good life with steffie van den akker
Part of cultivating a good life is to use your talents to serve others.
When I was a kid, I showed a huge interest in other cultures and felt a strong need to help people in third world countries. A bit later, my interests shifted and I wanted to be a vet when I grew up. Over time, this changed to book writer and graphic designer and my idea to help others faded. I ended up working at a call center and after a couple of years I started feeling like something was missing in my life. It took me a while to figure it out; I wanted to do something for people, something good and meaningful. But I didn’t have any clue as to what I would like to do, so the situation remained unchanged. I would often think of the dreams I used to have and how none of those actually came to life.
When my first child was born, he became very ill and had to spend a couple of weeks at the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). I have never been so scared in my life. Fear gripped me as I stared at my baby, wondering if he would live. When he started getting better, I paid attention to the surroundings a bit more and came to really admire the nurses who so lovingly took care of my son and the other babies, all while being the very best support to all worried parents. How wonderful to have a job like that! An idea came to my mind.
As a photographer, I thought it would be amazing to take beautiful pictures of those NICU babies for their parents, to support them in my own way. But you can’t just go to the hospital and start taking pictures, so again I did nothing until a couple of years later when I came across a non-profit organization called Earlybirds Fotografie. Photographers volunteering for this organization get to photograph premature babies while they are in the hospital to provide parents with a beautiful memory of an often very rough time. I knew right away that I wanted to work for them, so I submitted a number of photos and was elated to hear that they wanted to work with me!
I took my first pictures for Earlybirds in March 2015, and in just over a year I have photographed 55 premature babies at our local NICU. I am so happy to be doing this work. If I could do this every day I would! It’s beautiful, endearing, heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking. These little babies are all heroes and so are their parents. It’s an honor to be able to capture these special, emotional, and intimate moments of their life.
I started volunteering because I really wanted to do something meaningful for others, but I didn’t know and never imagined how meaningful this would be for myself, as well. In just over a year, it has become a huge part of my life and who I am. These babies and their parents touch my heart in a very special way and I have learned some very valuable lessons. Life can literally change in a heartbeat. We all know that, but when you actually get to hear and see the stories, you become more aware of it. And so, by doing others a favor, I am doing myself a huge favor as well. It’s quite an unexpected and beautiful gift!
We all like to do something for other people, but if you feel like you want to do more and you don’t know where to start, think of what your talents are and if there’s any way to use them. You will be enriching your life by helping others and that’s become my favorite thing!
Steffie van den Akker is a part of our 2016 Creative Team using physical product. She and her husband Mark currently reside in Maastricht, Netherlands with their 2 sons, Julius (3) and Oscar (2).