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Virtual tour of India captures the heart of Dordt artistic team

August 16, 2010

Dale Vande Griend, Josh Visser, and Mark Volkers filmed in

Dordt College connections brought together three professionals in a project that all of them love to talk about—an interactive online virtual tour of India.

Josh Visser (’98), the director of communications for Mission India; Mark Volkers, a videographer and professor in Dordt’s communication department; and Paul Ten Haken (’00), president of the online marketing company Click Rain, are three artists behind My Passport to India.

The tour allows children to explore India’s diverse culture, people, and country and, as they do so, support children’s Bible clubs in that country.

My Passport to India was the brainchild of Visser, the producer and a graduate of Dordt’s art department. Thanks to a supporter of Mission India, the owner of Sonlight homeschool curriculum, Visser could dream about creating a project that might help others catch his passion for the work of Mission India.

“I didn’t start out trying to make it a Dordt thing,” says Visser. “I was looking for people who would do a good job, people who I trusted would share my vision, and people I could count on to do what needed to be done. I knew the project was ambitious when we started, and it grew even more so as we worked.”

A few years ago Visser headed a similar online campaign for Mission India and Sonlight Curriculum that told one woman’s story via e-mails over an eight-week period. Visser and his team posted additional information on their website. It was a huge success, drawing in more than 3,000 families and raising $250,000 in new funds for Mission India’s work.
When the owner of Sonlight suggested they work together on another project, Visser thought about the e-mail project and adapted it into a virtual tour idea. But the donor, who had originally suggested the project for 2011, decided it should be done in 2010. The pressure was on.

Visser usually contracts video work with independent videographers in India, but for a project of this size he wanted someone to be more involved with the whole project. Volkers, who has photographed in many countries for mission organizations, had stopped at Mission India’s offices nearly two years ago and met Visser.

“I’ve been in many countries but had wanted to get to India for years,” says Volkers. From that contact, Volkers’ previous work, and his Dordt College connection,Visser knew they shared a common interest and vision. Visser contacted him. Volkers was excited and submitted a proposal for a timeline, staffing, and budget, which included using student assistant Dale Vande Griend—and waiting to film until after classes, in June.

Meantime Visser found a tour guide, decided which places to visit in India, wrote the script for the video, and finalized the logistics necessary to take a crew of eight to small Indian villages, some of whom had never seen a white person. He also hired an Indian cameraman and an assistant—the best English to Tamil speaker he could find.

“Josh’s work really made the project move smoothly,” says Volkers. The team spent two weeks in June in India. Upon their return Volkers, Vande Griend, and another digital media major, Dan Kauten, spent fifty to seventy hours per week for the rest of the summer editing the video. For one week, they Paul Ten Hakenalso enlisted the editing help of three other students.

“It was a wonderful intersection of academics and real world experience for the students,” says Volkers. “For a twenty-two-year-old looking for work to be able to point to this URL as an example of what he’s done is remarkable. I wish I’d had that calling card when I started.”

Volkers believes that such opportunities, though not all are as dramatic or in depth as the Mission India project, help set Dordt’s digital media program apart.

He also believes that his work on such projects helps his teaching.

“It’s a craft that the more you do the better you get at it,” he says. “I’m a couple of notches higher on the skill level as a result of my work in India. You get rusty only teaching without actually doing videography.” Plus, fresh and exciting projects create a passion for what you do. That spills over to the students.

Volkers continues, “Not only are students doing professional work while they are students, they’re making a difference in the world. In some other college programs, students hardly pick up a camera until graduate school.”

Once the plan for the videography was in place for My Passport to India, Visser turned his attention to creating a web structure for smooth and easy access to the videos and the program. Here too, he decided that due to the volume of work needed in a short time, he needed outside help. He knew Paul Ten Haken, a Dordt graduate two years behind him in college, headed an online marketing business in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“Out of the blue Josh Visser sent me note through Facebook describing the project briefly, asked if it seemed like a good fit with what we do, and suggested we meet,” says Ten Haken. 

“It’s the kind of thing we do,” says Ten Haken. “And I was eager to work on a project that I could really feel committed to.” He notes that he and his team do a lot of political marketing, and working collaboratively on the Mission India project was exciting for them.

Ten Haken too, appreciated Visser’s planning and attention to detail, and he called the video work outstanding. He especially enjoyed the creative freedom Visser gave them to design the site from the ground up. They created a site with big, bold imagery.

“It’s not often we get to do that. Clients usually have specific colors or logos or other things we need to fit into.”

Ten Haken and his company also created a content management system that Mission India can update and continue to use in the future. Their biggest challenge was making sure that the video plays well in a variety of browsers and platforms. But big challenges bring big rewards.

“We learned some exciting things in the process,” says Ten Haken, looking back. “While we were working on it we’d get caught up in the technical requirements, but every once in a while we’d step back and realize what a cool thing we were able to do here.” He was not just referring to the Passport to India project, but also to being able to work with people committed to the same values and ideals.


SALLY JONGSMA

On the Web

My Passport to India went live on October 5 at www.mypassporttoindia.org. Two episodes were released each week for five weeks and all episodes will be on the website until mid-December. Although the program is marketed to home school families, it is open to anyone who wishes to learn more about India or who wishes to support Mission India’s programs in India. By the time the link went live on October 5, nearly 9,000 families had signed up and registrations were still coming in.  The families participating come from all 50 states and 64 countries—from Argentina to Zambia.

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