Sparkle Project BC releases handbook – Abbotsford News

Sparkle Project BC releases handbook – Abbotsford News

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March 7, 2015

The Backstory, Birth & Vision of The Sparkle Project

The Backstory, Birth & Vision of The Sparkle Project

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August 26, 2014

Just Show Up: The Sparkle Project, Ethiopia, and Scary Storytelling

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I spent most of my twenties in the non-profit world, working to raise funds for clean water development in poor villages across the planet. When I turned 30, I took a trip with a few colleagues and donors to Ethiopia. I had recently separated from my husband, who was in love with a mutual friend of ours, and was as miserable as I’d ever been in my life. When I got home, I joked to some people that whenever I was alone in my hotel, it looked like Martin Sheen’s breakdown scene in Apocalypse Now. And I really wasn’t exaggerating that much, except that in my own blubbering PTSD-style hotel room meltdowns I wasn’t drunk or high. But that’s just because I didn’t happen to know any Ethiopian dealers.

At one point on the trip, I found myself on top of a mountain that took eight interminable hours in a jeep to climb, speaking to a young Ethiopian mother through a translator. My job was to collect stories for fundraising proposals and web content, so I was intent on securing some good sound bites that would plead our case to the donors who could fund a water system for this particular village. I’d easily spent every minute of the jeep ride up to her hut ruminating on the changes that were taking place in my life and how miserable I was about them. I was being chauffeured to a Third World village where people were burying their children on a regular basis because all they had to drink was fecal-contaminated water, and I still couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that only six weeks earlier I might have been living as a wife to my husband for the last time.  I lived in cocoon of obliterating grief that nothing could really penetrate. I felt strange and a little guilty about it, but I also knew that I really couldn’t help it. But it’s safe to say that the concept of happiness was weighing heavily on my mind. Even then, I had a very definite spark of conviction—like an arrowhead glinting in a mound of dirt—that I was on a path to attaining peace and joy.

So I asked the young mother whom I was interviewing what exactly made her happy. She just looked at the translator blankly and then laughed. The translator asked the question a few different ways before explaining to me that what I was trying to ask just made no sense to the woman. We moved on.

A few weeks later, I was back home, creating a fundraising proposal that included her story. In my terrifically finite wisdom, I chose to interpret her laughter as incredulousness. Among other things, I wrote:

Her life is composed of strenuous and constant tasks, and the failure to carry out these things might result in the death of her family members. Her life is about neighbors and cattle and the weather and her crops and her children. The pursuit of happiness suggests a dimension of choice that simply is not a factor in her life.

The proposal ultimately helped to raise the funds necessary for the clean water system that eventually benefited this woman, and I was happy about that. But I always wondered whether I’d understood her laughter correctly. As far as I knew, I had told no lies, but I did take significant leaps of interpretation when I told her story because our time together had been brief and complicated by language and cultural differences. I worried about ‘using’ this woman and others like her to reach specific goals. I think it’s a big deal to tell other people’s stories. Sometimes it’s the best possible way to secure good outcomes. But it’s always a heavy responsibility. I think about that woman and wonder how accurately I portrayed her experiences.

I’m currently at work with Kristal Barrett-Stuart on something we’re calling the Sparkle Project BC, an initiative to connect young girls with the wisdom of older women who have carved out lives they are proud of despite major difficulties. We’re ultimately going to create Sparkle: An Inspirational Handbook for Young Girls, a resource centering on true stories and practical advice from accomplished British Columbian women. Kristal is a country singer and an inspirational teacher who just looooves herself some young women. She’s a great practitioner of taking your dreams seriously and doing something about them. Everybody loves her. I love her. The Sparkle Project is her vision and I’m honoured to serve it. The response to the project has been beyond what we hoped it would be. Now we are going to be responsible for sharing these stories—for telling them well, for placing them into a context from which they can serve their purpose with maximum effect.

I have to admit that I’m scared. I don’t want to interpret badly. I don’t want any of these wonderful women to feel misrepresented. Most of all, I want the project to be a success in terms of its primary goal—inspiring young girls to live with more power, confidence, and focus than our culture often teaches is proper or even possible for females. I would like to help turn the tide of self-loathing that girls are so often drowning in—that I so often have found myself swept up in, my strength knocked out of me. I don’t want my work to fall short of the opportunity represented by so many powerful women congregating around a single goal. 

But momentum accomplishes so many things for which we would like to take personal credit. The creativity and generosity being generated by these Sparkle women is giving the project a life of its own, and that momentum is what will create a movement of significance for young girls in need of inspiration. The truth is that this project is much larger than any single person’s contribution. It’s bigger than the work I will do. Even if I feel more put-together than that sloppy, sobbing, absent-minded woman in an Addis Ababa hotel room, it really doesn’t matter that much what version of myself shows up for this engagement with life. No matter how I feel, I am able to bear witness and interpret what I see and hear with good intentions. Just like that young mother on the mountaintop, these Sparkle women are speaking to effect changes in their world. I just have to show up and listen.

[Author: Kristin van Vloten]

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July 22, 2014