3 Questions with... Nikki See of the Under-Told Stories Project

"The universal toy is the bicycle tire and the stick. You would see kids rolling that everywhere in the world."

Editor’s note: Students in ThreeSixty Journalism’s Rookie Journalist Camp in June spent time writing a Q-and-A story about guest speakers who visited camp. Check ThreeSixtyJournalism.org for more of these profiles, as well as student blogs.

A collection of toys from various countries.

That’s what Nikki See, a producer and editor for the Under-Told Stories Project, has brought home with her as the result of her reporting trips.

See, who loves to travel, uncovers many unheard voices in many countries through her stories with director and correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro on the Under-Told Stories Project, and she collects toys along the way. Her passion for collecting toys comes from watching kids in third-world countries make toys out of anything, she said.

“I started seeing all over the world these things that I called village toys, and in the most poor places in the world, children will a find way to make toys out of anything,” See said.

See, who has been producing stories and programs for PBS television for 15 years, has covered stories such as farmer suicides in India, the garment industry in Cambodia and HIV in Haiti. She has numerous awards, such as the CINE Golden Eagle and a SAJA award.

Q: What was your favorite place to visit and why?

See: My favorite city in the whole wide world is Mexico City, which a lot of people think is kind of strange because it's known as this murderous capital, but it's the most beautiful, gorgeous, amazing, interesting place in the world.

I guess I can't really say I have a favorite. I love the whole continent of Africa. It's so exciting, interesting, beautiful. We work in India the most, and I have a total love-hate relationship With India. It's like my second home, but it’s also very frustrating to work in.

Q: You like toys. What toy did you get from India, and what is its significance?

See: I’ve gotten lots of toys from India. I’ve gotten dolls, and little wooden rickshaws and airplanes. I collect toys but I think that the reason that I became interested in it was because as soon as I started traveling I started seeing all over the world these things that I called village toys, and in the most poor places in the world, children will a find way to make toys out of anything.

The universal toy is the bicycle tire and the stick. You would see kids rolling that everywhere in the world. It’s like inventing the wheel, it was invented in several different places throughout human history at the same time. Same thing with this particular toy, because it’s everywhere.

I remember being in Haiti and a hurricane zone – Haiti is a very, very, very desperately poor place, and a little kid had a piece of fabric, basically a rag with the inside of a speaker, sort of like the round part of the speaker that was just trashed, and he had it attached and he was just dragging it around, and I said “Oh, what does your toy do?” And he drug it around and said, “See? See?” And I was like, “Well that’s great.”

I’ve seen kids make stuff out of corn cobs, out of medicine bottles. It’s just all kinds of different stuff, so that’s kind of how I got interested in toys.

Q: What made you interested in telling the story about the clothing industry in Cambodia?

See: I guess I kind of have an interest in things that are connected to our lives here in the U.S.

As a Midwesterner born and raised and with the ability to go out in the world and see what a lot of different people are doing, I’ve always been interested in how we connect with that personally. That’s probably how I got interested in the garment industry, is we see all these wonderful clothes we buy in the store and I kind of wondered, “Where do they come from? Who makes them? “How much are these people paid? How much does the companies make that are paying them? How much of the cost of this dress goes to the person who made it versus the CEO of the company?” Those kinds of questions made me interested in that specific subject.

This transcript has been edited for length and content.

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