I’m an anti-slavery tour guide. Sort of.

I’ve always fancied being a tour guide for a time. Sure, it would get old pretty soon, but for 3-6 months it’d be awesome wearing the brightly coloured jacket, holding the umbrella, and taking groups of tourists around my hometown (or adopted city), providing snippets of history and local lore.

Felipe is one of the better tour guides.*

The other day we put on a travel-themed digital event for some of our supporters at work. It made me think that maybe, all along, I’ve been a kind of virtual tour guide, showing people what slavery looks like around the world.

Now at first glance this may seem a little morbid – like the controversial Chernobyl tours that they’ve started offering at the site of the nuclear disaster. But providing a tour of slavery is, ultimately, providing a roadmap for freedom.

(Can you tell I work in marketing?)

Here’s what I mean.

Windows to the world

In my previous post, I shared about my wrestle with my (old) identity as a nomad and expat. One way that I’ve achieved some continuity from what I learned abroad to my life “back home” is through my work at International Justice Mission.

There’s the obvious continuity of working for the same global organisation back then in Bolivia and now in Australia. But more than that, I’ve discovered a passion for connecting people “here” with what’s happening with people “over there”.

It’s nothing like talking to a girl who’s been abused by her stepfather and is also battling cancer. It’s nothing like reading case files that are so raw they’re often like a slap in the face. It’s nothing like taking and reviewing photos of childhoods lost.

No, the communications I do in Sydney are different to the ones I did in La Paz. But for me, our events and social media in particular are windows to the world beyond ours.

In a digital world, we can actually reap some of the benefits of travelling without leaving our hometowns or even our homes. This is true in the current pandemic – but it’s always been true of aspects of my role and the way I look at my responsibilities. 

What I share on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Instagram is more than entertainment or self-promotion. The same goes for event speeches and themes – and even that end of financial year appeal letter you’ve just received.

Whether it’s a rescue, a conviction or a survivor story, the aim is always in some way to educate and connect you to a reality beyond your own.

Education: the world is bigger than your bubble

One of the reasons I go on a tour when I travel is to learn about other histories, other cultures. At the very least, a tour curates an experience when the landscape is so vast that I don’t really know where to start. It makes navigating new terrain easier.

Jump Cradle Mountain bus
A tour was a helpful way to see both little Tasmania and vast Russia.

I think that’s how it is with issues of slavery and injustice – they’re so big you don’t really know where to find a foothold to start navigating it. You could read a book on slavery, much like you consult Lonely Planet. Or you could come to one of IJM’s events or watch the stories we share on social media.

To be honest I don’t remember all the tidbits from every tour I’ve ever taken. Still, I’ve always left with a deeper appreciation of the place and culture.

Because IJM is an anti-slavery organisation, the reality I talk about in my role is a dark and brutal one. It’s one of the reasons people are often reluctant to engage with it. And yet, if things are ever going to get better, it’s important that people see there is injustice in the world.

So the challenge is to make this reality interesting and relevant, urgent yet hopeful. I want you to see that we can and should tackle the injustice in the world.

Connection: other people’s stories

One of the beautiful things about travelling, and particularly living abroad, is connecting with new people and different cultures. It’s one of the joys of my years in South America.

I’ve been thinking lately about the video projects I undertook for IJM Bolivia. Our child clients were all survivors of sexual abuse, so in interviewing and filming them I was never going to actually talk to them about the actual abuse.

The aim was always to tell their story by way of letting them share on camera who they are and what their dreams are. For me this was an important way to show that the abuse does not define them – they are more than that.

2015-04-20 Bárbara
Bárbara (not her real name) before her first session of chemotherapy. Read more about her story here.

At work, a lot of what I do is, still, to tell other people’s stories. With over 50,000 people rescued since 1997, IJM has met a lot of incredible survivors of slavery and violence. And many of them have blessed us with their story – their history of before, during and after slavery.

A great privilege of my job is that I get to bring the world to your screen – and hopefully in some way to your heart. My desire is for you to travel with your heart and with your mind, as I have done.

Feel awed. Feel stirred. Feel empowered.

If you experience even a smattering of that, then I’ve done something right.

*

Of course, the analogy is limited. I share it for no other reason than that the similarities between my marketing/communications role and that of a tour guide struck me – and helped me distill what motivates me in my work.

I’m passionate both about education and connection. Seeing how this plays out in my work is encouraging and gratifying.

What about you?

How do you see your own work or profession, beyond the surface of your job title, tasks and KPIs?

What drives you in your career pursuits? What gets you up in the morning to do what you do?

Feel free to comment below 🙂

Sound of Music bus
I’ll always remember Petr who led our Sound of Music tour because he reminded me so much of William Shatner.

Header photo: Jeff Smith.

* The main reason I remember Felipe is that our tour of Santiago was interrupted by tanks rolling through the city and spraying us with teargas. So he invited us back to his apartment for drinks – he really went above and beyond!

Any comments, thoughts? I'd love to hear from you :)

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