On Monday night, we hosted our first Red Carpet event of the summer. We were joined by all 111 of our students, their families, our new friends, sponsors, and even the mayors of Ar’ara and Baqa. Our biggest event yet, the first Red Carpet of the summer hosted over 400 people.
And what a night it was.
Our team brought it all together—even if we were a bit last-minute. Jamming subtitles, credits, and a blooper reel into all ten films had us exporting footage up until the final moment. But miraculously, we showcased all of our students’ hard work and progress for their families, schools and communities to see. Once the final film had ran and the lights came up, our team breathed a deep, collective sigh of relief, having finally reached the end of our first program of 2018. In that moment, all the stress of the past two weeks melted away like ice cream in the desert.
Our work is challenging. Most of the time it is exhausting. Every program brings new obstacles to overcome, and a fresh batch of kids to figure out. We’re never without setbacks, frustrations are imminent, and the nature of our work makes improvisation part of the plan. At the end of the program, even after we’ve completed all the lessons and activities designed to force kids out of their comfort zone and get them speaking English, we wonder what kind of difference we have actually made in their lives, if our work has made any difference at all. Because we can’t experience the impact we are leaving on these kids, their communities, and their futures. All we see when our work is finished on Day 5 of the program is a group of tired kids who had no idea making a movie was so difficult.
But our Red Carpet events give us the incredible opportunity to see the impact of our work. We get to see our films played on the big screen for hundreds of people, but far more importantly, we get to witness our students seeing themselves on the big screen for the first time in their lives. We get to hear their laughter when their friends say their first line of dialogue, when they watch the blooper reels and see just how long it took them to nail their lines, or when they realize why we made them rehearse a single scene over and over and over. We get to see their parents’ faces light up when they hear their children speak English for the first time, and their teachers celebrate when they see how much their students have improved in just one week. At our Red Carpet, we realize just how much of a difference we had made in the lives of our students.
As the night ended, our 400 guests swirled around us, snapping photos and exchanging phone numbers. Students begged us to return next year; their parents offered to host us in their homes. We no longer saw groups of kids who were exhausted at the end of a long week; we saw students who had realized their own growth. And that made all of our work worth it.
At the end of our ceremony, as we took the stage for our final send-off, a parent asked to speak to us for the audience to hear. After thanking us for our dedication to their children and openness to their culture, she said this quote to us:
“Life is like a camera. Focus on what's important. Capture the good times. Develop the negatives. And if things don't work out, just take another shot.”
Her words are something none of us will soon forget.