Forging New Partnerships. Transforming Communities.

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Photos Taken by Arturo – Mujerave Staff Photographer

There is something beautiful happening in the countryside of Guatemala in Totonicapán. It’s happening quietly, too. Lives are being changed by the work of a community based organization – Mujerave, which was created by Kody Gerkin, a former member of the Peace Corps. I learned of Mujerave (moo-hare-ah-vey) after sitting on a panel with Emily Gerkin Guerrant, Kody’s Sister. She spoke about her brother’s passion with great zeal, which prompted me to dig a little deeper. I knew I had to find a way to get involved after learning of the values, commitments, and goals of the organization.

Mujerave’s mission is to contribute to the alleviation of poverty, the eradication of malnutrition, and the reduction of preventable illnesses by empowering women through sustainable development projects in indigenous communities in the department of Totonicapán, Guatemala. As for the vision of Mujerave: Through increasing food security, expanding community-based education initiatives, and improving health-related infrastructure in underserved rural, indigenous communities in Guatemala’s Western Highlands, Mujerave’s vision is a Totonicapán less burdened by preventable illnesses, chronic malnutrition, and debilitating poverty.

In 2011, at the LeaderShape Institute, I was asked the big questions, “what would you do for the rest of your life if money and time weren’t barriers?” or “what are you doing today to make the world a more just, caring and thriving place?” These questions stayed with me throughout the week and for many years to come. I still ask myself those questions year after year. My vision, though extremely limited and inarticulate at the time, was to make a division-less world. Nearly 6 years later, I can explicitly say that even back then, it had everything to do with ending poverty, creating opportunities for others to have better lives, and working with and on behalf of the global community.

After a few bumps and bruises, failures and mistakes, I began to realize that I didn’t have to save the world on my own. I simply had to do my part to make the world better in my own way, as well as find ways to support others who were already working in other capacities, industries, and communities. This led me to Mujerave, as well as a philanthropic partnership. I’ve made a five-year commitment to support Mujerave’s work to reduce poverty, increase gender mainstreaming in policy and action, as well as aid in sustainable development.

Many women around the world are powerful stewards in their communities, yet they are still overlooked and underrepresented in places of power. Mujerave provides resources and a space for women to use their voices, wisdom, and experiences to make their communities healthier, improve economic stability, and much more.

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To learn more visit: http://www.mujerave.org

Feel free to make a donation in support of the many projects that are currently taking place, as well as future projects.

A Year of Generosity, Experiences, and Building.

“Hemingway said we heal stronger at the broken places, but I’ve found that where the heart is concerned, we also heal more tenderly, more open to the miraculous.” Boyd Varty, author of Cathedral of the Wild, spoke about setting intentions for the year in the last chapter of his book, The Om in Motion.

Instead of creating rigid resolutions that I often seem to fail at, I’ve decided to set clear intentions for myself. What do I want to feel more of? What do I want to do more of? How can I express more gratitude? What can I give more, be it time or resources? Am I maintaining strong relationships rooted in mutual respect, dignity, and love?

The world was rocked pretty hard in 2016. A difficult year didn’t come about unintentionally. No matter how you look at it, there were many times of despair, shock, pain, and hardship caused by natural disasters and people. Many of those things hit me at my core, but on the other side of the coin was success, change, exploration, outpours of love and support, resilience, new friendships and relationships, and the maintenance of old friendships. For me, it was a full year that began with traveling abroad and ending with family at home. 2016 was a year of saying yes to myself. It was a year of healing, soul-searching, and personal growth. 2017 will be a year for balance.

My first intention for the year is to be more generous with my time and resources. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive scholarships for grad school, receive free housing and a stipend. This has allowed me flexibility with time and resources. I hope to support causes with time through volunteering and with resources be it monetary or otherwise. I also hope to be generous with my gratitude and to be more vocal in expressing thanks to others. I want give back to the communities that have given me so much.

My second intention is to continue to having valuable experiences that enhance my learning, bring me joy, and feed my soul. There is value in participation and reflection. In 2016, I traveled abroad and domestically quite a bit. It was enlivening and enriching. I hope to read more, discuss important topics, and simply find joy in daily experiences. I want to see beautiful places and meet beautiful people.

My last intention for the year is to maintain meaningful relationships and cultivate new relationships. The concept of Ubuntu, an African philosophy, has become widely known around the world and it means “I am because you are.” In essence, people exist to be part of communities. Without other people, there is little meaning for our lives. It is important to me build trusting, meaningful relationships that are rooted in dignity, mutual respect, and love.

As you can tell these are not resolutions as they are not rigid, explicitly defined, and time-bound. To me, intentions act like the winds that fill sails and propels ships forward; the must be revisited, adjusted, and reflected upon often. 2017 will be a year of building for me and my intentions will guide me. Best wishes to all celebrating a new year or any time of renewal in life.

Friends Around the World: The American Artist in Italy

From conversations in hostels to exploring cities together, I’ve met some interesting people who all have amazing stories to tell. I’ll be starting a series that highlights friends that I’ve met around the world and their stories.

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This summer in Certaldo, Italy at the Fattoria Bassetto Guesthouse I had the pleasure of meeting Zoe Rayner, an American artist living in Italy. We became friends after three days of conversation and the sharing of wine, pasta, and personal stories. It didn’t take long to discover her amazing talent for drawing. As I journaled at the kitchen table, Zoe took out a sketchpad, several pens and pencils, and started crafting a masterpiece. Check out her Instagram page to see more work by Zoe, @zoe.illustration. Be sure to follow me for more updates @vincent_thurman1.

Though it may not  reflect in her work pre-say, she does pull inspiration from Arthur Rackham, Katie Scott, James Jean, Brett Helquist, and Jared Muralt. “I’m definitely not saying that my art looks anything like theirs, but I find their styles and the depth of their ideas endlessly inspirational.

Bellow you’ll find a short interview between myself and Zoe.

Vincent: Why drawing?

Zoe: I always loved art, and it became a sort of natural direction for me to take. The process of creating something can be so meditative and personal, so it’s interesting to see how others respond to what you’ve made and how you can use the personal process to convey something universal.

Vincent: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve drawn?

Zoe: One of my favorites is of an octagonal bee hive, with a few bees around it. I wasn’t really planning it ahead of time, so it just developed as I drew. It was one of the more challenging drawings that I’d done then, so it felt like a personal accomplishment, to push myself a bit further than usual.

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Vincent: Describe a moment that captures the spirt of your work?

Zoe: I guess one moment that stands out is when I realized that art was what I wanted to do for a living: I was avoiding a college paper, so I sat down to draw instead, and when the piece was done I suddenly felt this clarity. I like to be able to return to that feeling whenever I’m doing a new piece.

Vincent: Any last words of inspiration for other artists?

Zoe: Everyone has their own style, their own way of expressing an idea or emotion. Don’t compare yourself to others, but take inspiration from them and strengthen your personal style. It’s much more rewarding to reach that point of feeling unique in your work, and to be aware of the qualities that make it your own.

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 Artist Spotlight: Zoe Rayner – find her on Instagram to explore her work.

Travel Series Part 3 – Nostalgic. Grateful. And Ready to Go Again

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Imagine coming home after four months of exploration, being fully present, and navigating life in places so unfamiliar that all you could do was stumble around for a while until you found your way? Midge Carter found herself buying tickets for trains with no destination in mind. She hiked mountains, walked out to island after the tide rolled out, and sat at King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh at sunrise with 16 amazing friends. (Photos at the end).

Today’s blog is about Midge’s four-month journey around Europe. From hot chocolate in Ibiza to longing for Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter by the end of her trip, Midge shared with me interesting stories about not wanting to leave, but finally coming to a place where she is grateful for her experiences, but so deeply ready to leave again. (She’s not particular about much, but she is about peanut butter. – “Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter or NOTHING”). In France, she found herself wandering around markets before heading out for a solo-hike. “I don’t speak French so I just walked around pointing at things and ended up with a few oranges and a baguette. I hiked up this mountain by myself and I sat on the side of it looking out at the alps… just sitting there like this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.”When you’re traveling for months at a time, you experience these peaceful, still moments where it’s just you and the world.

You also find that much of your success is related to the kindness of others. Traveling is deeply revealing – it shows us deepest selves, our strength, our ability to be alone and be happy, and our need to connect wherever we go. “There was one day when two of us met up with two friends for a hike and when we got to the top it was so windy and no one else was around. It was JUST us. It was just the most… it was one of those moments that feels so tangible because it’s so solid when you’re in it and you want to remember it.” These moments aren’t easily forgotten. We hold tightly to the moments where we felt most alive. We remember who was with us, what the air felt like, and how important the people around us were in those moments.

As the trip came to a close the emotions changed. The desire to get off the plane and escape back to a new place grows and grows. “The hardest part was that I didn’t want to be home. Especially because I spent the rest of the summer in the same town I grew up in. It’s like going from doing something interesting every day and all of sudden you’re back in the grind. It’s not like every day there (Europe) was perfect, but it wasn’t every day here.” While listening to Midge share stories of travel and her journey home, I couldn’t help but go back to the moment of landing back in the States after my first trip abroad. That feeling of I could be anywhere in the world right now, why did I come back here sets in. You think of just buying the first ticket out to wherever and going away again. It doesn’t last forever, but it does feel like it will never go away.

After a while, you come to a point where you’ve settled back in. You find that the grind isn’t so bad and you look back on all the memories made with amazing people. “I think I stopped being angry when I felt like I was doing something with my life again… And I’m at a point where I’m nostalgic, and grateful, and ready to go again,” The desire to travel never really goes away after that first trip. It intensifies and staying in familiar places too long starts to feel suffocating, but that’s when you look through old photos, plan your next trip and get on your way.

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All photos were provided by Midge Carter. Midge is studying public relations, a lover of Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter, and a fellow Travel enthusiast.

Travel Series Part 2 – A Love Affair with England

The second post in the series is a little different. For the first time, The Big Picture has a Guest Author. Amanda Yats is studying public relations and is a fellow travel enthusiast. This summer she spent a few short weeks exploring England with a few friends. Follow Amanda on Twitter at @amanda_yats and on Instagram at @amandalynn_28. Enjoy!

If you are interested in being a Guest Author for The Big Picture send me a Direct Message (DM) on Instagram: @vince_thurman1 or via email at thurm1vg@gmail.com.

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Going Abroad- A Love Affair with England

Picture in your head the opening scene from Love Actually – set in London Heathrow airport. Family and friends warmly and lovingly greet one another as they reunite. Hugs and smiles are available in abundance, and Hugh Grant’s voice over is telling you that love actually is all around.

When I stepped out of the baggage claim area into the arrivals gates of London Heathrow, I wasn’t looking for a specific person or embrace, but I felt an immense love for a country and culture I was about to experience for the first time.

Even though my visit in England lasted for a short three weeks, I had fallen in love.

My first few days we rather rough; I had a sinus infection, which didn’t mix well with a six-hour flight. Regardless of my sore throat and congested sinuses, I couldn’t help by marvel at the rolling green hills spotted with sheep, endless Lion candy bars and the Walkers Quavers that we encountered as we drove south away from the bustle of London.

One of my first meals across the Pond was a traditional, full English breakfast. I remember thinking that I would never be satisfied with breakfast back in the States after experiencing such a filling meal.

Along with the delicious food, I admired the differences and similarities of the English culture compared to that of the United States. There were so many seemingly small moments that made me fall in love with life and the world over again during the trip.

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Here are just a handful:

  • Standing on the beach in Perranporth watching the sun set and kicking around a soccer ball with my professor and classmates
  • Looking over the breathtaking landscape of the English coast while standing where the alleged castle of King Arthur once belonged
  • Having my heart pound in my chest as I jumped onto my first tube in London’s Underground
  • Visiting the spot where the Mayflower departed in Plymouth and eating my first traditional fish and chips meal
  • Getting kicked off the famous lion statue in Trafalgar Square after trying to take far too many photos of the same double decker bus

These moments where just a few snapshot memories that initially come to mind when reflecting back on my trip abroad. I could (and often have) gone on and on to my friends and family about how my time spent experiencing other countries and cultures has positively influenced me.

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On one of our last nights in England, our professor told us something that I continue to find strikingly true, as well as applicable once someone goes abroad.

He said that once you go abroad, or begin to travel anywhere really, you can never truly come home again. While the place you once called home has stayed mostly the same during your time away, you’ve changed. So therefore the person you were when you left doesn’t come home; the person you are now will come back, but you will never be the same after your experiences.

I think the following quote from the late F. Scott Fitzgerald sums up the idea fairly accurately:

“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.”

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Travel Series Part 1: Preparing to Go Alone – Harrison Watts

Travel Series Part 1 – Preparing to Go Alone – The First Solo Trip

Last week, I had the opportunity to correspond with Harrison Watts, a student at Central Michigan University, who is preparing for a four-month Study Abroad trip to Italy. He’ll be studying at the Florence University of the Arts, in Firenze (Florence), Italy. Solo Travel can spark many emotions ranging from anxiety to great and endless excitement. As your departure date gets closer, you’ll find that the butterflies in your stomach flap their wings a little harder and the exciting to go steadily increases.

Below you’ll find a few responses to an interview between myself and Harrison as he’s been preparing for his extended stay in Italy.

Vincent: Is this your first time traveling abroad alone? If so what are some of the emotions you’ve been feeling?

Harrison: Yes, I am very anxious to leave and experience this trip, but most of all ecstatic. I have never been abroad, so I have no doubt that this will be the trip of a lifetime.” 

Vincent: Why do you think you’re having those feelings?

Harrison: I have never experienced being far away from home for an extended period of time with weak communication and not knowing anyone. I am not a home-body, and I love traveling new places, so I cannot wait for this.

 Vincent: What tips have people given you?

Harrison: People have told me many place to go; Cinque Terre, Venice, Munich (Germany), Dublin (Ireland), Rome, amongst other places. They have given me insights on restaurants, hostels, airlines, food, and other excursions to do. Another tip I received is what to expect from the local community. They told me it was surprising how many people knew English and that they language barrier was only tough occasionally. This definitely relived a lot of worry.

Vincent: Is there a specific aspect of your trip that you are most excited for? 

Harrison: I am very excited for a few classes that I will be taking, as well as new experiences and friendships. I am taking a wine tasting class and I’m already planning weekend trips!

Vincent: If you had ONE piece of advice to give to someone who isn’t sure about going abroad what would it be?

Harrison: LOOK INTO IT.

Author’s Note: Solo Travel is exciting and enlivening! It is an opportunity for discovery, learning, and growth. If you’re afraid of solo travel, find a friend and take them along for the ride, but I’d say one solo trip changes everything!

To follow Harrison’s Journey, feel free to follow him on Instagram @har_watts.

For more Travel and Big Picture updates follow me on Instagram @vince_thurman1

One Year of Blogging – Number 50

This is blog number 50! I started using The Big Picture to reflect on my experiences a year ago this month. It’s amazing to think about all that has happened in a year’s time and to see it backwards by revisiting certain posts. Some highlights are My Life or Master of None, in which I compare my life with a Netflix Series staring Aziz Ansari, What do you want to be when you grow up?, which focuses on navigating life as a young professional and developing skill to land a job you want, and the recent Office Spotlights.

For this post, I want to talk about the benefits of blogging:

  1. My writing has become more precise and focused. Blogging has been a great tool to practice writing without pressure. I can write at my own pace, revisit thoughts, and make edits after taking a step away from it. Is my writing perfect now? Not particularly, but it has gotten significantly better. Some people are gifted writers. I am not one of them, but that doesn’t stop me from practicing. Progress not perfection is my current mindset.
  2. Reflection is immensely important for learning. I have learned many lessons hours, days, weeks, and even months after having experienced some event, taking a class, or participating in an adventure. Quiet, intentional reflection leads to a deeper understanding of some concepts, a heighten sense of self-awareness, and a strong connection to what I experience. It is one thing to take in new information. It is another to process the information so it can be applied later. (It’s also one of my favorite activities as an introvert.)
  3. Stories. Stories. Stories. Storytelling is powerful! I look back on some of my blogs and laugh my heart out. I look back on others and feel a sense of contentment because of how far I have come. While I have gotten better at storytelling, I must say I have a long way to go before I have mastered this skill. Stories bridge the past with the future, which allows us to revisit moments that are important to us. This was a lesson learned from a friend and mentor, Carlos Cortes.
  4. Lastly, I’ve learned that blogging is a simple way to connect with people. There is a human element to many of my posts and often times they serve as a mirror to what others may have experienced or are currently experiencing. Making simple, yet meaningful connections that are rooted in authenticity is deeply important to me. Being able to do that through blogging is an avenue that is only just opening for me. I’m excited to see where it leads!

Here’s to one year writing for The Big Picture.

 

Style Revisited – Something New

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about style, being unfamiliar with fashion, and finally taking risks. I’ve decided to revisit the topic to share what I’ve learned about myself and style in the past few months. Here are six lessons I’ve learned:

  1. My confidence has grown tremendously. Taking risks and seeing them pay off is a great way to boost confidence. I’m not talking blind risk. I’m talking thoughtful, calculated risk. Making smart decisions after going through some trial and error. Some outfits were great and others were… Well let’s just say I won’t be wearing a few of them again. This has benefited me in my personal and professional life. Decisive. Bold. Flexible. Creativity. These are the words that come to mind.1
  2. Less is more… I paired down my wardrobe down to the essentials and a few extra luxuries. I have 7 pairs of paints including jeans/denim, 3 pairs of shorts, closes to exercise in, 8 dress shirts, approximately, and 10 t-shirts varying for seasons. Based on that count I’d say I’d have approximately 40-50 total items of clothing, excluding shoes. That can be saved for a different blog. I have less stress about deciding what to wear because I now have less an 100 items to choose from. It feels great. You can always buy what you need to fill in gaps.2
  3. Understand the occasion. Thinking back to a few years ago, I would dress how I wanted to dress. It wasn’t bad, but sometimes I wasn’t dressed appropriately for the occasion. There were times when I was overdressed and others when I was woefully underdressed. If you aren’t sure about what’s appropriate, ask. It’s okay to ask questions. Better ask and find out, than show up and be out of place. 3
  4. Be comfortable. Look Good. Feel Good applies here. First and foremost, you have to be comfortable. If you aren’t, people will notice, which doesn’t matter a ton, but you’ll probably hate every second of it. Constantly readjusting is a sign that you might not be comfortable. Make sure the fit is right on whatever you’re wearing. When the fit is right, the entire outfit looks better.Style 1
  5. Own your style and try new things. If you’re creative, find a way to pull an outfit together that you didn’t see before. If you’re unsure about that haircut or hairstyle, try it. If you don’t like it, change it. If you like to dress up, get out of bed a half hour earlier and get ready for the day. If it’s Saturday and you aren’t going anywhere, rock the joggers or sweatpants. 4
  6. Don’t let people dictate what is right for you. Style is about a swagger or an expression of your personality. Don’t force it and play around with the ideas you have. You might find that you like something you were afraid to try.

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Also a special guest quote from my friend Julie Fredrick: “SHOES ALWAYS MATCH THE BAND OF THE WATCH.”

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Photos taken by: @SarahFiorillo (Instagram)

 

The Artistic Lens – Lessons from a Visit to the Art Institute of Chicago

If you’ve seen any of my drawings or paintings, you’ll know that I have no hand for the arts. Even with a deep appreciation for them, my doodles and sketches don’t amount to much. That doesn’t stop me from drawing or painting. I color outside the lines (sometimes on purpose and other times not so much ha). I love it and I am interested in how artists see the world.

I spent a few hours at the Art Institute of Chicago on Wednesday with a friend and mentor. I was excited to discover new insights about creativity after taking a guided tour of the Modern Art Wing and some unguided roaming. Our tour guide, with such a bright and excited passion for the arts and museums, discussed a variety of works including those of Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Moholy-Nagy. One of the common themes among their works is to push art forward when it needed to change. To see differently in a conventional world. Even if the world wasn’t ready or receptive, they changed for the sake of the artist and creativity.

One of the unique insights presented was that artists adapted to the introduction of technology. For example, artists found new ways to paint still life paintings when the camera was introduced. Not in content, but in presentation. They became more abstract to be specific. Our tour guide may have captured the sentiment of the artist, “You can take a picture of a tree. You know what it looks like. I don’t have to paint what is there. I can’t paint what I see.” Trees became characterized by odd shapes, vague outlines, and colors that no tree will ever be. Yet, it is still recognizable as a tree.

Artists have freedom to create representations of familiar subjects based on what they see and perceive. This practice seems transferable in its utility, but I’m unsure of how to make it tangible for other areas of my life. Though I am not an artistic, in what ways can I adapt my behaviors and thinking as new information and technology are introduced? There are many questions I have yet to answer, but this new (to me) way of thinking may prove to be helpful in future endeavors.

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A Final Journey with LeaderShape (for now…)

The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind. I’ve spent time with the staff and fellow Program Coordinators for the Institute with LeaderShape. For those who who may be unfamiliar, LeaderShape is an organization that provides both national and campus based programs focused on creating a more just, caring, and thriving world. Yesterday and part of today, I spent time with their training team and other coordinators who put on and plan the LeaderShape Institute for their campuses

This is not my first experience with LeaderShape or the Institute, but it may be my last (hence the “for now…” in the title). In 2011,  I attended the program, in 2013 and 2014 I served as a Challenge Course Facilitator, and last year (2016) I had the opportunity to be a Cluster Facilitator. This year will be a little different. With graduation looming in May, I have to think about future opportunities, the job hunt, and where I want to be. Between now and then, I will be helping out in the Program Coordinator role.

How fitting it is that a program that introduced me to a life of possibility be the program that I now get to prepare for the next generation of students who will attend. As time has gone by, I’ve learned a great deal as a result of attending the Institute. Even more than attending, I’ve learned a lot from being involved in various roles. To me, five years is a significant amount of time to dedicate to anything, let alone an organization. However, my commitment to LeaderShape and making a better world makes five years seem like the blink of an eye.

A few hours in Chicago with people from around the country discussing leadership seems to be the best way to start my “last” LeaderShape and Institute journey. I reflect on the moments of my experience and the last thing I remember being said to me was You May Begin. Today, I’ve begun and cannot wait to experience all that will happen in between.

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