Smile in Every Picture

Michael Wilson


August 10, 2009

This expression “smile in every picture because that may be the only one people see” is one that came  to mind a few weeks ago as I was sitting in the staff room of a YMCA residential camp, a small room with two computers with Windows 95, three dilapidated couches, and an old television that doesn’t have a DTV box and wont get reception. I was sitting there on my “short night off”, a two hour period when half of the counselors at a time can hang out in the staff lounge or do laundry, and I got in a rather heated discussion with some of the other counselors. I overheard some of the pool lifeguards complaining about one of my campers, an eleven year old who lives in Caracas, Venezuela and came to camp speaking no English what-so-ever. For the purposes of my story I will call him Antonio.

I butted into their conversation to try to work this out, completely confused as to how anyone could dislike Antonio, as he was one of my favorite campers. This camper was enthusiastic, respectful, and was pretty much always having a blast at camp. For a camper who’s English vocabulary consists of “sir” “please””thank you” and “pass food”, that’s phenomenal. So you can probably understand my frustration when several lifeguards were complaining that no matter how many times they blew their whistle and yelled at him Antonio continued to grab and hang on the basketball goal in the pool. They were saying he had a bad attitude, was incredibly disrespectful, and even accused him of “pretending not to speak English”. Well our short night ended before I could convince them he was a good kid, and so I asked him in Spanish to apologize to the lifeguards and taught him how to say “I’m sorry” and wrote down the word basketball goal in English for him to remember.

As I thought about how easily your perspective of someone can be corrupted by the limited interaction you have with them, I thought of the phrase “smile in every picture” and I started comparing campers to photographs, counselors to cameras, and the whole shoot and match to the world as a whole. In the “photograph” the “cameras” at the pool had of Antonio, he was a disrespectful, uncooperative camper. In the photograph I had of Antonio, he was one of the best kids in my whole cabin! The language barrier  had a catastrophic effect on Antonio’s experience at the pool and the snapshot experience of him was very negative as a result.

This makes me excited for my experience with Global Citizen Year and the opportunity to work to create a world where these kind of barriers don’t exist and everyone has the ability to “smile in every photograph” because we have worked to overcome the barriers in their way. It also makes me eager to see how it will open doors for communication and positive interaction across physical, language, and social barriers. I can’t wait to learn more Spanish and start creating this new and exciting world where everyone can look their best for the camera!

Michael Wilson