Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Site!

We have been putting in 16 hour days on the website to update it with stories from the journey. Next week our first story will be published in the Huffington Post and we will relaunch the site with new media galleries. Thanks for your patience! For more check out and

Monday, June 29, 2009

Games for Change

Multimedia games that simulate real-world problems are becoming popular tools to educate youth about social issues."Games for Change" supports the people and organizations that create and use these digital games to raise-awareness about the issues they work on. Here are a few links to some of the games that organizations like UNHCR and the World Food Programme are using.

Many of these games also have links to sites where you can take action!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How does a film do more than tell a story?

I've been thinking a lot about how film can result in action for social causes. The first thought I have is that documentaries generate very impassioned responses from people. That's a documentary's first job, to get the attention of your conscience.

But less clear, and more important, is how can this sudden sense of solidarity, this empathy felt by the viewers, motivate them to take individual steps that will result in resolutions. And what about action on a larger scale? Do documentary films about social problems facilitate coalitions between the public, civil society organizations and government agencies that will solve them?

These questions arose after I watched a film at the Human Rights Watch International Film festival, Crude by Joe Berlinger. Crude follows a U.S. lawyer, an Ecuadorian Lawyer and the Secoya community in Ecuador as they fight Chevron in a law suit over the 18 billion gallons of toxic waste the company dumped into the Amazon over 28 years of oil drilling. I'm not going to go into depth about the film here, but you can read about it Definitely see it. The film brings to light real human struggles in the face of a powerful company's inhumane actions. It premiers in NYC at the IFC Center from Sept 9 - 22.

The poignant question for the filmmaker afterwards was how this film can do something tangible to bring justice to the Ecuadorians suffering because of this environmental disaster. One part of the answer was of course to generate a critical mass for the cause, but another was that film can be a tool to build the efforts of ongoing campaigns that fight injustice.

In making the film, the crew forged a connection with the organization Amazon Watch. Amazon Watch works to protect the Amazon and to advance the rights of indigenous people. Their website:

One of their campaigns aims to hold Chevron accountable for their environmental negligence in Ecuador and the $27 billion in damage they caused in local indigenous communities. Crude has definitely created buzz for Amazon Watch and the issue as a whole. The film screening is an opportunity for the organization to reach a large audience at a moment when they are particularly inspired and primed to take action - when the cause is fresh in their mind.

This blog post is an example of how film inspires action. I saw the movie, and now I'm doing what I can to spread the word. Go to the campaign website to help realize their goal. You can send a letter to Chevron shareholders, send Chevron a message that you disapprove of their actions or encourage a city to boycott Chevron products.

But a question that lingers for me is what has this film done for the indigenous communities? What has this publicity - this display of their lives; their health defects; and their vulnerability and strength in the face of an environmental disaster to millions of people - done for them? Have they been empowered? Did they feel like the story was told accurately and in consultation with them?

If a film can tell a story the way the people it's about want it to be told, that's when a film is empowering. This builds confidence, and for communities with minimal political power, gives them a voice to advocate for their recognition and well-being.

I'm interested in hearing thoughts about how you think documentary film and media can positively impact social causes.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Playing for Change

The New York Times recently featured Playing for Change in its new visual journalism blog called Lens. Playing for Change is a multimedia organization that inspires, connects and brings peace to the world through music.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Left Littered by War

The Vietnam war ended in 1975. But now, more than thirty years later, the people of Lao are still caught in it's aftermath. From 1964 to 1973 the U.S. flew more than half a million bomb missions to block North Vietnamese troupes through Laos(1).

Cluster bombs - one type of bomb the U.S. dropped during its missions - release dozens of smaller sub-munitions. These weapons injure so many civilians because they spread widely across heavily populated areas. When the bombs fail to explode on impact - and 30% of them do - they can stay on the ground years after combat ends. Approximately 78 million remain today in Laos(1).

People who come into contact with these bombs suffer severely. Loss of limbs and disability are common. Because Laotians living in rural areas (where many of these unexploded bombs are) have Limited access to health care, or the care is of poor quality, many victims die unnecessarily or end up in a worse medical condition than they would have if they had better treatment. Cluster bombs also perpetuate and exacerbate poverty. All of a sudden an injured person's family has medical bills it can't pay. The energy spent to help an injured person recuperate leaves less time for other day-to-day life sustaining activities.

An Organization in Lao called COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) was established in 1997 to help those affected by unexploded bombs. COPE trains community members in rehabilitation services and provides prosthetic and mobility devices for those who can't afford them. Cope also aims to prevent accidents from happening by informing the community about the dangers of unexploded ordnances. Check out the website for stories and pictures about their amazing work. (

Over 15 countries have used cluster munitions, and 85 countries have stockpiled them. Laos is only one of more than two dozen countries that have been affected by the use of these munitions(2). But as important as organizations like COPE are, they can't address the problem alone. The problem is a world-wide concern.

The problem can be broken down into three main issues: preventing future use of cluster bombs, assisting survivors and cleaning up cluster bombs that remain on the ground. The Convention on Cluster Munitions - signed by 94 countries as of December 2008 - is an effort to find solutions to these three problems. (

This treaty prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions; provides a framework for assistance to survivors; and calls for clearance of contaminated areas within 10 years. If ratified, the instrument will create a stronger global intolerance towards the use and storage of cluster bombs.

The United States heavily bombed Laos during the Vietnam war (and thus contributed to the abundance of unexploded cluster bombs on the ground now) but still hasn't signed the treaty. 28 NATO member countries have signed. As a NATO member country, the US is out of step with most of its major military allies says Steve Goose, Arms Division director of Human Rights Watch. Russia, China and Israel are also major users of cluster bomb that haven't signed. There is hope, though. President Obama passed legislation on March 11, 2009 stating that cluster munitions can only be exported if they leave behind less than 1 percent of their sub-munitions as duds.

The true heroes are not the signatories of the convention but rather the organizations that brought states together around the issue in the first place. The Coalition on Cluster Munitions, composed of civil society organizations such as Handicap International and Human Rights Watch, spearheaded the development of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Coalition encourages civil society to participate by writing letters or emails to their representatives in government, organizing public meetings, debates, exhibitions and other events to raise awareness of the problem. Their website is a great resource for how to get involved in the campaign to ban cluster bombs. And please do!

1. Cluster Munitions Problem.

2. Cluster Munitions Coalition - The Problem

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Seeds For Change

Michael Trainer's vision for See Change Global came to fruition on a 9 month journey to document the work of individuals and organizations creating sustainable solutions to grave social problems. After meeting with dedicated people, Micheal wanted to share, with the world, his glimpses of a humanity determined to lift itself up. See Change Global transformed into a way to communicate this through media.

But he knew that "action" needed to follow the communication. It is the critical component in his cause, and to inspire action he not only tells engaging stories about social change, but also wants to build a community, a community where people create meaningful work. See Change Global thus became a campaign to connect the individuals and organizations devoted to solving deep-rooted social problems.

Michael started traveling in South East Asia, where in Cambodia a visit to the remains of the victims of the Pol Pot regime left him feeling helpless. But it was this devastation that marked a critical point in his consciousness. He could continue feel disheartened or he could channel his energy productively. He chose the latter, and raised money alongside Charity:Water, an organization that builds wells for communities in need of water systems, to build one in Cambodia. It was with this same spirit of service that Michael was ready to document the shapers of social change in another part of the world. His next stop was Africa.

In Africa, Michael connected with an organization that is forging an organic renewal of Kenyan communities: the Greenbelt Movement. Started by the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, the GBM is an example of how to reinvigorate a community by involving Kenyans in their own sustainable development.

The GBM pays local communities to plant seeds in forest catchment areas, private farms and public spaces. As a holistic development organization, GBM trains communities in good governance, advocacy and environmental justice through seminars; shares approaches with development workers in Africa; creates opportunities for eco-tourism, a program by which travelers learn about conservation in Kenya and contribute to the work themselves; and facilitates the involvement of women and children in income generating projects.

Machakos, one area in Kenya where Greenbelt Movement works, suffers from tremendous drought. Many people in the community are dying because of lack of water.

For only an inch of dirty water people dig into a dried out riverbed. This young girl in the picture has come to siphon the little bit of water she can from the ground. Juxtaposed by the five gallon water can, the cup full of water she will get is the only source of water for an entire community of people.

The best way to communicate the value of the Greenbelt Movement's work is through stories about the people whose lives have improved dramatically because of its efforts. One family went from struggling to eat enough every day to having a perpetual source of revenue, allowing three daughters to get an education. Staring in the 80's this family regenerated a deforested area.

Through this project they acquired enough money to buy a chicken house - a production of 170 eggs a day - and a bee hive that they harvest 4 times a year.

Now this family can subsist entirely on its own. The only time they need to leave the house is for wheat and oil.

The idea started with a seed and grew into something that transcends the challenges of poverty: healthy and empowered communities with the ability to subsist independently. The Economic benefit, for example, is clear; compared to the children in the slums of Nairobi, communities touched by GBM had better clothes, were better nourished and healthier overall.

The Greenbelt Movement is now one of See Change Global's partners, one model of many that social entrepreneurs are using to battle the systemic causes of poverty, hunger and disease. Can you imagine how you might become part of this movement? or perhaps how your skills - whether they be medical, technical, entrepreneurial or artistic - can help? Well, even if you can't, that's where See Change Global can. And See Change Global will take you past imagining to banding together to make it happen.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is a word we hear often now. We hear it in the news, political speeches promising better policies and in the everyday conversation about the fate of our environment and livelihoods. Despite our exposure to the term, most of us have a hard time defining it.

Sustainable development is about the actions we take today and how they affect our world in the future. Seems simple, but it’s not easy to understand how this translates into our day-to-day lives. It takes energy, knowledge and practice to live while thinking about the impact of our actions on the environment. Difficult but essential, and worth everything if humanity wants to reduce pollution, promote conservation and to use natural resources responsibly on a daily basis. Only then will there be hope for a bright future.

Complications in making sustainable development a reality arise because environmental, social and economic phenomena are not mutually exclusive. Changes in environmental policies may affect economic progress. For example, rural farmers might suffer economically if they can’t clear forestland for crops to make a living. On the other hand, if we don’t protect forests, the environment may become too inhospitable for farmers to grow crops at all. An important objective is to find a balance between economic, environmental and social approaches to development.

A multi-sector approach is needed for solutions to complicated problems like these. The main actors in society bring different skills to the table. The public sector creates policies and laws that limit harmful practices while the private sector creates markets for resources important to local communities and funds non-profits dedicated to the social good. Ultimately, progress is up to individuals and communities because they know the needs of the land and their people. The community is what brings together multi-sector partnerships that take up challenges such as climate change and resource management. Sustainable development is a global effort in every sense of the word.

These are some big ideas that are not east to digest in one sitting. To illustrate the importance of sustainable development in our lives today I’ll get more specific with an example.

Indonesia is a country rich in resources that need protection and conservation. The Archaepelago covers 1.3% of the earth’s land with 17% of the earth’s plant and animal species. Indonesia is also where 451 million tonnes of CO2 emissions are emitted per year from energy, agriculture and waste. Wild fire and peat bogs also contribute to the emissions.

In 1997, as a result in weather changes from “el Nino”, the forests were uncharacteristically dry. Fires intentionally started to clear the land for farming got out of control and caused a huge spike in atmospheric CO2. This was subsequently called the South East Asian Haze.

Since the South East Asian Haze, multiple partnerships have developed to prevent further environmental degradation and crises. Of note is the work of the Nature Conservancy in collaboration with nine international and Indonesian organizations. The Conservation training and Resource Center was the result of this collaboration. The main goals of the center are to develop a conservation curriculum and to train natural resource managers. In essence, it’s sustainable development from a grassroots approach.

The USAID Mission in Indonesia for development resource management is part of various partnerships. They work with the Indonesian government, NGOs and international organizations to increase orangutan conservation, prevent logging and improve water and environment programs.

For more information on conservation and sustainable development in Indonesia there are two films I’d suggest watching. The first I haven’t seen yet. It’s called The Burning Season It’s about the fires in Indonesian forests and an entrepreneur that sets out to see how he can help. It’s showing at the Tribeca Film Festival until Tuesday 4/28. My coworker sent the other one to me. It’s about orangutan conservation in Indonesia. It’s 48 minutes long. Click “streaming”.

P.S. - I recommend looking at The Greenbelt Movement website, an organization based in Kenya.