Unique Cultural Subgroup: Military Brats and Third Culture Kids

Johanna McCloy wrote several articles as a freelance journalist for Truth Atlas, a magazine “featuring stories about people and ideas making the world a better place”. Truth Atlas provided permission to reprint her articles here. 


Donna Musil. Photo by Ray Ng

Donna Musil. Photo by Ray Ng

DENVER, COLORADO–If you’ve never heard of the term “Third Culture Kids” (TCKs) that’s in keeping with the phenomenon of this cultural subgroup feeling somewhat invisible or unrecognized. Third Culture Kids is a term coined in the 1950s by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem referencing people who have spent a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The reasons for this vary: parents might be missionaries, international business professionals, immigrants or members of the military (whose kids are often referred to as “military brats”).

One such brat is independent filmmaker Donna Musil, 54, who has made it her mission to bring this subculture to light and to help its members recognize the common psychological and emotional effects that come from having grown up this way. She launched her mission with her award-winning documentary “BRATS: Our Journey Home.”

One of the hardest questions for brats to answer is “Where are you from?” which Donna emphasizes is a common experience for all Third Culture Kids. “The first culture is the parents’ passport country, the second culture is the country in which the kids are culturally living, but the third culture is where the kids belong, and that is, to each other,“ Donna explains. “We don’t fit into a culture defined by geography. It doesn’t matter what countries we’ve lived in, it’s a shared experience. Belonging is the key. TCKs have a hard time with this, and it’s a very big deal. According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, belonging is the third most important human need, after food and safety.”

Brats_Poster_4x6Donna wants TCKs and brats to recognize the positive qualities that come from having grown up with a sense of not belonging anywhere. “Not belonging isn’t all a tragedy,” she says, “it’s good too! TCKs are the quintessential 21st Century citizens. They’re not fully invested in any group, they can listen to all sides and not be entrenched in their thinking and they don’t usually judge things as black and white. My mission is to help fellow TCKs realize that they’re okay, they’re not alone, that they belong not to a country, but to a borderless nation of people, and that we can help each other.”

Donna moved 12 times by the time she was 16-years-old, living in places like Korea and Germany as her family went wherever her father, a JAG Officer and military judge, was stationed. When she was 16, her father died and her family abruptly returned to the United States, where Donna never quite felt like she belonged. She continued her peripatetic lifestyle as an adult, moving 19 more times over the next 20 years. Then, in 1997 she experienced an “aha” moment when she reunited with 15 former friends and classmates from her high school in Korea. “There were 10 kids in my 9th grade glass,” she says, “and a total of 200 kids in K-10th grade. We got together for four days in D.C. and spent most of that time talking. We were an eclectic and racially diverse group, but we were all saying the same thing. It hit me then. We were such a mix of people, but it felt like I’d come home. I felt like I belonged.”

Donna Musil at 13-years-old. Her parents took her ice skating in Seoul, Korea and they were the only Americans there. "Of course, all the kids surrounded us and some touched our blonde hair," says Donna. Photo from Donna Musil.

Donna Musil at 13-years-old. Her parents took her ice skating in Seoul, Korea and they were the only Americans there. “Of course, all the kids surrounded us and some touched our blonde hair,” says Donna. Photo from Donna Musil.

After her Korea reunion, Donna read the book “Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress,” by Mary Edwards Wertsch and found herself identifying strongly with the characterization of the military brat experience that Mary describes. Inspired, Donna immediately contacted Mary, who agreed to work with her in making a documentary film inspired by the book. In 1999, Donna created Brats Without Borders, Inc. as a nonprofit production company with a mission, “to create films, videos and literary materials for current and former military children and other “third culture kids” from highly mobile families around the world…that acknowledge their existence and contributions, improve the quality of their lives, and foster the self-awareness and sense of belonging necessary to employ the more positive aspects of their unique multi-cultural inheritance.”

For the next seven years, Donna researched material and interviewed 500 military brats, providing them with an extensive questionnaire. Many brats wrote very long replies, underscoring the unique commonalities of experience that Donna wanted to convey in her documentary. Army brat and musician Kris Kristofferson was brought in as narrator, interviewee and song contributor. General Norman Schwarzkoff and Mary Edwards Wertsch also participated.

Donna Musil shooting an interview with West Point Sociology Professor Morten Ender in Wichita, Kansas. Photo by Peg Hennig, Austin, TX

Donna Musil shooting an interview with West Point Sociology Professor Morten Ender in Wichita, Kansas. Photo by Peg Hennig, Austin, TX

In the film, Donna covers a number of important issues related to the life of a military brat, including living on the edge of history-in-the-making, growing up in integrated schools, moving all over the world and not having a sense of rootedness or connection with extended family, living under the authoritarian structure of a military base, experiencing the prolonged absences of the parent who is serving, growing up in a patriarchal society, being exposed to art, history and culture, and in some cases, living with parents who become alcoholics. The first cut of her film was six hours, which she then reduced to 90 minutes. In 2006, “BRATS: Our Journey Home” was finally released, winning several film festival awards.

“I wasn’t prepared for the response of the film at all,” Donna says. “Most of the brats loved it and the TCKs loved it.” In reaction to one military mom saying it made her feel like she wasn’t doing a good job, Donna says, “but it’s not about the parents and it’s not about the military- it’s about the kids. How is she supposed to know? No one knows about this stuff. After 18, military brats don’t talk to anyone about their experiences very much.”

No other documentary better depicts the social and psychological impact on children and adolescents at the intersection of two power social institutions–the military and the family. –Morten G. Ender, Ph.D., Sociology Program Director, United States Military Academy, West Point

Since the documentary’s release, the National Museum of the U.S. Army, being built in Virginia, has hired Donna to create an army brat exhibit there. Donna is also co-curating “Unclassified: The Military Kid Art Show” with artist and Marine Corps brat Lora Beldon. This traveling museum exhibit also unveils powerful and poignant clips from Donna’s new documentary, “Our Own Private Battlefield,” which focuses on the intergenerational effect of war as it relates with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

For more information about the film and Donna’s other projects, go to BRATS: Our Journey Home.

Taking Green Architecture to New Levels

Johanna McCloy wrote several articles as a freelance journalist for Truth Atlas, a magazine “featuring stories about people and ideas making the world a better place”. Truth Atlas provided permission to reprint her articles here. 


Alex Vondeling

Alex Vondeling, Associate and West Coast director of Re:Vision Architecture. Photo courtesy of Alex Vondeling

PHILADELPHIA, PA–Start with a childhood of playing outside in the woods and mix that with a year of taking art classes in Venice, a desire to serve the community, a passion for sustainability, and an ever-present desire to try new things, and you’ve got the seeds for growing up to become a deep-green architect and sustainability consultant. At least, that’s what happened to Alex Vondeling, 47, who has become an expert in her field.

“People think of green architecture as kind of like hippie architecture, but it’s always been around,” Alex explains. “It’s not new.” During and after the Industrial Revolution, buildings began to be constructed with new mechanical forms of heating, ventilation, and lighting; over time, this led to a decrease in passive design–factoring in the local climate and the site’s orientation to the sun as a way to maximize the structure’s environmental efficiency–and a sharp increase in global consumption of fossil fuels and greenhouse emissions. Environmentalists took note and began making a concerted effort to return to a sustainable way of building. This became known as “green architecture.”

The green approach to building is three-fold: reduce, reuse, and recycle. “We think of it in that order of priority, too,” says Alex, who is now the West Coast operations director for Re-Vision Architecture, a green architecture firm based in Philadelphia. “Reducing is the most important thing. Whether it’s living in a smaller footprint, using fewer resources, or having a passive design.”

The Camden Meeting House and zero energy social hall project by Re:Vision Architecture. Photo courtesy of Re:Vision Architecture

The Camden Meeting House and zero energy social hall project by Re:Vision Architecture. Photo courtesy of Re:Vision Architecture

Alex’s exclusive focus on green architecture began when she got the opportunity to work with Sim Van der Rym, who had been the state architect under California Governor Jerry Brown in the late 1970s and is regarded as the forefather of green architecture. “He’d been doing it since the 1960s,” she says. “When I first started working with his firm, there were no codes for something like rammed earth (a technique for building walls with natural raw materials), so you had to work closely with coding officials to get some of those non-standard materials approved. By doing that, we started getting things in motion, so that they could then become more of the standard.”

She also explains that, for her work, designing is only 10 percent of it. “Professors told us this and it’s true,” she says. “The rest is working with clients, with consultants, with all kinds of people involved in the construction of a building. It very much incorporates a community, and I like that.”

Alex currently follows projects through construction and operations, helping them earn LEED credits and certification. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a rating system created in 1998 by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. “It’s like a score card,” she explains, “that rates the efficiency and resourcefulness of a building’s construction, along with its operations and maintenance.” People like to get LEED certification because it demonstrates leadership, setting an example and a precedent for others to follow. “You’re showing that it’s doable,” she adds. “When I first went to a LEED conference about ten years ago, there were only two thousand people there. Now, there are like thirty thousand, so it shows how the industry has grown.”

She also consults on projects that strive to meet the Living Building Challenge, the built environment’s most rigorous performance standard and a level of certification sought by projects all over the world. “A living building is a building that doesn’t take more from the earth than it takes to make it or generate it. It’s more performance-based than it is prescriptive, so you don’t get certified until a year after construction. It’s not like LEED where you get points as you go along. With this, you have to show how your building actually operates. You have to be net-zero for a year; you have to collect and process all the water on site; and there can’t be certain chemicals on site such as PCB or formaldehyde and many others. It’s tricky sometimes because manufacturers don’t want to disclose what chemicals are in their products; there’s resistance there and they think it’s proprietary, so this is pushing them for transparency, which has been quite a challenge and a feat.”

The roof of the Potomac Watershed Study Center Grass Day-Use Building will spread out like wings to capture the sun’s energy to provide power to itself and the overnight Lodge. Rendering courtesy of The Alice Fergususon Foundation

The roof of the Potomac Watershed Study Center Grass Day-Use Building will spread out like wings to capture the sun’s energy to provide power to itself and the overnight Lodge. Rendering courtesy of The Alice Fergususon Foundation

One example of a net-zero energy, net-zero water, and carbon-neutral Living Building project is one that Alex has been monitoring since 2007. Called The Potomac Watershed Study Complex, it’s an environmental center for inner-city kids, set on the Potomac River in Maryland. “We’re rebuilding a lodge there and several smaller buildings. One building is called Grass because it has the photo-voltaic panels and generates energy from the sun. The other one is called Moss because it’s more in the shade and is the water-collector building, so they’re meant to be symbiotic and work together.”

Alex enjoys working on special projects, but emphasizes how easy it has become for everyone to green their own home. She suggests looking for reliable product labels like FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) wood, HPD (Health Product Declaration) products, or Energy Star or Water Sense appliances and fixtures. She makes note of low-water-use toilets and showerheads, energy-efficient LED lights, double-glazed windows, non-lead plumbing fixtures, and low VOC paint as some of the many purchase options that can make a big ecological difference.

“An uber-green project doesn’t have to look a certain way,” she says. “It can look clean and modern. You might not know that a project is sustainable just by looking at it.”

What you can know, too, is that green architecture is filled with possibilities. Not only does it offer creative fulfillment for its architects, but it also does good for the community–and the world.

Featured photo (top): The Potomac Watershed Study Center Moss Overnight Lodge will gather rainwater that will be purified and used throughout the Center. Rendering courtesy of The Alice Fergususon Foundation

Helping You Get Youth Outdoors

Johanna McCloy wrote several articles as a freelance journalist for Truth Atlas, a magazine “featuring stories about people and ideas making the world a better place”. Truth Atlas provided permission to reprint her articles here. 


OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA–“Awesome!” That’s a word you’ll often hear from urban kids when they experience the wilderness for the first time. Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT) has been making that possible since 1999 by helping teachers and youth workers get urban kids outdoors. From front country camping experiences to backpacking expeditions, 33,000 youth have been led to the wilderness since BAWT’s founding, and 1,300 individual teachers/youth workers have been trained to take them there.

BAWT Executive Director Scott Wolland, Limantour Spit, Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo courtesy of Bay Area Wilderness Training

BAWT Executive Director Scott Wolland, Limantour Spit, Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo courtesy of Bay Area Wilderness Training

“We know that going to the wilderness can be a life-changing experience,” says Scott Wolland, 46, BAWT’s executive director and CEO. “Not everyone has equal access and we want to make especially sure that it becomes possible for under-served kids, since they are less likely to go to the wilderness without assistance.” In 2013, youth of color made up 85% of the total youth who went on BAWT supported trips.

Getting kids outdoors and active helps to address a condition known as Nature-Deficit Disorder, a term coined by researcher Richard Louv in his bestselling book, “Last Child in the Woods,” which outlines the physical, psychological, and emotional tolls that a lack of exposure to nature can engender, including obesity, attention-deficit-disorder and depression. The amount of time kids spend in front of screens is also an issue. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey from 2010 found that North American youth spent an average of 7.5 hours of screen time per day (including computers, TVs, or mobile devices) between 2008-2009—a figure that has increased in the ensuing years.

“There’s data that shows that when kids are connected to the outdoors, their grades go up and their self-esteem goes up, as well as their ability to co-operate with each other,“ says Scott. “I know from first-hand experience that it’s transformative for young people and adults to be outside for the first time. Maybe they’ve never seen the North Star, they may have never heard the ocean roar at night, they may not have seen the stars or a waterfall up close, they may not have seen a salmon migrating upstream, they may never have seen a deer really up close. That’s really a powerful experience. I’ve also seen how kids who aren’t necessarily leaders in the classroom become leaders in the outdoors, because that’s where they thrive; that’s their best learning environment. They’re better there than sitting behind a desk.

Teachers and youth workers on a five-day Wilderness Leadership Training Course. Photo courtesy of Bay Area Wilderness Training

Teachers and youth workers on a five-day Wilderness Leadership Training Course. Photo courtesy of Bay Area Wilderness Training

“We know that with the pressure of fast-paced life, this experience makes a welcome change,” he adds. “They get more connected with themselves and each other in new ways, they learn how to rely on each other and use teamwork, and for some kids an opportunity to be quiet and listen to the silence can also be profound. They may have not had a 72-hour period where they didn’t hear a car honking or worry about violence in their community; it’s a whole different world.”

Bay Area Wilderness Training was founded in 1999 by Kyle McDonald, who modeled his West Coast organization on the “training the trainer” approach of the Appalachian Mountain Club in Boston, where he was from. For Kyle, it made sense to train teachers and youth workers because they already have a connection with youth and a level of trust in their community. To complement that training, BAWT also provides free camping and backpacking equipment—located in gear libraries–for all the youth.

When Kyle left BAWT in 2012 to create a national network of similar programs called the Outdoors Empowered Network, Scott, who’d previously been the director of the Glen Miller Environmental Education Center at Point Reyes and Director of Operations for the Turtle Island Restoration Network, was an ideal replacement. His immediate aim was to see the gear libraries looking empty, and to make that a constant. He’s succeeding. In 2013, Scott oversaw a 38% increase in the number of BAWT supported trips and an additional 33% youth served over 2012.

Elementary school students on camping trip using BAWT gear. Photo courtesy of Bay Area Wilderness Training

Elementary school students on camping trip using BAWT gear. Photo courtesy of Bay Area Wilderness Training

BAWT serves youth in 10 counties in the San Francisco Bay Area and has two gear libraries in Oakland and Milpitas. It also partners with the Crissy Field Center at the Camping at the Presidio Program (CAP) in San Francisco, where there is a third gear library. Each gear library can serve up to 60-80 kids and is organized by categories of clothing. along with hiking boots, tents, backpacks, sleeping pads, stoves and more. Trained leaders pick up the gear there and bring it to the kids.

BAWT’s professional wilderness leadership training for teachers and youth leaders comes in two forms: Front Country Leadership Training, a two-day training that teaches them the basics of camping; and Wilderness Leadership Training, a five-day training that teaches the essentials for leading a backpacking trip. They also offer several courses in Wilderness Medicine. “There are teachers who may really want to take the courses but they can’t afford it, so we give them mini-grants to pay for the hiking permits and maybe some of the food,” Scott says.

Once outdoors, what teachers do is up to them. They don’t have to teach a science curriculum. They might be teaching Spanish or they might be teaching art; they determine their own focus area, as long as they use Leave No Trace wilderness ethics and let the wilderness be a tool for connecting with the kids. “We promote a diverse community of educators and of youth getting outdoors and we foster the values of calculated risk-taking,” Scott says. “With the right training, it’s okay to cross a creek or go off-trail. Our society is very risk-adverse and some principals are fearful about kids going on these trips, so we train teachers how to be safe out there. We promote environmental stewardship and a culture of learning.”

Photo courtesy of Bay Area Wilderness Training

Photo courtesy of Bay Area Wilderness Training

Trained leaders throughout the Bay Area are also forming a growing network. One kid might go into nature several times with different organizations that are borrowing BAWT’s gear. Roughly 200 organizations come through there each year.

One of the organizations benefiting from BAWT training and free gear loans is Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), whose mission is to prevent juvenile crime and incarceration through legal education, leadership training, and one-on-one mentoring. A part of their program is a multi-day trip to the wilderness with leadership training. Tara Schmidt, who was acting San Mateo County director for FLY and led several of those trips, recounts, “I remember it was really cold one morning. I was startled when two youth exclaimed ‘Tara, QUICK, get the camera. We are doing teamwork!’ Before packing out that day, a few of us were brave enough to jump into the lake that had been frozen over earlier that morning. Once we were dried off and back on the trail, one of the kids, still in an adrenaline-filled voice, said, ‘Man, I feel great! That was better than an antidepressant!’”

As a nonprofit, BAWT is funded through donations and foundation support. It also sponsors two adventure fundraising trips per year for anyone who wants to raise money for the organization: Backpacking for Kids and Climbing for Kids. There’s added incentive: raise $3,500, and you get $1,500 worth of brand-new climbing equipment; raise $1,500, and you get $500 worth of new backpacking gear. Motivated volunteers also help at Wednesday evening “Discovery Sessions” of free pizza and training that includes volunteer time in the “gear infirmary,” doing such things as sewing and patching torn tents and backpacks.

“Helping you get youth outdoors!” is BAWT’s slogan. So get to it. As Scott says, “It’s a whole different world.”

Featured photo: BAWT “Climbing for Kids” fundraisers at the top of a summit. Photo courtesy of Bay Area Wilderness Training

Want to Get Involved?

10298979533_b3fe20bdac_bBay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT) a project of Earth Island Institute, was founded with the idea that California’s bountiful wilderness areas are a vast – yet untapped – resource for local youth-serving organizations. BAWT promotes the wise use of these national, state and regional parks through our professional wilderness leadership training. Then, we connect the teachers and youth workers to our outdoor gear libraries. That way, youth organizations and schools may outfit their groups for trips of their own – free of charge!

We believe that well led trips to granite cliffs, isolated beaches and ancient redwoods provide youth with powerful, life changing experiences.

Healing Touch Brings Relief to Cancer Patients

Johanna McCloy wrote several articles as a freelance journalist for Truth Atlas, a magazine “featuring stories about people and ideas making the world a better place”. Truth Atlas provided permission to reprint her articles here. 


Healing Touch Practitioner Jeri Lawson

Healing Touch Practitioner Jeri Lawson

OAKLAND, CA–Many of those suffering from potent and possibly fatal diseases believe that conventional medicine is the only modality that can help them. Others, especially those in unrelenting pain, become open to alternative treatments that might be able to bring them some relief. One of these unconventional treatments is an energy-therapy program called Healing Touch.

Developed in 1989 by Janet Mentgen, who’d spent 43 years as a nurse in the U.S. Navy, emergency rooms, and in-home hospice care, Healing Touch is a gentle, noninvasive form of energy work used to manage the often debilitating side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, helping to restore wholeness and balance in mind, body, emotion, and spirit. By promoting deep relaxation, it can increase overall energy levels and the ability to cope, and to help with the stress of pre- and post-operative care.

Jeri Lawson, a Healing Touch practitioner in Oakland, California, was a massage therapist who realized that her clients would reap even more benefits from her sessions if she focused on their human energy field,  an electro-magnetic field that surrounds and penetrates the physical body. It’s beneficial for Jeri, too. “In fact, I usually feel energized afterward,” she says.

Jeri is fully aware that her work with cancer patients can’t clear the disease itself, but it can clear the block in energy caused by cancer treatments. She listens carefully to her clients, accepts their own decisions about how best to tackle their treatments, and is wholly nonjudgmental about their wants and needs. “Chemotherapy and radiation will disrupt a person’s energetic field, and my mission is to unblock, reorganize, and shift that energy field in order to restore inner balance,” she explains. “One thing that happens is that people gain their own insights about their own healing. They relax. They can handle it. Inner guidance is allowed to come through.”

Not surprisingly, many people who know little about alternative-treatment options are critical and dismissive. “They just think it’s weird,” Jeri says. It’s hard to explain what she does, which is a shame, because people who are ill and need help should be able to find it without fear of criticism. “In my healing practice, clients who release physical pain or emotional trauma during Healing Touch sessions tend to become the most grateful and fervent believers. It does not seem to matter if the client “believes” in energy work or not. Veterans have also found a lot of physical relief and emotional balancing through Healing Touch. I think this is because Healing Touch is a gentle, heart-centered, safe healing modality that does not retraumatize clients.” She adds that veterans and trauma victims are becoming regular clients for Healing Touch practitioners all over the country.

Jeri Lawson performs Healing Touch

Jeri Lawson performs Healing Touch

To help those who otherwise cannot afford it, Lawson has been volunteering her services at Oakland’s Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic for low-income women with cancer since 2008. “When you see someone’s whole energy shift and you recognize how much of a difference your therapy makes, there’s nothing like it,” she says.

Chris Kammler is one of the cancer patients who has benefitted from Lawson’s healing touch. “I knew Jeri as a massage therapist many years ago,” she says. “When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, I went to her for Healing Touch therapy after my first round of chemo, and then after each radiation treatment. I had never heard of it before and it was an amazing and profound experience. Chemo is a cytotoxin and it was killing all the cells. I could feel the healing she provided. It was subtle and gentle, but at the same time, it was more profound than if something had slapped me upside the head. She cleared all the stuff around the chemo and filled me with light through that whole experience. I couldn’t have gone through it without her.”

When Jeri hears that, she smiles. “It’s not woo-woo if it works.”

Global Girl Media: Turning Trauma Into Purpose

Johanna McCloy wrote several articles as a freelance journalist for Truth Atlas, a magazine “featuring stories about people and ideas making the world a better place”. Truth Atlas provided permission to reprint her articles here. 


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA–The year was 2007 and a young woman in Kenya was assisting Amie Williams, an American documentary filmmaker, in covering the national election. They were filming a mass funeral when government forces began to fire on the crowd, causing everyone to disperse and the two women to separate. It took several days for Amie to find her Kenyan assistant, only to discover that she’d been raped and traumatized. When talking about what happened, the young woman expressed a desire to gain a sense of control over her ordeal by owning the telling of it and sharing the story publicly. Amie gave her the tools to do so, teaching her how to use the camera and convey her story. This experience led to the incubation of an idea for Amie: the creation of GlobalGirl Media.

Having covered issues in developing countries as a documentary filmmaker for a number of years, Amie, 50, knew that there was little in the way of positive or empowering media reports surrounding the lives and experiences of young girls and women. She and other female colleagues recognized that much of mainstream reporting focuses on violence, celebrity, or disasters, while the everyday experiences and voices of the invisible majority, particularly young women, passes silently under the radar.

Amie Williams with GGM girls in Los Angeles

Amie Williams with GGM girls in Los Angeles

Amie launched GlobalGirl Media in Los Angeles in 2009 along with her co-founder Meena Nanji, a friend in the documentary film business who also spent considerable time covering gender and cultural issues in the developing world. They agreed that young girls, in particular, needed to be given the tools for storytelling, empowering themselves through media and journalism. With the explosion of social media networking and internet-based communication, it became even more important for young girls in at-risk and impoverished communities to get on board–and online. As stated on their website, “GlobalGirl Media seeks to address this disparity [in accessing these technologies] by supplying the equipment, education, and support necessary to help young women become digital and blog journalists, bringing their own unique perspective on their lives, their communities, and world events to the global web and social media community.”

GlobalGirl Media has news bureaus in South Africa, Morocco, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and will be launching one in Oakland in 2014, where it is partnering with Youth Uprising (a multi-service community transformation hub serving East Oakland) and focusing on girls in the juvenile justice system. To date, the main portals for their video reports have been the GlobalGirl Media website and dedicated YouTube channel along with various partners, including the PBS World Channel. Video topics fall under four categories: Arts & Culture, Politics & Society, Health & Environment, and Women’s Rights/Human Rights.

Amie Williams with GGM Reporter Rebecca Ruvalcaba at the TeenNick HALO Awards (GlobalGirl Rocio Ortega won this award in 2013)

Amie Williams with GGM Reporter Rebecca Ruvalcaba at the TeenNick HALO Awards (GlobalGirl Rocio Ortega won this award in 2013)

Amie says another objective of the organization is to get the girls to think and connect globally. “There is a tendency when living in impoverished neighborhoods for girls to think and feel like they’re alone,” Amie says. “They can’t really leave their neighborhoods so we help them to go online and test their boundaries by talking with girls in other places. We’ll set up Skype calls between girls in different parts of the world or have them connect on Facebook.”

Rocio Ortega, 20, is one of the girls they trained when the organization began. She has since won a TeenNick HALO Award and is on a full scholarship to Wellesley College. “Coming into GlobalGirl Media as a fifteen-year-old, I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it was something I had to do because there was nothing available like this in my school or community,” says Rocio. “I not only learned how to film, edit, and produce stories, but I was also finding my voice. Working with other girls my age from Los Angeles and from our other chapters in South Africa, Morocco, and Chicago, I received international exposure that helped shape my values and goals. GGM equipped me with the necessary tools to not only speak up, but empower other girls to find their voice as well. Give us a camera or tell us we can do anything and we will take that wherever we go.”

Amie Williams with GGM girls during a training in Morocco.

Amie Williams with GGM girls during a training in Morocco.

GlobalGirl Media has formed a partnership with TV4 Entertainment, a portfolio of genre-specific broadband television networks to inspire worldwide communities poorly served by traditional television. Launching in 2014, the GlobalGirl Media Network (GGMN) will feature original video content created by the girls trained by the organization, along with third party content dedicated to girls and young women and global perspectives. The objective, always, is to stay positive in the messaging and to focus not on girls as victims but, instead, to find ways to make a change and to empower themselves.

Sthokozo Mabaso, 24, from Soweto, South Africa, is another of the many young women that GlobalGirl Media has trained. She received a four-week training as a citizen journalist in 2011 and told stories about her community in Soweto. In 2012, she traveled to Washington, D.C. with GlobalGirl Media Morocco journalist, Mandisa Madikane, to cover the World Aids Conference. At the conference, she was invited to participate as one of the panelists discussing the topic of women, abuse, and gender justice entitled “Taking Action to End Violence against Girls.” Her first blog was then featured on Huffington Post. Shortly afterward, Sthokozo received a scholarship to the Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking in Johannesburg.

“You know, when I started GlobalGirl Media, I knew nothing concerning filming and I doubted myself all the time, but today I can proudly say I am a filmmaker, because I even see my name in the credit on TV,” Sthokozo beams. “I told Amie how thankful I was because if it were not for GGM, I would not have made it this far. Now, I am able to help other girls and I hope to also inspire them about the media they can make.”

Want to get involved?

GlobalGirl Media, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, is dedicated to empowering high school age girls from under-served communities around the world through media, leadership and journalistic training to have a voice in the global media universe and their own futures.

Children’s Hospital Volunteer Lights Up Lives

Johanna McCloy wrote several articles as a freelance journalist for Truth Atlas, a magazine “featuring stories about people and ideas making the world a better place”. Truth Atlas provided permission to reprint her articles here. 


Paul Schowalter volunteered at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) every Friday evening for over fifteen years. This is his story as told to Johanna McCloy.

Paul Schowalter

Paul Schowalter

I was born in 1960 and raised in Cucamonga, before it became Rancho Cucamonga. It’s hard to believe that a Los Angeles suburb was once rural, but we had 10 acres of lemons, hay, and pumpkins. I was riding a horse before I could walk, and driving a tractor before I knew what a license was.

I went to college and got a good job. I bought a red sports car and got married. Life was great. Less than one year later, my wife asked for a divorce; a subsequent relationship where I was a de facto dad to a little girl, also ended after two years. By 1995 I was a devastated 35-year-old. After a brief period of self-pity, I knew I had to shift my energy to something positive, focusing, for once in my life, on what I could do for someone else instead of what they could do for me.

As I was looking for the right situation, I realized how much I missed my former girlfriend’s daughter. That was my “a-ha” moment. Kids!

My friends said I should call CHOC, or Children’s Hospital of Orange County. They had different volunteer opportunities, but I knew I wanted to interact with young patients. They thought I’d be a good fit in the child-life department, or recreation therapy. Both were just fancy ways of saying, “You get to play with kids.”

Volunteers must make a commitment, so I picked Friday nights from 6:00-8:00 p.m. due to my work schedule. When I walked into the hospital lobby for the first time, I was both excited and petrified. As soon as I got out of the elevator on the third floor, I almost got run over by a patient riding a Big Wheel, who zipped past me while making engine noises with his mouth before I could move a muscle. The floor was bright, colorful, and loud, with a large plastic basketball hoop in the hallway and finger paintings taped to the walls. It was dynamic and unlike any hospital I’d ever seen. I knew I’d be there for a long time.

There were playrooms on just about every floor, stocked like your local Toys’r Us and open throughout the day in two-hour intervals; otherwise, they were used as classrooms. My job was to staff the playrooms–making sure there was an activity or two, that the kids weren’t splashing paint on the walls, and, obviously, that everyone was safe. If there were two or more volunteers, one of us would go to the rooms where patients weren’t physically able to make it to the playroom, and see if they needed anything. Sometimes, they just wanted a portable game console; other times, they wanted someone to play Score Four with them.

Despite the fact that I was usually wearing a balloon hat or juggling three Barbies, I took my work very seriously. If a new toy came in, I’d ensure it wasn’t a choking hazard. If a child with an I.V. got close to something that could hook the line, I’d jump over a chair to remove the hazard. It wasn’t easy when there might be 10 kids and 15 parents running around the playroom. It could get very loud and hectic, so while that was often good therapy for the kids, I sometimes had to reel them in a bit. Still, my goal was always to make sure they forgot where they were for two hours.

Paul Schowalter volunteered at Childrens Hospital of Orange County every Friday evening for over fifteen years

Paul Schowalter volunteered at Childrens Hospital of Orange County every Friday evening for over fifteen years. There is a brick at the hospital with his name on it.

The kids had everything from cancer and cystic fibrosis to rashes and broken arms. Some were there for a couple of hours; others literally lived there. For the first couple of months, I’d cry during that drive home—seeing what these kids were going through was overwhelming. To have a parent shake your hand at the end of the night and tell you that it was the first time their kid has laughed in days was an amazing accomplishment. To know you’re helping someone who may not even make it to her ninth birthday…well, it’s pretty powerful.

After ten years, in 2005, I was named a “Star of CHOC” and got a star pin to wear on my uniform. I was also honored after hitting the 2,000 hour mark. I helped with fundraising events, including the CHOC Walk, an annual 5K run/walk that attracts more than 10,000 people, and for six years designed the brochure, poster, pin, t-shirt, and newsletter, and was the official photographer for the event. And I chaperone a patient and his or her family to the Long Beach Grand Prix Celebrity Race every year. It’s an all-day event where we get treated like royalty. I’ve done that every year that I’ve been with CHOC–I think the Toyota people are sick of me!

[quote style=”boxed”]”Paul is amazing with our patients. The kids and families light up when they see him. He has been such a dedicated, patient, caring, wonderful, volunteer. When Paul escorts a selected family at the Long Beach Grand Prix, he really makes the day extra special for them. I count on Paul every year to take this on for us. I never have to worry, because I know he will be there for them. I just can’t say enough about Paul!” – Emily Grankowski, Manager of Child Life and Interpreter/Translation Services, CHOC Children’s [/quote]

After being there for a long time, my best perk was being able to check the patient list; if I recognized someone, I could go see them (as long as the basic duties were under control). We were warned about not getting attached to patients, but that was pretty impossible. Some of the kids were in there for years and we’d see them several times a month.

The downside was that sometimes we’d lose one. It was devastating. I met great kids that didn’t make it. It’ was so unfair. Not only did they not get a chance at life, but what little they had was often spent in pain or seclusion. All of the things that I’ve done and taken for granted, they’d never do. When those things happened, you realized that you’ve got nothing to complain about. Nothing is as bad as a really sick or dying child.

That’s what changed me the most. Now, I keep things in perspective. I have more energy and a much more positive and upbeat attitude about life. I want to do more. I hug my friends more. I walk taller. I have more confidence. I react to stressful situations better.

Although I had to stop volunteering at CHOC in 2011 when a job took me to Atlanta, I’ve gained so much from that experience. It’s ironic: I did something unselfish to counteract decades of being selfish, but got so rewarded that made it feel selfish.

The kids did that for me.

A Natural Food Innovator with a Heartful Purpose

Johanna McCloy wrote several articles as a freelance journalist for Truth Atlas, a magazine “featuring stories about people and ideas making the world a better place”. Truth Atlas provided permission to reprint her articles here. 



As an innovator and entrepreneur, Robert Davis has a passion for natural foods—and an impressive roster of firsts. He created the first hot dog made from soy in 1979, and he further revolutionized the industry with the first organic soy and rice ice creams, the first hemp ice cream, and the first hemp cheese. Today, Davis is the founder of The Hemp Company, another revolutionary food idea with a mission to help feed the world.

You’re a natural food innovator who created the first soy hot dog and hemp ice cream, among many others. How and when did you become a food formulator?

My path was ignited by the logic for sustainability put forth in the 1960s and 1970s by such groups as the New Alchemy Institute, the Farallon Institute, the Rocky Mountain Institute, the World Watch Institute, and countless other individuals and groups that said we cannot continue to live on this amazing planet using the producer-consumer model. The Whole Earth Catalog was a constant reminder that we are part of the system we think we are separate from. I was drawn into this logic and wanted to help craft win/win growth models, so I went to the University of Maryland to get a Masters degree in urban planning. This transformed into a Masters from Goddard College on planetary development encompassing cosmogenesis (the origin and evolution of the universe), anthropogenesis (the origin and evolution of the human race), and spiritual evolution.

That degree was all I needed to start a tofu company, Light Foods, in St. Louis, Missouri. The company gifted me with an understanding of dharma, or one’s rightful path, and always reminds me of the times when my heart was in song. The art of tofu-making gave way to the wild call of larger market opportunities, and the Tofu hot dog was born. Even with the Trojan horse of introducing tofu to a wider market, my food career was afoot.

Food formulation comes through my mother Donna Davis’ wiles and knowings. She was an amazing cook and provided by example rich scrumptious what-nots that gave me a context for flavor and quality. I also have a clear sense of flavors, scents, and textures, and love food. The key to formulating now is how to feed people economically and qualitatively so that all may be fed.

Robert designed the Tempt brand of hemp foods, and advanced hemp production technology.

Robert designed the Tempt brand of hemp foods, and advanced hemp production technology.

You became known as a formulator of innovative natural foods after that. How did you find your next product to create?

I believe our path finds us and it was the same with food opportunities that appeared in front of me. At the early stages in my career, the spirit to feed people economically was strong, but during that period I acquired a family and with it the necessity to thrive within an existing paradigm of large margins and bottom lines. It was after years of being asked to cheapen products and cut corners for profit that my stomach fully turned and I came to the realization that I could no longer support programs and food companies that did not support qualitative planetary growth and the economic development of foods that would enrich the planet and the soul of the consumer. That is why I started the Hemp Food Company, a company that has had to endure many old -guard interests and misanthropic energies to stay afloat over the last three years. We are currently in the final stages of finalizing the first functional hemp burger without soy and gluten at our facility in Vancouver. My goal is to create a 50-pound bag of dried hemp-based nuggets for shelf-stable distribution that can be distributed to those in need around the world.

That fits in with the tagline for your Hemp Food Company: “May All Be Fed.” How are the hemp nuggets more practical and nutritious than other types of foods currently being distributed to those in need?

I have a patent-pending process on the most efficient direct way of processing hemp nut or seeds that allows for hemp’s integration into a host of end products, such as meat analogs, chips, breads, jerky, etc. The matrix system I created by combining brown rice, pea protein, and hemp is extremely cost-effective and illumines the potential for hemp to be grown and processed at the community scale. Hemp protein is the plant protein for a sustainable present future. It is time for sustainable community food systems because they make sense for a positive conscious future. A future that we have the choice to make, today.


Robert developed the first national-scale almond yogurt Amande.

Another project you’ve conceived is called Safe Space Inns. What are they?

I realized that my goal of feeding people had changed to encompass individual therapies that fed people energetically and spiritually. Re-patterning and transformational therapy is now at the core of my new career to help qualitatively feed people.

We find ourselves amidst a flurry of subconscious-to-conscious need of an intermediary facility for people in the throes of a transformational spiritual process. Primary is the grounding in love, compassion, and sacred safe space. I’ve developed an idea for an urban system geared to day-care emergency crisis treatment.

Based on your unique experiences, how would you advise others about finding their own rightful path and effecting positive change?

Everyone has a unique gift to offer the planet; everyone has the ability to feel deeply into their dreams and visions. One’s rightful path is intrinsic to each soul and is offered up via spirits’ whispers and/or cosmic bludgeonings till one heeds the celestial call to be thyself fully, honestly, and heartfully in all that one does. Your heartful purpose then becomes the positive change that illumines the grace and beauty of the new Earth to be.