Thursday, April 21, 2011

Swim Down Together: Thoughts on Teamwork & Collaboration

There is a scene in the movie Finding Nemo that depicts a beautiful picture of teamwork. There is another moving scene in the movie Gladiator which does the same. I used to dream of coaching my hypothetical daughter’s AAU basketball team and before key games, using these two movie clips as examples during inspirational pep talks. However, I have found use for them earlier on in life while I explain my hopes for effective teamwork and collaboration in efforts to develop impoverished communities and improve their quality of life. Project Esperanza was born to organize these efforts. I would like to describe one of these movie clips and the positive examples it portrays. While we have made great headway due to teamwork and collaboration, I can’t help but to continue to imagine the unreached potential that remains and to see simple opportunities for teamwork passed by; failed to be acted upon.

I would like to declare that I have no other agenda but to glorify God through loving his children in a wise, organized, truly impactful, and change-creating way. We need more teamwork…more collaboration to be able to successfully do that. In 2005 when Project Esperanza began, I never imagined I would be the director of a non-profit organization, president of a student organization, or even a real leader of a volunteer trip. I always imagined a simple life with a large, healthy family, surrounded by lots of animals and nature. I guess after I saw that my dream life was obtainable for me an American but truly unobtainable for so many others in other countries made it seem less sweet. I guess I couldn’t comfortably settle into such a life unless I knew that I was also actively making it also available for others where it wasn’t available before.

I remember sharing visions of what I thought should be done at Project Esperanza’s lunch meetings early on and sort of looking around the table along with everyone else present as if to wonder, “Who will lead us to do these things?” I really expected someone else to do it. But I soon realized that I would have to step up and act if I truly wanted any of it to get done and by continually stepping up, I grew into a position of leadership. My position was confirmed during critical times when a decision had to be made and I held strong to what I knew had to be done to move us forward. At times, this disgruntled a few others who I then realized lusted the position of leadership but didn’t actually make such sacrifices and investments to obtain it as I had. And I had not made such sacrifices and investments to gain a position of leadership but because they are what poured out of my heart, body, and soul in order to advance toward bringing visions to reality. I share all of this because I feel as though many are often reluctant to support Project Esperanza in even the most simplest of ways and one reason for this is that I always assume must be present is that they don’t trust me as the leader for some reason. I will address this topic further in my next post I plan to title “My Response to (FSCs) Frequently Shared Concerns about Project Esperanza and My Personal Life Path Decisions”.

If you have not seen the movie Finding Nemo, it is about a father and son clown fish that get separated from each other and then make every attempt to find each other. The father is accompanied by a blue fish named Dori. At the end of the movie, Marlin, the father, and Nemo, the son, are reunited. Minutes later, Dori gets caught in a large fishing net that is pulling hundreds of fish into a boat. Nemo, being small and having learned a teamwork method to battle such an attack, slips through a hole in the net to join Dori and lead the fish in the effort. His Dad protests but Nemo insists saying, “We have to tell all the fish to swim down together! We have to save Dori!”

Marlin collaborates, swimming along the net repeating, “Swim down together!” Nemo does the same from his position inside the net. Before long, the hundreds of fish that were just swimming frantically in every direction begin swimming down together and chanting the phrase in unison. They make headway, putting pressure on the part of the boat that held up the net. However, the fish at the top of the net have already been lifted out of the water and are therefore no longer able to contribute. They are now gasping for air. Therefore, their fate now relies on the fish below them in the net. The fish continue swimming down together until those at the top dip back into the water and can once again contribute. Now everyone swims down together, putting an intense amount of pressure on the board that holds the net, and it eventually snaps, allowing the net to crash into the ocean floor and free lots of gleeful fish. The event also rightfully shocks the men on the boat!

I get so much from this scene. First of all, how often do people go in their own direction when faced with a problem rather than collaborating efforts and sticking together? The effort is always more impactful when there is a team rather than an individual. In this situation shown in Finding Nemo, had the situation not been so urgent for those in the active position, there likely would’ve been hours if not days or weeks of discussion deciding whether or not “swimming down together” is the best option. People would be making excuses just for the sake of arguing or refusing to follow a leader. I have never put up with this sort of time wasting and arrogant bureaucracy but believe that the best policy is “Do something! People’s lives are on the line!”

Also, how rare are Nemo and Marlin as leaders in this situation? They were not the ones trapped, but out of compassion for those that were, they stepped in and led. They did not sheepishly yell from the sidelines, thinking that no one would listen, but they aggressively chanted with faith that others would catch on. Of course, their involvement was motivated because a good friend was trapped. I think this is common in real life. People get involved with a cause because a loved one has been affected. But when it comes to international development, how can you have a loved one that you’ve never met, who lives so far away, whose life is so foreign. If no other opportunity presents itself, out of love for God who loves all of his creations, you have to seek out such relationships.

An impacting part of this scene is the part where the fish at the top are gasping for air and their fate relies on those at the bottom. This has totally been the case with Project Esperanza. Many insensitive or ignorant Americans, (please don’t take offense as we know that each nationality, including my own, American, has the insensitive and ignorant as well as the sensitive and well-informed), like to understand that there is a simple solution that those we serve are choosing to not do or are too lazy to do. I can say with much experience that for the Haitian immigrants as a whole we serve, the barriers they face are extreme and most often unable to be overcome without assistance. The barriers are financial, educational, social, mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, historical, and probably more. This is similar to a group of fish caught in a net. Chances are slim. The only hope is a brilliant plan or series of brilliant plans and complete teamwork toward a common goal.

From a global point of view, populations like the Haitians we work with..the widows, the fatherless, the discriminated against, the ignorant… are like the fish at the top of the net who are out of the water and gasping for air. Their fate depends on others who are in a more capable position. Some of those from their own community who are in a more capable position may also be heading down the same path or facing the same dangers, although their situation is not currently as severe. It is wise that they all work together and don’t waste time or energy allowing any division or conflict enter between them. I feel as though I have acted more like Nemo. Being a privileged U.S. citizen and college graduate, my options are quite plentiful. But out of love for God and love for his fish that are caught in a powerful net, (and not his own net as referred to in Matthew 4:19 & 20 when Jesus says, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” but rather we can understand them as being caught in the Enemy’s net), I live in solidarity with those we serve and lead “swim down together” plans in order to free all of us from this evil net.

There are times, though, that we need more help and more strength. I am forever grateful for those that consistently pray, consistently support financially, and consistently visit, executing educational or service activities and bringing gifts. However, when it comes to me personally receiving support on my decision to jump into this net, I feel as though many people have the approach that that was a poor decision I made and they should encourage me to jump out of the net and return back to safety. Supporting me, even in the most simple ways, would only encourage this wrong decision I have made. To that mindset I want to say, “I’m not jumping out of the net. I want to see change. I want to see this net completely broken and everyone trapped in it freed. And in order to do that, I need to be in it as I am. This is not abusive to my son and future children. This is teaching them a life of service to God which is more important, more deeply fulfilling, and I think more healthy than a life where one is surrounded by entertainment, comforts, and conveniences of all sorts as is the argument that they are missing out on in the U.S. I will further address these concerns in my next blog post as well.

There is one extremely simple way people can support me personally and two extremely simple ways people can support Project Esperanza. It is when people do not participate in the extremely simple ways to support after many efforts to inform and remind that I have to wonder what the deal is and feel as though most everyone must be deliberately NOT supporting. Two of these ways have been going on with little to no success and the other is something new.

FIRST: Amway. I became and Individual Business Owner with Amway in September 2010. I wrote a blog about it on here, on La Vida Idealist, and I sent out support letters asking people to become Amway customers. There is no cost to become a customer. There are billions of great opportunities for Amway customers, things that most people already do and purchase, such as using a VISA credit card.

They also have a pretty awesome gift for any occasion called the Ribbon Gift Collection. The giver orders a gift of their desired price online and the receiver receives an album and gift card in the mail. The gift card contains a message from you and directions as to how one can redeem the gift on and have it shipped to them free of charge. The album contains photos of the variety of gifts the receiver can choose from without ever knowing the sum of money spent by the giver. It’s a really neat concept and if I had any money to give gifts whatsoever I would send Ribbon gifts for weddings, birthdays, etc.

With a little bit of research over the site, I’m sure that the common consumer could incorporate the site into their regular shopping and really enjoy doing so. The post where I wrote about this blog is the most viewed post out of my 18 posts so far. However, I just a few customers. Until a few weeks ago my mom and one loan supporter were my only customers..registered customers that is…this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are active customers each month. A few friends recently signed up after I complained about this to them. But I find it strange that so many people would be interested in reading my post but so few willing to act on the request. I feel like it is such a simple thing that could begin generating a much needed monthly paycheck for me. So please give it a try! You just have to go here, then hit “Register”, then fill in your info, and you are eligible to make purchases from the site any time you like.

SECOND: Restaurant Nights. One of the most simple (I think) ways to support Project Esperanza is something we’ve been recently developing called Monthly Restaurant Nights. In the communities of Winchester, Virginia, Blacksburg, Virginia, the area of Northern Virginia, and New Orleans, Louisiana, supporters can eat at a different designated restaurant every first Tuesday of each month and the restaurant donates between 10 and 20 percent of those sales to Project Esperanza. This has HUGE potential and individuals who consistently participate and convince others to participate will really make an impact for Project Esperanza. You can read more and see schedules on our website.

THIRD: GoodSearch. Another extremely simple way to support Project Esperanza that few people participate in is Those willing to set as their home page with Project Esperanza set as the charity they support or download the Project Esperanza GoodSearch toolbar will create a penny for Project Esperanza each time they search. Those who shop with GoodShop will generate even more. I don’t know why more people don’t do this one. Some may already use GoodSearch to support another organization, which is fine, but for those who don’t use it at all, I think it just doesn’t make sense. Rather than searching with Google or other search engines all the time that don’t benefit yourself or any cause at all, why not be intentional about your daily searching and use GoodSearch? Come on. Let’s swim down together.

Well, I hope that readers of this post will ACT on these things and not just read them for entertainment purposes.



  1. Hey Caitlin! So, I think you're right that it just takes a little bit of research and I just did that. I had initially, a few months ago, looked at the site and said "Ok, when I need to get something for the house or toiletries or anything like that, I'll remember to look on here to see if they have it." But then, I didn't remember, because I often do shopping last-minute when I need something, and use cash that I've withdrawn for the month for that budget item, so online buying never crosses my mind. So, it takes some planning:

    1) Review the site right now (I just did again), but write down a list of what you regularly buy from each category for home, kitchen, body care, etc. For us this is shampoo & conditioner, bar soap, anti-perspirant, hand soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, paper towels, laundry detergent, bleach, lightbulbs, chips, breakfast bars, coffee, olive oil. Also, birthday and other holiday gifts.

    2) When you budget for the next month, go ahead and purchase these things online that you know you'll need, instead of waiting till you're out and running to the store last minute.

    Anyway, like I've said before, talk is cheap so I hope we'll follow through on this, and I'll let you know how it goes!

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