A team of video storytellers from Michigan State University is wrapping up a two-month journey around the world. The crew is documenting the work of MSU researchers in countries such as China, Brazil and Malawi as they tackle challenges ranging from malnutrition and disease to human organ trafficking. The project is called Spartans Will.360.
WKAR’s Kevin Lavery caught up with team leader Jim Peck by phone in Dhaka, Bangladesh a few days ago to learn more.
JIM PECK: I actually came up with this crazy idea that it might be fun to try to go around the world and see some of the amazing work that Spartans are doing out there. I wasn’t expecting to be gone for two months this time of the year on the road. But, it was the sort of thing where once we started pulling at the strings of these stories, more stories kept coming out, and we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the stories of MSU that are happening all around the world.
KEVIN LAVERY: Your team has travelled to four continents. I’ve had a chance to look at the website and the videos and the blogs, and they are all extremely well done. I’m wondering how you have developed a strategy or a common thread for telling the stories of all the researchers you’re meeting around the world.
PECK: Well, I think the common thread is that it’s Spartans who are working to make the world a better place. I almost feel I’m on some PR campaign when I say that, but it really is true. We’re meeting men and women who are in far-flung locations who are really going after the world’s toughest problems. I'm sitting here in Bangladesh and I literally just got back in to do this interview with you, from walking through areas that are very difficult to walk through. I mean, there are things that are hard to see, there are smells that assault your senses; people living in really difficult living conditions. And the story we’re doing here is about organ trafficking. And we have met and talked with people who need money so badly they are selling their own organs on the black market.
LAVERY: What are MSU researchers doing to try to confront that where you are?
PECK: Well, the researcher with whom we’re working who’s name is Monir Moniruzzaman, has been working here doing research for quite a while; he’s actually working with the Bangladesh government trying to figure out a way to end this. Officially, it doesn’t exist. If you talk to people officially here, there’s no problem with this. It’s a different system over here, and he’s been working with locals to try to stop this, to try to get to the root of it. You’ll see when we release the pieces we’ve done interviews with people whose identities didn’t want to be revealed that are living, again, in very difficult conditions. We’ve talked with (organ) traffickers, we’ve talked with people and their families who’ve given organs. We’ve talked with people who are suffering the consequences of this. Monir calls this “one of the greatest examples of exploitation in history.”
LAVERY: Are you getting a lot of feedback, particularly here in Michigan, via social media about this project?
PECK: You know, we’ve gotten terrific feedback, and I see it growing. We have a Facebook page that’s been highly followed, I know word of mouth has spread this. I know that I’m in everything from my daughter’s fourth grade class to people that I know from work and other places are following our progress. And I think one of the interesting things about this is that with social media, as you know, it is something that’s ongoing and will continue to have a life as people continue to participate. And these stories never end for us. So as we travel, there will be more on the official website for the President’s Report, which is www.report.president.msu.edu. Or, you can follow us on Facebook or if you Google it, you can find us as well. But the response has been terrific. I think the coverage for something like this is wonderful. It’s satisfying for us because we feel like we’re doing a good job telling the stories, but the main thing is that people find out about these issues. They see this university that’s in their backyard or the place they went or the place they’re going to is out there really honestly trying to make a difference.