Interview: Paul Orwig on JDay Colombia
As President of OSM you travel to many JoomlaDay events around the world. What was unique about JDay Colombia?
This was the first JoomlaDay Colombia, and I think at least partly because of that, there was an extra strong spirit of excitement, pride, and enthusiasm throughout this event. The event was held at the Universidad Autonoma de Occidente in Cali, and a large team of university students was recruited to provide a lot of help throughout the conference. Not all of those students were Joomla users, and so that was a great way to introduce more people to Joomla through this event.
The main event organizing team was composed of people living in three different countries (Gilber Corrales, Oscar Valbuena, and Xiomara Sanabria from Colombia, Jorge Lopez-Bachiller from Guatemala, and fellow OSM board member Javier Gomez from Costa Rica). Some of the initial connections among the organizing team were formed at JoomlaDay Guatemala, which was another first time event that took place earlier this year in March.
At the closing session, the organizers shared details with everyone about many aspects of the event, including the budget. I thought that was a great way to show openness and transparency. A little later, every participant was given the opportunity to share a few thoughts about their experience with the rest of the group. I couldn’t understand their words, but from their tone of voice and their expressions I could tell this event had a powerful and positive impact on many people.
You faced a language barrier at this event. How did you manage that?
It took a lot of help! One of the student volunteers, Nathalia Urdinola Carvajal, translated the first few pages of my keynote address into spanish. It was pretty hard for me to speak all of that in spanish and I am sure it was equally hard for them to understand what I was trying to say, but I think our mutual effort helped to begin and establish a stronger connection. Following that I gave the group a demo of the first beta version of Joomla 3.0 with Javier Gomez’s help as a translator, and they were really excited to see all the new features and improvements.
I attended one session on that first day, but it was spoken in spanish and I couldn’t understand what was said. So that afternoon I ended up finding a quiet room and I got caught up on some work. But I felt really bad about that, because I wasn’t interacting with anyone. As we were going back to the event the morning of the second day, I told Javier and Jorge I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to be more involved the day before, and I asked if they had any ideas for how to overcome that. They suggested an announcement could be made that I would be available outside the meeting rooms along with Nathalia serving as a translator if anyone wanted to come by and talk about anything.
So that’s what we did, and it really worked out great. A lot of people came up and talked to me on the second day. Some showed me Joomla websites that they have created, or talked to me about their ideas, or asked me for help. I was so thankful for Javier and Jorge’s suggestion, and for Nathalia’s help as our translator, and I was happy that I found a way to overcome the communication barrier and connect with more people there in Cali.
What did you learn about the Colombian Joomla community?
The Colombian Joomla community has a deep appreciation for what Joomla allows them to do, and they have a strong desire to learn more. I was privileged to meet many respected community leaders there, and I saw how hard they are working to build and strengthen and grow the Joomla community in Colombia. I expect to see and hear many great stories come from the Colombian Joomla community in the days to come.
There is a lot of governmental and higher educational support for open source projects in Colombia, and so a lot of work is being done with Joomla in those areas. In some cases, there are obstacles to move forward due to economic conditions, infrastructure limitations, a lack of knowledge, or other reasons. I saw connections made during JoomlaDay Colombia that I hope will provide help for people in some of those situations.
Oh, and one other thing: It wasn’t exactly a surprise to me, but I learned that the Colombian Joomla community loves stroopwafels just as much as everyone else! I brought a pack with me and during my keynote address I shared with the group about how I think stroopwafels represent some of the best things about Joomla. I offered to share them when I was finished, and it was only a few minutes before the whole pack was gone.
What did you take away from this experience personally, and also as President of OSM traveling to future J events?
I was really moved by how warm and friendly and welcoming the Colombians were to me. Their spirit embodies so much of what I think is best about Joomla. I am thankful for the opportunity to travel and meet people different parts of the world. Sometimes there are differences and barriers and obstacles and challenges, but I learned that we can overcome some of them when we look beyond what is, and instead seek out ways to work together and find solutions. The things that connect us are stronger than the things that separate us.
On the second day of JoomlaDay Colombia, I had the opportunity to lead a question and answer session, again with Javier’s help as my translator. There have been some struggles between the Joomla project and our Latin American communities in the past, and so that session was an important reason for why I wanted to come to Colombia. I hoped the presence of the President of OSM in a session that was focused on listening to their requests and suggestions, and responding to their questions, would send a message that our project’s leadership really does care about the issues and concerns in Latin American communities. I think that session went really well, and I hope it was a good step toward strengthening the connection between the Joomla project and our Latin American communities.
When I am invited to travel to Joomla events, it is typically for the purpose of speaking at one or more sessions. My experience in Colombia helped me to realize that as President of OSM, the most important purpose for travelling to Joomla events is not so that I can speak, but so that I can listen.
What message did you come away with for the larger Joomla network?
I returned home after my time in Colombia with a deeper appreciation for how much Joomla means to people in different parts of the world. Our project is not just developing, sharing, and supporting great software. Our project is helping to change people’s lives, by empowering them to provide a better life for themselves and their families.
These people are doing great things with Joomla, but In some cases they need more of our help and support. The people in Colombia told me it would help them a lot if there was more comprehensive Joomla documentation in their native language. They asked for our help to launch certification programs as a way to show others their knowledge of Joomla. They asked for assistance and support from the project to help them move forward on some bold and creative educational initiatives and other ideas.
So the message I came away with is that I want us all to recognize that what we are working on is important, and that it is making a real difference in people’s lives all over the world. I want us to be willing to listen, and more importantly I want us to be willing to look for ways to help. Most of all, I want us to all find ways to work together more effectively, so we can increase the positive impact that Joomla is having on people’s lives around the world.