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Journeys of storytelling

Over five years ago, I travelled with a Wellington trade delegation to the Shanghai World Expo. I was sitting at a table with some representatives of the Shanghai districts and we swapped business cards, mine having been translated into Chinese.

It sparked a conversation between the locals who then wanted to know more about my business. I asked our translator why this had happened and he said it was because my trade name, All Told, had been translated as “achieving your full potential”.

As a result, an emotional connection had been made, rapport was built across the table – and cultures – and in the end I was able to help those I was dining with make a business connection with New Zealand.

I set up All Told over six years ago now. That process involved studying the principles of good storytelling – not to be confused with creating fiction – and how those principles could be applied to help New Zealand exporters. I shared the main principles here .

What I found over the last six years is that ‘storytelling’ became a buzzword applied to all types of subjects as diverse as leadership and annual report writing. Most recently, I have even heard a bishop of the Anglican church talk about the need for better storytelling to engage communities (not too revolutionary though, when you think about it). Work came in from a variety of businesses and government agencies.

Some of the people who use the word ‘storytelling’ do it without much understanding of the principles but it’s always good to hear the word being used because it demonstrates an appreciation of there being better possibilities to how they are presenting themselves at the moment.

Recently, however, I have been reflecting more about a deeper experience of storytelling – when you take part in someone else’s story and achieve your full potential in ways that go beyond earning a living for yourself to helping other people.

Taking part in another’s story

There are a couple of personal examples that spring to mind. One was cycling 800 kilometres in eight days in Thailand in January 2013 for Hands Across the Water. This is a charity that initially began helping orphans after the terrible 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and now helps hundreds of children at risk in Thailand.

To qualify for this ride you first have to raise A$10,000 for the charity. This requires you learning and telling the story of Hands and the children as part of your fundraising. You have to appeal to people’s hearts and minds. This storytelling effort for no financial gain – you also have to pay for your own travel expenses – is something you do for vulnerable children, who you meet at the end of your ride.

It was an experience that took me way out of my comfort zone and at the end I became part of the Hands story itself as I made my own ride. Motivated to make a second ride after meeting the children, I recorded a second story in 2014 in a blog that others read, and were then motivated to help the children too. I’m one of dozens of Hands riders who have done the same.

After those two rides, I became ‘wired’ to noticing other experiences of the same order. For several years I have been a member of the Kaimanawa Heritage Horses Association and last year sponsored a Kaimanawa foal for six months while she was prepared for rehoming. During that year a documentary of three sisters’ work to tame several Kaimanawas was screened in prime time TV. The Kaimanawas and the three Wilson sisters – who were already successful in showjumping circles – became household names.

In November last year, Kelly Wilson autographed her book For the Love of Horses for me as I journeyed with three busloads of horse lovers on a tour of the Volcanic Plateau to see the horses in the wild. For me it was a powerful reminder of how other people had gone out of their comfort zone to tell a story about those marginalised in this world – in this case wild horses with no perceived value except as dog food. In so doing, the Wilson sisters had begun living a much greater journey and inspiring others.

I think there is nothing like the satisfaction of engaging hearts and minds as we make a living, but nothing like the warmth of doing the same for a story that is much greater than us individually, and for which we receive no financial recompense – just the lasting pleasure of having taken part.

Adventure in Thailand

Since my last post in September, when I had raised A$2,000 towards my fundraising target of A$10,000 for Hands Across the Water, I have raised another A$7,000 – with the kindness and generosity of supporters.

Today my fundraising stands at A$9,090. On January 12, I will fly to Thailand to take part in Hands’s southern bike ride – 800km in 8 days, from Bangkok to Khao Lak.

How was such a sum raised?

First, a Thai cooking class at Phu Thai Lanna restaurant raised $500. Then a friend donated $500 in lieu of her 50th birthday presents.

In early November a 10-hour spinathon at Habit Evans Bay raised $4,000 (one of the 24 riders contributed $1,500 in pledges). A Sileni Estates wine fundraiser later that month raised $600.

Three days ago a screening of the second Hobbit movie The Desolation of Smaug at Lighthouse Cuba raised $520. The rest of the fundraising has come from individual donations.

$9,090 will ensure that seven Thai children, marginalised by HIV or the tsunami, are looked after for one year – fed, clothed and educated.

If you would like to add your support, you can make a donation and also follow the progress of my ride at my blogspot.

You could also sign up for the ride yourself one year J

Building rapport in Thailand

In January 2013 I joined a friend to cycle 800 kilometres in eight days between Nong Khai and Yasothon in north-east Thailand. 

We joined 30 others who had each raised A$10,000 for Hands Across the Water to support tsunami orphans and children with HIV.

At the end of the ride, we finished at the Home Hug orphanage and were introduced to the children. Each rider was escorted by one child around the orphanage. The children were as lively as any child in your own family. Yet most were on medication for HIV.

The boy who showed me their gardens, fish and dormitories has no family to care for him, except the kind teachers we met at the orphanage, and no support apart from money mainly supplied through Hands Across the Water. There is no social welfare system in Thailand. The average daily wage is Bt300 – NZ$12 a day. It costs about NZ$1,400 a year to provide for this boy – about NZ$4 a day.

When we left, after a party of celebration that evening, we took a photo of the child we had met and wore cord bracelets that they had tied to each of our wrists as if it was a wedding – we were now their family. That is why I’m riding again in January 2014 and why, once again, I’m raising A$10,000.

Now, in early September with A$2,000 raised, and another A$1,200 committed, I find the journey of fundraising more uncertain and demanding than the ride itself.

With the support of several businesses – Sileni Estates, Paramount Cinema, Habit gym and Phu Thai Lanna restaurant – I’ve packaged various fundraising events to put in front of family, friends, church, colleagues, associates and clients. It has been an eye-opener to watch how their spirit of kindness responds. It has enriched many relationships and developed new ones.

How do a handful of New Zealand cyclists build rapport in Thailand? We demonstrate that our supporters care for the marginalised. This support gives the children opportunities – including, for some, visiting and studying in New Zealand. This builds understanding. And there are no strings attached.

If you are interested in adding your support, please contact me about:

·      a Thai cooking class being held on 21 September

·      a Night of Inspiration on 15 October (in Auckland)

·      a 24-hour spinathon being held 2-3 November (participants cycle one or two hours)

·      a wine fundraiser being held before Christmas

·      or make a direct donation to Hands.

And if you’d like to experience the ride, click here.








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