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The following obituary for Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010) was written by Ambassador Luis CdeBaca of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

 

“[E]nding this crime so monstrous is not a political issue; it is an American imperative, and a human responsibility.  This is why there are still modern-day abolitionists.  And this is why the rest of us should join them.”– Richard Holbrooke, 2008

At this week’s memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shootings, President Obama reminded us that we should strive to make our actions worthy of those who have fallen and those who – like Congresswoman Giffords – are still fighting for life.  Together, we mourned the loss of and commemorated the lives of a judge, committed citizens who had come to see their representative, and a precious child who embodied our hopes for the future.  As the President pointed out, the victims of last week’s shooting believed in the American ideal of open and responsive government in which honorable public servants work on behalf of an engaged citizenry.

This afternoon, many of us at the State Department attended a service to celebrate the life of a man who exemplified the best of public service – Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.  Many of you may be familiar with his storied history from Vietnam, his service as one of the youngest Assistant Secretaries in history and the only person to lead two different Regional Bureaus, his central role in ending the Balkan wars, or his recent work as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  But most people don’t know about Richard Holbrooke’s heartfelt commitment to fighting modern slavery.

Last year, Ambassador Holbrooke learned of a group of workers in Pakistan who were being held in debt bondage.  He did not write it off as a local dispute or beneath his notice.  He did not write it off to an entrenched social system in Pakistan, or fear that raising the issue would introduce a dischordant note into his critically important discussions with the Pakistani Government.  Rather, Ambassador Holbrooke did what he did best – a whirlwind of a week ensued with a combination of cajoling, working the phones, sending people off to meetings, and energizing the bureaucracies of two countries through sheer force of will.  The result?  Almost 200 people who had been held captive through force and threats are now free.  Because of Richard Holbrooke.

This was not an isolated incident.  Throughout his career, Ambassador Holbrooke saw not only the geopolitical stakes and the back and forth of negotiations, but the people that mattered, even in a hidden issue like modern slavery.  His own words express it best:

“One must never forget that slaves are first and foremost people.  Their lives are filled with sorrow and injustice – but also . . . they are touched with humor and joy.  Just like regular people.  Just like free people.”

Here at the State Department and at our embassies around the world, American diplomats strive to live up to his challenge, and his example.  Whether it is engagement with the host governments, support for civil society, or even uncovering and responding to trafficking cases, our diplomats are making a difference.  That’s how we strive to honor the memory of Ambassador Holbrooke.  That’s how we try to live up to the expectations of the public we serve.  We mourn for the fallen, and recommit ourselves to be worthy of their example.

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This series of posts documents two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible. (To catch up. start here.)

As you’ve read, we connected with Free The Slaves, a U.S. based NGO, and through them the Ghanaian organization we are currently working with, the Social Support Foundation (SSF).

A little about the organization:

Back in 1999, a consortium of local groups banded together to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and provide counseling to those living with the virus. Included in the coalition were religious groups, youth groups, tribal groups, civil groups, etc. They had been brought together by CARE International to cooperate on addressing HIV/AIDS issues across disparate interests and stakes. The idea was to provide a non-partisan forum that recognized all Ghanaians were in the same boat when it came to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As the project came to a close, a few dedicated individuals recognized the necessity of sustaining the actions of the group. Thus, the Social Support Foundation was founded. As SSF grew, it began to address other issues affecting Ghanaians, including slave labor and human trafficking, upon which much of their current efforts are focused.

This is the organization as we encountered it upon our arrival: a core group of arduously dedicated individuals striving to stretch a shoestring budget as far as possible. Jenny and I are inspired by them, and are determined to help in any way possible. As Jenny has a background in operations, I have a background in finance, and we both have dabbled in web design, we began to accumulate projects.

The first project we dug our claws into was designing a website for SSF. We hope this will provide a platform to promote the organization’s goals and assist in fundraising. It’s nearly finished; check out the work-in-progress here. We’ve also begun to help them revise their HR policy and develop a simple yet comprehensive accounting system. (Sexy, we know…) We’re hoping that the combination of clarity of goals and transparency of operations will help them cogently express their message to a larger audience who will then feel comfortable supporting the organization.

Along with these projects, we are also working on documenting their projects through video, photography, and writing. We’ll get more into this project on subsequent posts, but suffice it to say we’re really looking forward to this part of the gig.

Check back next week to learn about SSF’s efforts to combat child slavery in galamsey (small scale mining) operations in the area. Thanks again for checking in!

This series of posts documents two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible. (To catch up, start here.)

Having arrived safely in Obuasi, it was time to assess our surroundings and see what we had gotten ourselves into. Fortunately, the shock was not too great. We’re lodged in the former headquarters of the Social Support Foundation – our bedroom was previously an office, replete with office accoutrements (electricity, a ceiling fan, etc.) and one bonus: access to a shower. (Check out photos, here. Not of the shower…pervert.) Having envisioned living in a grass hut with increasingly gamey companionship, our living arrangement came as a pleasant surprise. The director of the organization we’re working with lives next door with his wife, Rita, and two sons, aged two-and-a-half and fifteen months. His house, along with the space we occupy, makes up a small compound surrounded by a wall topped with broken glass. Rita has endeavored to introduce us to the full spectrum of Ghanaian cuisine, and we have set to each meal with cro-magnon abandon (the Ghanaian custom of eating with one’s hands notwithstanding). In other words, our situation is what is referred to, in common parlance, as “plush.”

We share the compound with a few other inhabitants, including twenty-five goats, two dogs, several chickens and roosters, and one tricky mouse we have yet to get the best of. For the most part, the members of our little menagerie are very well-behaved and courteous. However, we have had occasion to chase down an errant goat or two, and the early morning goat-and-rooster discourse directly adjacent our window is only sometimes cause for objection.

Obuasi is a medium-sized municipality located in the jungled hills of Ashanti, halfway between Kumasi (in central Ghana) and the coast. Like most of Ghana, it is not immune to the heat and humidity for which West Africa is famous. It is a sprawling town that meanders through the hills and has several disparate city-centers. Many of the roads are paved, but dirt roads are more common. Sadly, Ghanaians have more pressing issues than littering, which is apparent throughout the town, where roadsides are littered with waste and gutters are clogged with discarded satchets (plastic bags that hold filtered water). Despite the litter, and taken as a whole, Obuasi is a pretty town with myriad charms.

We’ve provided a backdrop for our activities in Ghana – next Thursday, we’ll tell you all about the organization we’re working with. As always, we welcome any questions and observations in the comment section below.


…. After five days of unusually late Monsoon rainy weather in the Himalayas, this morning at 8AM October 19th local Nepali time – we took off from the highest runway in the world at over 13,000ft and climbed to 29,500ft+  flying past many of the great peaks of these amazing snow capped Mountains.  After 50 minutes, gaining altitude we circled Mount Everest coming within 1500 ft of the summit of the highest Mountain in the world…
Several minutes later strapped in a tandem rig to my instructor,  the door to the plane was opened – and far, far below me within the curvature of the earth lay a series of valleys, glaciers and Mountain peaks that stretched over the horizon into Tibet.  We jumped and the team set the highest  worlds altitude record for a tandem skydive – over Everest..

Without a doubt the most profound experience for me lay in those sublime moments – floating in the presence of these mighty Mountains,  rushing to the earth – and for a brief humble time-  in the Company of the Gods…..

After 30 minutes – we landed on Terra Firma…

……I am still breathless……

As we draw closer to the full moon on October 23rd , restless last nite I stayed awake photographing the  Himalayan Mountains bathed in Moonlight and stars….

This series of posts documents two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible. (To catch up. start here.)

After deciding to go to Ghana, we started the process of getting visas. Given that we will be working in Ghana for approximately five months, we need multiple entry visas, as the maximum stay is 90 days. The process seems fairly straightforward, but requires us to submit our travel itinerary (i.e. entry to and exit from the country) along with the application, meaning we have to buy our plane tickets in order to obtain the visa. Yikes. Non-refundable tickets at $1500 are a hell of a trigger to pull with no guarantee of entry into Ghana. Fortunately for us, the visa application turned out to be somewhat of a rubber stamp process. We got our visas back lickity split and now have a little more traveler “street cred” in our passports.

Next: vaccinations and meds. To travel to Ghana, you must have proof of yellow fever inoculation. There are several other shots that are recommended, as well (typhoid, meningitis, hep A, hep B, etc.). All told, I suffered bravely through five shots, complaining fiercely and bursting into snot-filled episodes of fitful weeping with each one. Jenny inoculated herself with a bamboo needle in between pulls of moonshine.

With a bloodstream chock full of viruses, we then faced our next microbial foe: malaria. There are two prophylactic options to protect oneself from malaria. One is Larium: infamous for its severe and occasionally permanent side-effects, Larium is taken orally once a week and can make you trip balls in your sleep. The other option is Malarone, which is horrendously expensive (around $15 per DAY). It’s unfathomable how anyone could pay for such a basic travel necessity for an extended period of time without medical insurance. Luckily, neither Jenny nor I will have to be one of those poor souls forced to play the “where have I been for the last month and how did I lose all this weight?” game. It took a bit of insurance finagling, but the day before we left Telluride, we finally secured the 330 pills needed for the both of us.

Now fortified and ready to fight the microscopic forces of evil, Jenny and I prepare even further. Find out how next Thursday!

This series of posts documents two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible. (To catch up. start here.)

One of the main tenants of Mountainfilm is that, while the festival is profoundly inspiring in an immediate sense, it should ultimately provide people with the inspiration to extend themselves beyond their comfort zone to do something good. Because really, that fuzzy feeling generated during Mountainfilm doesn’t mean much unless it’s acted upon. This is my take, anyhow, and this past festival certainly planted the seed for me.

Jenny and I had already planned to travel for a few months after the summer, but we thought, “Why not use that time to work for an organization that is improving the human condition?” And there you have it: the easy part was done. We had decided. We were going to be philanthropists. With our pedigreed backgrounds we would surely have our choice of locations and positions, particularly since we were going to be paying our way.

Wrong.

Finding a nonprofit that would let us help in a way that was constructive for both the organization and ourselves turned out to be pretty tough. It’s not that we were opposed to digging latrines or pounding nails, it’s just that we thought our efforts could be better applied to something more in line with our skills.

We got in touch with several organizations through Mountainfilm and personal contacts. Though everyone with whom we spoke was very enthusiastic and helpful, the common refrain was still a negative response. Turns out, even nonprofits want candidates with foreign experience to work in their foreign operations. Who knew? Upon deeper contemplation, it makes sense. A lot of these organizations are trying to perform miracles on a shoestring budget, and it’s not always helpful for culturally green foreigners to come in and “help.” Hence, organizations typically vet Western staff very closely and tend to prefer local staff for their native expertise. An inexperienced, foreign baboon could turn out to be more of a burden than a boon.

Having come to this realization, Jenny and I nonetheless determined to persevere, and decided that an awareness of our potential to do less good than we envision must prevent that from actually happening.

Our quest continues next Thursday – check back to see how we finally make a connection!

This is the first of a series of posts documenting two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible.

Volunteering should be easy, right? One would think that any organization would jump at the chance to have free labor on board; unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Trying to find a non-profit with which to volunteer your time, especially abroad, can be a difficult task, as Jenny and I found out this summer.

First, a little context. Jenny and I started dating in October of last year, and our stars were aligned from the beginning: we both love to read, crave adventure through traveling and exploring our surroundings, and share a shameful and deep-seated love for the X-Files. This past winter, amidst discussions of Scully and Mulder’s latest adventure, we had several conversations about the directions of our professional lives. We were both happy, but neither of us was fulfilled.

Jenny works two jobs she loves, but they only keep her busy for about six months out of the year. The remaining six months she finds other work, including a brief, but nearly cataclysmic, stint working for me. I’m the Hotel Operations Manager for a luxury hotel. This looks good on a resume and keeps me really busy, but is a bit soul-squashing. The Sisyphean task of meeting the demands of a brand new set of high-end clientele on a daily basis often leaves me battered, bruised, and frustrated.

My job is such that I have significant amount of down time between ski season and the summer tourist season, which happens to be the month preceding Mountainfilm. My lovely girlfriend happens to work for Mountainfilm, and mentioned that there was an opening for this past festival. I polished up my resume, dashed off a heartfelt (read: slightly desperate) cover letter, and landed a job COMPLETELY on my own merits.

And of course, as it has for so many other people, Mountainfilm changed my life. The issues to which I was exposed, the people I met, and the incredible energy that surrounds that weekend can change even the hardest, most recalcitrant soul.

– David and Jenny

What to do with this newfound enthusiasm and inspiration? Check back next Thursday for the continued story.

Pico Iyer (Mountainfilm guest, 2008) is enchanted by a mountain-top city on the cusp of great change
The Observer (UK)
February 14, 2010

I walked out on to the balcony in Banak Shol guesthouse in Lhasa, Tibet, in 1985 and looked up to where the Potala Palace sat, on a ridge overlooking the small cluster of traditional whitewashed houses.

A few backpackers were gathered on the terrace, talking about the days of hard travel they’d survived to get there. Tibet had opened up to the world only a few years before, and all of us had the sense of stepping into a place almost never before seen by foreign eyes.

The Banak Shol could not have been a less propitious setting for romance. There were no windows in my little cell and I had to crawl into it before flopping on to the bed. Yet even then, on that first night, I knew, as one does in love, that I was in a place I’d never see again.

The kids on the streets were already asking for pens from the foreigners who arrived, and a Rambo Café in Lhasa was clearly on its way. I realised that the same impulse that had allowed me to come here would ensure that Lhasa would not remain a deeply Tibetan settlement for much longer. Besides, many of its temples were already in ruins, and by the time I came back, five years later, the place was under martial law, with soldiers on the rooftops.

Next morning, the mountains were so sharp and bright in the high, thin air, I felt light-headed. I stepped out of my real life in that crystal light, and seemed to be looking at everything from a great, clear height. One of the things I saw from there was the end of a romantic Tibet.

mountainfilm

Mountainfilm is dedicated to educating and inspiring audiences about issues that matter, cultures worth exploring, environments worth preserving and conversations worth sustaining. That’s our mission statement and we think it nicely captures what we’re about. We wonder what it may convey to others.

To help us find out, we’re launching a contest leading up to our 2010 festival to find photos that communicate either all or any part of our mission statement. What kind of photos do we expect to find? Anything from inspiring adventure photos to landscape shots of beautiful natural spaces to portraits of people taking action and working for positive change. The contest theme is broad because we want to see all the ways that our mission may speak to you.

Read the rest of this entry »

[The following was co-written by Naomi Klein, author of #1 NYT bestseller The Shock Doctrine, Terry Tempest Williams, world renowned wildlife author, Bill Mckibben, founter of 350.org and author of The End Of Nature, and Dr. James Hansen, author of Storms of my Grandchildren, and who is regarded as the world’s leading climatologist. All recognize the trial of Tim DeChristopher to be a turning point in the climate movement. Included are links to resources for travel to Utah]

Dear Friends,

The epic fight to ward off global warming and transform the energy system that is at the core of our planet’s economy takes many forms: huge global days of action, giant international conferences like the one that just failed in Copenhagen, small gestures in the homes of countless people.

But there are a few signal moments, and one comes next month, when the federal government puts Tim DeChristopher on trial in Salt Lake City. Tim—“Bidder 70”– pulled off one of the most creative protests against our runaway energy policy in years: he bid for the oil and gas leases on several parcels of federal land even though he had no money to pay for them, thus upending the auction. The government calls that “violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act” and thinks he should spend ten years in jail for the crime; we call it a noble act, a profound gesture made on behalf of all of us and of the future.

Tim’s action drew national attention to the fact that the Bush Administration spent its dying days in office handing out a last round of favors to the oil and gas industry. After investigating irregularities in the auction, the Obama Administration took many of the leases off the table, with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar criticizing the process as “a headlong rush.” And yet that same Administration is choosing to prosecute the young man who blew the whistle on this corrupt process.

We cannot let this stand. When Tim disrupted the auction, he did so in the fine tradition of non-violent civil disobedience that changed so many unjust laws in this country’s past. Tim’s upcoming trial is an occasion to raise the alarm once more about the peril our planet faces. The situation is still fluid—the trial date has just been set, and local supporters are making plans for how to mark the three-day proceedings. But they are asking people around the country to flood into Salt Lake City in mid-March. If you come, there will be ample opportunity for both legal protest and civil disobedience. For example:

#Outside the courthouse, there will be a mock trial, with experts like NASA’s Jim Hansen providing the facts that should be heard inside the chambers. We don’t want Tim on trial—we want global warming on the stand.

#Demonstrators will be using the time-honored tactics of civil disobedience to make their voices heard outside the courthouse in an effort to prevent “business as usual”—it’s business as usual that’s wrecking the earth.

#There will be evening concerts and gatherings, including a “mini-summit” to share ideas on how the climate movement should proceed in the years ahead. This is a people’s movement that draws power from around the globe; for a few days its headquarters will be Salt Lake City.

You can get the most up-to-date news at climatetrial.com, including schedules for non-violence training, and information about legal representation. If you’re coming, bring not only your passion but also your creativity—we need lots of art and music to help make the point that we won’t sit idly by while the government tries to scare the environmental movement into meek cooperation. This kind of trial is nothing but intimidation—and the best answers to intimidation are joy and resolve. That’s what we’ll need in Utah.

We know it’s short notice. Some of us won’t be able to make it to Utah because we have other commitments or are limiting travel, and if you’re in the same situation, climatetrial.com will also have details of solidarity actions in other parts of the country. If you can contribute money to help make the week’s events possible, click here. But more than your money we need your body, your brains, and your heart. In a landscape of little water, where redrock canyons rise upward like praying hands, we can offer our solidarity to the wild:  wild lands and wild hearts.  Tim DeChristopher deserves and needs our physical and spiritual support in the name of a just and vibrant community.

Thank you for standing with us,

Naomi Klein,

Bill McKibben,

Terry Tempest Williams

Dr. James Hansen

Please forward to your lists and contacts. Thank you.

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