Two years ago, I traveled to Guatemala. It's combined allure as a colorful, indigenous, and relatively underdeveloped country makes for excellent gringo bait, and I definitely wanted a bite. Speaking of gringos, I am used to being called out as foreigner the moment I speak: my Hebrew accent, Russian heritage and friendly smile have raised many eyebrows in the foreign lands that I have traveled. Answering the question, "Where are you from" is a regular part of my day, even back at home.
But the photographer's sweetest nectar is found when we blend in and become part of our surroundings. I've found that the difference between being a tourist and a traveler often comes down to two things: speaking the local language and having a local friend.
So I found a month-long Spanish language program in Antigua, a cobblestoned colonial town whose colorful buildings and lush plaza are nestled among three looming (and active!) volcanos. It was there that I met Ruth, my Spanish teacher: youthful, warm and angelic. I immediately realized that I had met someone special - and perhaps was the most ambitious I've ever been as a student, so captured was I by her inspiring glow.
I saw how this mother of three laughed with her students, and brought her passion for Spanish and her country into every lesson. I saw how valuable she was, how special a gift she had and was giving to bring gringos like me into her culture. As the month drew to a close, I knew I couldn't just leave Ruth behind, and carry on with my journey as planned. I was compelled to do whatever I could for this woman who was living so modestly but, I believed, had so much to offer to the world beyond.
I asked myself, "What can I do to give back? To not simply pass through and leave this place but to make an impact for one person living here?"
She admitted to having very little knowledge about technology so I offered to make her a website, promoting her teaching skills to a larger, global audience. Neither of us were sure it would make much of a difference, but at very least it would be a way for me to honor her and all of her hard work as my teacher. Shortly after making the website, Ruht began to receive inquiries about teaching small group or individual lessons. She began to use Skype and now even offers lessons overseas. Now she is self employed, earning more than she would have at the language school where we met and setting her own hours.
A gringo I may always be, with plenty more Spanish to learn. Yet I am forever connected to Ruth and Guatemala because of this small project we did together.
This experience two years ago led me to the a significant realization. People like to do what they like to do. Sadly, they often don't do what they like to do because they cannot earn a living in the process. As with Ruth, I want to support creative work for artists, teachers, visionaries, and passionate people to help them allow their passion to be their profession. Through business planning and consulting, I hope to help bring them clients so that they an focus on what they do best. For that, I created a team called First Leap that helps them carry this load to achieve proven results, with social media, SEO, marketing, outreach, and widespread exposure.
Ruth's site was a free, very basic web page, yet, despite the simple format, having a web presence made a huge difference in her business. At First Leap, we are using the same concept but producing more stylized, advanced websites for our clients. If you are an artist looking to get started on setting up your business, I welcome you to take a look.