“Is she poor, or am I the one who is poor? She has nothing but a thankful heart, but I have everything but no thankful heart. I complain so much.”
Stephen Woo is a world class photographer, videographer, husband, father, friend, child sponsor and a World Vision Ambassador. He has been described as a creative genius and he is dedicated and motivated to spread love wherever he is. Above all these things, he is humble, saying he is simply an ordinary man with extraordinary love.
Here's his story, in his words.
Stephen Woo on his most recent trip with World Vision to Peru.
“The first story I covered with World Vision was about Moono who lived in Zambia, she was nine years old at the time. I visited during the dry season which meant Moono and her family would only eat every few days. On this day, she was able to make a meal and I had a curiosity about how they make it. The meal is corn ground into powder and mixed with water. I was so curious about how they get water as the community staff told me the water was far away from the village, so we had to walk with them to the water source."
Moono and her mother walking to collect water for their meal.
“I thought the water source was something like a water tap or a pond. But when we arrived at the water source I was surprised. Because it was not a pond at all, it was a puddle of muddy water. That muddy water was terrible. But Moono had no choice. So they fetched the water, they put it on their head and headed back to start to cook.”
The water source that Moono and her mother collected their water from to make their meal.
“When she finished cooking she didn’t begin eating immediately, she did a prayer instead. And in the prayer said thankful words and she gave thanks to God to have a meal like this. It impacted me so much because she was being thankful instead of eating like crazy. If I were starving for so long, for a few days, how would I react? But she would rather say a prayer to stay thankful.”
Moono saying a prayer of thanksgiving before having her only meal in a number of days.
“This first story changed my life forever and I volunteered to have my first photo exhibition for World Vision. I wouldn’t just ask my community for help, but show how our community needs help. We need to learn about the situations out there and how these communities are still so thankful, so we can be thankful too. At my exhibit I put Moono’s photo at the entrance. I was able to raise thousands of dollars and find sponsors for 40 children at this event.”
Moono’s photo hangs near the entrance of Stephen's first photo exhibit, to show attendees how thankful she is for the little she has (left). A collection of photos shown at the same exhibit (right).
“I continued to fundraise for World Vision and that was when I met Leo who was a part of Team World Vision. When I told my wife that Leo is someone who fundraises through running and doing marathons she tried to warn me. (My wife knows I sometimes get over excited about World Vision.) I told her no way, 'I’m overweight, I got knee cap problems, I got flat feet, I got shoulder problems, I have too many problems to be running'. I told my wife, 'don’t worry I will travel all over the world to do photography, but I won’t do running.'"
Stephen on one of his many journeys around the world.
“When I met Leo he told me about running marathons and he sounded like a superman, and I told him all my excuses as to why I would never be able to do it. He said that I could do the Global 6K, but I was only curious about the distance. He told me six kilometres was the average distance children and women walk to fetch water. But I knew this already from walking with Moono and her mother and told him that I had captured these stories before. I can do fundraising in my own way and be successful."
Stephen capturing some behind-the-scenes moments while visiting Moono.
“Leo said ‘when you run, you participate in their lives because you walk the 6k for them, so they don’t have to any more. It’s more than fundraising. You become a part of their stories this way’. At that moment I felt a calling from above. Before, I used to capture these stories, but if I do the run, then I am in the story. It is a whole new thing.”
At the World Vision head office, Leo presents Stephen with a legacy Team World Vision jersey for his outstanding fundraising contributions.
“When I started to organize the Global 6K run in my community in 2017 I had no idea how to do it. Across the street from my house is a large park where I thought we could do the run so I talked to my city councillor and told him that we expected 150 people to come. Me and my friend Ron, who was doing the race with me, each agreed to find 75 people to join. At the time, my running group had about 20 people.”
Stephen with his running group, training for the 2017 Global 6K.
“To gain people to join the race I just kept telling my story and how this is something that is meaningful and can change lives. I had no skill, I have no clue, I just kept telling the story the best way I could."
Stephen motivating his growing running group in 2017.
I talked to my church, and they said we could share our stories with the children’s program. Kids are amazing, they remember everything. They remembered all the information, why it was 6K, why it was so important. We had the ‘how to’ for them as well, how they could change the world with just participating in the 6K. The kids were so excited, so they went back home and told their parents, their friends, schoolmates, their teachers, their relatives and neighbours. And that’s how we had so many people come and join us. At my church alone, we had 250 sign up.”
One of the families that participated in the 2017 Global 6K Stephen organized.
“I still remember, the weather forecast for race day was a thunderstorm. I remember it was very windy. I set up early but everything blew off. I got a call from my city councillor asking me if I could consider postponing the race because of the thunderstorm. I told him, 'do you think those kids lives will be postponed? Because if their lives will not be postponed then my event will not be postponed'. So, we kept on going, because I remembered from my African friends that rainy days are good days. It means there is food and life.”
Two World Vision staff members pose with Stephen in their ‘protective rain gear’ as they get ready for the race.
“When the Global 6K happened we had over 800 people show up and we raised $80,000 for clean water. I was so thankful to have all these people show up and participate in this very meaningful event. They also experienced what 6K feels like and the meaning of being thankful.”
The overpacked venue of the Richmond Hill Global 6k.
"After that I decided to become a World Vision Ambassador. Instead of just Team World Vision or just a photographer I wanted to work further, to be an Ambassador. In 2017 I got to go travel to Ghana as an Ambassador and meet my sponsored child, Elijah. I got to see how these people are benefitting from the fundraising."
Stephen and his sponsored child, Elijah, in Ghana.
Stephen continues to be a part of the Global 6K
, is a World Vision Ambassador
and travels as a photographer to World Vision communities to tell the stories of those we work with.
As told to Jennifer Miller
All photo credits to Stephen G Woo Photography