Shamengo, giving voice to people who care

They are people who have come upon incredible ideas; people who do something for their community and environment. People who care about themselves, others and the Earth; people who are not afraid – they might have started small and found a lot of resistance, but kept going and turned out into something big. Or maybe they don't stop just because they love what they do. They are the people portrayed by Catherine Berthillier and her Shamengo program.

Different cultures, same values

Catherine Berthillier with two Shamengo pioneers - Dr Pathak and Mr Nolvak - speaking on the conference for HEC students in Paris, France

Catherine came upon the idea of Shamengo while working as an investigative journalist for French television and travelling the world, putting her life in the line for the messages she wanted to convey. Visiting many cultures and countries, she noticed that even though the language, food and customs might be very different from her own, people still share some similar values everywhere around the globe, have some common concerns and are interested in similar topics, as well as strange and innovative ideas from other lands. Catherine's thought was to create a new program based on stories of humans who better the world through positive action.

Although at first she couldn't find any supporters to her idea, she just started to work. "I thought that I don't want to get retired and say: for my whole life I have remained in the consumer society, been selfish and not been part of those new values forming all around the world. I wanted to be part of this new world."

One by one she gathered a brave crew of six talented young professionals willing to work for a tiny salary in the name of the good cause and hopes for a better future. They started off with no office, travelling the world, doing interviews and finishing with the editing work in Catherine's kitchen.

“If Shamengo becomes a success,” says Catherine, “it will be because all of us; because this is a team. And this is what I like very much – becoming stronger together.”

Shamengo and Let's do it!

One day Catherine came upon a small article mentioning the Let's do it cleanup day in Estonia, and became interested immediately. She didn't feel very hopeful in her quest to contact Rainer Nolvak, expecting him to be a big star after having organised such a huge event and, therefore, inaccessible: "It was a big surprise to me that he was so kind and open-minded, very humble and generous of his time and excited about the idea to be one of Shamengo pioneers. "

Wishing to get coverage of the real hands-on action, but having missed the original Estonian event in 2008, Shamengo team went to film the big cleanup-day in Moldova, in April 2011. Upon learning about the World Cleanup 2012 plans, they decided to participate in the regional conference in Ghana, in September 2011, as well.

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Clean-tagging the streets of Paris

By October 2011, the Shamengo team – now with 8 members – having published 30 portraits and recorded material for the rest of the year, planned the official launch of the website. Catherine didn’t want to have an ordinary party. As some of Shamengo pioneers make art by clean-tagging, she thought it would be fun to use the same method to "tag" Shamengo logo, slogan and website address on the crosswalks of Paris.

Besides the volunteers from Paris and around, the one-of-the-kind event was attended by several Shamengo pioneers – Dr Bindeshwar Pathak from India, the creator of eco-friendly sanitary toilets; Valérie Pache, a fashion designer who makes wedding gowns out of discarded paragliding sails and was wearing one of her dresses while tagging around Opéra; Jérôme Salomé, the creator of "Men in skirts" website and community, as well as Rainer Nôlvak from Let’s do it! World.

The night started around 7pm with people gathering and learning the clean-tagging machinery tricks ; from there on teams in some dozen cars proceeded to tag in different locations all over Paris. Despite several technical problems the night went very well, culminating with a 6am breakfast at Point Éphémère, a famous culture club by Saint-Martin canal, where the last brave volunteers – sleepy, cold, wet and exhausted, but happy – could have their share of coffee, croissants and other goods before going home.

The aftermath video of Clean Tag Night (in French, with English subtitles)

class="medium">Shamengo values and future

The future of Shamengo project still depends largely on finding supporters and partners. Even after 3 years of explaining and searching, many possible sponsors and corporations seem still suspicious, claiming that the public wants to see war and disasters rather than happy people making positive changes happen. But Catherine still believes in her project. “We want to continue with the collections, to have a new portrait each week, but also to follow up the stories and create longer documentaries. It’s not history. All our pioneers are alive and very active and it is very interesting to follow their adventures.”

In the end, it is up to every single person how to lead their life and what choices to make. Shamengo hopes to pitch in there with the four values explained on their website; in order to help – just like its pioneers – to create a better world.

"Actually it’s a very buddhist concept," says Catherine thoughtfully. "To take care of yourself, to create with ethics, to preserve the planet, and to help the others. And if you devote your time to do this kind of things, I guess you can be a happy person."

This is the real goal of Shamengo, because the tagline reads: inspire your life.

Shamengo - inspire your life

Shamengo portraits and clips on Let's do it! movement

View the Shamengo - Let's do it! playlist in YouTube

Shamengo creates all their portraits in two languages : French and English.

Follow them on Facebook: Shamengo English page ; page français
YouTube: English channel ; chaîne français
Shamengo on Twitter (en/fr)

Text and photos by Auli Kütt. Videos by Shamengo / Kaia productions.