Friday, February 27, 2015

Feel Good Friday - Lion Guardians

I learned about today's Feel Good Friday organization by checking out the 2014 CNN Heroes. A lot of inspiring people and today we're going to talk about Leela Huzzah, the founder and executive director of Lion Guardians.

When I traveled to East Africa, I saw lions but I had no idea how lucky I was. The Lion Guardians website states that "In the last 50 years, an estimated 50% of Africa's lions have disappeared."

Lion Guardians is doing something about it. As they explain on their Facebook page, "Lion Guardians is a conservation organization that promotes the coexistence of people and lions. Our more than 70 conservationists, biologists and local leaders work in collaboration with pastoralist communities to protect lions over 4,500 square kilometers (over one million acres) of prime lion habitat across Kenya and Tanzania."

So what does that mean in practical terms? Since 2007 they have recruited Maasai warriors (for whom it is a point of pride to kill a lion) and trained them to track and monitor lions in Kenya and Tanzania. They also provide the guardians with literacy training, conflict resolution training (to deal with farmers who kill lions to protect their cattle herds) and data collection techniques. Not only do the guardians track lions but they also find lost livestock and lost herders.

Lion Guardians attributes their success to collaboration with local communities and using indigenous knowledge in combination with conservation science to determine the best ways for people and lions to coexist. They also provide project management training for others interested in starting a similar organization.

You can get a great summary of Lion Guardians by watching the CNN Hero video about Leela Huzzah and keep current by liking their Facebook page or following them on Twitter @lionguardians

Seeing lions in their natural environment is a fabulous experience and thanks to the work of Lion Guardians, when you travel to Africa, you'll be able to see lions too!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Feel Good Friday - The Oscars

In anticipation of the 87th Academy Awards on Sunday, today's Feel Good Friday takes a trip to Hollywood!

When you think of the Oscars, you may think red carpet, beautiful dresses and speeches or the fact that you haven't seen all of the nominated films. After today, I hope you'll also think of the educational programs the Academy provides.

As stated on their website, "The Academy supports other film-related organizations and institutions, provides opportunities for high school students - and movie fans of all ages - to further their understanding and appreciation of movies and the moviemaking process, and works to encourage interaction between public filmmakers of all types."

One of the offerings is a Media Literacy Program which, twice a year, sends 800 high school juniors from the Los Angeles Unified School District to visit the Academy, analyze film clips and meet filmmakers in order to "become aware of media messages encountered daily, improve analytical skills to evaluate those messages, and encourage provocative and thoughtful interaction with the media."

The Academy also produces a series of free teachers guides to "explore the art and science of motion pictures" and "to teach valuable lessons in critical thinking and creative writing and to develop literacy skills."  They sponsor visiting artists in order to create opportunities for direct contact between students and working film professionals.

There is also the Academy Film Scholars program that grants $25,000 to two individuals each year to research and write about various aspects of film - often  historical, cultural or scientific. And just when you thought they couldn't do any more, the Academy also supports film-related non-profits, individuals and film festivals through educational, internship and film festival grants!

So as you watch the Oscars on Sunday (or not), keep in mind there is a lot more to feel good about in addition to beautiful people making beautiful movies! Now get out your list of nominees and follow all the action on Twitter @TheAcademy!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Feel Good Friday - St. Monica's Girls Tailoring School

So far, all the Feel Good Friday posts in 2015 have focused on organizations in the United States so today we're taking a trip to Gulu, Uganda.

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe has been the Director of St. Monica's Girls Tailoring Center in Gulu, Uganda since 2001. Her story has been transformed into a book and a documentary film, both titled Sewing Hope. The website provides this background, "For 25 years Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) terrorized Northern Uganda. They abducted children and forced them to commit atrocities against their own families and communities. Girls as young as thirteen were degraded to sex slaves for Kony's officers."

When these girls return home with their children, whose fathers are rebel commanders, they are often shunned by their communities. Sister Rosemary wanted to provide these girls a way to accept, forgive and support themselves. She made an announcement on the radio inviting all former Kony captives to come to St. Monica's for refuge and training. In the first year, 200 girls signed up and since then over 2,000 have been through the program.

She started with a sewing class for the girls and, after seeing how it boosted their self esteem, added additional classes in jewelry making. In 2012 she cofounded Sisters United as a for-profit organization to sell the products the girls were making.

Sister Rosemary was selected as a CNN Hero in 2007 (video) and named one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" by Time Magazine in 2014. You can learn more about her and the program by reading this detailed article from the Christian Science Monitor or buying the book. 100% of the net proceeds from the book go to Pros for Africa, a US based group that supports Sister Rosemary and her work at St. Monica's.

You can watch the trailer for the documentary here then stream the full movie on Netflix. If you like it, adding your comments to the page will encourage others to watch the film and learn about the work Sister Rosemary is doing at St. Monica's. It's only 53 minutes long and (having just watched it myself) very inspiring.

Finally, you can keep up with this dynamic woman by liking her Facebook page and following her on Twitter @Sister_Rosemary. That's what I'm doing!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Feel Good Friday - BATS Improv

This Feel Good Friday, I'm going local and talking about an organization I work with, BATS Improv.

Founded in 1986 and located in San Francisco, BATS Improv is "a professional theatre company and an artistic community that cultivates and innovates the craft of improvised theatre through engaging, playful, creative performance and training."

If you live in the Bay Area and have the opportunity to go to a BATS show, I would recommend it as an entertaining way to spend an evening. But BATS is more than just shows.

Right now, three other BATS coaches and I are in the middle of a 7-week program teaching improv to 4th graders. Each hour with them is spent playing improv games and we all have a lot of fun. While we're laughing and making up stories, we're also teaching the kids how to create a reality together by saying yes, building on what your partner created, not putting any limits on your ideas and failing graciously. Lessons that make an improv scene work? Yes. Lessons make a life work? Also yes.

It's no surprise that these are the lessons we want to share with 9 and 10 year olds when you consider BATS' vision. As stated on their website, "We envision a world where everyone is comfortable in their own skin, where ideas and flights of fancy are encouraged, respected, and given wondrous, unimaginable form through spirited, skillful collaboration. Where life itself is recognized as improvisational and the skills of improvised theater are embraced as life skills." The full vision statement can be found here.

While all of this makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, the most classic "Feel Good Friday" aspect of this organization is the Laughing Stock program, which has been running for the last 15 years. Through Laughing Stock, BATS offers free improv classes to people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. Their caretakers are also eligible to take the classes. The sessions "focus on improving quality of life through humor, easy physical activity, group interaction, gentle risk-taking, and imagination games." If you, or someone you know, would benefit from one of these sessions call (415-474-6776) or email ( the office.

Working with BATS in particular, and being an improviser in general, has helped me become a better listener, stay focused on the present moment and find a way to accept and build on whatever situation I find myself in. Not only that, I get to become a variety of characters on stage I'm not allowed to be in real life!

So how do you support BATS Improv? See a show, take a class, like the Facebook page and follow them on Twitter @BATSimprov. You'll be glad you did!