Archive for the ‘Profiles’ Category

CHANGERS PROFILE-Adam Harman: MALDIVES WHALE SHARK RESEARCH PROGRAMME

If you know me and have been anywhere around me or this blog since I returned from my recent trip to the Maldives, you know (I’ve probably told you breathlessly over and over) that I had the astounding experience of swimming with a whale shark. (We’ve since deduced that it was likely “Ayesha” one of only four known females in the Maldivian region where we were–a juvenile female about 6 meters/18 feet long). I had looked into this program of researchers and advocates in the Maldives and the work they were doing with Whale Sharks before I went, and since getting home have exchanged a bunch of emails with Adam Harman at the organization. I think their work is not only fascinating, it is life changing, not only for the whale sharks, but for everyone involved. Dedicating yourself to saving life is huge.

ADAM HARMAN  is the Director/Trustee of the MALDIVES WHALE SHARK RESEARCH PROGRAMME Ltd (Registered Charity Number 1130369).

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) exists to conduct whale shark research projects and foster community focused conservation initiatives in the Maldives.

Adam has volunteered his time on a variety of projects around the globe over the last 16 years – from Villa Tunari’s animal sanctuary in Bolivia to ‘self build’ projects and the building of schools in Australia, Asia, and the UK – at the same time as gaining a wealth of business knowledge from the running of a successful business since 1997.

Growing up on Australia’s west coast, the Ocean has had a strong hold over Adam’s life. He became involved in the MWSRP in April 2008 and quickly realized it was his calling.

Adam’s principal interest in developing the MWSRP is to protect and conserve the whale shark and its habitat while ensuring the local community benefit from their natural resources through more than mere resort employment.

His interest as a field researcher is in answering the many whale shark unknowns – discovering and understanding what habitats are important to these magnificent animals, if they are the migratory species they were once thought to be, how they interact with other populations and species, and how they respond to short and long term natural and anthropogenic changes in those key habitats.

The MWSRP’s overall scientific objectives are to contribute findings to scientific literature and to education, conservation, and management authorities to promote science-based conservation of ocean life. Continue reading

CHANGERS PROFILE: Jenny Buccos—PROJECTEXPLORER.ORG

buccosglobeAre you ready to fall in love? Seriously, the work of this organization gets it right on every single level and is inspiring in such a refreshing and deeply important way.

ProjectExplorer.org’s mission is to provide a global cultural experience through film and multimedia materials aimed at fostering the next generation of global citizens. ProjectExplorer.org’s award-winning online video series, photos, travel blogs, and encyclopedia-style research are provided free-of-charge to kids and classrooms around the world and these programs cover multiple subject areas that cultivate cross-cultural understanding.

You want to go there (here’s the link) and check it out—make sure you’ve got some time set aside because you’ll get lost in the world they’ve created. I feel so lucky to have recently had them cross my path and I look forward to our worlds intersecting again, soon and often.

Jenny M Buccos is the Director, Producer, and Founder of ProjectExplorer.org. In 2003, she founded ProjectExplorer.org as a way to educate youth about the world’s cultures, histories, and people. In 2005, she directed/produced ProjectExplorer.org’s first multimedia program, Shakespeare’s England. In 2007/2008, she directed/produced ProjectExplorer.org’s South Africa series; working with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. John Kani, the Apartheid Museum, Robben Island, The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, photojournalist Greg Marinovich, and musician Sipho Mabuse. In fall 2008, she directed/produced ProjectExplorer.org’s third series, Cultural Crossroads: Jordan. In 2009, Jenny received a GOLD Parents’ Choice Award for Excellence in Educational Programming.

She makes it seem effortless, and what she has done is the kind of thing you and I need to figure out how to do as well—making the world, and the stewardship of the world—accessible…

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CHANGERS PROFILE: Jen Bender-BROADWAY IN SOUTH AFRICA

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Jen Bender has to be the busiest woman in showbiz–her work on one of the biggest shows on Broadway, as one of the leaders of an inspiring Arts Education outreach program in South Africa, and as a regular volunteer herself makes me feel like I’m running in place while she leaves me in the dust.

Jen Bender is the Resident Director of Broadway’s The Lion King and the Artistic Director of Broadway in South Africa. She was the Assistant Director of Avenue Q (Broadway and Las Vegas), The Wedding Singer, and the revival of Steel Magnolias.  Regional: Godspell (St. Louis Muny).  She has taught theatre students of all ages at The Broadway Experience, Camp Broadway, The Artist’s Crossing, and the BFA program at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. She is one of the founders of the New York Musical Theatre Festival and a graduate of the theatre program at Northwestern University.  She is the Artistic Director of Broadway in South Africa, a non-profit that brings professional artists to South Africa to teach and perform. www.broadwayinsouthafrica.org

Mission Statement:

Broadway in South Africa aims to develop a cross-cultural exchange between youth who are in need and artists who seek to use their talents for change.   The project is comprised of professional artists who believe that, through performance and outreach, art can impact the development of youth throughout the world. 

What possessed you? It’s not like you weren’t already busy and up to your eyeballs with creative projects. There must have been easier things to start—why this?

Sean Bradford, one of the cast members in The Lion King, told me he was making a Broadway version of the Cape Town Project he had started in college at Northwestern (coincidentally, my alma mater, too) and asked if I would direct a benefit concert for them.  I said that not only would I direct the concert but I wanted to be part of the whole organization.  So I became the Artistic Director.

Why South Africa specifically? What called the group there?

Northwestern has an a cappella group called Thunk and they were traveling all over the world performing and someone recommended they go to Cape Town.  Four of our co-founders were in the group at that time. They went for the first time in 2004 and after that there was no question that they would keep going back there.

What obstacles along the way almost stopped you?

Raising money!  There has been an outpouring of support from other artists, organizations, friends—but financial support is much harder to come by.  It’s our greatest obstacle and it’s even harder because we’re a relatively new organization.  So if you’re reading this, go to our website and donate! (link here)

When pulling it all together, did family and friends support you or think you were nuts?

All of our friends and families have supported us.  I suppose after telling your family that you’re moving to New York to work on Broadway musicals, then starting an organization to teach children in Africa doesn’t seem so crazy.

Any advice for others wanting to create a service organization or charitable effort?

When we started, everyone we talked to at other non-profits said, “It’s great that you’re so passionate, but you have no idea what you’re getting into.”  And they were right.  But if you have that kind of passion, that feeling that you just HAVE to do this because it’s what you were meant to do, then by all means do it.  Change the world! kids

How do others get involved, and can I be a part if I am not a performer/creative person?

We have a participate link on our website with lots of options.  Of course the most helpful thing is for people to make a donation.  $20 from everyone reading this would be incredible!  We are always looking for volunteers to donate both time and resources.  Digital media is also a huge influence—when people join us on Facebook and Twitter, they can expose us to their friends, who expose us to their friends.  Once people know who we are and what we do, they will want to be involved in other ways.

If not this, what? (What service/charity work might you be doing if not Broadway in South Africa?)

If not directing Broadway musicals and doing Broadway in South Africa specifically, I would teach.  I teach theatre classes and computer education classes to students of all ages.  I hope I am always able to share knowledge and improve people’s lives, in any way I can.

What has been the best reward for the work you do?

Seeing the kids light up when they sing a song we taught them or they read a play they wrote in our playwriting class.  As a director, it’s also hearing the songs written for the concert since they are all world-premieres that were written just for that night.

What has been the greatest disappointment along the way?

Just that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done!  We all have full-time jobs in addition to running so it’s like working two full-time jobs, but without the income.  Thank God for the internet and Skype so I can work on BSA in the wee hours (it’s 3:00am now).

What’s next for Broadway in South Africa?

Our second annual benefit concert at Symphony Space on October 5th, a concert called “Women Who Rock for South Africa” in November, our annual Holiday Party in the lobby of the Minskoff Theatre in December, and our next trip to South Africa on January 10th, 2009.  We also perform at events all over New York so check the website for updates.  And this is where joining Twitter and Facebook keeps you in the loop!

Purchase Tickets for October 5 Benefit Concert here

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CHANGERS:PROFILE-Dominique Callimanopulos ELEVATE DESTINATIONS

dom_photoThis is another interview with somebody who has taken on making a huge change in the world while also creating a path for us to do the same. I met Dominique Callimanopulos in a simple desk-side meeting at my office where she had come to tell me a bit about her company, Elevate Destinations. I had been impressed for a while by Elevate’s website (even their tag line gets me in the best way: “Make Travel Matter.”), and even wrote one of my earliest blog postings, which Dominique didn’t know, about the company. I was immediately taken with how easy and comfortable she was in our conversation, and how lit up she was about the work she does. I wish that kind of passion on all of us…

Mission Statement: Elevate Destinations, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a philanthropic travel company that combines singular journeys with social good.  Five percent of the net cost of every trip is donated to local non-profits and projects that support the environment and community development. Customized itineraries feature community initiatives and volunteer opportunities as well as eco-hotels and lodges.  Elevate destinations also specializes in donor travel: organizing first class trips for donors and board members of leading international organizations.

Elevate also has a terrific “conscious travel blog” that you should absolutely bookmark: Responsive Travel.

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With Bedouin leader in Sahara Desert, 03/2009

Dominique Callimanopulos, Founder and CEO, grew up witnessing the disparity between tourists and local conditions they visit and created Elevate Destinations to provide unique travel which cares for local people, wildlife, and natural resources.
Dominique studied the impact of tourism in the Seychelle Islands for her Anthropology thesis at Wesleyan University and has continued to explore global social and human conditions through 25 years of work with social change organizations in the fields of human rights, international development, environmental protection, and psychology before founding Elevate Destinations in 2005.

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Tell me a little bit about the genesis of Elevate Destinations. What possessed you? There must have been easier things to start—why this?

Elevate Destinations was an outgrowth of Elevate, Inc. a consulting company I founded to work with clients making a positive social impact.  I was traveling a lot, consulting with international non-profit clients, and saw the opportunity to create a sustainable travel company that gave back to destination communities.  For me, this was a way to leverage funds for important global issues.

What obstacles along the way almost stopped you?

Nothing almost stopped me.  I have been excited about my company from the start!  While there has been a slowdown in travel on the consumer front this year, because of the economy, our donor travel programs have continued to flourish–testimony to the power of witnessing the impact of projects in the field.  We have used the recession to strengthen our programs and partnerships and develop new initiatives.
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Changers:Profile-Alexander Souri, Relief Riders International

souriI’ve decided to add a new element to the blog. I will be posting occasional interviews with people I’ve met who are “Agents of Change,” folks who have done or are doing astounding work making a difference in lives or sometimes providing the structure and opportunity for us to make a difference. I hope you’ll find them as inspiring as I do.

This first is with Alexander Souri, the founder of Relief Riders International and Relief Workers International. Full disclosure: I did a Relief Ride with Alexander in the desert of Rajasthan, India, where 14 of us traveled on horseback to deliver school and medical supplies, helped at free medical camps and cataract eye surgery camps, and delivered milking goats to poor families. In my field of travel writing, the description “life-changing” is bandied about loosely, but I could not be more sincere when I say this trip changed my life. (a stream of consciousness account of that trip can be found here: www.andrewmersmann.blogspot.com) That experience plays a huge part in what I am doing right now…

INTERVIEW: ALEXANDER SOURI, RELIEF RIDERS INTERNATIONAL, RELIEF WORKERS INTERNATIONAL

Mission Statement: Relief Riders International (RRI) is a humanitarian-based, adventure travel company that organizes horseback journeys through breathtaking areas in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, India.

Over the last four years Relief Riders International has held seven successful Relief Rides. During this period we were able to design and develop far reaching medical and educational programs providing school supplies, goats, medical care and cataract surgeries to rural communities in Rajasthan.

To date, our medical programs have given us the opportunity to treat over 15,000 villagers, including 7,800 children.

Building on the success of these programs we are always researching new ways to provide effective medical care to rural areas. Relief Riders International is pleased to introduce our free Dental Surgery Program. Villagers will be able to receive free dental care and minor surgeries on our Relief Rides scheduled for the winter of 2010.

This past year was spent launching Relief Workers International (RWI) offering a different travel experience while incorporating the same humanitarian programs without the use of horses.

WHAT POSSESSED YOU? THERE MUST HAVE BEEN EASIER THINGS TO START—WHY THIS?

Firstly it all had to do with where I was at in my life. I’d reached a point where I had been lucky enough to travel the world and do all sorts of colorful and interesting jobs—but there was no alignment. I was an observer and could do this skill here and that skill there, but it didn’t add up. I realized there was much more to life than what I was living. Mostly I looked to provide an opportunity to help other people, to give back, to start taking care of the planet, the place I lived. I started the journey of unraveling a wonderful childhood—no negativity or bad experiences—but unraveling the conventions of …childhood…getting back to myself. It was the real reason of me starting these trips. It’s been a five-year journey and it’s still continuing and it’s wondrous.

If we go into finding out why this, why did I try to create this experience, it has also to do with my sense of freedom. I have an interest in being free, both in the mind and the body and also on the planet. Being able to jump out of the mainstream and say I’d really love to go to a beautiful place and see if anybody needs help, and if so, create a system to provide that. It’s part of what I am, the archetype, the ability to jump on a horse or a motorcycle or [pilot] a plane always gives me a sense of replenishment and nourishment.

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