NISKAYUNA -- The love project, or what some are calling “My love for you is so great it has reached . . .” is out to prove the world isn't as divided as it may seem.
At least that’s what Gigi Benami has found. A Niskayuna graduate who attends Hudson Valley Community College, she was looking for a way to celebrate her first Valentine’s Day with boyfriend Ben Candib when she stumbled across the love project, which uses social media to share a message of love with others around the globe.
Thousands of people do it each year, either as a way to celebrate someone’s love or in memory of a loved one. There are various Facebook groups dedicated to helping users connect, but it takes a lot of reaching out to get a message delivered to multiple countries.
Benami started sending out a short blurb about her love story through Facebook, along with a request to send photos from wherever the readers were, along with the message: “Ben, Gigi’s love is so big that it’s reached (insert location here).”
After posting the request on a few Facebook groups and pages -- including Humans of New York and other popular blogs -- she was surprised by the response, she said. Within the first day, she received almost 100 photos from around the world.
“My phone actually crashed,” Benami said, explaining she was getting too many messages and responses for the device to handle.
Though some people set goals for how many countries they’d like to reach or how many photos they’d like to get, Benami wasn’t as intrigued by numbers as she was by the details in the photos.
“There’s a different story behind every photo,” she said.
One response came from Pakistan, making her realize the project was more than a Valentine’s Day surprise for her boyfriend. The photo features a woman and her young son holding up a sign that wishes Benami and Candib “much love.”
Benami and Candib are both Jewish, and Pakistan is predominantly an Islamic country. Due to the history of conflict between those of the Jewish faith and Muslims; she was moved by the simple display of kinship.
“It breaks the barrier a little bit, and it shows that we’re all human,” Benami said.
Not all responses have been positive, however.
Some Facebook users tried to discourage others from sending photos, claiming Benami’s idea was just a scam. Others said that they didn’t want to send photos because President Donald Trump has shown hatred toward their countries.
Benami was also asked about her opinion of the president and the state of the nation, though she tried to avoid discussing politics throughout the project.
One respondent from South Africa told Benami he hesitated before sending the photo because he doesn't agree with Trump’s policies, and he grappled with whether or not sending the photo would in some way support them. But he decided to send it anyway.
“This has taught me a lot: As much hate as there is around the world, there’s also love,” Benami said.
In Europe, one company saw her request and went beyond sending a response in the form of a photograph. Employees with Teespring, a T-shirt design company, saw the request from their London office and laid out Benami’s message on a shirt. It landed on her doorstep just days after she began the project.
Closer to home, Benami mentioned the project to one of her marketing professors at HVCC, and it’s spurred research into marketing of a different sort.
“It’s actually going to be my final project of the semester now,” Benami said. All told, she reached more than 40 countries and six continents with the project.
For a Valentine’s Day surprise, Benami will present all of the photos and stories she’s collected to Candib, along with all the photos and stories gathered in a gift box.
“He’s going to be stunned,” Benami said.