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  • WELCOME

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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If you need to know more, check out Giraffe info.

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A Mighty Girl

"Speak your mind even if your voice shakes." -- Maggie Kuhn Today in Mighty Girl history, Maggie Kuhn, social activist and founder of the Gray Panthers, was born in 1905. After being forced into retirement on her 65th birthday, Kuhn banded together with other retirees to form the Gray Panthers in 1970. The social action group focused on issues affecting older Americans including eliminating mandatory retirement ages, nursing home reform, and fighting ageism, as well as other pressing social issues such as poverty, peace and civil liberties. Born in Buffalo, New York, Kuhn was engaged in social activism throughout her life. In the 1930s and 40s, she taught classes to women on a variety of issues and caused controversy by addressing topics related to human sexuality including the mechanics of birth control, sex, and pregnancy. During the 1950s and 60s, she worked for the Presbyterian Church and her visits to Presbyterian retirement homes first sparked her interest in issues affecting the elderly. Through her work with the Gray Panthers, she countered the then-popular "disengagement theory," which argued old age involves a necessary separation from society, and often criticized nursing homes, calling them "glorified playpens." To provide an alternative model for elderly living, Kuhn founded the National Shared Housing Resource Center to help connect people interested in shared housing arrangements. Kuhn herself shared her home in Philadelphia with younger adults who paid lower rent in exchange for their help with chores and their companionship. She passed away at the age of 89 in 1995. To introduce tweens and teens to 26 feminists who transformed America, check out the new release "Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History...And Our Future!" for ages 10 and up at http://www.amightygirl.com/rad-american-women-a-z For more stories of inspiring girls and women who worked to change the world, visit our “Activist” section in Biographies at http://www.amightygirl.com/books/history-biography/biography?cat=207 For many Mighty Girls, the closest relationship with seniors is with their grandparents -- to discover Mighty Girl stories that celebrate this special bond, check out our blog post "Mighty Girls and their Grandparents: Stories for Celebrating Grandparents' Day" at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog/?p=4449 And, for Mighty Girl stories for children and teens that explore issues of justice, visit our "Fairness & Justice" section at http://www.amightygirl.com/books/personal-development/values?cat=217

Longtime Giraffe Hero Maggie Kuhn so enjoyed being a Giraffe, she started giving toy giraffes to her own heroes.

FOSTERING TRUE KNOWLEDGE #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Sanjit “Bunker” Roy was prepared in every possible way—family background, education, personal charisma—for a successful career in India’s civil or diplomatic service, but about the time he graduated from college, there was a famine in Bihar. Roy went, he now says, “out of curiosity, to see another part of India.” But he was so affected by what he found there, he's dedicated his life to serving the rural poor; his family disowned him for his decision. That was 1967. Roy spent the next five years blasting wells in the Ajmar District of Rajasthan. This was difficult, dangerous work, but it wasn’t the work that changed him; it was the people he met. He said, "I lived with very poor and ordinary people under the stars and heard the simple stories they had to tell of their skills and knowledge, of the wisdom that books and lectures and university education can never teach you." Roy decided that his blue-chip education was of paltry value compared with the wealth of knowledge held by these people who were considered by many to be uneducated and worthless. "My real education started then,” he said, “when I saw water diviners, traditional bone-setters and mid-wives at work. There is a difference between literacy and education. Literacy is reading and writing and what you pick up in school. Education is what you receive from your family, your community, and your environment." In 1972, Roy established the Barefoot College to give impoverished people from rural communities an opportunity to share with each other their practical and valuable skills. The college is in Tilonia, a Rajasthan village, about 95 kilometers from the state capital, Jaipur, and yet its reach has become international. As one example of the many projects happening through the Barefoot College, between 2005 and 2011, 140 women, most of them grandmothers, have traveled to Tilonia from villages in Africa to receive training as solar engineers. The African women do not know how to read or write, and none of them speak any Indian language, and so their six-month training course is taught through sign language and color codes. Still, by the end of it, they return to their villages qualified to install, maintain, and operate household, solar-powered lighting systems. They have learned to install integrated circuit boards for solar home lights and off-grid solar units generating up to 500 kilowatts a day. These women are, in short, able to electrify their villages. In the five years that the Barefoot College has offered solar training for students from Africa, the newly trained Africans have brought solar electrical power to almost 10,000 rural homes in 21 African countries. The Barefoot College has also trained more than 3 million people for jobs in the practical world. Besides solar engineers, the Barefoot College has prepared teachers, midwives, water-drillers, phone operators, blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, weavers, architects, dentists, doctors—and it’s all happened in buildings so rudimentary they have dirt floors and no chairs. Indigenous students feel comfortable in such modest circumstances; most of their teachers are from the same background and are also graduates of Barefoot College. Bunker Roy has found an effective way of fighting poverty: helping the poor steer their own path, fostering dignity and self-determination at every step along the way.

SHOWING THE WORLD AFGHAN WOMEN'S LIVES #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes The skies over the Iranian town suddenly darkened, heavy with an oncoming sandstorm, as Denise Zabalaga – a foreign woman traveling alone, hidden under heavy veils – climbed into a taxi with four unknown men to cross the border into Afghanistan. “I will always remember entering Afghanistan,” Zabalaga says. “It became darker and darker. There was the sandstorm, and also there was no light in the countryside, no electricity after thirty years of war. I just moved farther out into the darkness.” She had left behind her New York apartment and her job as a photo editor to travel alone into post-Taliban Afghanistan, intent on photographing the signs of hope, joy, and new life she felt certain would be emerging after the Taliban lost its control over the country. But instead of finding uplifting scenes – promises of new life – she was confronted by a land and people suffering the consequences of terrible violence and tyranny. And particularly, she saw the effects of the total cultural oppression of women. “What I mostly saw was misery,” she reports. “Women not knowing they have rights, not even knowing they are human beings.” Instead of photographing flowers growing from the rubble as she had expected, she became a witness to the lives of women hidden behind veils, politically powerless in a tribal country, lost even to their own inner wisdom and knowing. Facing continual harassment, scorn, and suspicion as a foreign woman traveling alone in a country that requires women to be under the constant “protection” of a man, Zabalaga traveled the country for a year, withstanding police interrogations and constant threats to keep photographing Afghan women. She photographed women from the cities to the deserts. In one desert camp, she met a schoolteacher from the city of Kabul, a woman who, after the death of her husband, became the property of her husband’s brother – a nomad who took her far from her urban home and far from her profession. “I could hardly look at her. I did not want to feel it.” “People say I was brave to travel like this,’ says Denise Zabalaga, “but I am not the courageous one. I could leave! These women, they cannot leave – they have no choices. They have to stay. I am not the brave one, they are.” You can see some of her photos here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/05/south_asia_the_darkness_within/print.stm

Pat Lovett has overcome a learning disability, severe shyness, and a lack of formal education to champion thousands of mentally ill patients. She has been tireless in her work on behalf of the mentally ill and their families since discovering in 1982 that her own son was bipolar-schizophrenic. Lovett created a support group called Community Voice, where families, patients and mental health workers gather to discuss quality care for patients. She conducts classes, and speaks at public rallies and at international conferences. Lovett also acts one-on-one, personally guiding families and patients through the system, offering advice on every aspect of their situation. She does in-depth site visits at public and private mental health facilities and community centers, and even searches the streets for lost patients. When a distraught patient was turned away from Western State Hospital, she took the woman into her own home. Appointed by Washington’s governor to the board of directors for Western State, she has been active in quality review of patient services throughout the region, her work affecting the entire State’s mental health system. Her own health and safety have been at issue—at one point she was even stalked— but she remains undaunted. When she was hospitalized for a life-threatening aneurysm she said, “I don’t have time for this; give me an aspirin.” She worked from her hospital bed and all during her recuperation. “I believe the reason I lived and recovered so quickly,” says Lovett, “is that I knew so many people were depending on me to get them the help they needed.” Lovett has achieved all this with no medical license, no Master of Science, not even a high school diploma—she left school when she was 13 after years of “remedial education” that she describes as almost no education at all. Written off by the system at age 7, she has been an avid self-educator. Now, her expertise on mental health has earned the respect of medical professionals. Offered a paying job in the field, she turned it down to avoid having professional obligations that could compromise her mission: to help create a system that will truly serve the medical needs of those with broken brains. They deserve the same quality treatment as people with illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or an aneurysm,” says Pat Lovett. Update: As you might expect, she's been an active board member at Western State Hospital—reviewing services received by patients, investigating accusations of abuse, and pushing for ways to safeguard everyone in the system. She continues to conduct classes, speak at conferences, and offer people advice about navigating mental health services. Lovett says her son’s mental illness is still at the core of all she does. “All I wanted,” she says, “was to make sure he got what he needed and deserved. It just turned out that I could help others by doing that.”

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

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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 http://giraffeheroes.org/giraffe-heroes

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.

Recent Giraffe Heroes

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This is Sister Megan Rice, a nun for most of her 80+ years and a peace activist since the 1980s. She had been arrested more than three dozen times and had done time twice when she and two other peace activists performed what was called the most serious security breach in the history of US...

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Andy Hall, a Brit, works for Finnwatch, a world-wide nonprofit that spots human abuses around the world and works to stop them. When Hall called out Thailand's National Fruit Company for the way it treats its workers, he asked to work...

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This is Catherine Hamlin MD, who left her home in Australia in 1959 to provide gynecological care to poor women in Ethiopia. At 90, she's still doing that, focusing on one of the most distressing medical/social issues imaginable: obstetric fistulas.

This is an injury that women can...

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This is Hanna Hopko. She braved snipers' bullets in Kiev during a citizens' uprising that brought down a corrupt government there. Now she's leading a rapidly growing citizens' movement that's doing more than rising up and demanding...

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Imagine you're 11 years old and your body is twisting from scoliosis, causing you constant physical pain and making you look very different from other kids. You're scheduled for surgery to straighten your spine and your mom takes a "before" picture so you'll have a history of how you once...

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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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There were no protections for whistle-blowers in South Africa when businesswoman Wendy Addison reported her own corporate bosses for breaking the law. She was fired, got death threats, and was blacklisted, even in England, where she took her...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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