Influencer Berber van Beek: diverse and enthusiastic
Interview February 2021
Could you share with us some information of your family life? Were you born here in Curaçao? And how important have your parents been to you in who you have become right now?
I was born in Curaçao and I am a “Yu di Pietermaai” and grew up close to the sea. Curaçao is a very interesting, but complex island. I believe that everyone that has played a role in our life, as we grow up, is important. It’s like a piece of clay that is formed and molded by your environment and your family. I was raised with a lot of freedom. There was always room for my own ideas and that has made me who I am right now or whom others think that I am. I have another sister and brother, that just like my parents, don’t live here anymore.
Could you share something of you eductional background and your experiences?
I have studied Photography in Amsterdam and went to the Photo Academy for one year in Breda. I wanted to become a forest manager and plant forests. From a very young age I wanted to save the world. I didn’t study Forest Management after all, as you needed to have science subjects (Mathematics, Physics) at High School, which I didn’t choose for. But the Environment and Nature have always stayed at the centre of my attention. As I was involved in Photography since I was 14 years old, I studied photography. After my studies I returned back home to Curaçao for 2 years and then went back to Holland.
The boat project
I took a full time job as press photographer for a newspaper “Noord Hollands Dagblad” and got involved in re-building a ship that dated way back from the second world war. This was build in Den Helder and it took us 2,5 years to rebuild a 30 meters an old mine sweeper into a sailing cargo vessel and made it seaworthy. We tested its seaworthiness and we crossed the ocean with it and sailed to Haiti and brought some goods for an Orphanage House in Haiti after a severe earthquake hit Haiti. After we had crossed the ocean and sailed to the Carribean and surpassed whatever challenges we encountered. She is still sailing from the Caribbean to Europe.
During the building of the ship I got involved with Permaculture. I followed a Permaculture design course in Mallorca. When the ship went for the first crossing I was working at a farm in Trinidad where I helped design to transform it into a Permaculture farm.
After the sailing I wanted to learn more about permaculture and I went to Australia where Permaculture was developed. I went there for an internship at the Permaculture Research Institute of Geoff Lawton. After that I visited several Permaculture farms to work and study more. I learned to build dams, make compost, learned water management and I created a food solar dryer. One of these farms was of the founder of Permaculture, David Holmgren. There I saw and touched the handwritten manuscript of Permaculture One, which I consider a priviledge and honor. After following the course in Mallorca I became convinced that Perma Culture is a solution for the world to achieve environmental change.
Returning back to Curaçao
With all this knowledge, I returned back to Curaçao. I have always been curious and involved in ventures where I am trying to find solutions for world problems. I am an idealistic realist with two feet in the ground. If I set my mind on something, I will go the extra mile until I have finished what I planned to do. Like the boat we built is still sailing. Mind you when we finished building that boat, we got a lot of publicity from NOS, Dutch newspapers, National Geographic, and I think we had an impact on the mindsets of people. I believe that we can change people’s mindsets. Like if we want to have sustainable development for the world, this can be achieved through lots of small projects, that can grow and create a snow ball effect. We as human beings should this snow ball effect. My motto in how I influence people’s mindsets is “Seeing is believing”.
Don’t convince but influence people
It is of no use to try to convince any one. But you can influence the person so that this person can form her or his own opinion and then they can change their behaviours. This has been my experience in the project were we re-build that freight ship that would be sea-worthy. At first there was a lot of people didn’t believe in our intention to re-build the ship and make it sea-worthy. This steady group of non-believers only stopped when we reached a tipping point. You need to have perseverence and never give up and just keep going on. The road is like a ride on a dirt road with all his bruises and bumps, but if you stay the course in the end you can be successful. If you want to change a person, influence the person but don’t try to convince them. If one single person can change the world? Yes by continously taking small steps, it could be even with a smile or the cleaning up of plastic from our beaches, this can compound and reach a tipping point. I sincerely believe that this is possible.
You are a photographer and entrepreneur and I have visited your website and it is very clear in what you do, offer and who you are, but still can you elaborate on the goals and impact you hope to achieve with your work?
My goal is via Photography to create awareness and entice people to get people moving towards a more sustainable society, to achieve improvements in the social areas and topics of our community. The red line through my work is “connecting people”, so that this can lead to improvement in the lives of people, culture, nature and the environment. In this I have an affinity to work for those whom are the most vulnerable in our society. This is just one aspect of what I do, but I am also offering photography on a commercial basis and it has a deeper meaning to me. I can take 4 years of preparatory work to figure out and working on the details in a project that I take on. Working on any project I chose to work on, takes a lot of time, but in the end, I want the projects that I work on to have a positive effect on the awareness levels in Curaçao. I am working on a project right now that I don’t want to go into too much detail at the time. I am simulteanously working on the undocumented people on the island in Hidden Voices 2.0. This is a project that came up and couldn’t wait too long to pay attention to. So I jump on it.
How important are emotions, in the way you want to express your creativity? Or can you share with us what makes your work unique? And I have read on your website of one of your projects Hidden Voices, can you explain what your goals are and how impactful your photo’s are?
Conviction of being convinced of something is “emotion”. This is very important. I started interviewing some undocumented together with someone else, to offer them the opportunity to share their story that was full of emotion. I started these interviews while I was doing my other project. This because I bumped into these undocumented people living in Curaçao under deplorable circumstances, while most of us don’t even know that they exist. These were impactful stories, it touched me on a deep level, as I offered them an opportunity to be seen and heard. And this can happen to us also living in Curaçao. We might end up in a situation were we need people to help us out. We don’t have to treat them inhumanely.
As I can’t stand injustice, I started this project Hidden Voices 1.0 on undocumented Venezuelans on Curaçao. We are now in doing a second project Hidden Voices 2.0 on undocumented people during Covid-19 on Curaçao. We in Curaçao also have our problems of course, but with Hidden Voices 2.0, I showed what the personal daily problems of undocumented people on Curaçao are having during Covid-19. I gave them their own voice in the media so they have a chance to tell their story. To make local people aware of how inhumane they can be living here. To give other people that want to come here for an undocumented life the opportunity to read the stories and make a fair choice.
Small steps each day in the end do matter
We may have experienced of late some hopeful signs of better times to come, as I have heard Prime-Minister Rhuggenaath talk about starting with a migration policy. It then makes me believe that if one individual takes small steps each day, it will have an impact in the end. Look at the work that foundations like Human Right Defense, Ieteke Witteween, is doing and the Green Phenix foundation of Sabine Berendse or the work that Roland Renen is doing with Syntropic farming and Henny Barbolina with “Nos Kunuku” based on Permaculture principles. These are all small initiatives aimed at creating changes. But if I can help them bring their work in the publicity via research, scouting, developing the project idea, interviews, photo’s and videos, which requires lots of time, it will be helping their cause. Little initiatives that can grow to become a movement and that in the end will bring about change.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
My Big Why is: “Justice for the people and the world”. Since I was very young I use to make banners, it is some kind of “gut feeling”. It has always been like that. It wasn’t via my parents, I was born with this urge. You know when I was 8 years old, I started an environmental group of peers and we would sell some self made books with tips on how to treat our environment in a better ways and donate that to “Amigu di Tera”.
Is agriculture gaining interest in Curaçao now that we are in the middle of the Covid pandemic and food security seemed to have gained more momentum?
I don’t dare to say. I came back to live in Curaçao some 8 years ago and what I have noticed is, without having done any scientific research, I can see an increased interest for farming in my own direct environment and my broader group of acquaintances. I have attended a workshop that organized on syntropic farming and it seems that there is a whole movement underway in Curaçao on syntropic farming combined with permaculture that might have a positive impact on the island. But I have decided for myself to choose for my own priorities for now, even though the prospects for farming are attractive, I am chosing now for a project that takes time and that in the end will increase an overall helicopter awareness on the island based on my motto “Seeing is believing”. As soon as I have finalized my project, I will choose to spend some more time on Synptropic and Permaculture Farming, as this movement aims to develop further. For now I have to, because of my own priorities, stand at the side line as I suspect that this movement can bring about a whole new shift, where different initiatives come together, help each other where possible and needed, monitoring each others progress, to bring about a bigger positive change.
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
It also depends on what and where, like we almost capsized with our boat in the middle of the Ocean and then you go through the different stages of freeze, digest, overthink and act.
But the exception is when I want to be instrumental in changing a situation, like the project Hidden Voices of undocumented people on Curacao, I can go all out and work long hours and it is when I become very passionate.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up? How does that work for you?
I will listen to my gut-feeling. That works for me and when I feel it, it is “clear and out”, we have to go that way. But I also live in a society and the community pressures me on how things are supposed to be. This puts me at times in front of difficult choices, which aren’t easy at times.Like deciding on what my priorities are. Do I choose to do the Hidden Voices-project or do I stay the course and continue to work on my project? I would love to finish my projects and then take on a new project.
I decided to do the Hidden Voices-project because it was a short project, with a beginning and end and it was relatively easy to combine with my major project.
How are you trying also to keep up with your personal knowledge and skills levels?
By doing what I do. Following my social media network. Keeping up with what is happening in Permaculture around the world and staying in contact with my networks.
Following other photographers that inspire me, those kinds of subject matters. I am continously learning in those areas that I am interested in and I don’t have enough time to keep up with it.
My biggest dilemma is, at the one hand I still need to do work to earn me a living, but I don’t have enough time to do things I really love to do. This is my inner conflict, the struggle to earn a living. I do also love my commercial work. I do work commercially but deep down my projects are much more important to me. But when I do my commercial photography, I am combining my passion for photography with the need to earn a living.
What are your strengths?
Do you have hobbies?
I like climbing mountains, so up to this moment I have climbed 87 hills in Curacao that are all over 60 meters of height. I am climbing all hills that are higher then 60 meters in Curaçao. That is my hobby. This past week-end I climbed one at Westpunt that doesn’t have a path. I love adventure and love change. I am curious and don’t give up easy and I love self development.
How would you describe Berber in one word or one sentence?
I have no idea. …maybe “diverse and enthusiast”. I love nature, people and photography.
I live my life and I want to get out of life, what I can get out of life. I live from my heart and I want to do things that I want to do. If I would die at this moment in time, I wouldn’t have any regrets. I love diversity, I like different types of people, I love the interaction with nature. When I am on top of one of those hills, this is when I feel extremely happy, elated.
Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career and your personal life?
Well I have made a list of people for you. They are Jimmy Nelson, Peter Menzel, Erwin Olaf, Steven McCurry, Sebastion Salgado he is my greates. Also Jimmy …have greatly inspired me and Dan Elton a journalist in Africa that was stoned at a young age. Darren Dorothy, my first teacher in Permaculture David Holmgrem, Kat Lavers, Annemarie & Graham because of their work, they inspire me. Reid de Jong and his wife Cornelie as they lived in a lighthouse and because of their self-sufficiency almost had a zero ecological footh print. I love people with a strong character. Strong characters create the unusual in this world.
What is a trait that is still work in progress?
Patience. I rather have it done yesterday than today.
What was a defining moment in your life?
As a young child, I had this urge for change from “my gut”. I have always been like that. I have always felt innately that we are not to suppose to live like this, this is not good for nature. Yes, I have lost someone I cared for a lot at a young age, I have been in a life threatening fearful situation in the open, windy sea and survived it and I am glad that I am still alive. But it wasn’t a defining moment that happened that change my life. Since I was 4 years old, I had an awareness about our nature and I wasn’t accepting how we were treating nature.
I am happy to see people around me at a later time in their lives make this switch to live in a more sutainable way. That is super cool and I would say welcome on board.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
I find this to be a difficult question. It doesn’t matter to me. No one needs to say anything about me. When I die I would have want to have lived my life to the max, with no regrets as to the things that I didn’t do. I do hope that they think back as that I loved them and I took care of them.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, recession and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consquences?
I am optimistic because I see a lot of movement A lot of people are changing. “Ripple effect” and “Kaya Kaya” that is into urban gardening, syntropic farming there are so many groups with so many group initiatives to change Curaçao in a positive way where everyone is doing their little part and if they do we will create an effect. It requires stamina because it will take time. But I know it works as.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
There Is hope, if everybody helps some one and live a little bit more conscious we will get there. We have to do it together as a human race.
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Berber van Beek, is a driven, passionate, fun-loving humanitarian and nature lover, whom has been a lifelong advocate of sustainable development. Since she was 4 years old, she recalls being concerned and actively trying to bring awareness about the way we mistreated our environment. Having a strong character, she started working on projects like the first one where she re-build with other friends an old mine sweeper into a sailing cargo vessel, that up to this day is sailing. Through her work aimed to have a positive effect on the awareness levels in Curacao, she is “connecting people”, so that this can lead to improvement in the lives of people, culture, nature and the environment. In this she has an affinity to work for those whom are the most vulnerable in our society. Using her passion for photography based on “seeing is believing” principle, she influences and doesn’t try to convince people, offering people the choice to make their own choices, like in her recent project “Hidden Voices 2.0”. But on top of that, she also is a strong believer in looking what is happening around her as she believes that many group initiatives like the ones regarding farming, where everyone is doing their little part and will create a snow ball effect and change Curacao in a positive way. With this approach and her determination, we are convinced that Berber will continue to impact our society with subject matters that are dear to her heart. In this sense, Berber’s work is totally aligned with the goals of Share2uplift. That is why we dearly love and deeply respect Berber and consider her part of the 250 Influencers of the island representing the Creative Sustainable Economy sector as a Humanitarian and Nature lover.