Message from ...

... the train "I love people!"

Foto van Janne Willems
Images: Rachel Morssink

Janne Willems studied Cognitive artificial intelligence (BSc 2005, UU), Philosophy (MA 2009, UU, cum laude) and Cognitive neuroscience (MSc 2012, Radboud University). She initiated the international social art project seizeyourmoments.com which also includes her book Pluk je momenten (Seize your moments).

In Dallas, I asked a girl from a deprived neighbourhood to share a ‘beautiful moment’ from her life. She drew herself with a tearful face, and said: My 12-year-old sister threatened me with a knife and I decided to leave home. Closing the door behind me, that was my beautiful moment. Beautiful moments aren’t always happy ones. A beautiful moment is a moment you can draw something good from. A moment that stays in your heart, as they say in Japan.

In the period from 2013 to 2019, I got people in 30 countries to draw 11,134 beautiful moments. I’d been doing that myself for years and it always made me feel happier. I wanted to help other people reflect on their own beautiful moments as well. If you can get people to tell their stories and share them with each other, that helps to build mutual trust

You can trust people a lot more than I thought

I set out with a backpack, five hundred blank postcards, a laptop, a scanner and a hundred felt-tip pens. I’d crowdfunded the money I needed to travel one continent. As it turned out, I had enough to travel three. The people I met along the way were so generous. I arranged free accommo dation through couch-surfing websites. The Dutch Railways, KiwiRail in Australia and MTrack in the United States sponsored my train tickets in exchange for articles about my adventure, people donated and I also gave lectures about the project. Those talks actually brought in quite a bit of money.

Never knowing where to find things in the supermarket got a little tiresome at times, but I didn’t miss any material things. If you actually live in poverty, you can’t think straight; you need to avoid that. Still, my bank balance doesn’t define my worth. I also don’t rate other people based on how much they have in the bank. Before I started travelling, I used to think ‘I must be really naive to believe that people are good’. Now I think they’re great! You can trust people even more than I thought.

Beautiful moments aren’t always happy ones

Foto van Janne Willems
Janne Willems
Foto van Janne Willems in Melbourne