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.

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BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO DO WHAT'S RIGHT #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Kaneesha Johnson’s fifth grade class in Hawthorne, California, on the edge of Los Angeles, was mostly African-American kids like Kaneesha. And then there were the Latino kids, and the Asians. Some of them weren’t born in this country and spoke little English; all of them looked different from Kaneesha and the other African Americans. Kaneesha’s friends didn’t speak to the kids who were different. And the tougher kids in the class went a lot further, bullying and tormenting them. At recess, each group of children played together, but not with kids they thought were too different from themselves. But this one small girl knew that wasn’t right. She stepped out of line, even though her friends thought she was strange. She befriended the outsiders, talking to them in class and on the playground, helping them with their English and their homework. She talked to the bullies about laying off the kids who were different. “I just decided to, because I know how it feels when people laugh at you,” Kaneesha explains. The bullies turned on her, calling her names and threatening her. She cried—at home, where they couldn’t see her. But at school she kept right on, getting her friends to see the others as real kids like themselves, kids they could get to know and like. Kaneesha even ended de facto segregation on the playground, getting all teams to be integrated. The breakthrough spread to the classroom, where the kids started working together. Kaneesha Johnson says it was worth getting picked on herself. “Sometimes you just have to do what’s right.” Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this Page. Giraffes should have 100 thousand Likes. And Share with friends. They need to know there are real heroes in the world.

BRINGING AID INTO COMBAT ZONES #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut When war in Liberia spilled across the border into Sierra Leone, bringing terrible violence, villagers in Sierra Leone had to flee. When the fighting ended, Vinod Khatumal, a successful businessman in the capital, Freetown, helped them return to their homes. Khatumal had been helping his fellow Sierra Leoneans throughout the war, personally braving the violence to bring transportation, food, and fuel to villagers who were still in combat zones. In some cases Khatumal would visit a village, arrange for aid and then travel on, only to learn that the village had been attacked hours after his departure. Almost 10% of Sierra Leone’s entire population was displaced during the war, forced to abandon their homes, mostly in the eastern districts. With no property, possessions, or livelihoods, they barely survived. When they did return to their farms, they found their houses pillaged, and their crops destroyed. They had to start all over again. Khatumal focused his efforts on helping them re-settle and rebuild their communities. He began exporting cocoa and coffee—the crops of the area. His business plan cut out the middlemen in overseas sales, thereby increasing income to local farmers. Khatumal also led two area cooperatives that improved transportation in and out of eastern villages by raising funds to buy vehicles and repair roads and bridges. Funding also helps to build and repair housing, to supply tools and pesticides for improving crop yield, and to construct buildings specific to coffee and cocoa production, structures such as drying rooms. Cooperatives even helped build a medical center in one village. In every case, local people do the construction work, receiving the income they need to rebuild their lives. Vinod Khatumal says his mission is to re-settle families and re-establish their farms so crops can be planted, harvested, and sold, and life can flourish again in Sierra Leone’s war-torn countryside. UPDATE: When Ebola hit Sierra Leone, Khatumal brought in desperately needed medical supplies, and made a large contribution to the government's effort to fight the epidemic. He's here on Facebook at Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this Page. Giraffes should have 100 thousand Likes.

BECAUSE LIFE IS ABOUT HELPING OTHERS #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut "They're not just people who were looking for another job. They're people who understand what life's about—helping others." Cindy Pickard was describing people she hired to care for AIDS patients, but she could have been describing herself. She invested time, money, and energy to help people who, in 1988, were often considered pariahs. They were looked down upon by many because they were assumed to be gay; they were feared by even more people because they were assumed to be contagious. Pickard had been working as an occupational therapist, but she realized that she could do more good by tending to AIDS patients. And these were AIDS patients who were near the end: Most were resigned to dying, but they didn't want to die in hospitals. So Pickard started AIDS Care and Assistance, secured funding from AIDS Services of Austin, placed an ad in the newspaper, and hired 20 caregivers. Home care is less expensive than hospital stays, and it's usually much pleasanter for patients. The director of nursing for South Austin Medical Center described Pickard's work this way: "It's a program on the cutting edge. It fills the gap between hospital, the hospice program, and insurance." Pickard and her workers do everything they can for their dying patients. They fix meals, they clean houses, they shop for food, they answer the phone, and of course they offer emotional support. Pickard has a lot of sympathy for her patients: "These are people not accepted by society. We can't just shut these people out." Cindy Pickard has had personal experience with death and dying. When she was seven years old, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died soon thereafter. Her brother committed suicide. She struggled to overcome despondency, took classes in photography as well as occupational therapy, and one day was inspired by a talk given by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross to became involved with hospice work and AIDS. "I encouraged my patients to paint pictures," she remembers, "write poems, and make scrapbooks as remembrances for their family and friends. Sometimes I audio-taped their life stories for their grandchildren, and often I photographed them." Pickard didn't stop at Austin. She travels around the country to speak at conventions, at conferences, and at informal community meetings. AIDS Care and Assistance became Rites of Passage. Its mission is to provide services for terminally ill patients as well as to offer education on AIDS and on death and dying. It hasn't been easy; many people consider those with AIDS as undeserving of concern. Nonetheless, Pickard wins converts. For her, there really isn't any choice: "If you do something you really want to do, it's a test of strength in the obstacles that come to you. We've passed through it and that feels good." Update: Rites of Passage has grown, reaching people all around the world. Cindy Pickard has produced videos and multimedia projects on loss, grief, and transcendence. Beginning in 2004, her Between Now and Forever conferences have been well attended; they include poetry, photos, and artwork that weave together the stories of people who have experienced the loss of a relative, friend, or spouse. Now, Pickard is facing another enormous obstacle: The funding for her work has disappeared. Find out more at Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page. Giraffes should have 100 thousand Likes. And Share! Your friends need to know there are real heroes among us.

DOING WORK TO BE PROUD OF #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Ray Gatchalian earned a lot of descriptions: firefighter, former combat paramedic with the Green Berets, musician, fundraiser for causes, family man, and peace activist. All that background—and an eye for the potential for good in bad situations—made him take huge risks to help people in Central America. He was confident that, even acting alone, he could make a difference: "When I meet people who believe the problems they face are too huge and complex that they can't make a difference," he once said, "that's the worst notion you can have." Gatchalian had been the first Pacific Islander to be hired in the Oakland Fire Department. Nine years after joining, in 1983, he became a captain. Even with his active life-saving career, Gatchalian was participating in other activities to help people: organizing doctors to donate their services to refugees; working with incarcerated youth; helping raise money for causes. One example of his activism: Gatchalian had seen far too many fires caused by people falling asleep with lit cigarettes, so he secured funds for the Center for Investigative Journalism to look into the feasibility of self-extinguishing cigarettes. And then there was El Salvador. On a trip there, Gatchalian was appalled at the conditions in the war-torn Central American country. His energy and dedication kicked in: He worked with government officials from both El Salvador and the U.S. to bring children to the U.S. for emergency reconstructive surgeries. He raised money for orphanages. He went into the most dangerous and devastated areas to make a film, "Unheard Voices," which documented the terrible consequences of war. He then lobbied U.S. Senators and Representatives to authorize aid for El Salvador and change American policy in that part of the world. He did all this with his own money (mortgaging his house to pay for the film) and on his own time (working double shifts in order to get time off). Gatchalian knows that many people might question why he takes such risks for uncertain results. He realizes that many people might say that if he doesn't accomplish what he sets out to do—for example, in El Salvador—then he's not successful. But he has an answer for those people: "How do you measure success? Pretty simple: Am I doing work that I am proud of?" By that standard, Ray Gathalian is the epitome of success. Update: Gatchalian traveled to New York after the September 11, 2001 attack, filmed the devastation, and attended firefighters' funerals and memorials. Upon his return to Oakland, he organized a benefit to raise money for family members of those firefighters. He began working on several other films, including one about the restoration of Buddhist monasteries in Tibet and another about street children in Mongolia. In 2003, Ray Gatchalian died in a truck accident in the mountains of Chile. He was 57. Something Gatchalian once said might sum up his achievements and also personify what it means to be a Giraffe: "I have found that a large percentage of the population operates under a dangerous illusion, the illusion that the world's problems are too big and too complex for one individual to make a difference. But I believe one person can make a difference. My dad always told me, 'We're here to inspire each other, to bring out the best in each other, and the only way we can do that is to care about each other.'" Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this Page. Giraffes should have 100 thousand Likes. And do Share. Your friends need to know there are real heroes in the world.

BECAUSE EDUCATION NEEDS TO WORK FOR EVERYONE #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut #myMCNY Audrey Cohen believed in education, but a specific kind of education: as stated in the Jewish Women’s Archive: “ based on the principle that people learn best when they use their learning to achieve purposes that improve the world.” Cohen graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh and went to graduate school at both George Washington University and Harvard. She volunteered during the summer at places like the YWCA, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the American Friends Service Committee. She married and began to raise a family. To that point, everything she was doing was “normal” for a middle class woman in the 1950s. But Cohen wanted more. She wanted to work and still be a wife and mother, and she wanted other women to have the opportunity to do that as well. So in 1958, at the age of 27, she and a friend founded Part-Time Research Associates to help married women work under contract on part-time research projects. Cohen became an administrator and an ambassador of sorts, speaking to groups of women about employment and education. In 1964, now living in New York, she organized the Women’s Talent Corps which enabled women in low-income neighborhoods to work in and for their own communities—as teachers' assistants, guidance counselor assistants, and paralegals. The organization provided 30 weeks of training, much of it on-the-job. In 1969, the Talent Corps began to admit men. A year later it had expanded yet again, and Cohen renamed it the College for Human Services. It was soon accredited by New York State. Two years after that, Cohen began to develop “Purpose-Centered Education,” which focused on students working effectively in groups, gathering and communicating information, managing change, and understanding themselves and others. The college added business programs and then graduate programs. None of this was easy. In the beginning, New York City’s social service departments did not look kindly on Cohen’s efforts, noting that the college was seeking to serve mainly women and was directed mainly by women. But Cohen persisted—applying for grants, lobbying for change, and navigating through a slew of bureaucracies. At one point, in 1970, she restructured the entire college, eventually bringing about the purpose-directed curriculum the college would be known for. Her efforts paid off: the college became as “legitimate" as any other educational institution in the City. Audrey Cohen made her life more difficult and more rewarding by her pioneering approach to helping others—not only on a one-to-one basis but more dramatically on a grand scale: an educational philosophy put into practice that provides opportunities to people who otherwise wouldn't have had a path to changing their lives for the better. Update: Audrey Cohen died of ovarian cancer in March 1996. The college continued to expand, carrying on her life’s work. In 1992, it had been renamed Audrey Cohen College, but in 2002 it was again renamed—this time, to Metropolitan College of New York. It currently includes undergraduate and graduate programs in human services, business, healthcare management, public affairs and education, along with online learning options, free tutoring, a research library, and flexible class schedules that encourage students to work as well as attend school. Each year over 1100 students attend MCNY and over 400 graduate; many of them are adult women of color and recent immigrants. The curriculum allows a student to attain a Bachelor’s Degree in 2 years and 8 months while working full time, and a Master’s Degree in as little as 1 year while working full time. You can keep track of Audrey Cohen’s legacy at and here on Facebook at Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page. Giraffes should have 100 thousand Likes. And do Share. Your friends need to know there are heroes in the world.

PROTECTING AN ENDANGERED PEOPLE #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut [caption: From the left, Posey, Kaiapo, and Paiakan speaking at a rainforest conference in the US. The fourth man presented himself as a translator but Posey realized that he was deliberately mis-translating what the Mebengokre were saying. Posey took over the translations, but the “translator" took tapes of the session to the Brazilian government, which used them in its case against the three Giraffe Heroes.] The people of the Kaiapo tribe in Brazil would like to live as they have always lived, wearing body paint and feathers, sustaining them­selves with the abundant life of the rainforest. But the for­est is being devoured by "developers," and the Kaiapo are an endangered people. Two Kaiapos, Kuben-I Kaiapo and Bep Koroti Paiakan, have learned how to use modern technology and public relations to save their people's ancient way of life. They've learned Portuguese, put on shirts and slacks, and left the forest to speak for the Kaiapo. Their guide to the world beyond the forest is Darrell Posey, an ethnobotanist who has studied the Kaiapo for years. Posey has published The Science of the Mebengokre; Alternatives to Destruction, which explains the techniques used by the Mebengokre (the name of the Kaiapo use for themselves) to regenerate damaged rainforest ecosystems. Posey makes it clear that only these native peoples have the knowledge needed to reverse the spreading desertification of this vital area. As these voices of the rain­forest become stronger, the risks of violence against them become greater. Paiakan has received numerous death threats. Chico Mendez, leader of the Brazilian rubber tap­pers, was fighting success­fully to save million acres of rainforest from the incursions of miners and developers. When he became too great a threat, he was murdered. Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this Page. Giraffes should have 100 thousand Likes. And do Share with Friends. We all need to know there are real heroes in the world.

More Giraffe Heroes


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Bob Bajek, a reporter on a small-town newspaper in Illinois, came up with a Big Story: the town's recreational lake, where residents fished, swam, and boated, was highly toxic--a now defunct military base had dumped Agent Orange in the water....


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This is veteran environmental activist, Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez. He's 12. And he's been working to save his beloved Colorado for half of his life. It started when he saw that the forest near his home was changing. Trees were dying, plants...


Allan Adam is Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan nation, whose lands lie within Alberta, Canada. These First Nation people have formal treaty rights that protect their lands from being taken or used by outsiders, but that treaty has been...


Sangduen Chailert, known as "Lek," puts in 18-hour days caring for sick and injured elephants in a protected reserve she co-founded, the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand.

The dwindling elephant population is a world-wide...


Nobis Est - It's Up To Us

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