This nonprofit honors compassionate risk-takers, people who are largely unknown, people who have the courage to stick their necks out for the common good, in the US and around the world.

We offer you here a free database of those real heroes ~ A way to nominate a hero you've spotted ~ Materials for classrooms from kindergarten through high school ~ Speakers for events ~ Coaching tips to help you move into action yourself on problems that concern you ~ News of Giraffe Heroes around the world ~ Stories of courageous compassion that little kids can listen to ~ Annnd some cool "giraffenalia"—T shirts, mugs, and such.


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SHOWING THE WORLD REAL LIVES #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes When successful orthodontist Phil Borges was bitten by the photography bug, he committed totally to that passion, and to his social conscience. He’s not only become an internationally acclaimed photographer, he’s also stuck his neck out to connect young people all over the world, through photography. Borges founded Bridges to Understanding, a nonprofit that dispatches volunteer professionals to mentor young potential photographers, many of them kids who have never seen a camera. Borges’ system is to trek into a remote village and give the kids there donated digital cameras to capture the images of their lives. As he does his own work, shooting portraits of the villagers, the kids assist with lights and setups, learning the techniques of profes-sionals. Borges teaches fellow photographers his mentoring methods and they move into other areas, teaching the children there as well. Bridges mentors have worked in Peru, the Arctic, Kenya, Nepal, India, and a Navajo reservation in Arizona. On the radar for the program are Thailand, Ethiopia, Israel, Palestine, Mexico, Bhutan, and Ghana. Through the Bridges website, kids link up to share their photos and tell stories about their lives. A class in North Carolina pairs off with kids in an Arctic Circle village. Kids in Nepal can see the lives of young Detroiters and vice versa. Borges is currently working in dangerous territory himself—he’s doing photos and interviews of women in repressive societies who are overcoming great opposition to improve the lives of other women and their children. Trekking into remote communities in countries such as Bangladesh and Afghanistan with a camera and tape recorder is a far cry from his nice safe dental office. But Phil Borges has reasons for the risks he takes: “I’m seeing kids in remote, impoverished villages devour the technical training we give them. They see these communication tools as a miracle and a privilege. It’s so rewarding to see their excitement and to realize they’re building a communication infrastructure for their communities while sharing their lives with their contemporaries around the world.” UPDATE: Phil Borges has transferred direction of Bridges to Understanding to Teachers Without Borders. Borges has gone on to create the Blue Earth Alliance, which sponsors photographic projects about threatened cultures, endangered environments, and social issues. He's published books of photography honoring indigenous cultures, social action on behalf of women and families, and those who assist children and protect the environment. These include Tibetan Portraits: The Power of Compassion; Enduring Spirit, which records the natural wisdom and knowledge of that culture; The Gift, a book of photos from helpers in Peru and Vietnam who work with wounded children, and Stirring the Fire: A Global Movement to Empower Women and Girls. Borges lectures regularly, writes a blog, and has made a documentary called Crazywise about a young American who feels his mind has broken from reality. Borges compares his break to the opening of a young shaman, showing viewers the perspective of indigenous cultures on such "craziness."

GROWING LIVES #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Cathrine Sneed, a counselor at the San Francisco County Jail, was sure that her home garden had helped her survive a life- threatening illness. She thought the power of the soil might also work on her clients at the jail, mostly drug dealers and users. Sneed convinced the sheriff to let her create an organic garden on land adjoining the jail. She got prisoners out of their cells to restore an old greenhouse and to clear brambles from the site. At first her Horticulture Project had no tools, so the prisoners yanked black-berries with their bare hands. Sneed begged tools and seeds from local merchants, but she was still short of money, gardening experience, and models for what she wanted to do. The jailers thought she was flaky, especially when she pushed the jail kitchen to serve soothing peppermint tea from the new garden. But jailer hostility receded as they saw prisoners become enthusiastic gardeners, bringing their zest back to the jailhouse at the end of the day. Some also brought spare seedlings, which they shared with guards, who became home gardeners themselves. Soon there was a waiting list of prisoners eager to join the program. In short order, the Horticulture Project was harvesting tons of produce a year for the jail, for Project Open Hand (founded by Giraffe Ruth Brinker), and for the soup kitchens of Saint Martin de Poores. But the production of food is only a side effect of the Project. Sneed says, "We're not just making a pretty little garden here--we're saving lives." Sneed teaches life lessons from the garden. The prisoners with drug problems see how well the plants grow without chemicals. Many of them have lived on junk food; they see plants flourish with proper nutrients. They discover the tastes of fresh vegetables, because Sneed cooks them lunch from the garden. Small farm animals give them experience in nurturing; planning the garden shows the benefits of long-term thinking; and physical labor pays off in visible, edible results. But the most powerful lesson is that mistakes in life, like those in the garden, can be corrected. Sneed knew that, upon release, her "students" ended up right back in the places where they first got into trouble. A bridge program was needed, so in 1990 she and some former inmates cleared a trash-filled lot near the Bayview housing projects and built the Carroll Street Community Garden. This became the home base of The Garden Project, a combination of counseling, work experience, and job training. Graduates of the jailhouse garden live in two drug-free homes at Carroll Street while they work and train in the garden, go through treatment programs, and attend school. They move on to employment on a third Sneed initiative, the Green Teams, which contract with businesses and the City to do tree-planting, gardening, and community clean-ups. Cathrine Sneed points with pride to the re-arrest record for her gardeners, which is a quarter that of other former inmates, and to the huge waiting list for her not-flaky-at-all programs. Knowing the power of the gardens to transform both individual and community, she's pushing hard to accommodate the long waiting list of prisoners, and to build community gardens in lots all over the city. "I believe in miracles," she says, "but I can't wait for them to just happen." UPDATE: The Garden Project is still going strong. Sneed got the City to provide $1.6 million to landscape 1400 acres of reservoirs, planting over 10,000 trees. The Project extended her farm-based education program for at-risk youth and hired youth to work in the gardens during the summers. Sneed remains an activist—not only to raise funds for the organization but also to inspire and motivate her target population, the unemployed, the troubled, the ex-offenders. Her current goal is to make the Garden Project less “special” and more the norm. “I’m 60 years old now,” she says, “and I’d like to do this until I’m 70. By then I would like it to go on as part of what the city does. We have proven that this is an effective way to impact people’s lives.”

Giraffe Heroes Database

Giraffe Heroes Database. This is a free service to the world—to families, to teachers, to media, and to any individual who seeks a path to leading a more meaningful life. Wherever you may be, whoever you are, welcome to the searchable database of Giraffe Heroes. Here you can find the stories of hund…

This Facebook page gives you a story-a-day from the free online storybank at our website. There are hundreds of stories there, all searchable so you can find real heroes working on public problems all over the world. If you could use a spark in your day, Like this Page and hope that Facebook lets you see the daily post. If you want even more stories, go to

STARTING EARLY, KEEPING ON #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Maybe it was in the stars that Danny Seo would become a leader in the environmental movement. Seo was born in 1977 on International Earth Day. At the ripe old age of 12, he launched the student advocacy group, Earth 2000. Originally founded to save 66 acres of forest and wetlands, Earth 2000 is now the largest student group for animal rights in the country. Although that first battle in his home state of Pennsylvania was lost, Seo was encouraged rather than disheartened by the battle. Youth involvement, Seo says, “changes the generation.” And while national activist groups are sometimes condescending to their young members, Seo and Earth 2000 intend to empower kids and to gain more respect for youth. Seo is a young man in constant forward motion. He's organized a large anti-whaling demonstration in Washington, DC, provided vegetarian meals to people with AIDS, worked to pass a resolution to ban the capture of wild animals for classroom displays, lobbied for the passage of two major animal rights initiatives in his home state, headed an anti-fur campaign against two major clothing companies, and promoted vegetarianism for Generation X'ers. His most recent project is focusing Earth 2000 on utilizing kids' economic power to influence political and environmental decisions. The group has already persuaded four thousand retailers to sign a “Statement of Insurance” not to sell fur products. While Seo has gained recognition and received awards, such as the Albert Schweitzer Humanities Institute Award, for his work, he finds the work itself and the opportunity to get others involved the ultimate reward. To advance the causes of Earth 2000, Seo does a lot of traveling and as many speaking engagements as possible. He invests not only his time, but his own college-fund money in his projects. He's been described as a one-person army--a publicist, a speaker, and a fundraiser. Kids are not usually schooled for political and social activism; Seo believes that participation in the real world is essential. “What we lack in classrooms,” he concludes, “is giving students the freedom to learn in their own interpretive way.” Seo felt he learned more about civics and government in one day of lobbying than a month in class. Then he put everything he's learned into a guide book for young people. Though his schedule is demanding, Seo is ever ready to take on more. Other kids ask him all the time how he does it, and he simply tells them his own story. The message, he says, is clear: “If I can do it as an average kid, so can you....” Update: All grown up now, Seo publishes a magazine on green living and makes frequent public appearances, talking about living green, with style.

EMPOWERING THE WOMEN OF INDIA #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes According to a UNICEF report, 25% of girls in India die by the age of 15 from neglect or even infanticide. Too many families value only sons. Ela Bhatt is working to change all that by using Gandhian principles to help girls and women become more independent and empowered, financially and psychologically. Bhatt was raised at the end of the freedom movement; her grandfather joined Gandhi on the great Salt March in 1930 to protest the British ban on Indians making salt. She believes the Gandhian principles of non-violence and economic empowerment can uplift India's poorest women and contribute to social and political changes for the whole country. "Gandhi said that women are natural leaders in our fight for social justice where love and peace, nonviolence, are the chief weapons of the fight," says Bhatt. It all started in 1972 when Bhatt was a young lawyer working for a textile union in Gujarati. A group of women workers carrying loads of cloth on their heads claimed merchants were cheating them. Illiterate, the women could not check the weights and measures of their loads. Bhatt helped organize the women for a strike, and that was the beginning of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). SEWA organized women's trade unions and cooperatives in which women could pool resources and stand together against social, political and economic injustice. SEWA started a bank to give loans to women, and soon began educating women about saving, offering training programs, providing maternity leave for Co-op members and education for their children. Standing up for women's rights and dignity, and standing against police abuse, out-dated politics and cultural discrimination against women, SEWA grew to become India's most powerful women's trade union. Shanta Samal from Gugarat is just one woman who has benefited from being a member of SEWA. Samal does traditionally women's work: rolling tobacco into a leaf, creating a "bidi" or cigarette, which she sells on the streets of nearby Ahmedabad. Before SEWA came into Samal's neighborhood, a bidi roller earned about 10 cents for 1,000 cigarettes. But now, they earn 70 cents. And now, when women like Samal are pregnant, they can receive grant money allowing them to take maternity leave. There's even a scholarship fund for their children's education. Co-op members are taking charge of their own lives and the lives of their families by pooling savings to buy communal equipment or to open village stores. "I think what is important is a woman's own self-confidence," Ela Bhatt explains. "That we can do it. Then we will do it. When you are together you don't cry. We don't blame the destiny. We don't blame the system. We are together and have faith in each other and in ourselves."

ENGINEERING WITH HEART #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes When three Mayan Indians from Brazil arrived to landscape Bernard Amadei’s yard in Boulder, Colorado, Amedei got more than a few new trees—he got ground for a whole new life. Listening to the gardeners’ stories about the poverty in their home village of San Pablo, Amadei’s heart was so touched, he went to San Pablo. What he saw there put his mind to work, along with his heart. A professor of engineering at the University of Colorado, Amadei could see that engineering could solve many of the villagers’ difficulties. He thought he and his students could engineer some practical solutions. The challenges in San Pablo were basic—like building a safe, efficient way to get clean water. “I came across little girls who had to carry water back and forth to the village all day,” Amadei says, “so they couldn’t go to school.” The professor rounded up a team of his students from the University of Colorado and brought them to San Pablo, where they employed centuries-old technology to create water pumps that could run without electricity. The impact on the village from this one change was enormous; the impact on the student engineers was profound. Amadei knew a winning idea when he saw it. He decided to enlist other colleges and universities in the work, and Engineers Without Borders was born. Since its founding in 2002 more than 230 EWB chapters have sprung up in universities and professional firms around the US and overseas. Even US high-schoolers with an interest in engineering are joining in specific projects. EWB has built aqueducts in Mali, solar panels in Rwanda, and rainwater catchments in Cambodia. Everything they build can be operated by villagers themselves—there’s no need for experts. EWB also trains people to develop, build and manage their own projects to improve their community life. When he’s not working on a project half way around the world, Amadei is back at the University of Colorado, leading a paradigm shift in engineering education. It’s not all about how to create high-tech, mega-projects in the industrialized world. Studying to be an engineer in the 21st century is also about simple, low-tech solutions for communities that need the basics for sustaining human life. Bernard Amadei could have gone on leading a comfortable, safe life in Colorado instead of taking on the problems and sharing the hardships of impoverished people around the world. He explains his devotion to the work quite simply. “I’ve seen children dying in front of me, and that’s marked me for life. I’m doing my little work to change that.

WINNING IN A WHOLE NEW WAY #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroe Taking abandoned and orphaned children into their home in Kenya wasn't in the life plans for Kip and Phyllis Keino, an Olympic record-holder and a nurse. But when friends died and left young children parentless, the Keinos took in the newly orphaned kids. Word quickly spread about what the world-famous runner and his wife had done; other orphans began appearing on their doorstep. The Keino farm blossomed into a hustling, bustling home for dozens of children (including seven of their own). Kip, one of the greatest runners of all time, has focused his energy on the farm and his small sports shop rather than capitalizing on his fame. (In the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games he set a record in the 1500 meters that held until 1984.) Phyllis uses both her training as a nurse and her skills as a mother to raise the children so well that she’s been described as a saint. Together the Keinos manage the farm itself. Not being rich themselves, the Keinos have been assisted by agencies and donors who help with the orphanage’s expenses in feeding, clothing and educating the children, and providing them with medical care. The renowned athlete and the nurse are performing an Olympic feat in another way--the Kip Keino Children’s Home has taken in hundreds of young Kenyans.

HEALING WOUNDS~ON THE SKIN AND IN THE HEART #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes According to the World Health Organization four million women a year are severely burned; more than half of them live in Southeast Asia, and almost all live in poverty. The burns are excruciating and often crippling, even life-threatening. And yet proper burn treatment is all but nonexistent for the world’s poor. Chandini Perera MD is changing that in Sri Lanka. Perera is a plastic surgeon who does reconstructive surgery on her country’s burn victims, then helps them rebuild their lives in a society that considers them outcasts. She has established Sri Lanka’s only burn center, a place where burn victims, usually women who are desperately poor, receive the surgery, treatment, and rehabilitation that are often necessary for a burn victim to have a productive life. Within a day of receiving a burn that affects 20% or more of the body, the victim goes into shock. If the burn isn’t treated, the skin contracts and affected parts of the body become fused. “Then the person becomes disabled, truly disfigured,” Perera said. “A severe burn is a painful condition, emotionally and physically. The treatment is painful. The follow-up is painful. The response from society is painful. Burn survivors are like someone with a terminal illness, except that they don’t die. They actually live, but you can’t see them. They can’t come out because society will not accept them.” Perera’s work is not highly valued, even within the medical community. She has trouble getting other sections of her own hospital to allow burn victims into their waiting rooms because their disfigurement is considered an ill omen. Treating burn victims is a low priority for most other plastic surgeons, she reports. They want the satisfaction of making their patients beautiful. “You can’t make a burn beautiful,” Perera said, “but you can make it better. You take a person who has been deformed or crippled or defaced, and you’re able to make that person better. That person can be functional again. Then it’s the beauty of the person who has survived all of this that comes out.” Burns are the only injury that happens more frequently to women than to men. Some severe burns happen by accident where open fires are used for cooking. Some burns—all of the acid burns—are domestic violence or homicidal acts. But fully 75 percent of the burns Perera treats are self-inflicted by women who have been so abused and crushed by the circumstances of their lives that they’ve tried to kill themselves. Perera speaks out publicly about violence against women, a subject people do not want to hear about, but she feels the most important work she does is to encourage and empower women who felt their only option was self-immolation. The needs Perera is trying to meet are at times overwhelming and the work itself can be exhausting. There were times, especially in the beginning, when she wanted to quit. But the satisfactions of the work keep her going. “In the clinic a really good day for me,” Perera said, “is when a patient who has been seriously burned, has been depressed, comes in with a smile, dressed well, and says, ‘Did you know my children are in school… I’ve just started a business.’ With that they’ve just given me so much more than I ever gave them. They’ve given me something I could never buy.” Chandini Perera has helped heal and empower more than 15,000 burn victims.

STUDENTS TAKE ON HOMELESSNESS #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes In 1987, Georgia Tech architecture students Mike Connor and Brian Finkel, visited an encampment of squatters by the railroad tracks on the northeast side of Atlanta. They found homeless people huddled in flimsy shacks made of scrap metal and plastic. They organized a group of their fellow architecture students to come up with something better than those flimsy shacks. The group decided that rather go through months or years of seeking city permits, they would simply assemble some strong materials and construct a solid one-room hut that would keep out the wind and provide a measure of comfort. They designed and constructed this first hut in about eight hours and waited until night to install it anonymously where a homeless person could find it and move in. For the next huts, they first found someone who could use each one, and with that homeless person’s help, built a well hidden hut. The students called themselves the “Mad Housers.” Within two years, 50 huts had sprung up in Atlanta, hidden on sites throughout the city. The huts not only provided shelter from the elements, but a sense of ownership and a safe place to store the few belongings each resident had. As Mad Houser Cabell Heyward explained it, “If a guy’s got a place to store a clean change of clothes and a razor, he’s got a chance to go get a job.” The group built these huts on public property, without permission. One night, six police officers discovered the Mad Housers working on a hut near the Carter Library. Connor says the officers ordered them to “drop their wrenches.” The next day, however, an officer called one of the members and left a message saying the hut could stay. As the group’s work got wide attention, the mayor of Atlanta said on national television that civil disobedience Mad Housers’ style was just fine with him. Mike Connor says, “We’re not outlaws. The magnitude of this homeless problem is such that zoning and building codes are irrelevant. The good outweighs any law we might be breaking.” People in other cities agree and have asked Mad Housers for advice on how to replicate the huts and the procedures for siting them. UPDATE: All these years later, the Mad Housers are still building. Keep up with them at

A COUPLE OF GIRAFFES GOING INTO PRISONS #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes “We started out in a traditional way, looking for meaning in outer things: success, money, toys. The more we looked outside, the clearer it became to us that the huge secret of the outer game is staying on top of our Inner Game. What is the Inner Game? Loving, learning, and sharing.” Thus write the Drs. Bonnie and David Paul, who have shared that insight with thousands of people in truly dire circumstances. Both of the Pauls are faculty members in the University of Santa Monica’s “Consciousness, Health, and Healing Program.” Both of them have doctorates in psychology; David also has an M.D. But it’s what they do outside their faculty positions that makes them stand out. The Pauls have spent much of their “extra” time facilitating workshops given under the banner of the Freedom to Choose Foundation, an organization they founded, and direct as volunteers. The workshops focus on individuals making responsible choices, resolving conflicts, healing addictions, and even mentoring others. What’s distinctive about the program—and what’s challenging for the facilitators—is that they're usually teaching it in prisons. The Pauls, along with volunteers they've recruited and trained, enter maximum-security environments to help inmates address their fears, their anxieties, their feelings of self-worthlessness, and their ability to solve problems. The Pauls' workshops typically begin with small-group sharing and proceed to questions about respect, choices, and attitudes. “The essence of what we teach,” says David Paul, “is responsible choice.” Data seem to say that they're succeeding: For example, at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California, a substantial majority of inmates who had received the workshops subsequently attested to less conflict in their lives; many of them reported passing on the skills they learned to their friends and family members. As one prisoner testified: “It has helped me, and I didn’t think anything would help me.” And another: “I do use the tools that I’ve learned, and it’s a part of my life.” Although the Pauls have other skills and interests (Bonnie managed an electronics manufacturing company and is also a clothing designer; David has taught classes on psychopharma-cology, human sexuality, and treatment of chemical dependency), their passion is with helping people who in many cases feel that they have nowhere else to turn. As Bonnie Paul says, “As long as we have a pulse, challenges will come up, and the skills we teach are ways to deal with that.” The name, “Freedom to Choose,” comes from Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps and then wrote Man's Search for Meaning. “He discovered,” says David Paul, “that under the worst personal circumstances, there is one essential freedom that can never be taken away from any person, and that’s the freedom to choose one’s attitude . . ..” The Pauls have dedicated their lives to sharing that discovery in practical, life-changing ways with people who have been written off by many others as unworthy of attention. IF YOU'RE PLEASED TO MEET SUCH PEOPLE, Like THIS PAGE. AND Share THE POSTS WITH FRIENDS.

Recent Giraffe Heroes


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