Exposures


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Amazing Organizations We Experienced

Text by Dick Simon

We visited with and learned about NGO and social enterprise organizations doing amazing work. Explore their websites and see the differences they are making in the world.

Akilah Institute for Women – Kigali Rwanda – Akilah is the first women’s college in Rwanda and offers a 3-year Business Diploma with majors in Entrepreneurship, Hospitality Management and Information Systems. 97% of Akilah students are the first in their family to attend higher education. Akilah seeks to “build future generations of women leaders and professionals in East Africa” by connecting its graduates directly to the workforce.” Founded and led by Elizabeth Dearborn-Hughes (Elizabeth@akilahinstitute.org).

ASYV (Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village) – Rwanda – ASYV is a magical village less than two hours from Kigali for orphans of the genocide in a boarding school environment with top teachers, world-class facilities and emotional support. ASYV’s mission is to “enable orphaned and vulnerable youth to realize their maximum potential by providing them with a safe and secure living environment, health care, education and necessary life skills.” Founded by Anne Heyman (anne@asyv.org)

Dakshana – Dakshana – Kottayam, Kerala, India and 5 other locations throughout the country – provides an intensive, final two years of secondary school for economically disadvantaged, extremely bright youth with high potential from rural villages to prepare them for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) entrance exams, completely changing their potential life course. Dakshana’s mission “is to focus on investing in the delivery of world-class education opportunities for exceptionally gifted children from impoverished rural backgrounds in India.” We spent time with CEO, Colonel Ram Sharma (rsharma@dakshana.org), and founder and major funder Mohnish Pabrai (mpabrai@pabraifunds.com) is an amazing individual and friend.

Free the Children (FTC) – Udiapur, India with development programs in China, Ecuador, Haiti, Kenya, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka, as well as empowering youth in North America and the UK.  FTC is the largest network in the world of children helping children through education, health, clean water & sanitation, agriculture & food security, and alternative income generation. Their Adopt-a-Village model has been cited as one of the best in the world for lifting people out of poverty and addressing the Millennium Development goals. It was an inspiration and pleasure spending time with Scott Lloyd Hanoman (lloyd@freethechildren.org) who runs India for FTC or contact Executive Director Scott Baker (scott@freethechildren.org).  I am honored to be on FTC’s Board for the last 5 years, and to know and have the opportunity to work with the amazing Founders, Marc and Craig Kielburger.

Gardens for Health International (GHI) – Kigali, Rwanda – “Provides lasting agricultural solutions to the problem of chronic childhood malnutrition.” GHI partners “with rural health clinics to equip families facing malnutrition with seeds, livestock, and know-how for greater self-sufficiency.” Their investment has enabled over one thousand farmers to “have the resources to feed themselves and their families in dignity.” GHI’s founder is Julie Carney (Julie@gardensforhealth.org).

Ikirezi Natural Products – Kigali, Rwanda – This fantastic social enterprise creates jobs and economic vitality through sustainable and organic essential oil production utilizing Fair Trade principles. Ikirezi “partners with small farmers in Rwanda to harvest plant leaves for essential oil production. Ikirezi primarily works with widows and orphans in a holistic effort to resort their dignity, improve their livelihoods, and rebuild their communities.” Nicholas Hitimana (nicholas@ikirezi.com) runs the company and we were introduced through his partner and fellow YPOer Dennis Overton (dennis.overton@aquascot.com).

Project Healthy Children (PHC) – Kigali, Rwanda, as well as Burundi, Honduras, Malawi, Mali and Nepal. PHC works with the governments to develop micronutrient fortification requirements, strategies, standards and programs to address, on a very cost effective national scale, the effects of devastating micronutrient malnutrition. As a small nonprofit, PHC “assists government and industry in designing and implementing countrywide, market-based, mandatory food fortification programs.” Contact David Dodson (ddodson@projecthealthychildren.org). I am honored to have served on PHC’s Board.

Reality Tours (Global Exchange) – Mumbai, India – Global Exchange “is an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world.” As an “education and action resource center, Global Exchange seeks to “empower locally and connect globally to create a just and sustainable world.” Reality Tours offers “experiential educational tours, connecting people to issues, issues to movements, and movements to social change.” Reality Tours gave us fascinating and inspirational insights into Dharavi, featured in Slum Dog Millionaire, presenting to us a real behind the scenes look at the incredible people and economic enterprises active there. Every visitor to Mumbai should experience Reality Tours.  Contact Alessandro Isola in the Reality Tours Department.  Alessandro@globalexchange.org

Rwanda Genocide Memorial and Museum – Kigali, Rwanda –Stands as a living memorial to the million Rwandan Tutu genocide victims slaughtered over a 100 day period, honoring their memory and providing current awareness and education to ensure that horrific events like this never occur again. “The Centre in Kigali was created by a joint partnership of the Kigali City Council and the UK-based Aegis Trust. It contains a permanent exhibition of the Rwandan genocide and an exhibition of other genocides around the world.” Built on a site containing the graves of over 250,000 Rwandan victims, it serves as “a clear reminder of the cost of ignorance.” Honore Gatera is the amazing Manager for Kigali Genocide Memorial. (honore.gatera@gmail.com).

Uthando – Cape Town, South Africa – Uthando creates a bridge between visitors to Cape Town who seek to learn more about the Townships and make a difference, and inspiring community based organizations. Director James Fernie (jamesfernie@uthandosa.org) leads Uthando South Africa, “a unique and innovative nonprofit and fair trade in tourism accredited company, with the aim of raising funds and other forms of assistance for community development projects in South Africa.” Every visitor to Cape Town should experience Uthando and the incredible organizations it is allied with.

Video Volunteers (VV) – India – VV “envisions a world in which all disadvantaged communities have their own locally relevant and locally produced media that celebrates their culture, voices grassroots concerns, and stimulates dialogue to find solutions to endemic problems.” VV acts to empower the poorest citizens of the world to become “players in the global media revolution” by providing “disadvantaged communities with the journalistic, critical thinking and creative skills they need.” Jessica Mayberry’s (info@videovolunteers.org) Video Volunteers “train marginalized communities to produce news, watch it, take action and devise solutions.”

WasteLess – India– This non-profit social enterprise has developed Garbology 101, an “interactive, interdisciplinary, multi-age educational kit for children from 6 to 12 years of age, providing a unique perspective on waste and its responsible management.” Garbology 101 provides the children of today the information on waste management they need to make informed decisions for tomorrow, using a “participatory approach with a high level of involvement from teachers and students.” Founder Ribhu Vohra continues his work on effective waste management, working to make this waste education a worldwide habit.

Women For Women International (WfWI)– Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Sudan – Women for Women International “provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies.” This work helps “women go from victim to survivor to active citizen and provides financial aid, job training, rights awareness and leadership education.” Antonina Kayitesi (akayitesi@womenforwomen.org) operations in Rwanda, an office we had an opportunity to visit and learn about their work in the socio-economic transformation of Rwandan Women, truly changing the world one life at a time.

YPO/WPO Social Enterprise Network (SEN) – The SEN Summit in Chennai, India was an initiative of SEN Ambassadors, business leaders around the world, celebrating the spirit of ten outstanding Indian social entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas and commitment to solve specific social issues close to their hearts.  This amazing conference was the brainchild and very hard work of JK Jhaver.

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Top Experiences List

Text and Images by Dick Simon

Most of the writings about our experiences have been from Patty, who has been GREAT at being prolific and sharing.  I have been busily photographing, and those images are used in conjunction with her writings throughout the blog.

I love to reflect back on a trip or experience by thinking about the Top Experiences.

For me the overall best was spending the special times with Alex, Ben and Patty in Africa, and Patty throughout this journey (and sharing all of this with her, including helping with her collecting discarded bottle cap project).

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In terms of specifics, my highlights would include:

JP sharing his deeply personal genocide experiences, and helping us imagine the unimaginable.  In Kibuye, Rwanda we walked through the market in his village, realizing that many of the ‘nice’ merchants has been directly involved in slaughtering their friends and family; and seeing his home and the houses of the neighbors still living there, who had murdered his family. This surrealistic scene also hit me at a soccer game the first night in Kigali – ‘normal’ people cheering their teams – how did they become mass murderers?

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Gorillas – Being face to face with these massive ‘cousins’ in the wild in Rwanda is definitely a top life experience.

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Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India– Being in the midst of millions of Pilgrims coming from all over India, and thousands of Sadhus, or wise men, the first night photographing everybody walking around in a cloud of DDT, the 2am bathing day wanderings with the Sagers and being swarmed by hundreds of naked, ash covered Nagas racing in a stoned frenzy to the river.

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Ulagalla Resort – The ultimate Peace Dividend in Sri Lanka –developed immediately after the war, the only Sri Lankan hotel included in a TripAdvisor Top Ten list, and for us coming at the perfect time when we needed a break. We took walks, did bicycle explorations, watched fisherman at sunset and took a morning kayak to see and photograph birds, and spent 3 days of eating our Anniversary cake, which we first got at a magical anniversary dinner on their Observation Deck.

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Spending time with the Maharana of Udaipur, India in his amazing palace to brainstorm ways of working together to improve lives in that region of Rajasthan, which his family has been Custodian of the region through over 70 generations and 1400 years.

Really joining celebrations – There is something about being a foreigner with a camera which I experience as license to be in the middle of everything going on, rather than a well behaved bystander – being the only white face in the Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year) parade and celebration in Cape Town, and being invited to climb onto the parade floats with the most esteemed Hindu Sadhus at the Kumbh Mela procession (our guide said people did good deeds for a lifetime to achieve that honor – ignorance is bliss!)

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In greater Kruger National Park, South Africa – coming upon a pride of resting lions at night, who gave blood curdling roars.  (I know that for some inexplicable reason we were ‘safe’ from these apex predators in our open sided jeep, but really…)

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The slow pace of traveling by houseboat in the Backwaters of Kerala.

Mumbai-with its overall intensity and contrasts, from arriving to Suki’s Protocol Officer and a sumptuous dinner in his amazing home and another with YPOers leading many of India’s major companies, to touring the slums and largest open laundry in the world, and the magnificent Hotel Oberoi as our oasis from the frenzy.

In Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, heart of Tamil Tigers during the war, befriending the officer sent to check out and potentially punish us for taking photos.  Once he became convinced we were not with an NGO there to embarrass the government, we became buddies and I took our picture together!

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Watching groups of monkeys diving from the trees into the lake at Cinnamon Lodge – I never knew they could swim!

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YPO SEN Summit in Chennai and the synchronicity of the timing working out perfectly to participate with this fantastic group of business leaders and social entrepreneurs.

In a more general sense,

I love the serendipitous encounters made possible by creating space and time in travels – fisherman, watching crocodile in the ocean, happening upon the Tsunami photographic museum in Sri Lanka.

I love how photography gives me purpose and connection to what is going on around me, and really helps me ‘see’.  While I am not fond of long days in the car getting from point A to Point B, Patty has helped me see that as a movie unfolding outside our vehicle, and I have been working on a Through the Windshield photo project.

I love the fascinating people we randomly met, including Japanese photographer Dan Honda who taught me the good thing about Leica’s ‘unusefulness’ and reminded me to take long walks and shoot closer.

I love the continual learning about the world and about complexities – Does post-conflict really exist? Is the conflict over with ongoing random killings of Tutsis (Rwanda), racial strife (South Africa) and soldiers (Sri Lanka)? What was and is India’s involvement in the Sri Lanka conflict?

I love the flow of travel – multiple experiences constantly juxtaposed on each other, with a pace, intensity and stimulation on all dimensions which I rarely experience in other environments.

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Belief

Text by Patty Simon | Image by Dick Simon
India

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Dick likes to tell everyone that this trip is about spiritual journeys and justifies why we headed to the largest religious gathering in the world at the Kumbh Mela in India. My gut cringes each time I hear because I am not very “religious” so when I witness various “religions”, it does not do much for my own spiritual journey. But, I let it go and try to just be open to whatever happens in these countries with such intense, varied belief systems.

We have gone from Christianity to Hindu to Buddhist to Muslim and back to all four living next to each other side by side.

So here is where my journey has led. In terms of religion… Nowhere. Though I have always respected others beliefs, I find myself foreign to it all. I think I have a gene missing. When I go into these sacred shrines, all I see is decoration and fascination for what these gods look like or how they are honored with offerings. Even the Christian churches feel foreign because all I can think of are missionaries imposing foreign beliefs on an already embedded belief system of thousands of years.

As an artist I have always been obsessed with shrines. I take pictures of every one I see (well, in India this is impossible as they are every 50 feet and we could never get to our next destination). I collect offerings. I study design and what qualities make a “shrine”. I have wanted to do an art installation but I get snagged by one problem. Because of my lack of religious belief, what would I pay homage to? I have thought about this year after year and it keeps me from actually producing the show. (An invitation to anyone reading this, if you have any ideas, please let me know)

So… Belief! If not religious, what would my belief look like?

I’ve decided my belief is about what God creates… the beautiful natural landscape and the people that exist in this huge world. My belief is wrapped up in their belief that life is worth living and struggling for – in the everyday and the tiniest of kindnesses.

 


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An Artificial Utopia

Text by Patty Simon | Image by Dick Simon
India

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Realities come in all shapes and sizes.

The layers of a culture are twisted and tangled.

I include the United States.

Dick and I are traveling on a more expensive level, which means we are sometimes separated from the local culture. Literally by walls and gates at exclusive resort properties but also by differences in cultural moiré. We balance this by ditching our guides and walking the streets talking to the locals and mixing where we stay. Right now most of the guests at our hotel are local Hindus here to see a famous shrine and the bathroom has no shower stall.

One of my favorite things to do is driving in a “protected” car and watching the world go by. It is like watching a movie. Everyone is outside living everyday life so it is so rich visually. Sometimes I just make a list… every living vignette, interaction, business, shrine, clothing, sign, sound and advertisement.

So, I find myself in different utopian situations. This came home to me yesterday in the car. I decide to listen to David Benoit’s song “If I Can Believe”, ironically off his “American Landscape” album. I am listening to music that always triggers an emotional reaction and none larger than today in India. Tears are rolling down my face as I am overwhelmed by my good fortune in witnessing all this. I always feel lucky in finding little pieces of heaven in these beautiful walled resorts but today the utopia is witnessing the people on the streets. Most don’t have much but they have enough to be included in the base reasons for living – work, shelter, food, family and community.

I now know my utopia is found on the streets of every culture we visit.

 


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Underdressed

Text by Patty Simon | Image by Dick Simon
Sri Lanka

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Dick and I took a day off – which means pool day by the ocean for me at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo.

I wear a one-piece Speedo suit because I am a lap swimmer more than a sunbather so I always feel a tad dowdy sitting around all the bikinis.

I was contemplating all this when my eye catches a sparkle. That sparkle led to a jewel of many jewels and beautiful brocade sewn on white satin draped in lilac voile… stunning! I look up and can’t believe my eyes. Promenading by my chaise lounge is a wedding party, Sri Lankan style – bride and groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen and lastly, adorable flower girls and boys.

Here I was looking like a drowned rat with wet plastered hair in a soggy suit watching a scene out of Cinderella complete with fancy finery of flowing saris, glittery sandals and fragrant flower bouquets.

It was surreal and magical but comical at the same time. Tradition states that a videographer poses the young couple in various settings. This time it means parading around a pool at a hotel.

Underdressed? I would say so! I must buy a sequined suit for future fancy occasions.

 


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Foreign Exchange

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
Sri Lanka

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Still at the Buddhist temple, we find a particularly gorgeous Buddha behind glass in glistening gold plate adorned with so much gold memorabilia that you need to wear sunglasses. We both get into shooting artfully composed photos competing on whose are the best!

Dick spies a collection of coin and paper money offerings. I find my own treasure in the pile, a coin wrapped in white fabric offered to “buy” good luck.

In true Dick fashion, he tries and succeeds with very little language between himself and the head monk to “trade” the coins for paper money with a donation thrown in. Dick says, “Takey, Takey?” and the monk says “No problem!” and begins helping us sort the coins. In friendly conversation, we find out our new friend the monk, named Wen Ariyakiththi Tero, will be in NYC in April so we exchange information and hope to connect on a trip to see our daughter at NYU. After collecting the “loot”, we use the toilet, buy two tiles for the museum they are building (just like buying a brick at the YMCA) and collect what I think is “holy water” from a special sink near the shrine.

 


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Protocol

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
Sri Lanka

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Remember the saying, ” Do as the Romans Do”? This is our mantra in visiting other cultures. The only problem is what exactly are the customs. We are very conscious of representing our own country showing as much friendliness and respect as we can muster. We found often in Sri Lanka, even in the heavy tourist destinations, that we were the only Americans. There were many Germans and Russians. We did meet one US family living in Afghanistan.

So, the temples seem to have rules that are not quite obvious. We know to take off our shoes. We did not know but should have taken off our sun hats.  What we did not know was shirts are not allowed on men in Hindu temples. Dick was asked to remove his shirt just like the monks. Of course the monks looked good and Dick looked silly especially when he has two huge cameras hanging around his bare chest!