By Norman Harman at Apr 24, 2009
I usually write about foreign affairs, government and politics, U.S. foreign policy and globalization - and I am usually highly critical in my assessments (I'm a strong believer in Socrates' axiom "a wise man is critical of everything").
But today I want to bring up something that I've been involved in over the last two years. It is something I believe in and, I think, something truly worthwhile that is often overlooked and under-appreciated in our everday, busy lives. I'm talking about all of the small, nearly anonymous, NGOs around the world who are often under-funded and struggling for recognition yet filled with dedicated people working for everything from educating those on the bottom rungs of many societies, to creating small business opportunities, to fighting for environmental sustainability.
Several years ago an old friend, Richard Lakin, came to me and asked if I wanted to be part of his latest project. He runs a media company in Baltimore, MD, making informational videos for a number of education-oriented corporations. I had been traveling with him on various overseas assignments, functioning as his production assistant (mostly grunt work, you know, carrying equipment through airports, setting-up for shoots, interviewing field workers, etc.).
On one of our trips we found ourselves in a little city called Il Progresso, in northern Honduras. We were there interviewing two young people who were running a small NGO, Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE), that worked to get abandoned kid off the streets and into a stable and safe environment. They had set-up two orphanages that gave the kids a safe place to sleep, regular meals, and perhaps most important, a chance for education - hopefully leading to some kind of gainful employment. They have even managed to get some of their charges into local universities. And they strive to train these kids to further their work by starting their own local branches and helping others. It is incredibly demanding but satisfying work and their success stories (seeing hope and optimism in the faces of these kids who were previously living largely hopeless lives) were simply overwhelming.
Finishing up a little early one afternoon, we realized we actually had a free day before our flight out later that week, so we arranged for a ride over near the Guatemalan border to the ancient Mayan city of Copan. It was my first trip to a Mayan city and I was excited. During the trip Richard and I were discussing the work OYE was doing and how we could possibly create something to help further the work of groups like them. He came up with the idea of starting a non-profit media company to promote the work of such groups, helping to gain them wider recognition and of course, increased funding. Since a number of these groups we filmed utilized art education involving students, and some were even run by students, Richard felt art, education, students, and media should be the primary focus of the non-profit's work.
When we arrived, being the off-season, there were few tourists and we had a guide all to ourselves. This turned out to be really good luck as we were able to ask our guide (who was a Mayan descendant and was conversant in Mayan history) lots of questions and receive detailed answers. While the guide was describing the reign of the 13th king of Copan, explaining that the king was the most powerful of all Copan's leaders and a great patron of the arts, he was outlining the king's name - carved as a pictograph on his stele - with a staff that had a Macaw feather on the end so as not to scratch the stone. He said the king's name was 18 rabbit (he explained that he called the animal a "rabbit" because he thought most Americans wouldn't know what a capubara was) and Richard turned to me and said, "there's the name for the new company." And that's how http://www.18rabbits.org was born.
Well this week the first 18rabbits video has been uploaded to Al Gore's Current TV and we have been trying to get it as wide a distribution as possible. So please visit http://current.com/uploads.htm , scroll to EARTH DAY/MEXICO, view the video and "vote up." Checking this out and registering your vote/comment will help the vitally important HUNAB project and will help 18rabbits to continue promoting similar work around the globe.
Next: Iraq "training troops," increased Afghan commitment, more Predator attacks in Pakistan, "say goodbye to the old boss, say hello to the new," didn't we just have an election?