is palpable.
This is our focus… to capture the commitment, the change making, the phoenix from the ashes.
We’ve learned that everywhere in the world where there is a need, there are people busting their guts to make a difference. We have found that an inspiring spirit of humanity often springs up. If this is encouraged or nurtured in any way, it can empower a whole community.
Mayan women share ancient growing techniques
According to the film “Thrive,” there are over one million for-good projects in the world right now - one million little projects bubbling away with positive goodness. So far we have filmed 17 beautiful stories of people and projects.
Most people want and need the same things… and laughter is universal.
Humor trumps language, every time. A smile and a laugh is a universal language, we have hacked our way through conversations and friendships in multiple languages that we don’t speak. But we can share wild gesticulations, play acting, warmth, silliness and laughs.
The typical greeting we get in most villages (Mexico)
When push comes to shove, most people have the same basic desires… to live in a safe environment, to love and be loved, to provide for our families, to have healthy and happy children and to be acknowledged for what we work hard for. You may look different, have different things, be rich or poor, but the same desires exist for almost every human being.
Traveling in Latin America comes with many warnings, mostly from well-meaning people who have never been there. Of course there is crime in Latin America just like there is in Australia, the United States, or any other country in the world. However on the whole, we found most cities to be safe, friendly and welcoming, and most rural areas even more so. The media generally only shares bad news, which can give you a very skewed picture of other countries. The safe bet is to not judge a country until you have been there yourself to experience it.
In Bolivia friendly zebras help ensure safety on crossings
Being a technomad makes life richer.
We now have a mindset of location freedom, so naturally we can see just how many opportunities there are to earn while traveling. We have met hundreds of people who have created their version of their dream life, through hard work, creativity and persistence and the one thing that they all had in common is that they actually took action on making their dreams happen.
The Guatemalan face of location freedom
We have found ourselves in many places, meeting people that you won’t find in the tourist brochures: the brothel in northern Nicaragua where women earn $4-6 per client; the football field behind a volcano where girls fight for the right to play; the orphanage in the jungle of Guatemala and the passionate student doctor in Cuba who grew up there; the men bursting with pride in the snowy highlands of Peru because learning permaculture techniques means their children get an education and can grow healthy and strong.
We have met the people passionate about wild animal rescue and people dedicated to animal and bee conservation. We have spent time with the people whose lives are dedicated to feeding the hungry, or educating and empowering whole communities so that they have the tools to live sustainably. We have met street kids and beggars, spent time in remote villages and shared bread with families still struggling to survive after centuries of violent and political oppression.
We have bitten off far more than we can chew, so our travel is hardly the cocktails on the beach I once imagined. Instead, we live a regular day in the life of people whose stories stay with us long after the filming is done.
Serena Star Leonard is a business coach, blogger and now, mini documentary presenter travelling the world capturing stories of people who make a difference to their communities. She is the author of the blog-that-became-a-book: “How to Retire in 12 Months” and one of the founders of Five Point Five.
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