JD

One Journey Ends and Another One Begins!!!

One Journey Ends and Another One Begins!!!

We have returned to the homeland. We’ve hit the ground running, full-tilt boogie. After 13 months on the road, we have returned to the Queen City – Charlotte. How does it feel? Bittersweet. Happy to be home and see all the people who are near and dear to us… to experience a hot shower, air conditioning, french fries, a car, and our beds. But I have to admit, I miss the adventure, the sense of deeper purpose, the present moment “day to day” living and I miss all of our friends that we have made along the way from all over the world. But no time to wallow in it because now the real work begins with the Foundation – Twelve In Twelve.

After Haiti, we arrived in Durant, Mississippi. Greeted by both of my sisters and their families, we had a few days rest before we headed to Jackson to work with an organization called, Operation Upward.

 

 

This organization’s summer program feeds kids that are used to getting a school meal during the year but were not getting fed over the summer. A husband and wife team, they have created an incredible after-school program for kids with snacks, art program and sports. An inspiring couple and an organization that we are committed to continue working with.

After finishing our work there, we headed to the Gulf Coast to Gulfport to work with Habitat for Humanity. What an amazing group! The community is still in the process of rebuilding from Katrina. I was under the impression that Habitat for Humanity built homes and gave them to under-privileged families.

IMG_0927That’s not how it works. They educate individuals and families… helping them to get their credit in order, to learn to budget for a mortgage, and then actually helps them build their own home. The person getting the home is require to participate in the building of the house and will then have a manageable mortgage on that home. That’s way better than a “hand out”… they train people to become responsible homeowners. Very cool.

 

 

Jackson helped build a deck, Buck stained wood and I helped with flooring. Hard work but so gratifying. The Habitat for Humanity staff could not have been cooler.

Our last stop was the 9th ward in New Orleans. We were pleased to see a lot of homes rebuilt. There is still a long way to go, but there was definitely progress!

And now we have returned to Charlotte. The boys are back in school, and I have returned to teaching acting and doing weekend seminars in Atlanta, Wilmington, Williamsburg, and any other city that will have me… 🙂

But my focus has changed. I am on a mission to help the organizations we were lucky enough to work with on our trip. The world needs our help. And the Lewis family is committed to do our part. We are in the process of building our business plan for our foundation with the help of an incredible Board of Directors and team of administrators. I am the luckiest man alive when it comes to being surrounded by smart, focused and supportive people. Thanks to all that are helping me to focus on the task ahead. A special “shout out” to Mike Watson, Candice Langston, Desiree Kane and Jillzey. You are my Dream Team and I feel so fortunate to have you on my side. Beyond grateful. And to Larry Sprinkle, Rob Shapiro, Kristina Haddad, Bo Henderson, Ed Springs, LuAnne Bernier, Liz Branca, Ed Smith, and a ton of others who are the absolute best!

My reflection on our journey… I know I’ll start crying writing this. There I go… didn’t take long. I feel so blessed and fortunate to have had the journey of a lifetime with my two sons at my side. All three of us are different people now. We have seen things that so few will have the opportunity to see… good and bad. We have met extraordinary people all over the world whose kindness has touched us so deeply. My sons have learned that the world is an incredible place with wonderful people everywhere…regardless of race, color, creed, and orientation. This journey is my legacy…. Something that will stay with my sons long after I am gone. Something they will share with family, friends and their kids. It has not only changed their lives but will also change the lives of all those they interact with forever.

Buck said to me the other day that he is committed to making a difference in the world. Do you know what it’s like to have your 9 year old say that to you and mean it? I am the proudest father on earth.

My sons were so brave in so many ways on this trip. They were thrown into situation with a language barrier, tough accommodation, intense weather conditions, questionable health conditions, crazy food, and yes, they had to share a room with their dad for a full year! But, I’ll tell you, they worked their butts off… sometimes 10 to 12 hour days. For all of you who backed us up on this project… our friends, family, followers, supporters and sponsors… Jackson and Buck Lewis did you proud! And heck, I did okay myself!

So now the work begins. Stay tuned as we name our new Board of Directors, our administrative staff, and the 12 projects that Twelve in Twelve is taking on. So much is about to happen with this organization. I’m beyond excited.

Oh, yeah… The Huffington Post named us, “American Heroes”, I got to meet Arianna Huffington (who couldn’t have been more supportive and kind) and they are giving us our own blog on Huff Post. What an honor!

Let us know if you would like to be involved with Twelve in Twelve, as we head into the future with sails wide open.

 

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Oh, believe me… the Love Revolution continues!!!

And you can always donate to the cause as well.. Link on the website. Spread the word!

Big Love from The Lewis Boys. More to follow!

Posted by JD in * Making A Difference!!, 26 comments
The Heartbreak of Haiti….

The Heartbreak of Haiti….

After a layover in Panama and a chance to see the Panama Canal, the boys and I arrived in Port-Au-Prince. After a year on the road, I thought that culture shock was a thing of the past. Wrong. The aerial view of Port-Au-Prince from the plane was mind-boggling.

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Even after three years, Port-Au-Prince continues to face desperate times. The poverty, the pollution, the state of the roads and buildings, and the over-all living conditions are unthinkable. Though some of the tent cities have been taken down, PAP remains a city of crumbling buildings, debilitating air quality, and homelessness.  The streets are filled with rubble, potholes and trash. One truly has to experience it to believe it.

IMG_9278We spent our first week here in Port-Au-Prince working with Pastor Olrich. He is a wonderful man helping to do what he can in a city with so much need. His efforts include helping to build schools, organizing after-school programs and the plans for a new orphanage.

 

 

We visited a school outside of the city. I did an acting workshop for the kids and they seem to really love it. The children are absolutely beautiful…. kind hearted and so welcoming. They all asked me if I knew Kobe Bryant. They love him. I guess that will be one of my assignments when I get home. Anyone know Kobe?

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The boys and I were hosted by Fritz Valescot of Ecole de Musique Dessaix-Baptiste (Jean Baptiste Dessaix Music School). A special thank you to Janet Anthony from Lawrence University who set up our itinerary in Haiti.

IMG_9625 Fritz is a charismatic man who was a radio personality in Haiti for years. He’s funny and incredibly soulful. He spoke only Creole but we had no problem communicating. Though not a musician himself, he felt the need to give people in the community a space to get involved in the arts. Now the school has hundreds of students. Fritz has teachers from all over the world come to teach the kids and adults, alike.

 

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Amongst the heat and humidity, the crumbling buildings, and the crowded streets, there is a school that offers its students a haven… a place to focus on music. We were able to document by video, a lot of the work at the school including interviews with Fritz and other teachers. Jackson got to play alto saxophone with the school too.  Was a great treat for him.

While in Jacmel, I was invited to do a master class at The Spare Change Theater. So the kids and I organized an on-camera week-long workshop with acting students at The Jakmel Ekpresyon Community Arts Center. What an incredible group of actors. We had a lot of fun and I think they all learned from the experience.

IMG_9809I was also invited to visit the Cine Institute. Amazing. It’s a film school in Jacmel that offers a two-year filmmaking program tuition-free to Haiti citizens. The school was founded by American filmmaker, David Bell, who also started the Jacmel Film Festival. The campus is absolutely beautiful. They are training the future Haitian filmmakers with visiting professionals like director, Paul Haggis. I have been asked to come back in a few months to do a class to train the directors how to work with film actors. I’m very excited and feel honored to be a part of the school.

IMG_9544In between teaching classes and visiting schools, the boys and I visited Basin Bleu, an incredible waterfall and swimming hole that is so crystal blue it almost looks surreal…. so beautiful.

We also cannot forgot to mention our friend, Jacque.

IMG_9819We met him on the streets of Jacmel selling electronics from a little table.  He spoke perfect english.  He was severely physically challenged, but was out on the street working.  We stopped by everyday and had the best conversations.  He was a man who didn’t let his disability effect his life or his attitude.  Such a great guy. Thanks, Jacque for making Jacmel so memorable.

 

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After our work was finished in Jacmel, we headed back to Port-Au-Prince to work at Foyer Maurice Sixto – a school and arts program for restavek children (kids in domestic servitude). These children come from families with too many children and their parents send them away to work for another family for room and board. Many of these children are horribly abused and treated like slaves, working all day, given limited meals and offered no education.

 

 

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Pere Miguel is another one of my heroes. He is a selfless man, working day in and day out to help build up their school, offer positive opportunities to these kids, and he also has a great vision for the future of the school. Twelve In Twelve is committed to working closely to help this cause. I have also been asked to return to do a workshop here as well.

IMG_0104Our friend, Stanley, has a great project going on.  He has organized an arts program that takes trash from the streets of Port-Au-Prince and recycles it into works of art.  While we were there, we got to participate and sculpt beads made of cereal box cardboard.

IMG_0106He is a great artist and is doing great things with these workshops.  It’s such a pleasure to see a leader in the community like this. Stanley is such a hard worker and when he’s not putting together workshops, he is organizing camps and classes for kids in the community.

 

IMG_0683Port-Au-Prince. PAP is a difficult city. It’s an assault on the senses. Loud, dirty, tent cities abound, a sense of danger in the air. There are so many people… so much trash and rubble. The boys and I were heading back to where we were staying and witnessed men with wheelbarrows dumping trash into the river. For an American, that is difficult to watch. But that is their reality. That is were the trash goes. Of all of the places we have visited, I think Port-Au-Prince was one of the most over-whelming.

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And now… Now we are stateside, having just arrived in Ft. Lauderdale. We head out tomorrow morning to work in Mississippi. We will be working with Habitat for Humanity on the Gulf Coast and also for an organization in Holmes County, one of the poorest counties in America.

So many feelings have been running through my head. It sure is nice to be back in the good ole USofA. I never have appreciated the conveniences of home more. We have been living a life in huts, cinder block shelters, yurts, hostels and dormitories. We have spent a good amount of the trip without electricity and have taken most of our shower with a bucket tossed over our head. All of that was magical and I will miss it…. And I know the boys will too. The journey is not over yet. We still have Mississippi to tackle with 100+ degree weather. But we’re home…

 

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And again, The Love Revolution continues… More to follow.

 

Posted by JD in Haiti, 24 comments
A Call To Action  /  Niños Del Sol Children’s Home – La May, Peru

A Call To Action / Niños Del Sol Children’s Home – La May, Peru

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The boys and I arrived in La May, a beautiful pueblo in the center of The Sacred Valley in Peru.  Breathtaking is putting it mildly.   Because of an all-night bus ride, we arrived at Niños Del Sol Children’s Home bright and early (6am) in time for breakfast prep.

How Niños Del Sol Children’s Home came to be….

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A woman from the states created it by the name of Mama Kia.  Her son and daughter-in-law were living in Peru and gave birth to a child (Chandler Sky) who died two days later.  Mama Kia had a dream that the child visited her and asked her to save the children on the streets of Cusco.  And that’s how it began.

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Niños Del Sol Children’s Home is a very special place.  It is not a traditional orphanage and the children are not available for adoption.  The home is a permanent home for these kids.  The other children and adults are their family.  They get a lot of love and support, a great education, nutritious meals, and live surrounded by stunning natural beauty.

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The kids are incredible… there are 24 in all, though the home is set up for 36.  The kids are so well behaved and respectful.  The older kids help with the younger ones and they truly are a great family.   The entire time we have been here I have never heard a voice raised or anyone complain.   And they welcomed the boys and I with open arms even though there was a bit of a language barrier.

The adults of the home are quite simply, saints.   Michael (pronounced Mitchell) is one of the original children who came to the home, and now has stayed on to help run the house.  He’s an amazing guy.  He gave up opportunities to move to the U.S. and also put University on hold because he says God has lead him to stay and help the Home.

IMG_8892Another saint… Mama Jeni.  Wow!   What a woman. She’s the main Mama of the Home and is a true example of a self-less, hard working, loving mother to 24.  She’s the first one up at the Casa and the last one to bed.  She cooks, cleans, helps with homework, bandages a scraped knee, wipes a tear, organizes trips to the local swimming pool and has adopted two more kids, Jack and Buck.   The home is Mama Jeni’s life work and she obviously loves each and every one of the kids.  Her patience is remarkable.  In the entire time that we stayed in the home, I never once saw her raise her voice or be short with one of the kids.   Amazing.

And there is the incredible Mama Miluska who is another angel and great cook. Michael’s younger brother, Exwar, who helps with the kids and the house…the house psychologist, George, who’s also a great chess player, I might add…and the gardener/maintenance man, Martin who keeps the garden and landscape green… and the two ladies that cook in the kitchen who are the best… they make up the home Family.

IMG_8591The two youngest kids of the home are characters…. Rosbel is the youngest boy.  He is destined to be a musician or dancer.  He spends his day snapping his fingers, dances in his every step and has the most infectious smile.   This kid is special and I adore him.

IMG_8622And the youngest of all the kids, Soledad.  She’s just plain adorable and has the most amazing imagination.  She taught me tons of Spanish and I taught her some English.   I dubbed her the Princess of The home…. Everyone there dotes on her and she is a beam of light…

Jackson and Buck held a carnival for the kids.  It was a blast… We set up games for the kids and they won prizes…

IMG_8752Candy, mostly.  We also did a piñata.  I taught an English class which was a lot of fun.  The kids taught Buck the fine art of playing marbles and Jackson learned to do laundry by hand with the girls while getting soaking wet.

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Our days were filled with walks to the village, taking in the views of the sacred valley and spending time with these amazing kids.

 

 

 

IMG_8853One day after the kids left for school, Jackson and I decide to climb the mountain behind the home to check out the Inca ruins at the top.  7 hours later we got back to the house, exhausted.  But the ruins were incredible.  For those who have never visited the Sacred Valley, the altitude is a killer.   Many visitors get extremely ill from the lack of oxygen.  Jackson and I just panted like to old people climbing Mt. Everest.   Was the toughest hike I have ever experienced.

 

 

The toughest part of our journey is the good-byes.  Sobbed all the way to Cusco.  It kills you to leave, especially knowing the dire situation at the home.  That’s why I’m dedicated to help keep it going.    I will keep you all posted as to how you can help with this project.   Twelve In Twelve made a donation to the project and helped with expenses while we were there.

IMG_9147We managed a quick overnight trip to Machu Picchu to check it out.  Holy cow!  Unless you are standing there in person, you can’t possibly imagine the grandeur.  I’m so grateful to have stood next to my two sons and see the sunrise over this Wonder of the World.

IMG_9131We now head to Lima and then a stopover in Panama…then on to Haiti.

And now the Call To Action:

Mama Kia passed away a few years ago, and due to some mismanagement, the home has been struggling.  In fact, the U.S. Board of Directors disbanded this year and has left Niños Del Sol Children’s Home with little support.   I just can’t let these kids, who have been here their whole lives, be split up and sent to different living situations.IMG_8827

If you were planning on donating to Twelve In Twelve and haven’t gotten around to it, now would be a good time, as funds are getting low and we are doing our best to keep afloat as our trip nears an end.  In South America, we have made substantial contributions to the Refugio de Monos in Argentina and the Niños Del Sol Children’s Home here in Peru.  Still to come, our work in Haiti, staring next week.  Thanks for your continued support.   We couldn’t do it without you!

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Posted by JD in Peru, 7 comments
La Cumbre, Argentina – In The Presence of Greatness

La Cumbre, Argentina – In The Presence of Greatness

IMG_7321You’d think after the overwhelming experience of Antarctica, things couldn’t be topped. Well, think again. The Love Revolution continues to amaze and inspire us.

We arrived back to Buenos Aires by plane from Ushuaia, and were invited that evening to a night of music in one of the oldest theaters in Argentina. An evening complete with orchestra, and from what I could gather,  four famous tenors of Argentina. What a night! Front row seats. I sat that so thrilled that my sons were once again having another experience of a lifetime, thanks to our friend, Kirk Boswell.

IMG_7203Directly after the show, because we are the guys on the go, we headed straight to the bus station at midnight, for our overnight coach to Cordoba and then our connecting bus to the little town of La Cumbre, in the Argentinian Sierras. We arrived the next morning, quite haggard, and took a taxi up the mountain to our next volunteer location, The Refugio de Monos (also known as Proyecto Caraya)… and the beginning of another mind-blowing adventure.

IMG_7628I have to preface this story by saying that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We knew we wanted to work with at least one animal organization in South America and we found these folk’s website by chance. It described long hours of work and basic accommodation…. No electricity or hot water. Yikes. But working with the rehabilitation of Howler Monkeys sounded too good to pass up.

IMG_7361We arrived on the property, to a field of llamas, wild horses, dogs barking and few people. I have to admit we were a bit nervous. Pia and Juan, the volunteer coordinator, and manager of the property, instantly welcomed us. Little did we know that, over the next three weeks, these two people would become our dear friends.

IMG_8149After dropping off our bags in our room, (it was true… rustic, basic housing), we were introduced to the baby Howler Monkeys. What a blast. They jumped all over us…. pulling at our hair, wrapping around our necks, and even grooming my goatee. The boys and I knew at that very moment, that this was going to be an experience of a lifetime.

IMG_7462Then the real magic began. A teal-green truck pulled up, and out walked a spitfire of a women, who I knew instantly would be a life-long friend… Alejandra Juarez, the inspiration for and owner of The Refugio de Monos. Sometimes you just get hit with that instant connection of friendship… a sort of “past life” thing. Whatever it was, it was instanteous.

She walked over and hugged all three of us, and there and then, began a great journey of three weeks that would change all of our lives forever.

Alejandra came from simple means, with an undeniable love for animals. She received a lot of recognition for her work at the Cordoba Zoo, caring for Tigers, her first love. She’s fearless in the animal department. We saw some footage of her on the local news, rolling around with tigers in a cage that was just stunning. Truly Fearless! And animals love this woman.

But she would outgrow the zoo environment and long for a less confining experience for the animals she loved. A great believer in the Laws of Attraction, she began to visualize creating an oasis for animals to live in freedom. That’s where her work began with the Howler Monkeys.

The Howler Monkey has a rich history in Argentina and the unfortunate part is that it includes being domesticated. These monkey are made to be household pets because they are so adorable, but as they mature, their instincts kick in and they become more aggressive with the host families. The families give them alcohol to mellow them out, but as you might guess, that sometimes makes them even more aggressive. Then these families abandon them.

In steps Alejandra – her goal, to rescue domesticated Howler Monkey. Also she rescues monkeys abandoned in their natural environment rejected by their mothers, and/or from zoos. Then she works to rehabilitate them back into living in their natural environment. This is not an easy task. Much time is spent grouping monkeys together to see if they can co-inhabitate, forming an alpha male and alpha female in a group environment. Groups can vary from 3 to 20 monkeys. The monkeys begin in cages and are let out slowly and then set up into groups. The goal is to have the monkey lose interest in human contact and once again adjust to living in the forests on the property of The Refugio. Currently there are 13 groups set up for monkeys. Those that are successfully living in groups are delivered leaves, fruit, food, and water each day to make sure they are getting ample nutrition, but have little or no human contact – Alejandra’s ultimate goal.

Another interesting note is that they are the loudest mammals on earth. They go through a daily ritual of howling very loudly to establish their home territories and to let other howler monkey groups know not to invade their domain. It’s really fascinating to experience. So freakin’ loud.

Volunteering at the Refugio is not for lightweights. It’s hard work, most of the time between 8 to 10 hours a day of preparing food, cutting leaves, getting water, delivering food and water to each group throughout the forest, helping with the baby monkeys, etc. And the refugio is not exclusive to monkeys. Alejandra’s love for animals includes many other rescues. On the property, they have both Howler Monkeys and Cappuccino Monkeys, llamas, pumas, wild horses, donkeys, cows, geese, dogs, and cats. In addition to all these animals, indigenous to the area, there are “rat rabbits”, foxes, bats and a huge array of exotic birds…an animal lovers paradise! The dog rescue program at the refugio is huge, saving all the dogs that are due to be killed at the local pound. Alejandra just doesn’t allow animals to be killed. They have dozens of dogs and are the leaders in dog adoption in the La Cumbre area.

Jackson has never worked so hard. Up at 8:30am, he gathered leaves, food, and a bucket of water and hauled it over a mile to the furthest groups of monkeys in the forest. After that, he helped build dog enclosures, watched the baby monkeys, observed behavior of the groups of monkeys in the forest, stood guard so that two groups in the forest didn’t invade each other’s areas, herded llamas and brought water to the pumas. Needless to say he was exhausted by day’s end.

Buck was given a bit of an easier task, as the youngest volunteer ever at the refugio. He was in charge of the newborn kittens, caring for the baby monkeys and herding the llamas. It was amazing to see all the baby monkeys jumping all over him, Buck calling each of them by name. I mean how many kids get to make friends with baby monkeys, know them all by name, and swing them around by their tails all day? Or herd llamas? Two lucky kids.

And yes, they put me to work as well. I delivered food and water to monkeys, observed a number of groups in the forest, painted the volunteer quarters and the kitchen, cleaned the “banos”, and even cleaned the monkey houses. Phew…

I fell in love with a few monkeys. One was a “special needs” monkey named Lennon. He was born with a physical challenge, was rejected by his mother, and had a hard time walking. As some of you know, Yoko Ono sent us a note encouraging us on our journey and so to come across Lennon (named after John), we had an instant connection. What an adorable animal. Unfortunately, while we were there, he had a bit of a stroke. I was elected to carry him around in my sweatshirt all day and keep him warm. The bad news, Lennon past away a few days before we left. I was devastated. A great lesson in the circle of life thing. Broke my heart. Another monkey crush was Cookie. She took an instant liking to me and everywhere I went in the forest she followed me. The goal in the wild, is limited human connect, so it was hard for me to keep putting her down when she would want to jump on me and cuddle.

 

Pia and Juan run a tight ship at the refugio, keeping all the volunteers on their toes. Most of the volunteers were from Germany, Norway, Denmark and Australia. A huge shout out to Eja, Sandra, Anna, Joshua and Morton, some of our favorites.

The greatest part of our time there was spent watching Alejandra at work. I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with her. She is truly an extraordinary woman doing great things in the world of animal rescue and rehabilitation. She is also the director of the Argentinian division of Projecto Gap, an organization working with primates all over the world. Alejandra is a woman with a point of view. She’s a tough cookie and knows what she wants to do and gets it done, all while raising two amazing daughters, Marlen, 15, and Mayu, 17. She is a woman of vision and an inspiration to be around. But her sense of humor was the best of all. We spent the days laughing our heads off communicating in broken English and Spanish, building a bond that I know will last a life-time.

The boys and I will always remember the great family meals we had together. And, of course, the Mate! The tea they drink in South America that is so awesome and I think majorly addicting. I’m returning home with my own Mate cup in my baggage.

 

 

 

 

 

You can check out their website at: http://www.proyectocaraya.com.ar
This is a project going places. They are going to be expanding their project in the northern region of Argentina in Chaco (which is the more natural environment for Howler Monkey) and also including chimpanzee to the mixed of animals at the refugio. Alejandra has dedicated her life to helping abused and displaced animals live freely. She also does her work quietly without looking for praises or accolades.

If you want to help The Refugio de Monos go to their website and donate or you can also volunteer. Do yourself the favor – Volunteer! It will change your life! When’s the last time you got to visit Argentina and work with Howler Monkeys?… Monkeys you can hold, feed, play with, and love. It’s a life-changing experience. And you’ll get to meet the one and only, Alejandra Juarez! And the coolest, Juan Pablo and Pia! So if you are interested in a visit to the Refugio, let me know and I’ll hook you up!

Thanks to Pia, Juan, Alejandra’s Mom and Tia, Mayu, Malen and, most importantly, Alejandra – you are an inspiration, and now, part of the Lewis Family!

So with tears, we leave the Refugio and have just arrived, after a 2 day bus ride – Arghhh! – in Uyuni, Bolivia for a visit to the famous Salt Flats and a few days off (definitely needed), then on to La Paz and Lake Titicaca, enroute to Cusco, Peru to the Casa De Milagros, our next volunteer location.

More pictures of The Salt Flats and Lake Titicaca to follow.

As always, thanks for your continued support. We love and appreciate you all.
And the Love Revolution continues… getting so much closer to home all the time.

Posted by JD in Argentina, 10 comments
Antarctica…  Come for the cold.  Stay for the Freeze!

Antarctica… Come for the cold. Stay for the Freeze!

I know, I know.  Every experience is the best. Every new adventure, a life changer! So shoot me…

How do you describe the Antarctic?  Baby blue etched in ice, black pounding cresting waves, gales as sharp as a razor’s edge, towering majestic glaciers, sky-souring gulls, bomb-diving petrels, cliff dwelling cormorants, waddling penguins of the IMG_6158Gentoo, Chinstrap, and Macroni persuation, their arch-enemies – the leopard seals, barnacle-covered Humpback and Minke whales, cascading avalanches… A frozen Neverland. Nah. That’s all way to cheesy.   I’m not ashamed to admit that I am not the poet for that level of prose…. Just not equip with the words.

All I can say, is that it was another IMG_6003childhood dream come true.  A plunge into a textbook of National Geographic proportion.  All that, while traveling with a crew of marine biologists, geologist, ornithologist (I didn’t know either – bird experts), and oceanographers.  And to top it off, the bridge was open to the boys and I… we got a crash course in ocean navigation.   Remarkable.

A Picture Tells A Thousand Stories….

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IMG_7108And along with the Beauty, comes the crossing of The Drake Passage, separating the men from the boys. Well, not really. My boys, especially Buck, fared far better than I.  I have never been on a ship where you are thrown from one end of the cabin to the other.

IMG_7109Wow!  We hit a storm on the way home from Antarctica in the “Drake Shake” and all hell broke loose.   I dreaded secretly wishing the experience on us.  The first 3 hours were exciting, but 2 1/2 days into it, I was hoping for a helicopter airlift.

But after the storm, comes the rainbow and sure ‘nuf.   It arrived.  Picture doesn’t do it justice.

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Upon our return to Ushuaia, Twelve in IMG_7155Twelve had the great honor of donating two bicycles to kids in need in the southern province.  Was really cool.  We are working with Ushuaia Extremo doing bike donations to kids to disadvantaged neighbors.  You’ll be hearing a lot more about them and the project.

 

 

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Anyone have any connection with Huffy or Schwinn?

IMG_7251We have just arrived in the northern central area of Argentina working in the Sierras with Howler Monkeys… that’s another “Most Amazing Experience Blog” next week.   Sending big love and thank you for your continued support of our project.  It means the world to us….

Posted by JD in Antarctica, 14 comments

What’s New – Buenos Aires!!!


IMG_5633We have been in Buenos Aires for the last two weeks, working with L.I.F.E. (Luchemos por una Infancia Feliz y con Esperanza – roughly translated means, Fighting for Children’s Happiness and Hope).   LIFE arranges after-school programs, birthday parties and other activities for kids in the less fortunate suburbs of Buenos Aires.  They also have programs in homeless shelters within the city. Jackson, Buck and I have been splitting our time between the suburbs and homeless shelters.  


IMG_5647Our work certainly gives us a greater appreciation for all that we have.  Our first day on the job, we worked at a birthday party.  LIFE holds birthday parties once a month in a specific location for all kids with birthdays in that particular month.  Each child with a birthday in that month is given a present and shares in the birthday cake.  It’s really a sweet program and the kids have the time of their lives, with games and activities.   

We have also been working with the after-school program, doing art project, worksheets and activities.  The kids really like the one on one attention and our spanish is getting better with each passing day.   I have to say, that love and attention breaks all bounds of language and culture.  We have yet to walk away frustrated by not being able to communicate fully.  By the way, the sign below translated reads – “When there is a will, there are a thousand resources.  When there is no will, there are a thousand excuses.” 

I think the most meaningful work has been at the homeless shelter.  The families live in a large shelter separated by cubicles.  They get 3 meals a day and have shower and bathroom facilities.  LIFE offers different fun activities for the kids… Jewelry making, art projects, school materials, and sports equipment.   Buck has taken to playing Futbol (soccer with the younger kids) and Jackson has become the guy that they all love to tackle.  It’s amazing.  When we arrive, they all run up to us, so excited that we are there to play.  The appreciation is so sweet and makes the work so incredible. There is one little boys who has stolen our heart, Brian!  

He has adopted Jackson and Buck as his big brothers.  There are just some kids that you know will grow up to do great things in the world, despite their circumstance.  I know that to be the case with Brian.  Smart as a whip, greatest smile on earth, and a pure heart of gold.   All the coordinators have said that Brian has really come “into his own” since Jackson and Buck have taken him under their wings.  Now he’s super feisty, funny beyond belief…but the coolest thing is watching Brian look after his little sister who is 2.  Whenever snacks or art supplies are handed out, he always makes sure his little sister gets her fair share. When we left yesterday, he gave us hugs and then found his sister, took her hand and walk her back into the building.  Now that is a sign of a guy going places.  Brian, you are a class act!

And more luck for the Lewis boys.  I found out my friend (and old neighbor), Mark Lennon, from the band, Venice, was in Buenos Aires touring with Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and the show, The Wall! I sent him an email, had lunch an hour later and then the boys and I got invited to see The Wall at The River Plate Stadium.  It gets better, we got band seats – 18th row center and got to go backstage and hang out with the band.  Picture to the right is of Buck center stage sporting his new mohawk in front of 60,000 fans.   How lucky are the Lewis Boys… Jackson and Buck even got drum sticks from the drummer and Buck got a Roger Waters guitar pick, his new prized possession.  The Wall is one of the most incredible shows I think I have ever seen.  If you get the chance to see it, go for it… They are touring around the world.  Thanks, Marky for my kids’ first Rock ‘N Roll stadium show.  Will be hard to beat. 

We are off this afternoon to do our after-school program and then tomorrow, back to the shelter to see Brian and the others again.  Buck has arranged for his sponsor, Lego, to ship Lego to LIFE  to distribute to the kids.   Very exciting.   

We leave Saturday to return to Ushuaia for our ship to Antarctica.  Holy cow!  

Then we will return to Buenos Aires to catch a bus to Cordoba to the mountains to work at a wild life sanctuary for Howler Monkeys… but that’s another adventure.     More to come… and thanks, as always for all of your support and encouragement.  

 

 

Posted by JD in Argentina, 9 comments
Argentina!  En unión y libertad!!!

Argentina! En unión y libertad!!!

We have arrived in South America!  We just spent a week in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. The views are surreal… painted with jagged snow-capped mountain ranges and rugged windswept seas.  It brings up thoughts of how the early explorer must have feasted their eyes.

We met up with Osvaldo Estevez who is the owner of Ushuaia Extremo, a great shop for all things Extreme Sports… bicycles, skis, snowboards, trekking equipment.  But more importantly, he is doing great humanitarian work in the south of Argentina.  He has a program for recycling older bicycles and distributing them to the less fortunate kids in Ushuaia.

Though the city is a tourist destination, Osvaldo gave us a tour of the struggling neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city.  These people live far below the poverty level in houses with no plumbing or heating.  And even in the summer, it’s a cold place.  Osvaldo is committed to making a difference in his community and I have great admiration for the man.  Twelve in Twelve is partnering with him, to help bring relief efforts to this community.

We stayed at Antarctica Hostel, which was a total blast.  For those of you that have traveled on the cheap, you know hostel living.  Shared rooms and bathrooms and usually a communal area where everyone hangs out.

We met the coolest people.  Was really like a family.  Big shout out to Ellie, Charlotte, Biscuit (Oriol), Elvis, Gabriel and all the others.  We will miss you guys.  It was great to get to know people from Spain, Belgium, South Africa, Holland, Canada, Australia, Germany and even New Jersey!  Buck and Jack had the time of their lives.  If you get to Antarctica, stay at Antarctica Hostel… it’s the best.

 

Also I want to thank Alicia Petiet from Antarctica Travel (http://www.antarcticatravels.com) who took us under her wing and did everything for us while we were there.  Such an incredible woman.  She has a daughter that lives in Charlotte, so we get to see her again in the states in August.  She sorted out our Antarctica travel where we will be speaking about our trip on a ship starting March 25th.  We were originally going to go to the South Georgia Islands, but that was a tough one to work out.  We thought that we would have to miss doing all seven continents until our guardian angel Alicia arrived on the scene.  It’s the last ship of the season and we managed to get on it. Amazing, eh? We will be traveling for 10 days to Antarctica working with the ship captain (a friend of Alicia’s) and hopefully with some of the scientists onboard.

 

But we have a lot to do before that happens.  We are on a plane right now to Buenos Aires where we will be working with the organization, L.I.F.E.  We will be volunteering there for two weeks before we return south to Ushuaia to work with UE (Ushuaia Extremo) giving out recycled bicycles in the community, which we feel honored to be a part of, and to catch the boat to the ends of the earth… Stay tuned.

 

 

 

One last note… thanks to so many people that continue to support our efforts.  Just want to name a few (in no particular order)…. Murphy (God Love You!), Robert Shapiro, Kristina Haddad, Bo Henderson, Ed Springs, Ed Smith, the incredible Bert Woodard!, Wheelock Whitney, R.A. Buck (Uncle Buck), Tony Lydgate, my mentor Sue Sanford!, LuAnne Bernier, The Klug-Price Family, Andrea Cooper, Peter Cipkowski,  my agent Steve Ross, The Branca Family, The Grey Family, the always patient Rachel Woodhouse, Robert Kanter, Larry Toppman, Lisa McLeish, Kathy Abernathy, Scott Pacitti,  Jennifer Taylor (happy birthing!!), Dolores Scozzesi, Meredith Jones, Patrick Elliot, Barry Alpert, Les Satinover, Jackie Burch, Michael Lightweaver, Steve Bearden, John Kurc, Nick Corley, Cher Ferreyra, The Dyer Family, Linda Britt, The Aceti Family, Jodi B. Wise, Linda Guth, Kenneth Wyse, Andrew Beachum, Meera Gandhi, Heather Gilliland, Renee Moore, Nina Giovannitti,  Sara Giovanitti, Gary Peters, Heidi Dove, Mary and Mike Gutowski, Laura Diaz, Lindsey Moser, Juan Carlos Piedrhitas, Anna Shaw, Paige Hauff, Patty Strader, Kent Smith, Elise Duquette, Barnet Sherman, Roberto Elinan, Chris Totty, Ben Kubie, Allison Flanagan, Valerie Bobo, Scott Galliher, Norbert Weisser, Francine Popkin, Andrew Martin, Susan McMullen, Theoden Janes, Ray Cline, Todd Plocharczyk, Jessica Milligan, Jon Davis, Monk Duke (Losang Tenpa), NoDa Yoga!!!, Doug Nydick, The Roush Family, Jay Everett and The Wachovia-Wells Fargo Foundation, Marcella Detroit, Lance Aston, Kellin Watson, Xan Spencer, Esther Benjamin, John Kennedy, Rickie Lee Jones, Yoko Ono, TedXCharlotte, the late Dr. Barry Bowe (who we miss terribly), and of course, my sisters, Laurie Wilson and Linda Frazure.  And all the others who I will thank in the next email… I’m on a plane and it’s late… so forgive me if I’ve forgotten.

Everyone’s support has meant the world to us. You have no idea.  My kids and I have been changed for life from this opportunity.  I feel confident that our efforts will continue to make a difference as the organization, Twelve In Twelve, builds momentum.  We are committed to continue our efforts back in the states to support the organizations we have had the good fortune of working with on this journey.  We are also committed to support others in their efforts to do humanitarian work abroad.   There’s so much more to do!

More adventures to follow.  Love you all!

 

 

Posted by JD in Argentina, 4 comments
The Magical Outback!

The Magical Outback!

If you are lucky, once in awhile, a cosmic occurrence confirms that there are greater powers at work beyond your immediate understanding.  The Lewis boys experienced that very thing in White Cliffs, NSW.

The RFDS (Royal Flying Doctors Service) suggested we take the weekend off and head to White Cliffs for the weekend.  They let us borrow the 4X4 and off we went – on a three-hour drive through the outback, in search of adventure and kangaroos.

We pulled into the tiny mining town and found our hotel.  The famous Underground Motel.  Yes, the entire hotel is underground…. way underground.  With just a light shaft to brighten the room in the daytime, these rooms are kept cool by the mere fact that they are so underground.  Being a tad claustrophobic, there was definitely an adjustment period for me… some deep breathing and Jedi Mind tricks.  The kids needed no adjustment period.  They just plain loved it.

We loaded the bags into our room and headed out to explore the downtown area of White Cliffs that consisted of a pub, convenience store, and the opal mine fields.  We had seen a sign for Red Earth Café, and being in dire need of a cappuccino, I dragged the kids in that direction.

When we arrived, a young Liam Neeson look-alike met us at the door.  He acted as if he were expecting us.   “Oh!”, he said, “You’re the guys that are traveling around the world.  We’ve heard about you”.  The boys and I look at each other, a bit full of ourselves, and acknowledged our new found fame.  See, we had just been in the local newspaper, that apparently everyone in town reads and were used to a bit of attention.

Then Liam’s wife arrived… Mother Earth incarnate.  Sacha was a walking Déjà Vu experience.  Having never met her, I instantly felt like I knew her and our conversation flowed as if we were old friends.   Sacha explained that she was expecting us to stop by… which I thought was a bit eerie.  And then she talked about how her husband (his real name, Graeme) was an opal miner and used a divining rod and his intuition, to find his mother lode.  I thought, “These guys are hooked up… big time”.

She then asked us if we would like a tour of their home – one of the largest underground homes in the area.  It was amazing, with tons of bedrooms all under the bedrock of White Cliffs.  They have five kids… three currently away at school.  They are an “Outback Brady Bunch”.  She had two kids from a previous marriage and he had three.  Sacha explained that her daughters were students of “School of The Air” and had watched us on the Internet during the last Friday’s assembly.  We thought that that was pretty cool.

After a tour of their home and a great cappuccino, Graeme offered to take us down into his opal mine.   He instructed us to meet him up in the minefield in a half an hour.  We agreed and headed out.  When we found the place, Graeme arrived in his truck just as a huge cloud appeared overhead, bringing with it, a dust cloud, rain, and lightning.  We postponed the mining for the next day and off Graeme went in his truck.  The boys and I got lost in the minefield in the pelting rain and lightning, sure that we would be struck by the next flash of light.  We managed to find out way back to The Underground hotel, to hold up for the night.  There I discovered a note given to me by Alex at the RFDS.  I opened it up and there was a request from the owners of The Red Earth Café to come visit them, if we happened to pass through town.  How crazy was that.  They had no idea we were headed up that way, but Sacha and Graeme had extended an invitation to us… without even knowing our plans.  And without reading that note, we happened upon their cafe.  Which, of course, explained their welcome when we arrived.  Cool, eh?

The next morning arrived, we had some breakfast and back to Sacha and Graeme’s house.  Their daughters were there this time, having returned from a sleepover the night before.  The kids all hit it off.  We all loaded into the truck and 4×4 and headed out to the minefield, with a generator in tow… all 7 of us.

When we arrived, we were introduced to the oil drum of an elevator that would carry us down to the center of the earth in search of the always elusive opal.  The elevator shaft was just a bit larger than the rusty makeshift lift.  Sacha would go down the hydraulic lift first to make sure the lights were on and that there were no snakes.  Yikes!   Then, Jackson, the warrior descended. Then the two girls went down and then it was my turn.  Buck and I went down together.  With a pounding heart and chanting Jedi mind mantras, we were lowered into the bowels of the earth… and I mean the bowels of the earth.  It must have been 100 feet below the surface when the rusty drum stopped to reveal the inner workings of a real life opal mine.  Wow!  With lights working from the generator above, a magic world we had never experienced before was revealed to us.  A series of tunnels, big enough to stand up in, lay before us.  It was surreal.   Awestruck, the boys and I explored the caverns and Graeme even invited the boys to use a jackhammer and do some drilling of their own.  And yes, they both walked with a piece of opal!

It was an exciting day for the Lewis family.  We then returned across the blistering outback to Broken Hill.  Before we left to return to Sydney, we cooked a BBQ for all the staff at RFDS and then we were honored at a dinner with the local Broken Hill Rotary Club. The following day, Buck and Jackson were invited to attend a day of school with the local kids.  They had a ball.  I boarded a plane with the clinic doctors for Tibooburra, a small town in a remote area of the outback.

 

 

I joined the pilot, a doctor, a dentist, a woman health practioneer, and a psychologist for their weekly clinic.  It’s quite inspiring, as this is the only healthcare these people see in their neck of the woods.  I met some interesting characters out there.

 

 

 

I have to include a shout out to Robin Nelson, a wonderfully talented artist that we had the pleasure to meet while in Broken Hill.  She had a exhibition of her work at The Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery.  I am a big fan of her work.   We are the proud owners of a RFDS inspired piece she crafted to honor the RFDS airlifting her daughter to Adelaide.  She also gave each of the boys original artwork and jewelry that she made. Thanks, Robin!   What a pleasure to meet you.

The boys and I flew back to Sydney, where we enjoyed yet another rare treat, hosted by the RFDS.  They arranged for us to fly an actual 747 simulator.  Was incredible.    Even got to fit in a lunch with my dear friend and remarkable cinematographer, Peter James, and long time pal, filmmaker, J.T. O’Neal  who was “down under” promoting his new film, The Soccer Nanny  (Au Pair, Kansas) at the Mardi Gras Film Festival.

As cheap airplane tickets would have it, we were routed through Dubai, United Arab Emirates, were we stayed for two days, checking out the sites… Very cool place. Visited the tallest building in the world.

And have now, after two full days of flying, arrived at our next location.  Ushuaia, Argentina!  We are in the south-most town in all the world… at the south tip of South America.   More to come.

 

Posted by JD in Australia, 8 comments

Outback Extraordinary!

We come from the Land Down Under.   Where woman glow and men plunder.  Not sure what glow and plunder means, but I haven’t seen any of that.  What we have been seeing is the amazing outback of Australia.  Off the charts, people!

Heading out of Sydney, the boys volunteered as porters at Central Train Station, with all donations going to The Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Then we boarded The Indian–Pacific, as guests of the train company, headed for our next destination, Broken Hill.  We were invited to walk the train, meeting travelers to talk about RFDS and to accept donations on their behalf.  Everyone loves the Royal Flying Doctors here and many have stories of having relied on them in a life or death situation.

The Royal Flying Doctors Service is an awe-inspiring organization that not only does emergency evacuations, but also its largest contribution is actually primary healthcare in the most remote areas of the Outback.  They hold clinics that include general practice, dentistry, dermatology, mental health, women’s services, and more.

The beauty of their work is that the services are free to the recipients.  And though RFDS is partially funded by the Australian government, they rely on private donations for a good part of their budget.

There is not a more worthy cause in Australia.  The company is first class, professional, and they genuinely care for their clients.  It’s really been an honor to be part of the Broken Hill group.  Alex Lean, Robyn Taylor, Reta Elliott, Vanessa Latham, Barbara Ellis, Trish McCarron, Sheree Quinn, Michael Grogan, and the rest have been so incredibly welcoming.

What can I say about Broken Hill?  It’s the gem of The Outback.  A mining town built in the 1800’s with many homes made of corrugated iron, it’s reminiscent of a 1950’s mining town with an incredibly quaint downtown area and a great sense of community.  It hosts the richest silver mines in the world.  And all the miners have such great stories.  The boys and I have fallen in love with this place.

And the people could not be nicer.  We are based here at the South East headquarters of RFDS.  We have been working at the Visitor’s Center, helping clean up the storerooms, and also working in the hangar with the fleet of planes.

We visited the rural campus of The Sydney University hospital where we met with Dr. Malcolm Moore. We were also asked to speak about our trip to 60 students at the local elementary school.  They were a great group.  The Barrier Daily Truth, the local paper, did a story on us this week and also ABC National Public Radio did an interview with us.

Friday we visited the local, “School of The Air” office.  For those of you that don’t know about them, they are an online learning center for students in remote areas of Australia.  The students do their classes over the Internet, with a teacher at the office teaching in front of a camera.   The boys and I joined in at the weekly assembly and I spoke about 12 in 12 in front of a camera going out to over a hundred students all over Australia.  Was a huge highlight for me.

We also visited Maari Ma Health Clinic, an organization that focuses on healthcare for, but not limited to, the indigenous population. It was such an interesting visit to discuss concerns and issues revolving around the aboriginal community.

Jackson, Buck and I got to visit Silverton, the little town were the Mad Max movies were filmed.  We were also honored at a dinner at The Palace Hotel, where “Priscilla, Queen of The Desert” was filmed.  We really enjoyed ourselves, thanks to our hosts, Alex and Peter Lean.  It was also a pleasure to get to meet Clyde Thomason, the executive director of RFDS South East.

But one of the biggest highlights was visiting John and Lynne Gall at their station (or ranch) called Langawirra.  John is on the Board of Directors of RFDS and Lynne is an active member of the Women Auxiliary of RFDS.  What a pleasure to spend some time with them and their son and daughter-in-law, Lachlan and Jo.  They live on a breathtaking property where they raise sheep and cattle.  We were invited to lunch and then watched the sheep get sheared. It is a family business and the entire family work incredibly hard.  It was pretty surreal to be in the middle of the outback watching Australian wool getting sheared off sheep. Cool, eh?

This weekend the boys and I visited the opal-mining town of White Cliffs and got to spend the night in an underground motel.  Was awesome!  But a whole blog will be dedicated to that story, because it was just plain amazing.  So stay tuned….

Posted by JD in Australia, 8 comments

G’Day from The Royal Flying Doctors!!!

We have arrived in Sydney, Australia to an aerial tour of The Sydney Opera House, The Harbour Bridge and the stunning picturesque views of the coast, hosted by The Royal Flying Doctors!

The Royal Flying Doctors (RFDS) is an amazing organization that has been doing great things in Australia since 1928.

Founded by Reverend John Flynn, RFDS is one of the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical organizations in the world.   It delivers  24-hour Emergency Services to people in the most remote areas of Australia.  In addition, it supplies primary health care throughout Australia.   With a fleet of 61 aircraft operating from 21 bases across Australia, it provides medical assistance to over 278,000 people a year. Their motto is “No patient is more than two hours away from help!”.  And that is saying alot, considering Australia is so huge and soooo spread out.

We are working for the South Eastern Section of RFDS.  They have welcomed us to their offices here in Sydney, where the boys and I have been volunteering:  folding mailings, assembling model airplanes and setting up fundraising efforts.  We leave shortly for their main base in Broken Hill,  the capital of “The Outback”!  We will take the Indian Pacific over-night train, where we will be volunteering as porters to raise money for RFDS.   Then off to Broken HIll, where it is apparently quite warm and teeming with kangaroos and snakes… and filled with friendly, local Australians.   We will be volunteering in the Visitors Center there and working directly with the doctors, nurses, and emergency staff, documenting their heroic efforts.  We have been invited to fly with them to remote areas, where they continue to administer emergency care and also set up various clinics to serve the outback.

Our itinerary includes:  working with the staff at the main office, visiting the local university, the Maari Ma (an Aboriginal community health organization) and a tour of Broken Hill.  We will visit various remote stations like Langawirra and Tibooburra, and will be introduced to School of The Air.  This school was established in 1956 and now caters predominately to the geographically isolated students within a radius of approximately 300km from Broken Hill.  In addition, we will see the White Cliffs, visit the White Opal Fields and actually stay at an underground motel.

Sydney is stunning.  The kids are feeling at home here, where they speak our language, and the people could not be more friendly. The weather has been mild; a nice break from the heat of Africa.  We are going to take in a bit of the city tomorrow and then head off to the Outback!  Very exciting.

But the highlight other than meeting the great staff at RFDS in Sydney, was our flight around Sydney with our pilot, Ryan, who is an amazing pilot, teacher (he let me fly part of the time), and great tour guide from the air.

In addition, the boys and I each “had a go” at the flight simulator on the ground in the hangar.

Thanks to all the marketing staff at The Royal Flying Doctors including Jane, Michelle, Jonathan, Nick, Nicole, Danielle, Rachel, Sun, Kate, and Todd.  Also Simon, David, and Ryan at Basair Aviation College!

What a great adventure in the Land Down Under.  The Lewis boys are a lucky bunch of blokes.

More to follow…

Posted by JD in Australia, 7 comments

Let’s hear it for Volun-tourism!!!

“Volun-tourism – See The World and Make A Difference!”

I did not coin the phrase, but I like it.  In fact, so much so that my sons and I are living it!

We are traveling the world doing our best to make a difference.  As many of you know, this all began when my eldest son came home from school one day and said, “Dad, we have this cool life, how come we aren’t doing more to make a difference in the world?”

That statement really struck a chord with me, and well, the rest is history.  Twelve In Twelve was born: Traveling to 12 countries in 12 months doing humanitarian work on all 7 continents.

You can do it as well.  And it doesn’t have to be 12 months.  You can do it for a week, two weeks, one month: however long you wish.  And you can travel wherever you like.  Sure, you are thinking, “You can do it.  You have money.  You have a job you can leave behind.”  Here’s the clincher!  I don’t.

But I did have a strong desire to teach my children to make a difference in the world and to educate them to be global citizens. And with a simple plan, some elbow grease, and the help of some great friends and supporters, it happened.  The goal of Twelve In Twelve is to educate and inspire others to do what we are doing.  In addition, we want to be a hub in the states for the twelve organizations we have worked with abroad.

We have all taken the family on vacation, some trips more memorable than others.  Most holidays are only vague memories.  This will be one trip that will have lasting value in our lives.  One that will stay with us forever.

We have been traveling for the last 7 months and it has been an extraordinary adventure.  If we had done this trip as tourist, we would have stayed in hotels, gone to the tourist traps, bought the souvenirs, maybe met a few people in passing, and been able to say, “Yeah, I’ve been there, too.”

We have been staying in hostels, orphanages, with local families, at boarding schools, with friends of friends, and have lived with the locals.  We have connected with real people, experiencing their histories, their culture, their talents, their dreams and their laughter.  And the work, if you can call it that, is fun!   And being of service and helping others feels great!

Some people will say, “I’m too shy”, or “It would make me uncomfortable”.  There could not be a better way to meet people.  You are there to give the gift of your help and people are open and available to it and appreciate it. A common purpose is always a great way to break the ice.

 

 

 

I can’t begin to tell you how many people we have met on this amazing journey.  In our wanting to make a difference in people’s lives, our own lives have been profoundly changed.

The kids and I are learning the big life lesson, “That it’s in the giving, not the getting”.   In our normal lives, we are so busy collecting things, saving for retirement, waiting for the promotion, and paying the mortgage, that we sometimes forget to live. We forget that we share a planet with so many amazing people.  I’m not saying that monetary success or owning a home aren’t important.  But perhaps more people need to look at living beyond the daily grind:  Experiencing more joy, helping those in need, and feeling that life has deeper purpose beyond collecting more things.

My kids and I have never felt so alive and useful as we have while working with runaway teens in Russia, pushing a swing for a Chinese child with no use of his legs, holding a baby before surgery in Hong Kong, walking rescued elephants in the mountains of Thailand, creating art with orphans of the genocide, teaching English to eager students on Zanzibar, or writing plays with kids in Kenya.

We are a lucky family to be able to do all this.   But it came out of a desire to make a difference.  And when there is a desire to do good, the universe seems to support those kinds of efforts, and great forces come into being.  Once we decided to do our project, it was amazing how our enthusiasm seemed to open doors:  how we were able to gather information, how friends and family came out of the woodwork to help us, and how plans seemed to fall into place.

When the boys and I return, we will be setting up the network, to help others do global relief work, as well.  Our goal is to be a resource to help others organize their trips to make a difference.   Being a support system with suggestions for travel, medical advice, housing options, fund-raising ideas, and identifying worthy projects and organizations worldwide to work with.   We have done the trial run and now want to share the information.

 

 

I always tell my acting students, “In a hundred years, we are all going to be dead.  The tragedy is the life not fully lived!”   In this age of technology and internet, the world is getting smaller and smaller.  We have got to get out there, meet our neighbors, and perhaps lend a helping hand.

I know I may sound over-zealous, but having experienced this first-hand, it’s hard not to tell the rest of the world to join in too.  It’s one risk you’ll never regret.

 

Posted by JD in Australia, 6 comments

The Parade Magazine article is out!!!!

We are in Perth, Australia getting ready to work with The Royal Flying Doctor and will be based in the outback!   Yeehaw.  Very excited.  Check out the article.

http://www.parade.com/news/2012/02/05-12-good-deeds.html

Posted by JD in Australia, 13 comments

Kenya – A Childhood Dream Come True!

I had always dreamed of visiting Kenya from the days of watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  For you younger folk, Wild Kingdom was the premiere nature show on black and white television when I was a kid.

Well, the dream has been realized.  The plane touched down at Nairobi-Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.   I knew we were in for interesting times.  We lucked out and got right through immigration and were the first to get our luggage off the turnstile.   And there was Sammy, our driver and the man with the plan, to pick us up.

I was aware of travel warnings for Nairobi, so I was ultra vigilant.  With a driver picking us up and a safe place to stay, I felt we were in good hands.  As we drove through the streets, I realized that this city was different…  more metropolitan than the other African cities we had visited.  Luxury malls, highways, office buildings.   Don’t get me wrong… there was still the poverty, the dirt side streets and the occasional cow in the middle of the road, but it seemed like a city.

We arrived at our quarters – The HEART Foundation, a wonderful compound housing volunteers and relief workers in the Nairobi area. HEART is an acronym for “Health Education Africa Resource Team”, with a motto of Knowledge = Power = Survival. Their goal is to educate and empower the people of Africa to survive the HIV/AIDS pandemic.   They are doing some amazing work in Kenya.

 

We stayed there for a day and a half to wait for our host, Don Howard of Rotary International, and also the founder of SCOPE (School Communities Offering Projects that Empower).

While in Nairobi, we were invited to visit Nyumbani, an orphanage for children with HIV.  We had the good fortune of meeting the director, the charismatic and soulful, Sister Mary, who is truly doing God’s work here in Kenya.  Nyumbani is a magical place, so well organized, clean, and obviously run with a lot of love.  The kids greeted us with a song and smiles, and then gave us a tour of the grounds. Then Sister Mary announced she had arranged for the boys and I to visit one of their HIV clinics, this one in the center of Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa.

Yikes, I thought. Kibera? Is it dangerous for the kids?  Can we catch something?  Are there kidnappings?  She assured me that if we were accompanied by the clinic’s social workers, we would be fine.

We took the ride across town that would, once again, change our prospective forever.  The driver said it was better to not bring the camera with us, but that he would stop outside of the slum, for us to take a picture.

As we descended the dusty road, there it was. The famed Kibera slums… so unique, so surreal.  Almost unbelievable, it felt like a backdrop on the lot at 20th Century Fox.  Miles and miles of rusted tin shacks for as far as the eye could see.  A wasteland… a village for those unable to afford better, a haven of need and disease, and sometimes violence.  A township of sewage-seeping creeks flowing through its narrow alleyways.  The stench for a ‘westerner” is unbearable, though the locals seem to take no notice.

We arrived at the HIV clinic to be met by a staff of diligent workers who offered us a soda. They gave us a tour of their small facility in need of repair, it’s sole mission: to save lives. The clinic sees patients, does testing for HIV, administers medication and treatment, and deals with other life-threatening issues such as TB, Malnutrition, Cholera, Typhoid…etc.   I’m in awe of their bravery and commitment.

The director of the clinic asked if we would feel comfortable doing rounds with two of the social workers.  We agreed and began our trek through the alleyways of the “Tin City”.  As we walked down the narrow alleys, children smiled, especially interested in Jackson and Buck.  When I said, “Jambo”, or “Hibari”, they responded with surprise… Wow, this Muzungo (what they call Caucasian people) knows Kiswahili (the Swahili language)!

We arrived at our first location and pushed back a soiled sheet that doubled as a front door.  There, in a dimly lit room roughly the size of a backyard shed, sat six woman in traditional dress, two holding infants.  Jackson, Buck and I were introduced to the family and my “Hibari” seemed to impress them and make them smile, with a response of “Karibu”… meaning “welcome”.

We sat on a shabby sofa and instantly five or six kids appeared with curiosity at the curtained door.  One little girl came in, stared at me in amazement, and then sat on my lap. I felt strangely at ease and part of this life for a moment.  She then proceeded to wet herself.  Normally, I would have stood and commented, but somehow I didn’t feel it appropriate.  Instead, I gently sat her down next to me and made no notice of my wet pant legs.

The next home, down a dank alleyway, housed a quite attractive, thin woman and her child with HIV.  The woman looked tired and we were told she was suffering from TB. I nonchalantly steered Jack and Buck clear of her, not knowing if she was contagious, and, in a panic, went through the checklist of our inoculations in my head. The child, in addition to having HIV, was diagnosed, then and there, with malnutrition.  I asked our social worker how they came to that determination and she showed me the child’s swollen cheeks and an indentation on the top of each of her feet… a telling sign.  The mother was instructed to bring the child to the clinic on Monday, this being Friday.  My pushy American upbringing piped in, “But can’t they see her later today?”, to which our guide smiled knowingly and said that the clinic opens again on Monday.

I put myself in the place of that mom with TB, or the kids with HIV… we are all just one step away from any of these experiences.   Luck of the draw… I could have been born in Kibera… or the slums of Mumbai…  we are all these people.   And this isn’t just flowery exposition; it’s what I feel deeply.  And when I’m there in the middle of it, there is such a strong connection to all of it.

The rest of the day we witnessed similar experiences… checking in on kids and their caretakers.  As my sons and I walked through this daunting world, I thanked God for giving us the opportunity to experience it. We would head back to our accommodation that evening exhausted both physically and emotionally.  Kibera will stay with us a lifetime and I have vowed to return and do what I can to help there.  I applaud Sister Mary, and the like, for all they do, on a daily basis, to make a huge difference.

The next day, we left Nairobi and headed west to the town of Kisii, where we teamed up with SCOPE founder, Don Howard.  I was asked to run an acting workshop for 6 different schools in the area, as they were preparing for a national theater arts competition.   The 3-day workshop was held at a small hotel, (more of a motel, really).  The kids were invited by SCOPE to stay at the inn for the entire workshop (2 nights).  It was the first time that the majority of these kids had slept away from home, let alone spent a night in a hotel.  By our western standards it was quite funky, but by Kisii standards it was first class.  The kids loved it.

The workshop started in its normal tentative manner… the kids shy and staring at the floor, having difficulty sharing their names loud enough for anyone to hear. But as some of you know, God gave me the gift of being a “goof-ball” and the un-canny ability to rile people up… so by the middle of the first day, I had the kids jumping around and having a great time.

After a day of getting acquainted, the next morning, the real work began… writing the beginnings of original works for them to present at the competition.  With such a short time, we weren’t going to be able to write an entire play, but I felt I could at least get them started.

 

 

 

 

I encouraged the students to pick subjects that excited them.  In Kenya, kids are a bit trained to say what they think the adults want to hear.  Children are definitely seen and not heard in Africa.  So their first suggestions seemed a bit canned. And after I blew the roof off that, we got down to business.  They wanted to write plays about political corruption, and lack of latrines at school, and illegal child labor, and my favorite “Why It’s Important To Have FUN”.  That particular play would include the music of Bob Marley.  Yeehaw!

Each school got together and through improv and throwing ideas around, we came up with some amazing work.  And the best part, the kids were having a blast doing it!  They were the writers; they were the directors, the real artists.   I, with the help of Jackson and Buck, managed to just keep them on track.

The weekend ended with a five-minute performance from each group… each inspiring, each moving.  And these kids!!!  These kids were coming out vocally, having the time of their lives, and performing their heads off.  It’s makes this kind of work so magical and gratifying.   And I don’t care what anyone says, “Art Makes A Huge Freakin’ Difference In The World!!!”

After the weekend, lead by Don and his team, we got to visit each of the schools that had participated in the weekend.  Quite a schedule…  Six schools in 4 days.

Jackson, Buck, and I were able to check out all the different school that the kids were from.  The buildings and classrooms were mostly concrete rooms with no windows and wooden, 3-kids to a wooden desk set ups, with a blackboard that was just painted on the cement wall.

Most of these schools were in desperate need of the basic necessities…   latrines, books, supplies, water, sanitary napkins for the teen girls, and a meals program.  That is were SCOPE comes in.  They are helping each of these schools, (they represent at this point, 42 schools), with self-sustainable projects that will help them meet the needs of their schools.  Projects like building libraries, digging wells and harvesting water off the roofs into large gathering containers, creating gardens, and also planting trees, that in 5 to 6 years they can harvest for timber to sell to fund more projects.  We were able to participate in a tree planting ceremony, which was a lot of fun.   SCOPE’s goal is to have these people, these schools, and these communities, help themselves, and not just rely on gifts and donations.

It was nice to see all our friends from the workshop in their village schools.  They all came up to the Jackson, Buck, and I excited to see us again.  Buck had the honor of handing out new soccer balls to all of the schools…. So basically he was a major Rock Star!

And the students performed their pieces for their entire schools while we were there….  200 to 500 kids to a school.  It really was powerful to experience. Afterwards, Jackson, Buck and I just ran around with the kids all over the schools playing and laughing.

This is living.  This is the real deal.  It’s not a shopping spree at the mall, it’s not a bonus at work, or an Emmy Award, or a cocktail party, or a hot date, or a Hawaiian Vacation, or a day at the spa. And I’m not saying those things don’t sound appealing… Jackson, Buck and I are living in the elements.  It’s “lowest common denominator” stuff.  It’s joy on a level so organic, I find myself wanting to cry a lot.  And to scream to the world, “What’s up, people? Wake up!  It’s time…. Let’s do something!  Let’s do the Dance”…. And then I have to remind myself, that we come to what we come to, when we come to it…. And my experience has me in that mode right now, while others think I’m a bit over zealous.   When you see it first hand, it makes it real.

And then the good-byes to my actors, my friends, my buddies, my partners in art….

Oh wait, one last story…  When the schools were introducing themselves at the beginning of the workshop, there was a rather tall, quite awkward girl who could hardly muster up the sound when it was time to say her name, let alone look up from the floor.  “Ruth”.   Ruth wasn’t all that comfortable in her body, but there was something…. I don’t know, just something unique about her.  Her soul spoke to me.  And I felt led to use her as an example.  I said, “Ruth, you are so beautiful, smart and unique… Do you know that?”  She looked at the floor.  “You know, I’ve worked with a lot of actors in my day, and you have something special…you do.  Something cool… And you have an amazing face”.  She managed a look up at me for a moment.  “I think you are going to go on and do great things in the world.  I mean that.”   I meant it and still do.  And then I said, “Ruth, there’s a lot of power in you.  You have to allow yourself to be heard.  When you speak up, you give people the Gift….  The gift of you…  We get to experience how cool you are…. But when you whisper and look at the floor, you keep it for yourself.”  “Ruth, the world needs the gift that you have to offer…. And it’s not doing much good down there on the floor, so next time you have to speak, dig deep, even if you’re a little scared and come up with the gift. Okay?”

She nodded and we moved on… Throughout the workshop, I keep being drawn to her and always made a point to say what great work she was doing and how cool I thought she was.  Well, I don’t need to finish the story…. (And yes, that’s a picture of Ruth and I!)

When we visited her at her school, she came right up to me with this real sense of herself.  I was floored.  She said in a big, bold voice, “Jambo, J.D., This is my school.”   It’s like something woke up in her.  And maybe I got to be the messenger for that particular “wake-up call”.  All I know is that it meant more to me, than to her.  Damn it, I made some sort of difference in a small village in the mountains of western Kenya and I’m proud of it.

I give my grandmother credit for my Ruth moment.  She used to sit me on her knee when I was little and in the midst of the worst childhood imaginable, she would say, “You are going to go on to do great things in the world.  You are!”    And heck maybe I am…  No, for sure, I am!

After good-byes to our students, our friends from the states, Bo and Ed arrived to meet us here in Kenya. It’s nice to be able to experience some of this first-hand, with people that we love from home.  Plus they adore my sons, and quite frankly, after seven straight months on the road with my sons, it’s nice to get a break…

Before heading back to Nairobi, our driver, Sammy, took us on a game drive through the Masai Mara. Amazing!  We saw lions, giraffes, gazelles, hippos, warthogs, hyenas, and tons of other animals…. And also just the beauty of the Masai Mara of Kenya that stretches from here to eternity.

I’m currently on a plane to South Africa… It’s late.  I’m tired but I’m thankful.  Thankful for my kids, my life, the experiences that we are having, the ability to help others, the friends I have and the new ones we are making along this mystical journey, and all the support that you all have given us and our project.  Okay, I’m sitting here crying in my aisle seat…luckily it’s a night flight and most everyone’s asleep.

And one last thing I have to mention before I post this.  I’m sending all my love to my dear friend, Marc Cittadino, who lost his brother to cancer this week.  We love you, Marc and Jenna and we are hurting for you.

All a reminder to live in the moment, each day, each moment.  More adventures to follow in South Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by JD in Kenya, 17 comments

The Magical Mystery Tour Continues!!!

Our magical mystery tour continues to take us away!!! I guess I can’t expect anyone to really understand the experience we are having.  I’m not sure I understand the impact fully myself.  All I know is that it is deep, spiritual, profound and it has changed the lives of The Lewis Boys.

Since our last blog, we had the Art Festival at Creative Solutions, the school where the boys and I have been working in Mangapwani, Zanzibar.

What a great time!  Jackson and I were in charge of the children’s games.   We filled coke bottles up with sand and had a bean-bag toss to knock them off a pedestal.  We also had jam jars that you had to toss bottle caps into to win prizes.  The kids loved it.

There was amazing local art, performance and dance, face painting and food.  The villagers from all around came from near and far to participate.  

The sense of community was like my memories of summer camp.  Lots of interaction, conversation, laughter, games, food, stories and more.  And then it was late evening and it was over….  Fun was had by all.  We slept well that night under our protective mosquito nets, having eaten our fill and done the dance.

 

Saying good-bye to my class at Creative Solution was once again excruciating.  I had learned to love each and every one of them.  We were and are a family.  We have shared our life stories with each other, our struggles, our victories, laughed our heads off and, all the while, I did my best to teach them English…. And they in turn, taught me some Swahili.

 

The warm nights sitting around big wooden tables in open-air huts quizzing my eager pupils on the names of the continents, action verbs, and adjectives will stay in my heart for years to come.  And you know what?  We never finished class on time…ever.   We always ran over and we didn’t want it to end.  Most of them lived miles away and would walk home by foot at 11pm at night.  I would go to bed exhausted but so incredibly satisfied with a renewed sense of purpose.

 

I took a day off and went into Stone Town.   Mbarouk, our fearless leader, visionary, and man I am happy to call my friend,  took me into to town on the back of his scooter.  It takes about 1 hour…. On dirt roads through some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen.  He introduced me to his mother who lives in the center of Stone Town in a small concrete home… though she and I couldn’t speak each other’s language, we “got each other” and she made me laugh and I adored her.

 

 

I managed to get a box shipped home and ran a few errands for the school and then went on an adventure through the narrow alleys of historical Stone Town.

It was a hub for the slave trade back in the day and has an “old world” feel.  Little carts and tiny shops selling spices, fruits, vegetables, art and souvenirs…  All with an ocean breeze and wonderfully kind people smiling and trying to speak English with you.

 

Jackson misses the ocean…. Jumping off huge rocks into the waves…  He misses his nursery school class that each morning pounced on him… and pulled his hair and hugged on him and made him laugh constantly.

And Buck misses the cats, the chickens, the puppies, collecting bottle caps, getting up early and hanging out with his pal, Mbarouk. He misses Marina, Asha, and Margaret and his pal, Kibopa.

 

We all miss our friend, Kibopa…the coolest guy.  He is the main English teacher there, and an artist in his own right, from the mainland of Tanzania.  He will be a life-long friend for sure.  He took the time with the boys and I to explain so much of the Tanzanian culture to us.  He had also lived in America so he was familiar with our world as well.  He cooked great french fries from scratch and helped both Jack and Buck with homework.  We had the great pleasure of meeting his daughter Marina, as well.  She came over from the mainland to hang with her dad and us.  She is an amazing artist and a blast to be around.

 

Also Margaret… the girl with all the joy!   The maker of puppets and a great actress who did a performance at the Art Festival that nearly made me wet my pants.  Thanks for making every day fun and energetic.  We miss you yelling… “J.D….. Jambo… Habari!”.  And Asha and Khamis…. We miss you guys too!

And another honorable mention…. One of my favorite students, Mr. Abdollah.  What an amazing man.  He’s the man who showed up each night most prepared and ready to work.  He invited Jack and I to go visit his Bee Farm.  We donned our bee outfits and visited the hives in the swampy beach forest.  It was remarkable… then a tour of his local school, the beach where he and his family opened fresh coconuts with knives and offered us refreshing coconut milk, and then back to his home where his entire family greeted us with a sit down snack of delicious food laid out traditionally on mats on the floor in their home.  So cool.

Thank you, Mr. Abdollah.  I was so fortunate to spend time with this man who works so hard in his community to make a difference, runs a large family and still had the time and energy to come to English class a few miles away for his house.  You are the best.

Our Zanzibar memories are so embedded  deeply in our hearts.  Talk about “The Love Revolution”.  We couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome.  The good news is Creative Solutions, Mbarouk, Kibopa, Marina, Margaret and the rest…. We will all see each other again, that much I know.  It is most certainly not our last outing to Zanzibar.

 

After tearful good byes, we headed to the mainland of Tanzania to spend a few days off for Xmas… just the boys and I.  We had originally made a reservation at a hotel on a little island off the coast of Bagamoyo.  Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find that they were overbooked and didn’t honor our reservation.  And just a day before Christmas.  Arghhh…  Shame on the Lazy Lagoon!!

But knowing that the North Pole had an eye on us and feeling certain that we were on “The Nice List”,  we were lead by the North Star to great accommodation at the Traveler’s Lodge on the beach in Bagamoyo.  It ended up being perfect and Santa Claus managed to find us nonetheless.

 

We went and visited 13th century ruins and walked around Bagamoyo, a little beach village.  The boys and I met up with some of the local artists in the village and they showed Buck and Jack the ropes of Tanzanian wood carving. Very cool!   The Christmas spirit prevailed even though being in a Muslim country, there was little Yule tide décor.

 

Now we have arrived in Nairobi and have been swept away to Kisii  (western Kenya) where we have joined Don Howard of Rotary International to work with students from 8 different schools in the area.  But that’s the next blog by week’s end.

Also, next week, we are being visited by our dear friends (more like family, really), Uncle Bo and Uncle Ed. They are coming from Charlotte to meet us here in Nairobi and then we will continue on with them to Cape Town, South Africa to continue our work at an HIV orphanage.  Very excited.  It will be nice to see some of our local tribesmen and apparently they are bringing us some “western world” supplies…. like Aleve, Clif Bars, etc.

Know that we are safe, missing the homeland, wishing you all a very happy, healthy New Year and we will see you later in 2012!   Let the spirit of giving be on your list of New Year’s Resolutions….  Help some one near or far…. There’s a world out here who are in  desperate need  of a helping hand.   Let me know if you need suggestions.   I’ve got tons!!!!  Love you all.

Oh!   Watch out for The Parade Magazine next week, they are doing an article on us in their up-coming issue… and check out our interview on NPR. http://66.225.205.104/CT20111214.mp3  (We are the 2nd half of the show.)

Thank you for all your support!  The New Year has amazing things in store!  xxjd

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by JD in Tanzania, 9 comments

Jambo from Zanzibar!!!

White sandy beaches, warm tropical breezes, the sound of rain on tin roofs, bustling markets with the smell of cumin and cinnamon, brilliant colored vegetables and yes, the stench of the fresh catch of the day… wide-open smiles with sparkling white teeth, dark brown skin, the vibrant kangas (the women’s clothing)… then add the sounds of Swahili and laughter in the air… We are indeed in Africa…  Zanzibar, to be exact.

This island is famous for being a hub of the Arab slave trade back in the 18th and 19th century and, of course, known worldwide for its spices and beautiful beaches.

The pace is slow.  They call it TIA…  “This is Africa”.  And they have a phrase called, “ Pole Pole” (pronounced Paulie, Paulie), meaning “slowly, slowly”.  Not an easy task for a westerner who has been taught that faster and more efficient is better.  But I am learning.

The boys and I have arrived on this lush oasis off the coast of mainland Tanzania in east Africa.  We were welcomed with open arms by Creative Solutions, an art school in the small village of Mangapwani built by Aida Ayers and Mbarouk Saad.  Here, children and adults are offered all kinds of educational opportunities.  I am currently teaching English in an open-air classroom, and Jackson and Buck are helping run the pre-school group.  The kids are so angelic, creative, available and joyful.

Currently, we are preparing for an art fair on the 17th of December, which will bring the locals together to sell their wares and share their art.

Our work here is especially gratifying, as each student is sincerely eager to learn. To master English here on Zanzibar is to open up a multitude of life possibilities and opportunities.  Farming and the tourist trade are two of the major industries here, and English is essential for the success in either field. All of my students (10 to 30), depending on the day, have managed to steal my heart.  We talk in broken English and they try to teach me Swahili…they fascinate me.  We talk about farming, how they hook up their ox to their carts, raising goats, how they pick the Jack Fruit off the trees… We talk about futbol, and music ( one’s favorite called “Bongo Favor”)…and we drink Coca-Cola, Orange Fanta and Stoney Tangawizi (my new favorite – it tastes like spicy Ginger Ale)…. And the best part is we laugh our heads off.

This small village offers little opportunity other than farming, but the locals do their best to eek out a living.  To have some land and an ox, cow, goat or chickens is to live well.  Again the thing that strikes me most, is the joy in which they live.

Creative Solutions is a vital part of Mangapwani, offering a haven for those who want to improve their lives. With a small staff of teachers and helpers, this place is making a huge difference.  They function on a very small budget but they are certainly not compromising on the education they are providing.  Twelve In Twelve is committed to help this school.  Anyone interested in organizing simple books for their library or even pencils, pens and paper or composition books, please let me know.  They are functioning with the bare necessities and need help in every area, whether supplies, monetary donations, and/or volunteers.  They have plans to expand the facility by adding a second classroom.  Currently the adult classes and children’s classes are held under the same roof.

On our down time, the boys and I head down the road to the beach.  Not your average beach.  I know I am prone to painting extravagant visuals, but this beach is picture postcard perfect.  White sand, turquoise blue water, seashells still in tact, sand crabs scurrying sideways and deep blue skies with billowing clouds.  Words don’t do it justice.  Just know that when we are there, the boys and I look at each other with this grin of “Holy Cow!”.  Sometimes we will be walking down the road in this euphoric tropical setting and Jackson will look just look at me and say, “Dad….  We are on Zanzibar in East Africa”.  And we will all three just get it!

Last weekend we went into Stone Town.  Jackson, Buck and I took a Dolla-Dolla.  That’s a sort of bus/taxi that is filled to the brim with people.  There were so many people crammed in that little bus that eight people were hanging on the outside of it, Jackson being one of them.  It was a crazy adventure.  Buck and I managed to get to a seat inside peering across at men, women and children staring and smiling at us.  A beautiful feeling… boiling hot, but beautiful, nonetheless.

We are on the journey of a lifetime.   And the good news is we know it.  The people we have met, the sights we have seen, the experiences we have shared together… it has all been extraordinary and life altering.  And not just the pleasant parts either.  We have been given the opportunity to experience the poverty, the need, the less fortunate, those just trying to survive…  the hungry, the sick, the poor, the crippled, the lepers and the orphaned. This is a sacred journey that will stay with us forever.  When I say that we will never be the same, it sounds trite.  But I feel it and I know my sons do too.  The world is a big place full of different cultures and customs… But we are members of the human race with hearts, with pain, with joy, with needs, with hope, with the will to survive.   We are all in this together.   I hope that our volunteering in each of these places so far has been of some help.  I think it has…   and there is so much more to do.

Until soon….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by JD in Tanzania, 9 comments

Agahozo-Shalom and Mwiko!!!

The boys and I have had the most extraordinary experience in Rwanda.  We wrote a one-act play about the First High School of Performing Arts in Rwanda with the teens from The Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. With traditional music and dance, we wove in some hip-hop and modern music and spoken word.  We performed it in the Amphitheater in the village.  It was amazing.  They tore it up!!!!  So exciting to watch. Every last one of them (20 actors in all) blew my mind. So gratifying for all of us.  We wrote the piece from scratch with the ideas of these students.  Every subject from Love, Friendship, Betrayal, Conflict, The Genocide, Discipline, and Passion.  My dear friends Medea and Longine saw to our every need and we miss them terribly. I’m hoping to have Medea come to Charlotte to do a Rwandan Dance and Singing workshop at NorthWest School of The Arts next year.  I think the kids would benefit from her talent and her story… she was a survivor of the Genocide.

Once more the hardest part is saying goodbye.  These teens have been our family for the last 3 weeks.  Each one of them has made a difference in our life, truly. After the show we had a “get together” and they all shared what they had learn from the experience.  It reminded me why I’m an artist.  They said that they learned passion was an important part of life, that speaking up and being heard is giving a gift, that discipline is important in the process, and that love and acceptance is the answer. Wow!  Nearly bawled my eyes out.  These kids are the future leaders of Rwanda… remarkable spirits.

So once again, we packed our bags.  We headed to a school in the north of Rwanda called, “Mwiko”.  This particular school has no running water or electricity. With the help of Francis and Danny, our incredible hosts, we had a remarkable time in the town of Musanze. Each morning we headed to Mwiko Primary School, set on a mountain top between two pristine lakes… Gorgeous!

But even more gorgeous, were the kids…  I can’t describe the joy and wide open spirits of these kids. Shy at first, they each unfolded before us to allow us into their amazing world.  These kids live with the bare necessities, but have taught us a substantial lesson…. that happiness cannot be bought.  They LIVE joy.  They are all in need of scholarships to go to secondary school. For $2,000 a year, you can help a child get an education in Rwanda that will change the course of their lives.  Twelve In Twelve is committed to help in that department.  If it sounds of interest, please let me know. Needs are great….

The kids of Mwiko and I shot a movie together… they were able to shoot with my camera and we came up with something we were all proud of….   I will post it shortly.

Thank you also to Mothering Across Continents (www.motheringacrosscontinents.org), who helped us arrange our visit to Mwiko.  They are doing wonderful things for the school there.  We also had the great pleasure of meeting a man named Tom Allen, who has an organization called, “Bridge2Rwanda”.  He’s an American here in Rwanda, who has been instrumental in the development of many programs here in Rwanda. Please check out their website (www.bridge2rwanda.org).

And if all that wasn’t enough, we had the opportunity of spending time with Dr. Jan, the gorilla doctor!   She was awesome!  She shared with us many fascinating stories and insights into the world of the Rwandan Mountain Gorillas.  And then… I was able to go on a GORILLA TREK!  Yep… right up close… they brushed up against me!!!  Wild!   And yes, I took this picture and this Silver Back was right in front of me, checking me out.  The boys were too young and they have strict rules for visiting the gorillas… so I owe the boys a gorilla trek…

After sadly leaving Musanze, we returned to Kigali to lead a two day workshop for WeACTx… a program for kids living with HIV. We played games and did Improv…. danced, sang… laughed..  Thanks to Noam for all her help and inviting us to have such a meaningful experience with these beautiful kids.  They taught the kids and I songs, dance steps… but the most important lesson they taught was courage…

And if that wasn’t enough of an experience in Rwanda, the icing on the cake was getting to meet His Excellency, Ambassador Koran.  We were guests at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali and sat and chatted with the charismatic Ambassador Koran. Many thanks to Susan Falatko, Public Relations Officer, who made it all possible.

The smell, the earth, the sunshine, the tropical rain, the people, the warmth and the children will stay etched in our memory for eternity.  Rwanda is a special place that I know we will return to….  Getting on the plane now to Tanzania is bittersweet.  We have heard great things about Zanzibar … that’s where we are headed to work at an Art School in a little town called Mangapwani. More to follow:

 

 

Posted by JD in Rwanda, 10 comments

From the Pharaohs to the Land of A Thousand Hills – Rwanda…

Our stop-over in Egypt was beyond our wildest dreams. To stand before the Great Pyramids of Giza and the mighty Sphinx was a childhood dream of mine. And Buck got to see it all on his 9th birthday.

There are no words that can describe the grandeur of the pyramids and to think, they were built by hand. Amazing! Going inside the Pyramids was something that Jack and Buck were excited about.

Claustrophobia is alive and well in Giza, Egypt. Holy Cow! The tunnel into the center of the pyramid is a crawl space at best, and the air gets thicker and thicker as you arrive at the burial chamber in the center…the size of a walk-in closet. Yikes!  With my heart pounding in my ears and having a full-on anxiety attack, I managed to celebrate Buck’s 9th, center pyramid. Talk about a quantum leap for me in the department of phobias.

Because of the revolution and political upheaval in Cairo, the tourist trade is way down… Way Down. And you can feel it in the desperation of the vendors. The people selling souvenirs around the pyramids and the guys hawking camel rides are desperate for your business and it’s a bit intimidating. “No Thank You” does not seem to make an impact. It was non-stop and the boys and I felt overwhelmed at times, but certainly felt for them. After the Elephant Nature Park, we had no desire to ride a camel.

On our flight from Egypt to Rwanda… get this…. Buck got to fly in the cockpit with the pilots for the entire flight. No lie. The pilots were American and said they would be happy to have an additional Captain. Can you believe it? That would never happen EVER in the states! Buck got to experience take-off and landing from the jump seat in the cockpit. Jackson and I were incredibly jealous.

And now we are in Rwanda. We arrived on a night flight but instantly noticed two things in Kigali (pronounced CHI-gali). First the streets are spotless, not one piece of trash to be found, which was refreshing after India. The second was the smell, best describe as the “Sweet Scent of Earth” – Red clay earth… Incredible!  You can’t help but feel the connection to the land… and yes, the ghost of the genocide still lingers.  That horrible event that claimed nearly a million lives.

We arrived at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village late that night and were shown to our room. This is a school built for the children who were orphaned during the Genocide here in Rwanda.

We woke up the next day to the sight of deep-green rolling hills with patchwork fields as far as the eye could see…. And the clouds, whiter than white… the kind you can see animals and angels in.

We had arrived in the REAL Africa. The breeze, the smell, the view, the people. Yes, woman dressed in traditional, colorful dresses with pots, bags, twigs, bundles balanced on their heads. The kids and I laugh and say, “Do you think they do that for our benefit, or is it actually something they do when we are not around?” Our friends here at ASYV assure us that they do it all the time.

The teens here were shy with us at first. And we were a bit shy as well. Ends up that they speak English beautifully and they are the greatest. They are all teens up to 21 or so. We are working with a group of 20 students writing a one-act play about the first High School of Performing Arts in Rwanda… which, by the way, does not exist. Sounds like it might be a calling…

The show is going great. We have intertwined the traditional music and dance with some of the interests of the students… like hip-hop, romance, and humor. We will perform it the night before we leave.

The boys and I have also been invited to meet the U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda, His Excellency, Donald W. Koran. What an incredible honor. More to follow, as Rwanda unfolds before our very eyes.

Posted by JD in Rwanda, 20 comments

The Bad Boys of Buddhism


Leave it to the boys and me to find the one Tibetan Buddhist Monastery that has been ostracized by His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.  It really is a compelling story for all you who think Buddhism is about chanting, meditating, and living a life of compassion.

When we arrived here at Shar Gaden, one of the first things Jampa, the charismatic secretary of the monastery said to me was, “We are having some issues with the Dalai Lama”.  I was taken back, as I was under the impression that His Holiness was the Kingpin of Buddhism.

Apparently a number of years ago, the Dalai Lama asked all of his monasteries to quit practicing a certain meditation called Dorje Shugden. My understanding is that the Dalai Lama’s oracle, or guidance counselor, suggested to the His Holiness that they stop doing this particular practice.  Because Dorje Shugden has been perceived by some as more of the “fire and brimstone” approach to Buddhism, His Holiness decided to give it the ax.  It probably doesn’t help matters that the deity they propitiate is a scary looking figure with three eyes, a human heart in his one hand, a sword in the other, and a wrathful look on his face.  Perhaps the Dalai Lama thought this menacing figure might scare some westerners away.  Therefore, he required all the monks of the Tibetan monasteries to sign a pledge that they would no longer participate in this very old Tibetan ritual. 

Here’s where the Bad Boys of Buddhism, my friends and monks of The Shar Gaden monastery, come in.   It seems that the senior monks of Shar Gaden felt like discontinuing this practice was not in the best interest of their lineage.

They refused to sign the agreement… and apparently all hell broke lose.  Many followers of the Dalai Lama became enraged with the Dorje Shugden followers. At one point when one of the Dalai Lama’s people was murdered, they blamed it on the group that chose not to sign the paper.  

Cut to years later…  In this isolated area of south-central India where an entire community of monks live, there is a great divide.  As I walk down the street with my friend, Losang Tenpa, or as the boys and I call him, Monk Duke, he is glared at and in certain shops, they even refuse to serve him.

Monk Duke is a character.  He’s from Minnesota and has been a practicing Buddhist for the last fifteen years.  He has recently committed his life to the “monkhood”.    He is the perfect poster child for the Bad Boys of Buddhism.  He’s a sort of James Dean of the Red Robes.  Rugged, with a past of drugs, alcohol and near death experiences… and I quote, “I have had a pretty crazy past.”   Now he is a full-fledged member of Shar Gaden and the face of Western Buddhism in a sea of Tibetan and Nepalese monks.  He holds his head high when he goes into town, even though he knows that many are scrutinizing him.   He chose to side with the Shar Gaden lineage because his teacher, Geshe Tsultrim Gyaltsen, was determined to keep the Dorje Shugen practice alive.   Monk Duke said that,  “I have chosen to follow the teacher I have worked with for years. I have taken vows and commitments with this teacher, and my alliance is with him.”

The whole thing is shocking to me… My idea of Buddhism was about losing the ego, getting centered and quiet, and finding enlightenment.  But it seems that things are a bit tense here in this area that was given to exiled Tibetan monks by the country of India.  Over the last few years, words have been spoken, rocks have been thrown and most disturbing, great walls built around each of the many monasteries in the area.  What’s wild is that, after the split, the properties here were allotted in a strange way so that some of Shar Gaden’s building are surrounding by building gained by the other monasteries that have issue with this group, making it an uncomfortable and tense living situation.

As an experiment the other day, Monk Duke and I visited a local store famous for not serving Shar Gaden monks.  I went in and smiled, bought some flip flops for Buck, and then Duke came in to buy some incense.  They wouldn’t even look up at him.   So I piped in, “Hey, how much for the incense?” … they replied, “Forty Rupies”, and then I said, “I’ll pay for it.”   They then smiled, took my money and when we went to leave, the man behind the counter and Monk Duke exchanged a smile.   I felt like it was one step closer to Nirvana and I had done my small part to bridge a chasm between the two factions.  Who knows… that simple meeting of the minds could have been the beginning of the reunification of the Tibetan Buddhist Federation.   Or maybe not… I think it’s going to take more than a westerner’s smile to sort things out here. I’m thinking of coming back next year and shooting a documentary on the subject.

None of the controversy seems to have affected Jackson or Buck’s experience of this place.  Buck instantly joined in on a game of Futbol with the younger monks. Kunga, one of the senior monks and a great character, took a liking to Buck and presented him with his own red robes.  Yes, Buck spent his entire time dressed as a monk and sitting in on the meditations.  He really took to it.  He learned how to fold and wear the robes and also how to recite some of the mantras.  Monk Duke even presented Buck with his own prayer beads, which he proudly wears to remind himself of his time at Shar Gaden.  What an amazing experience for an 8 year old boy, eh?

Jackson jumped right in helping out with Monk Duke’s English classes. They all laugh when they hear his name because of Michael Jackson.  These young monks can play a mean game of English language hang-man.  And here’s some refreshing news, when we were practicing conversational English with them, we discovered that none of them knew who Lady Gaga was.  How refreshing is that!  

Our experience here has been eye-opening and truly delightful.  We have made some great friends, had the opportunity to live with the monks and see their lives first hand, and have been able to discovery the beauty of monastic living.   If the Dalai Lama spent some time with Monk Duke, Jampa, and Kunga, I’m sure they all could resolve this issue with compassion and loving-kindness. 

If you are interested in knowing more about the Monks of Shar Gaden Monastery, check them out on FaceBook.  They are in need of dedicated Pen Pals for the younger monks to practice their English with, and also English language books.  Please let me know if you are interested in helping them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by JD in India, 22 comments

Passage To India…..

I have difficulty beginning this blog because I’m not sure how to approach it.  I don’t want to appear melodramatic or better yet, over sensationalize my experience.   But the truth is, being in India has truly changed my boys and my life.  A bold statement…  Yes.  A truth, that is for certain.

We arrived at the foothills of the Himalayas in the small village of McLeod Ganj, known the world over as the exiled home of His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama.  Entering the town by dark was a frightful experience… just ask my sons.  We had booked a small room in a hotel high above the town with roads only big enough for the four wheels of the car that carried us up there.   I want to be very clear… the roads, cut into the side of the mountain, were barely big enough for the four wheels of the car that carried us… one wrong twist of the wheel and we would have fallen to a sure death down a jagged mountain cliff.

We arrived at 3am to what would be our new home for the next 10 days.  We unloaded our bags and then walked, yes, walked for ten minutes up a mountain cliff path to our hill top inn.   From the late-night fright of cliff hanging, and from the exhaustion of toting our bags through the mountains in the dark, we settled in and fell fast asleep in our small one room abode.

We awoke to sunshine through the window and a view that reminded us that this was no ordinary journey.  I can only explain it as “other worldly”, like we had experienced it before, or that we were in another time continuum.  The kids and I looked at each other in awe.  There was silence… emotion… history… color… magic.

We were served the local staple, porridge with bananas, and then headed down the hill to the village of McLeod to register to see the Dalai Lama speak.  The mountain path down was no “late night illusion”…. It was just as frightening in the daytime.   But with the sunlight came wild monkeys on the side of the road, the sacred cows of India, the colorful saris of the local woman, and as we approached the hustle and bustle of this small town, the red-robed Buddhist monks of Tibetan fame.  I felt like I was home.   Not that I am a Tibetan Buddhist, or have practiced Buddhism, but I felt safe and comfortable amongst, what I joked with Jack and Buck, “My People”.

That day was spent with great excitement.  Dodging Tuk Tuk’s, cows, monks and an international crowd of people there to see The Dalai Lama speak… all in a tiny village stuck in another time, hanging off the foothills of the Himalayas.

The following morning, after our porridge, we headed to the temple to see His Holiness.  Miraculously, though somehow I knew it would happen, we were saved seats 20 feet away from where the Dalai Lama would speak.  Excitement filled the air.  After what seems like a long anticipated wait, he appeared.   Wow!  His Holiness, The Dalai Lama’s smiling face right in front of me, as if in my own living room. There for my kids to experience, a living master, right there for Buck and Jackson to remember for a lifetime.

As he began to speak, something struck me.  He’s just a man… yes, most assuredly an enlightened one, but a man, nonetheless.   Having spent a career studying “celebrity” first hand, I had the epiphany that he was a sort of spiritual celebrity in a world of people who felt the need to worship him.   Don’t get me wrong, he’s teaching were certainly inspiring and profound, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by a sense of spirit.  Many others were.   And then this thought, “Maybe we’re all the gurus”.  Maybe, just maybe, we are all made in the likeness of God and that we are all the Dalai Lamas of our own experience…  That all we really have is our own spiritual take on things.  Everyone gets their choice of what they want to believe and whom they want to worship… at least in the free world.  And what resonates in our heart to be true spiritually is what we have to hold on to.

I feel like I had a spiritual awakening in McLeod Ganj.  But not one that was overpowering… a more subtle one.  I think it made me want to take more responsibility for my own spirituality and to honor it … and perhaps to live more consciously… not in the way His Holiness sees it, necessarily, though a lot of what he had to say rang true to me, but maybe delving more inside myself and finding how “my” God wants me to live…  being a more present parent, being less judgmental, more understanding and accepting, doing more for my fellow man.

Walking among the sacred cows, the poverty, the lepers, the poor, the monks, and the monkeys had a deep effect on me. And it did for my children as well.  We had the incredible opportunity of working with political prisoner that are now refugees exiled from Tibet in McLeod.  We taught English to these men and women who walked from Tibet to India to gain their freedom.  One cannot remain the same when in the company of such brave and heroic figures.  They shared with the kids and me their stories of being imprisoned just for carrying a Tibetan flag or showing up at a rally.  They were beaten and imprisons for years.   For westerns like the kids and me, it almost seemed unreal…  Like it was just a story…  But unfortunately, it’s a reality for many Tibetans.

One evening in McLeod, in honor of those we had been teaching, the boys and I got “buzz cuts” like the monks.   It was a Lewis Family moment… with laughter, trepidation, and “are we really doing this?”… But then again it’s only hair…

The boys most certainly are different people now.  For Jackson, 14, it has been the most noticeable.  He has committed to being a vegetarian, which I have to say, I respect.  He has become such a quiet force of compassion among the people we have met.  And with the animals, too.  We joke that he is Dr. Doolittle.  It’s amazing to watch him.

Buck, “Mister Charismatic”, has gone in to action full tilt boogie and has people grabbing him for pictures, hugging on him and practicing their English on him.   In McLeod, at a café we frequented, he got hired to be a waiter.  No lie.  He made cappachinos and served food and actually made tips.  It was a riot to watch.  He went back each day to work.   He had a gang of friends at Café Buda.   All of the customers were blown away.

Leaving McLeod was intense for all of us.  It was like leaving summer camp as a kid.   We had met so many awesome people and saying good-bye left a huge hole.   We ended up taking the train – un-air conditioned and 3rd class (yikes… talk about intense) to Agra where we feasted our eyes on the Taj Mahal.  I can’t put it in to words.  I just can’t.   Beyond extraordinary.  Again, seeing my kids inside the Taj.  Wow!  And we had no idea the story behind the Taj Mahal.  It was built as a monument of love for a wife who died while giving birth.

From there we went to Varanasi on the shores of the Ganges.  This is the place where all Hindis go to swim in the sacred waters of this famous river.   It is also were the Burning Gat is … this is where the Indians bring their dead to wash in the river, then burn the corpse on a fire by the shore, then spread their ashes in the river.  It’s their belief that it is the quickest way to heaven…. To be burned on the Ganges.  We took a boat (wood canoe) past the Burning Gat… and saw the bodies being wash and burned.  It was mind-blowing.   The boys and I discussed it later… it wasn’t morbid or scary… it was just very deep.

Which leads us to the poverty of Varanasi.  Unless you have walked the streets and seen it first hand, I don’t think you can fully grasp it.   Children naked and playing in the dirt, lepers laying in the street, families living in tiny tin or brick huts, cow dung everywhere, and the smell… quite often overwhelming.  But here’s the twist, they seem happy.   They really do.  The kids are laughing, the old people have great smiles, the woman are beautiful….  Yes, there is a lot of begging… a lot, but it’s understandable.  A foreigner walking down the street is just assumed to be rich…  Sometimes it felt intimidating and a bit dangerous, but in the end no one wished us harm.  They were just as curious about us, as we were with them.

Now we are headed to Mumbai where we will take a 12-hour bus ride to Hubli to work in a monastery.  More enlightenment to follow…

Posted by JD in India, 22 comments

Message from The Mountain…

The boys and I have been working at The Elephant Nature Park, an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  And let me tell you…. elephant work is hard work!  We have learned so much about the struggles of the Asian Elephant and their fight against extinction. And we have met a woman named Lek Chailert, who has made us think differently about the elephant.

We have spent the last few weeks in the mountain jungles of Northern Thailand getting to know the Asian elephant.  In addition, the refuge also has nearly a hundred dogs, horses, an Asian Black Bear (that we hung out with and petted), water buffalo, and cats.

For those of you that don’t know, the number of Asian elephants in the wild, and also in captivity, is diminishing rapidly.  Experts believe it won’t be long before the Asian elephant is extinct.  Those elephants that are still alive and in captivity, go through a process called, “The Crush”.  This is a means of “breaking them in” by very cruel tactics such as beatings with hooks, chaining the animals so there are unable to move, and even blinding the animals.  Any of the elephant working with the general public, have gone through this process.  It is a horrific, brutal ritual.

What we have learned is that elephants are meant to live in the wild.  Unfortunately, the elephant has been put to work in circuses, the logging industry (using elephants for logging is now outlawed in Thailand, but still very much a reality in Burma and other areas), street entertainment and in elephant entertainment parks and treks.  To be able to do this work, they are abused horribly into submission.

But the elephants have a refuge in the Elephant Nature Park.  An extraordinary facility created by Lek.  Lek has been recognized internationally for her work with elephants.  I had the great honor of getting to know Lek personally…  An extraordinary woman who I am proud to call a friend.  She came from simple means but had such a deep desire to help elephants that she has created a paradise for elephants and observers alike.  Lek rescues elephants…. blind, broken hips, aged, babies who have lost their mothers, elephants who have been deemed too dangerous.   She takes them in.

I have never, ever seen a woman interact with animals like this lady.  It’s almost other-worldly.  The minute she arrives, the elephants come from everywhere to be in her presence.  The boys and I got to experience “lull-a-bye time”.  This is where Lek actually sings to the baby elephants… beautifully, I might add, and get this…. she sits underneath them and leans against their legs.  And if that wasn’t brilliant enough, she invited Jackson to join her.  There was my son, sitting with Lek underneath a baby elephant and it’s mother, stroking it’s leg and being part of something healing and holy.

I love that my kids have a new found appreciation for these animals.   Jackson really connected with a number of the elephants and they seemed to “get him” as well.  Jackson has a gentle spirit that the animals seem to identify with.  He spent time talking with them, feeding them, stroking their ears, necks and trunks.   Buck just thought is was super cool to put melons in their trunk and watch them eat them whole.    He also got to use a machette to cut the melons… (under supervision, of course).

Lek and her husband, were so gracious to the boys and I, making us feel like we were part of the project there.   We were able to work directly with the elephants… washing, walking, feeding, following the veterinarian as he administered care to the animals.

This sort of volunteer work is not for the weak of heart, or back, for that matter.  We shovel elephant poo, built fences, planted sugar cane, helped in the elephant kitchen making banana patties, scrubbing melons, using a machette to cut the fruit and filled baskets of food for the animals.  We even were able to participate in a “Save A Tree” program where we tied ribbons blessed by the monks in the area around trees.    We went to bed every night exhausted but so satisfied.

These majestic animals deserve our admiration and our protection.  We have learned that elephants are proud, protective, and very powerful creatures.  The kids and I will never spend a nickel again on circuses, elephant rides and anything related to the abuse of these incredible animals.

So, today is my birthday, and we are now in Phuket on the coast of Thailand… Tuesday we leave for India. We are going to see the Dalai Lama speak for 4 days in Dharamsala.  Very exciting.

Thanks for all the Birthday wishes!   Of course, more to follow…

Posted by JD in Thailand, 17 comments

One Night In Bangkok And The World’s Your Oyster…

Is it possible we are in Thailand? Yes, I suppose it is! Our trip is going so fast. The boys and I keep looking at each other and saying things like, “Wow! We’re in Moscow!”, “Can you believe we are in Beijing?”, “Dad, we’re actually in Hong Kong”, and now, “Holy cow, we’re in Bangkok’!

Thailand is beautiful. We arrived last week into Bangkok. The aunt and uncle of one of Buck’s best friends in Charlotte, picked us up at the airport. We were wisked off, straight away, to a small town called Sattihip (pronounced Sat-a-heap).

It’s a cool, funky beach town with a Thai Naval base, about two hours south of Bangkok. Luckily we stayed with Uncle Awoot, who was a 3-Star Officer, so we were able to enjoy the perks of the Naval base. We ate great seafood whilst enjoying the breeze and ocean view, the boys sailed to an island off the coast, we played and argued with monkeys, had a few motorcycle rides, and swam in the ocean.

 

But then back to our focus…. We arrived at The Special Education Center, a day school and live-in orphanage for kids with Down Syndrome and Autism.

We were falling in love all over again. One little girl, Ice, stole my heart. She reminded me of my dear friend, Cher Ferreyra. She and I just “got” each other.  

Buck buddied up with Fat, a rambunctious boy with an infectious smile, and Jackson spent some quality time with Thai, an adorable little girl who seemed to have a crush on him.  All of these kids have severe challenges but have an incredible sense of joy.   It really warms my heart to know that this place actually exists. The principal and director of the school is a saint.  She is so great with the kids and has dedicated her life to this work.

We only had less than a week at this location, so our duties were to play basketball, jump on trampolines, hold babies and hug on the kids. Tough life, eh? These kids took no time with jumping in and making us feel welcome. The joy of volunteering is that there is no “get familiar time”. Everywhere we have visited, within a two-minute period, we have felt like family. The Love Revolution is alive and well, and currently in Thailand!

The countryside of Sattahip is breathtaking… the crystal blue ocean, tropical mountains, and the wonderful, friendly natives. The Wats (the temples) are a sight to see and we even got to hang out with some monks at one of the Wats. And, well the food, exquisite! The cuisine is my favorite so far.

From Sattahip, we arrived in Bangkok for a few days. We had a little time to see some street markets, The Grand Palace (really impressive) and unfortunately nurse a cold. Arghh….

We are now on the plane heading to Chiang Mai, where we will work with the elephants at a Reserve. We are very excited about the prospects… we just have to watch our toes…

More to follow….

Posted by JD in Thailand, 8 comments

So Long To Hong Kong…

Tomorrow morning we will fly to Bangkok on the next leg of our year-long tour. It’s an emotional farewell.  We have had such an amazing experience both in China and here in Hong Kong.  It’s been a life-transforming time.  So many lessons learned.  So many moments spent connecting with remarkable, brave kids who move us to want to do more.  We are wishing the kids here from New Hope successful operations and recoveries.  And to all the doctors and staff of MedArt, our heartfelt gratitude and admiration.  You guys are so inspiring. There are saints here in China who are doing amazing things.  It has renewed my faith in mankind!

There is so much we can all do to make a difference.  You don’t have to travel around the world to do it either.  I’m learning. Believe me, I’m a novice.  If you are moved to make a difference, start it now.  Go to a soup kitchen, a hospital, a prison, a hospice, a crisis center or crisis hotline.  Just do it.   What I’m discovering is that it’s in the giving.  The rewards are off the charts.  You will give yourself the greatest gift ever…

Okay, I’ll get off the soap box. But when you have seen what we have seen in the last two months,  you become aware  that we all have a responsibility to do more, help more, save more…  We are so lucky to have so much and a little goes a long way, especially over here.

We have met so many amazing people here in Hong Kong.  We had the chance to check out Kowloon, the light show over the skyline of Hong Kong, Soho, and Happy Valley.  Hong Kong is a happening city… alot of great energy.  And thanks to our host, Jack, for letting us crash at your awesome house on Hong Kong Island.   We owe you big time!

So as the sun sets on Victoria Harbor this Tuesday evening, with mixed emotions, we pack our bags.

And with anticipation for what lies ahead, we look forward to the adventures unfolding in Thailand.   Up, up, and away!   More to follow…

 

 

Posted by JD in China, 2 comments

As We Leave The People’s Republic of China…

We are heading out of Hong Kong shortly, preparing to work with the elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand.   But before we leave, I feel compelled to reflect on this incredible month in China.  I am so grateful for the experience of a lifetime.  China – the people, the cities, the architecture, the food, the temples, the squares, the markets… soon it will all be a videotaped and photographed memory.  It’s hard to let go of a “real-time” adventure like China.  A journey of emotion, sight, temperature, touch, and sound. One can’t really translate the visceral into the written page.  It is to be experienced with one’s whole being.

Our first taste of Beijing… pulling in on the Trans-Siberian Railway… and disembarking into a hot, chaotic, and remarkably intimidating train station.  I remember fearfully thinking, “How are we ever going to find our driver and what am I going to do if he’s not here?  How are we every going find the orphanage?”   Well, as fate would have it, he was there as planned and we were sped away into the hazy fog of Beijing and then off into the Chinese countryside.

The kids and I will never forget the experience of The New Hope Foundation.  The kindness of Dr. Joyce, Robin, and Katie Hill, Dr. Steve and his family, Shannon Wu (our pal who helped us with everything!), the crew of Mama’s (the caregivers), and most importantly, the beautiful children of this orphanage.

We will wholeheartedly miss our new family at New Hope… and have vowed to keep up with the progress of these children.  I know we will return to this place, so it’s not “good-bye” but simply,  “Until we return…”. I hope that I am able to shed a little light on their work through this website and through my efforts when I get back to the states.

We were afforded the experience of true saints in action…  People who have dedicated their lives to save the un-save-able.   These kids were either rescued from the street, left in hospitals or taken from other orphanage that could not help them.  This is the real deal.  It’s not a reality show.. this is real life.  When you are in the midst of work like this, your life changes forever.  It’s subtle too, because no one is walking around saying, “Look at me, I’m doing noble things.”  They are just doing what they are led to do.

These kids are so happy too.  And rightly so.  They receive tons of love, three meals a day, a playground, swimming pool, loving nannies who care for them and the chance of medical attention to help them walk, see, breathe, use the bathroom, and live. My thoughts and prayers, with a sense of helplessness, go out to the less fortunate that don’t make their way to New Hope or the likes.

I am so thankful for Dr. Joyce and Robin Hill.   Not only for their self-less work, but because they took the time to show a Yankee and his two kids Beijing and The Great Wall.  Robin took the boys and I Go-Carting, which is another highlight for the boys…  (and secretly, for me as well).  And damn, those carts are fast. Their youngest daughter, Katie, was our pal and interpreter.  Thank you, Katie, for your incredible enthusiasm, great energy and ability to speak a bunch of languages.  You are, without a doubt, the undeniable Go Kart champ!

Another shout out goes to Shannon Wu.  Can’t even express how grateful we are.  Seems like every time the boys and I were confused or couldn’t communicate, or didn’t know how to get somewhere, or how to make a train reservation, or didn’t know what to eat….. we would turn around and there would be Shannon to save the day.   What’s so admirable about California-born Shannon, is that she is in China volunteering with these kids.  She has the gift of speaking Chinese as well, so she can communicate and love these kids and help the non-speakers as well.  She’s here in Hong Kong, where we are currently, caring for a baby from New Hope that is having an operation.

There are so many memories we take with us from New Hope… teaching pre-school with these kids as they shouted out their ABCS, to playing in the ball pit with my pal, Ray-Ray and the others, to playing in the playground outside, to swimming in the pool with them, to watching Dr. Steve put on casts and doing procedures on club feet…  to eating chicken hearts in the village, to watching Buck eat a Donkey Burger.. for real… to the sight of Jackson on a bicycle pedaling through this tiny Chinese village smiling to the old people on the side of the road… To staying in a Yurt…    You can’t buy these memories…. they are lived…. (and I’m actually crying typing this).  I’m so thankful for this experience, you have no idea.  I’m not sure how I got so lucky… but so thankful.

At the end of our stay at New Hope, we were able to check out Beijing… The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and 798 Arts District. The adventure was a bit soothing to the soul considering we were dealing with separation anxiety from the orphanage.  Walking through history is to put it mildly.   You can feel it all around you.   Beijing is historic but also alive… and thriving.  The art scene is very cool as well.  Had the chance to hang at Yuanfen New Media Art Space with owner David Ben Kay.  A cool man who has created this awesome art space for all kinds of art.  A real visionary.  I’m hopefully going to teach a workshop there in Beijing in 2012.  Check out his interview:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMZ5kYnF2-w    They are doing great things there.

From Beijing, we headed to Shanghai for a few days and hung with a incredible man who’s making a difference in the world. Robert Oliver.   His cookbook, Me’ a Kai won the Best Cookbook in the world in 2010 by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris. What’s unique about his approach is that it’s not just about food, it’s about teaching different cities and countries about sustainable tourism and teaching people to use the local produce of their region to help boast the economy of that particular area.  He is currently in Shanghai as a consultant in this arena.

 

We only had a few days layover so we saw The Bund, The TV Tower with the glass bottom floor, The French Concession, and People’s Park.  The beauty of People’s Park.  They play music on loud speakers and people are dancing… couples dancing in the park… and other’s sing opera.  It’s a culture that is not self-conscious.. They love getting up and dancing and singing.  Really fun to watch.

From Shanghai we have flown to Hong Kong, which is where we are now.  We have been visiting the babies who are here from New Hope who are getting their operations.  We are hanging with Shannon because she is down here watching one of the babies.  The hospital is beautiful, modern and fairly new.  These kids are so lucky to be getting surgeries from the doctors of MedArt, a group of incredible doctors who dedicate their time and energy to help these kids in need.  They are all musician who raise money doing concerts during the year to afford these orphans free medical attention and very expensive surgeries.

Hong Kong is an interesting city… very international. After Russia and mainland China,  it’s a bit of a cultural break… as most people speak English, there are more western style food options, and there are stores that carry America products.  The skyline is beautiful.   It’s like China meets NYC.  Lots of shopping…. thank god we can’t partake, since we can’t haul any more than we already have.  We are taking the ferry to Kowloon across the river today to check things out.  Still hot…  when does Fall happen?  🙂

More to follow…. from Bangkok… Wow!  Bangkok….  “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster..” And Twelve in Twelve continues.  Stay tuned.

Posted by JD in China, 13 comments

12 Things I’ve Learned In Shanghai!!!

 

12 Things I’ve Learned About Shanghai!!!

1.  “Lil” is nowhere to be found.

2.  Rickshaws are now motorized and a total blast to ride in… probably bad parenting but super fun.

3.  Another proud city sponsor of Mystery Meat.

4.  The Bund is incredible … cross between the NYC skyline and Disneyland.  If you knew nothing about it, like us, google it… Super cool.

5.  The Cricket Market is a sight to behold.  Come get your feisty cricket warrior for a Friday Night fight.  Michael Vicks … you are safe over here.

6.  Hotter than a witch’s cuckoo here… Yikes!   Like 3 Ken dolls in an Easy Bake Oven.

7.  Taxi’s are dirt cheap… so awesome…  of course, they don’t speak English and you can’t tell them where you are wanting to go… but once you work that out… dirt cheap…

8.  It’s true… they stop you on the street and want to take your picture… Especially Buck… He might as well be Justin Bieber.  Very funny.  They like to hug him and touch his hair.

9.  Subway is fast and spotless…. If you can figure out which station you are going to.

10.  Not only is McDonalds, Coca Cola, and KFC everywhere… so is Ikea.

11.  The rumors are not true… I have yet to see sheep, goats or chickens on any domestic or international flight.

12.  The Neon signs and automated billboards are something right out of Blade Runner.  Super cool.  They just have to work out the flying cars and they’ll have it down…

 

On to Hong Kong….

Posted by JD in China, 5 comments

The Toughest Part is Good-Bye…

As we board the plane headed for Shanghai, I reflect on the last few weeks with a sense of wonder.  What a truly profound experience.  The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City… all seem to pale in comparison to meeting our new family and friends at The New Hope Foundation.

It’s beginning to dawn on me that the toughest part of our journey will be the “good-byes”.  Saying farewell to our new pals was pure anguish.    Ray-Ray, Au Jun, Mao Mao, Luke, Shannon, Katie, Dr. Joyce and Robin, Dr. Steve & The Martins, The Moore Family, all the mamas ( nurses) and so many others.

My kids and I have had the great honor of experiencing the lives of some remarkable children.  Each one welcomed us, allowed us to be part of their daily routines, shared their warmth, their laughter, their tears… I know it sounds a tad melodramatic, but I’m at a loss for how else to express the immensity of our experience and love for these kids.

These guys aren’t just your average kids.  As fate would have it, they have been lucky enough to be taken in by the New Hope Foundation … their lives changed forever.   Each of these kids comes with a tragic tale of abandonment, physical challenge, and very little hope for a future.

But because the stars aligned, or god blessed them, or the random-ness of the universe would deem it so, these guys won the lottery thanks to Dr. Joyce and Robin Hill.  Saved from either sure death or an uncertain existence of pain and suffering, these kids have received the medical attention to either walk again, smile again, talk again, see again, or just to live again.  And it’s all topped with a ton of loving kindness and nurturing from the incredible staff at The New Hope Foundation.

My experience with these kids is hard to describe.  Quiet moments with them sitting on my lap, or carrying them in my arms, or just waving and smiling from across the room… from playing in a plastic ball pit, to the jungle gym outside, or swimming with the kids in the pool.  Greeted in the morning with Ni Hao… which means hello… with smiles… hugs, extended hands with the hopes of being held… all this has truly had a deep effect on me.  Cathartic really…

See, I fancied myself a guy who knew the world.  Who had a rough and tumble childhood myself with tons of tragedy of my own.   With a loss of both of my parents by the age of 8, I thought I had joined the ranks of hard knocks…

But I’m the luckiest man alive… I have two beautiful healthy boys, my own health, a cool career, friends and family that are there for me…. Life is good.  I have a new gauge in which to count my blessings.

And still one has to think of all the kids who don’t have the good fortune of being one of the chosen few at New Hope.  Of the kids all over the world who still suffer and sit at death’s door without someone to come along and save them.  I wish for a million New Hope Foundations…   I guess there will always be kids to save on the planet….  I honor the people that find it in the hearts to be selfless and make a difference.

Here is the link to a short film on The New Hope Foundation:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvMME-2dJ40

Oh, yeah,   The Great Wall was awesome.  I took a moment to remember my tribe who spoke up and were heard at Tiananmen Square… Got a kick out of standing in front of the huge picture of Mao hanging over the entrance to The Forbidden City….   And walking through the Forbidden City made me want to see The Last Emperor again and wish I could have lived at that time and experienced the majesty of all that… of course as royalty….

So we are being spoiled on two fronts.   The joys of experiencing the awe of different sights and cultures, and secondly and most importantly,  the joys of being of service.  I hope that our efforts here abroad make a small dent in these angels hearts… because they have opened ours fully.

We’ll be in Shanghai for a few days and then on to Hong Kong to meet the doctors who actually do the surgeries on these kids.   Their’s is an interesting story which I’ll report on from there.

And, of course, I’ll give you an update in Shanghai….   Anxious to check it out and the boys and I will look out for Shanghai Lil.   We’ll let you know if we come across her.

P.S. –  Big Shout out to LEGO!   They came through with their promise and Buck has been giving out huge shipments of Lego to all the kids.  The kids in our locations are loving them!

Guess the joys of Lego is just universal!!!  Play on….

Posted by JD in China, 14 comments

Walking The Talk at The New Hope Foundation

We are so honored to being working here at The New Hope Foundation in Beijing.  The purpose of this particular facility is to prepare abandoned  babies, and kids from orphanages, for surgery,  to help arrange their medical procedures and for their post-op observation and recovery.   Most of the children have cleft palates, club feet, bowel or bladder disorder, or other serious ailments.

Through the vision and big hearts of Dr. Joyce and Robin Hill, this amazing place was created.   Check out the website: http://www.hopefosterhome.com/     If you are able to donate or sponsor a child, this is the place to do it!  I’m experiencing it first hand and this place is the real deal.  This husband and wife are saints, truly.  They are doing all they can in their power to save these kids lives and give them homes.  It’s so inspiring.

I have so many stories to tell of our stay so far, but I want to focus on one.  A number of these special needs kids have been linked up with an adoptive family after their procedures are done and they have recooperated.  There are about 20 kids that I love with all my heart here.   Most have families waiting for them.

Which leads me to Ray Ray.  That’s kind of his English name.   This kid is amazing and my great buddy.  Ray Ray has the coolest spirit.  Really happy, soulful, deep, cool… hard to describe in words.  Everyone just “gets” him. I certainly do.  We just have this major connection.   He doesn’t have the use of his legs.  He has arthrogryposis, which is a disorder, but that doesn’t stop him.  With his arms (which he has limited use of) he scoots himself across the floor to you. His spirit is so powerful.  He has the best smile, plus he just knows who he is… has a real sense of himself.  I will be posting video of him shortly.

If anyone knows of a family that is interested in adopting a special needs child, please, personally let me know.  Ray Ray deserves a family who will give him the love he deserves.  Believe me, that family will be blessed a thousand fold. He is the greatest guy and would be a great joy to any family.

We had the good fortune of going up to visit The Great Wall with Dr. Steve, another saint, and his family.  Dr. Steve let us sit in on the procedure to fix club feet.   Another man who is doing great work in the world!  Bravo, Dr. Steve.  My boys and I are huge fans of this guy.

I will post more in the next day or so…

Posted by JD in China, 6 comments

Twelve Things I’ve Learned While In Beijing.

1.  I haven’t a clue what anyone is saying when they speak Chinese. I mean not a clue….

2.  Real Chinese food is awesome…. but Mystery Meat is not exclusive to Moscow, Russia.  It’s available here too!!!  I’m starting to feel like it might be available globally… Yikes.

3.  Charlotte, NC  is not the most humid place on earth.

4.  Ice Cream tastes good in any country.

5.  There are people on the planet who care deeply and are dedicating their lives to helping others.   So inspiring.

6.  My heart has exploded with love in a small village on the outskirts of Beijing.  I’m so lucky to experience it with these amazing kids.  Nothing is better than being greeted each morning with smiles and open arms.

7.  My sons are compassionate, caring boys and I’m really proud of how gentle and kind they are with kids less fortunate.  Rock on, Lewis Boys!

8.  I cannot lie, I miss climate control.  Alot.

9.  Clubbed feet can be fixed in infants and toddlers by putting them in casts and helping them to re-form their feet… then cutting the achilles tendon and then wearing braces.  These lucky kids who are being helped here.  They’re given the gift of being able to walk.  Bravo to Dr. Joyce, Robin and Dr. Steve!   Three real life heroes!

10.  The old people in the village have so much character in their faces and so much soul in their smiles.  I only wish I could speak their language and hear their stories.  Want to just get off my bike and hug them all. Such amazing people.

11.  Los Angeles does not have a patent on smog and/or poor air quality or traffic.  Trust me.

12.  China is booming!   Things are happening here.  In fact, so much so, that they are trying to slow down the boom so it doesn’t escalate too fast.

Posted by JD in China, 3 comments

Here at The New Hope Foundation in China!

Hey folks.  Here at Hope Healing Home just outside of Beijing.  Dr. Joyce and her husband, Robin, are our gracious hosts.  Talk about an inspiring couple.  These are two people who are truly “walking the talk”. This orphanage is amazing!  So beautifully run. The kids are all indoors in a beautiful air conditioned building.   The volunteers stay out in Yurts (super cool).  The facility is spotless and the staff are terrific. This location helps orphans who are in need of medical attention.  There is a large staff, including a number of medical doctors.

We have been holding the babies, playing with the toddlers and just getting adjusted to being in China. Please check out the website and help or donate if you can.  http://www.hopefosterhome.com There is a wish list on the website for things they are in need of.  If you are moved to want to create a care package for this location, let me know.  And, if you are feeling like you might want to volunteer, this is a great location.   Pictures and much more news to follow.

Posted by JD in China, 5 comments

The Slow Train to Beijing has arrived!!!

The Trans-Siberian Railway Experience.

We arrive at a crowded, blazing hot train platform in Moscow around 9pm.  Our Mission: The Trans-Siberian Railway to Beijing, China.  We are being seen off by our Russian friends, Elena and Vikie.  The unwashed train pulls in sluggishly to a stop at Platform #4. From the looks of this tired Little Engine That Could, I assess that we are in deep trouble. A crew of Chinese train personnel disembark and line up at the carriage entrances, not actually looking like a commercial for the Beijing Olympics. They are a daunting bunch, none of them looking particularly happy, or able or willing to speak English.  I plaster on my big Hollywood smile and American charm to absolutely no avail.
They take our tickets and we climb aboard.  Down a long, dimly lit hallway, we finally arrive at compartment Number 5. We have berth 17, 18, and 19.  There is room for one more in our compartment for four, berth Number 20.  Please God, no!  As we slide the door open, I know we are in for an adventure.  The cramped space with two upper beds and two lower beds might as well have flames shooting out of it.  My first attempt at opening the window fails miserably.  I mutter, “Oh, Shit…” under my breathe, so as not to have the kids hear…  not the “S” word, they’ve heard that plenty of times before, but the fact that I might be perceived as being negative from the “get-go” on the longest train trip in the world, that we are about to embark on.  A small fan attached to the wall above the window is on and blowing a scorching breeze through the cabin.  “Oh, a fan…  cool!”  A little part of me dies inside.

I go out into the hallway to see it there might be a tad more oxygen there and I come across the cabin attendant.  I mutter, in a hopeless attempt, “Air conditioning?” He just smiles and shakes his head no.  “American?” he asks. “Yes”, I smile, hoping that might be interesting to him.  He just chuckles and turns around and walks off.
My boys, Jackson, 14 and Buck, 8, seem to be more available to the adventure than I, so I attempt “rally mode” and suck it up to the best of my ability.  With sweat dripping down my face and our “way too much luggage” safely stored under our beds, we wave good-bye to our friends on the platform from the carriage entrance. With a cross between a war-time wave to soldiers off to war and the look of “they’re goners” on their faces, Elena and Vikie fade into the distance.  As I return to our berth, I’m emotional for some reason, maybe fearfull, over-heated or perhaps just exhaustion. For better or for worse, we’re off.  I find some comfort in the fact that no one has claimed the 4th bed in our compartment, at least not here at Moscow Station.
I lay on the bottom bunk in the blistering heat, knowing damn well that there is no way I’m going to be able to handle this for 6 night and 7 days. I begin plotting our exodus, perhaps in Omsk, where we were originally planning to visit a baby orphanage before some confusing Russian bureaucracy stood in the way.  In complete abandon, I fall into a bit of a zen state or heat coma, I’m not sure which.  Enthusiastically, Jackson says, “Let’s try and open the window” and my faint and hopeless response with ultimate despair, “ They don’t open”.  “Sure they do…” and he hits a latch on the window and down it goes.  “Thank you, Lord Jesus”, literally comes out of my mouth.
We have departed promptly at 9:51pm and now waddling down the tracks at 10:30pm, we leave the lights of Moscow behind us. With the excitement of a first train ride, the boys jump from top bunk to top bunk, looking out the window, wanting a snack, where’s the bathroom, pass me my iPod… while I try hard to lay quietly in the bottom berth, breathing deeply, trying to figure out how to best explain to the boys that our journey would abort within 24 hours somewhere in the middle of Siberia.
Having had a full day of activities in Moscow, around midnight we settled into our smaller than twin-size, hung from the wall, harder than concrete, sleeping berths.   When I say harder than concrete… there is no exaggeration.   My hips are literally aching. This is also confirmed the next morning, by two English lesbians a few cars down who are both complaining of the same issue. Thank god it was not just me and the on-set of old age. With our compartment door double locked, the boys in their beds, and the fan and window doing what it can do to blow what feels like napalm on us, we drift off to a “fit-ish” sleep.
Much to my surprise, like Christmas in July, I awake in the middle of the night to actually need the sheet and blanket crumpled at the foot of my bed.  Buck gets up to ask for help with his as well. Yes, there is a god! The elements are giving us a reprieve.
I lay in my concrete cot, a bit chilly, gazing out the window as anonymous towns as they pass us by.  The train’s haunting echoes go from being annoyingly head splitting, to surprisingly soothing.  They seem to whisper … “I think I can, I think I can….”.  I fall back into a chekovian slumber.
As if we’ve fallen from the sky in a shack on a bad witch, my boys and I awake to a Technicolor paradise.  Morning offers up a stunning array of Russian country-sides, so much so, that my two American kids even noticed.  “Look, Dad, isn’t it cool.”  “Yeah” replies the other.  “Cool” doesn’t do it justice.  Lush landscapes with an occasional unpainted wooden house with faded green and blue painted shutters.  In the yard of these homes is the occasional  women tending to her garden in what I can only describe as “Babooshka” skirt, sweater and scarf.   It seems staged for our benefit.  I marvel at the fact that these people actually live here in the countryside, tending a garden in the middle of Russia.  The simplicity of their lives is so massively appealing.  And, we are only one night and one early morning out of Moscow.
As with real live fairy tales, some harsh realities must rear their uglies… and this story is no exception.  With the need to pee, comes the realization that we are not in OZ at all, but on a long distance out-dated commuter train from Moscow to Beijing.  I enter the tyanet (toilet).  Yikes. Water (I think) on the floor, a beyond unpleasant stench, and a toilet that looks well used, to say the least.  I stand on the moist floor hoping beyond hope that the water does not reach my feet in flip-flops as I pee.  Wait, it gets better…  There is a pedal to flush the toilet on the floor.  I gently take my open toed foot and depress the lever to experience something that still has me amazed.  The flush opens up the toilet straight onto the tracks.  Yes, below me I actually see the tracks… My mind is reeling.  I’m peeing right on the Russian railroad tracks…  for real. Wow.  What about shitting?  Holy shit. Are Russian’s pissed off when they walk the tracks?  Do they not walk the tracks in Russia?  Then I begin thinking, “Is that how it is in America??” All those years, as a kids, flattening coins on the tracks by my house… was I wading in urine and shit.  No, it can’t be.  It’s America, right?  Each time I use the bathroom on this sojourn, my mind wanders between the Russian locals and my youth.
Returning to our compartment after a mind-blowing rest room experience, I spy that the natives are restless.  “What’s for breakfast?”
We take out the groceries that we have bought the night before at a Moscow Super Market.  Well, not really a Super Market.  More like a confusing local grocery mart where we haven’t a clue what we are buying.  Is it butter or some sort of cheese?  Is it water with or without gas?  Are those cookies or dog biscuits?  We are clueless Americans.
So this morning, we dig into a loaf of bread, some cheese spread (which we thought was margarine), and some sort of empanadas with mystery meat in them. I have to be honest, the empanadas (forgive me for not knowing the Russian name) are not a big hit.  American kids and adults like to identify their meat before ingesting it. Between the three of us we could not get a positive ID on it. Maybe lamb, beef, camel, dog… who knows.  I’m assuming that the six other meat pies that we bought, because they were  convenient and we thought would keep, will go into the trash.  I feel weird offering them to the Italians staying in our neighboring berth.
So the lazy days of train riding go by… Gazing out the window, reading, drawing, playing words games, arguing, chiding, dealing with a cough, constipation and only one major melt-down.. But the joy factor is off the carts.  My kids and I are really spending time together… we have no choice.   And guess what?  It’s really fun.  My teen can’t call his girlfriend or get on Facebook, my little one can’t sneak off to play with the kids next door or zone out on Power Rangers, and I can’t return emails or chat with LuAnne or Kristina for hours on end.  So, with nowhere to hide, we have the pleasure of getting to know each other better. I don’t want to sugar coat it.  It’s not Mayberry.  My older son still pulls an attitude when asked to write in his journal, my younger one is bored more times than not, and I have the hourly mood swing, but beside that we are definitely groovin’.
The greatest part is the mutual appreciation of the whole experience.  Even though we were warned about the dangers of the long train ride across the tundra: the thieves, the boredom, the dirty bathrooms, no air conditioning, and no one speaking English, we are having a great time.  The scenic aspect is off the chart.  I was under the impression that Siberia was a vast wasteland of endless dry fields and an occasional ice station.  That is so not the case.  It is lush and green this time of year, with so many different types of landscapes.  The swaying fields of green, gold and lavender, to small townships of rugged homes painted in blues and greens, to major industrial cities on rivers, to hills and rugged mountains.  I said to Jackson today that parts of it remind me of what “The Old West” must have looked like.
And then of course the people we have met on the train…. Well, I’ll start with the run in on the café car.  The two people working in the café car are characters.  Brilliant story… went in the first day for a coffee and an apple juice with Buck (Jack decided to take a nap) and the bill came, it was 250 Rubles.  The next day I go in, this time with Jackson, and order the same exact thing.  This time the bill comes at it’s 360 Rubles.  I ask the waitress why…  She says something in Russian, I reply, “That’s not working for me” and give her the international charades symbol for let me see the menu.  I show her the price in the menu and, get this, (wouldn’t even have believed if I saw it in a movie), she takes the sheet out of the menu, crosses the price off and say they no longer have it at that price. We have a multi-lingual argument and eventually I just laugh and give her 300 Rubles for having the balls of a bull and we go back to our cement cots, having done the dance.
With that being the only shady dealings, we have met some great people.  First our steward, a Chinese man who speaks no English, after “smiling him into submission” took a liking to the kids and me.  Now he let’s us charge our iPods and computer in his private cabin with an electrical outlet.  We are feeling a tad spoiled.
The Italians next door are super cool and the girl next door on the other side is from Mongolia.  She has fallen for Buck and spends a lot of time doting on him.  And there’s the Dutch family… the father has just turned 50, so he is taking his wife and kids on a camping trip to Ulan Bator, Mongolia.   Didn’t know there was camping there but apparently it’s very popular and you stay in Yerts.  The 15 year-old daughter seems to have eyes for Jackson.  He’s playing it cool though, see, he’s got a girl state-side waiting for him.
Then there’s the girl from Dublin, who’s in her late 20’s who’s traveling by herself from Dublin to Beijing then Thailand and on to New Zealand. There’s the very handsome Parisian aristocrat, Justin mid-thirties, who tells us his take on their President and Carla Bruni.  It’s like an international smorgasbord.  How thankful am I that English seems to be the international language. Phew!
The train is comforting to me. I feel safe… protected.  Twice or three times a day, we stop at a train station where vendors sell their wares… from those mystery meat pies (can’t recommend them), to ice cream, juices, water, yak yak (my kid’s new favorite dessert), and even sweaters and shoes.  It’s an adventure… not scary even with the language barrier.  I don’t care what anyone says, it’s all good. And the ace in my back pocket, I’ve learned the secret…a smile goes a long way.  I guess it’s a universal thing.
We have now left Russia and Siberia behind us, and have crossed over into Mongolia. We successfully made it through the passport check and border patrol.  How is it that as a grown man, the minute an immigration officer boards the train to check your papers, you feel like a helpless 6 year-old.  I guess that in the back of my mind, for reasons unknown, they can yank me off by your feet, never to be seen again.  That, by the way, was not our experience.
In the belly of Mongolia now, we are experiencing the Gobi Desert. Can you believe it?  The Lewis boys are smack dab in the middle of the freakin’ Gobi desert! As the heat begins to return to our cabin, we spy a family of camels in the distance in this barren, arid land of rolling hills.  Camels, holy cow!

I’m assuming when we arrive in Beijing mid-day tomorrow, our cabin will be piping hot, like it was when we began this journey 6 days ago in Moscow. Seems only fair….   We survived it, we didn’t abort half way, we’re richer for having done the dance, and thankful for the experience.
Check Russia off the list…. Time is moving so quickly as our slow train to China approaches The Great Wall….
Peace, from the Love Revolution.  jd, jackson and buck

Posted by JD in China, 18 comments

A Slow Train To China….

We leave tonight on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Beijing.  Holy cow!  The kids and I finally came to the conclusion that we should do it.  It’s like extreme sports, I guess.  It is the longest railway on the planet.  We will be on the train for a full 6 nights, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise. Yikes!  Then we will arrive in Beijing on August 1st, and then on to our next project.  Foundation of Hope will meet us at the station at 2pm.  This is an orphanage for kid with physical challenges. Should be amazing.  The kids and I are really looking forward to it!

Buck and Jack on Red Square – Moscow, Russia

Moscow has been amazing.  We have had the great pleasure of spending time with Elena Korenova, a very well-known and successful actress here in Russia.  I worked with this unbelievably talented woman in Los Angeles many years ago.  She is such an interesting woman, and so much fun to be around with all of her great stories, and just her remarkable take on life.  Elena, you are the best!  She came to our rescue here, showing us Moscow and taking us to amazing meals all over town.  The highlight was going to eat at the Writer’s Restaurant. It was something out of a “period film”.  Stunningly beautiful and filled with the history of Russia writing and acting.  We met a number of well-known Russian actors there.  Was a real treat. Also, a big thanks to Elena’s friend, Vikie Chilap for her help as well. She is also a talented actress with a huge future ahead of her. She helped us buy our train tickets, which would have been basically impossible without her. Bravo, Vikie!

Besides that, we have been doing the sight-seeing thing.  Hanging out at Red Square (The Kremlin, Lenin Mausoleum, Gum, and St. Basil’s Cathedral), saw the headquarters of The KGB, along with Arbat Street, and The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.  Many beautiful things to see.  Also the Metro (the underground) is a sight in itself.  Very clean, very efficient.

Since there will be no internet on the slow train to China… we’ll post in a week or so, when we arrive in Beijing.   Wow!  Arriving in China.  Craziness…    Thanks again for all your emails, posts, contributions, and encouragement.  The boys and I send you all our love.

Jack and Buck in front of The Kremlin

We are truly having a once in a life time experience. Shooting tons of video, which I apparently will have plenty of time to edit into something on a very loooong train ride starting tonight.  We are learning so much…  The boy’s favorite thing of all, of course, is hanging out with all the kids.  The language barrier doesn’t seem to be a big issue. Kids are kids… and kids just want to have fun!

We continue to meet so many extraordinary people. It’s been quite an adventure so far.

Now on with The Love Revolution!

Peace,  jd, jack and buck….

Posted by JD in Russia, 7 comments

Twelve Observations From Russia

1.  The mullet is alive and well and featured on the heads of many Russian men (and a few women).

2. Most Russian women wear high heels… even when walking on century-old cobble stone streets.  And they do it flawlessly, I might add.  I think the trick is to concentrate on walking on the balls of your feet and don’t let the heel part hit the ground….but I could be wrong.

3.  Central air conditioning has not been discovered on this side of the planet.  And ice is scarce as well.  I think it might be an over-reaction to their very long, brutally cold winters.

4.  History is everywhere you look… the architecture, the monuments, the statues, the museums.   They take great pride in preserving history and they have been around for way longer than the states.  Way longer…

5.  Communism truly meant communal. Up until about 20 years ago, most families had a room on a floor of an apartment building with shared bathrooms and kitchens…. a lot of people here still live like that, where three to five families share living space.   It’s like living in a dorm way after college.  Arghh…

6.   The mosquito is alive and well and thriving in Russia.   (And so are Britney Spears and Lady GaGa.)

7.   You get about 28 Rubles to the dollar.  Rent is expensive but other things like food are fairly reasonable.   We haven’t found the 99 Rubles store yet though.

8.  Of all the places we could have found to stay in Moscow, how is it possible that we found a place right across the street from The Moscow Arts Theater and the home of Stanislavski.  There are no mistakes in the universe!  (And a 1/2 block away from the only Starbuck’s I’ve ever seen in all of Russia… truly no mistakes in the universe!)

9.  I miss our dogs… and they would love it here.  Dogs are not required to have leashes and they are super well trained.  I may have to ship Woody and Jessie to Moscow Dog Camp.   Just a side note… dogs bark in the same language worldwide.  They’ve worked it out.

10.  The Metro rocks!  Getting around is easy and the trains are spotless here in Russia.  Of course, it’s summer and it is a little bit like riding in an Easy Bake Oven, but convenient.

11.  Did I mention that no one speaks English?  But then I put it into prospective.  If I were in K-Mart in the states, how many people would I find that spoke Russian.

12.  St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square is just awesome… No other words to describe it.  And it’s right next to Gum… the most rockin’ mall with an Apple Store, Dyson’s High Tech Fan and Vacuum store, Levi store, and more!

Posted by JD in Russia, 13 comments

Heading To Moscow!!!

It seems nearly impossible that we have been in St. Petersburg for 10 days.  It went by so fast.  We have had an extraordinary time working with Transit.  I’m so grateful to the amazing staff.  A special thanks to Olga Tumashevich for being the best interpreter a guy could ask for.  The hardest part is saying good-bye to all the kids here who have welcomed us into their world.

Dani

I’m going to especially miss Igor and Dani (pictured to the left)… 6 and 7 year-old brothers who have really touched my heart.  Their mother wasn’t able to care for them, so she brought them to Transit.  She visits once a week, while she gets her life together. They both came to me the first day and jumped on my lap and greeted the boys and I with such enthusiasm every morning. You guys, the stories of these kids are amazing. Another of my favorite kids was Rova.  He is a gypsy.  He tells me gypsies are very clever and buy colorful clothes and their lives have many possibilities.  Love that!!!   Another amazing story… a girl who was sent to St. Petersburg at 17 from Nigeria to work the streets and send home money.  Her passport was stolen and she was living here with no papers and nowhere to live.  Transit is helping her to get back to Nigeria and hopefully start a better life. I was able to get her brother on the phone in Nigeria today.  She looked at me with such thanks in her eyes. It really touched me.

Our Friends From Transit

They took the kids camping last week, two hours outside of St. Petersburg.  They slept in tents by a lake.  But the tents were in really bad condition with holes in them and the kids were eaten alive by mosquitoes.  One of my goals is to help them create a camp for the kids.  I’m committed to get Transit, two 4-man tents and one 2- Man tent and some sleeping bags.   They can be used…. just functional without holes.     If anyone feels moved to help with the tents, let me know and we can work out the logistics. These people are working so hard for these kids and making next to nothing, salary-wise.  It’s truly a labor of love.  If you could meet the staff here, it would blow your mind.  They treat these kids with such respect and kindness.  Apparently, that is not the norm in a lot of the group homes here.

The Mariinsky Theatre

Tonight after Transit, we were invited to the Opera at the Mariinsky Theatre. Everything you could imagine in a Russia theatre… beautifully ornate and oozing with theatre history.  And tomorrow, before we take the 1am train to Moscow, we are going to see St. Isaac’s Cathedral, The Hermitage Museum and The Church of The Savior on Spilled Blood, three big sites here in this beautiful city.

Only the first stop on the Love Revolution and already I’m feeling like it’s a miracle trip.  To all that are supporting this effort, you are rockstars.  We couldn’t be doing this without you.   Spread the word to friends and family.  The more support the better.   Tomorrow I have a phone interview with Parade Magazine.  Very exciting.

More to follow…  From Russia with love.  jd and the boys.

Posted by JD in Russia, 4 comments

10 Things I’ve Learned So Far On My Travels.

1.  Alway pack an umbrella and water-proof shoes!

2.  Many, many people do not speak English.

3.  Kids are beautiful whatever country you are in.

4.  McDonald’s is everywhere on the planet.

5.  Hair do’s and shoe styles are not universal.

6.  Always pack tons of soap, shampoo and mosquito repellent….

7.  Russian school girls on vacation in a hostel stay up very, very late…

8.  Mystery Meat is a common staple in Russia and served in all restaurants.

9.   When in doubt… smiling seems to work the best.

10.  Russians seem tough at first but are really softies and super kind hearted with wicked senses of humor!

Posted by JD in Russia, 9 comments

To Russia With Love…

The Eagle has indeed landed!  We have arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia.  We are staying at a hostel.  The experience, though a bit rough, is making me feel like a kid again.  Bunk beds and communal living… perfect for the whole Russian experience. The kids are loving it.  The people here were very guarded when we first checked in but now the staff and boarders are like a second family.   Have met so many cool people… Photographers, artists, travelers, some young girls in their 20’s who came from Belzarus to St. Petersburg to see Jared Leto’s band, “60 Seconds to Mars” and an array of other interesting characters.    Another cool thing… it’s White Nights in St. Petersburg… so it gets dark about 1 am and gets light around 4 am.  Very cool!

But the dream come true is our work here.  We are thrilled to be working at Transit, a remarkable organization.  It is an orphanage that takes in homeless kids who have run away to the big city, and helps to place them in homes.  As you can probably imagine, it took about ten minutes for the kids and I to fall in love with each and everyone of them.  Daniel, my big pal, came up to me immediately and grabbed my hand (and my heart) and hasn’t let go.  He and his twin, Igor, are two amazing 7 year olds.  The thought of heading to our next city and saying good bye to these guys is excruciating.

Each child has a story and has been through so much, but the beauty is that they all have incredible spirits and have so much fun at Transit. We have been doing gymnastics, playing ping pong, watching videos, playing games.  On Monday, I’m going to teach an acting class with the kids, doing improv and theater games.  I think they are excited about it.

The staff has been wonderful.  These kids at Transit are so lucky to have these genuinely kind people in their lives, who are truly concerned for them and treat them with love and respect.  All of you out there, hug a kid today, and give them some love and encouragement.  And let them know that they are valuable and important.  I’m giving the hugs out here in St. Pete…

And again, to all of you who have supported our project, my gratitude is immeasurable.   More to follow…

Posted by JD in Russia, 13 comments

We are off and running!

Finally… The amazing dream realized!  The boys and I are off and running. We left Charlotte, NC, this morning with perhaps a few too many bags.  We have arrived in New York City, safe and sound and will spend the weekend here. Very exciting.  We are staying with my dear friend, Bob Kanter, an Emmy Award winning documentary film producer.  This evening we had a slice of authentic NY pizza and I have promised the boys a visit to the Natural History Museum tomorrow.  We are going to see if we can volunteer at a shelter down the street from us on Saturday.  Sunday we are headed to Berlin and then St. Petersburg, Russia.  It’s truly happening and we are on our way!  To all of you who have supported this project, my sons and I are beyond grateful.  Your hard work and encouragement has made this “once in a lifetime” journey possible.  Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!   More to report shortly… after I get some sleep…  Packing up your entire life, making arrangement to leave a place for a year, and then flying with two kids can take it out of ya!  Night.

Posted by JD in * Making A Difference!!, 14 comments

One Week Until Lift-Off!

A week away!  It’s truly amazing to me that in 7 days, the boys and I will be heading out on the adventure of a lifetime, jumping into the void of the great unknown.  It’s unsettling at best, but the possibilities of discovery are endless.  I know that my sons and I will come back different people… that much is a given.  Here’s a little inside information:  I have been really emotional and crying alot, not just because I’m a tad scared and sad to leave my life and people I love behind, but because I feel like something remarkable, extraordinary, and profound is about to take place and at times my feelings are overwhelming.

We fly out of JFK  and have a layover in Berlin, where Jackson will celebrate his 14th birthday.  He wants to go to the Berlin Wall, or at least check out what is still left of The Wall.  He’s going to do a video blog on the subject, which I think will be really cool.

Then we are off to St. Petersburg, Russia for our first volunteer job.  We will be working with “Transit”.  It’s an organization that helps homeless teens transition from being on the street to being placed in foster care.  We are really looking forward to helping there.

We are so grateful to all the people who have made this journey possible. I want to thank a few by name:   Robert Shapiro, Ed Smith, Bo Henderson, Ed Springs, Liz Branca, Lisa MacLeish, LuAnne Bernier, Scott Pacitti, Kristina Haddad, Esther Benjamin, Rachel Woodhouse, Valerie Bobo, Sue Sanford, Jennifer Taylor, Michael Lightweaver, Peter Cipkowski, Bert Woodard, Jay Everette, Scott Galiher, Les Satinover, Lindsey Moser, Linda Britt, Patti Price and to every single actor at The Actor’s Lab – Charlotte, who has encouraged me every week to plow through it.  I love you all.

Okay, Jack and Buck, time to start packing…  Let’s begin The Lewis and Lewis and Lewis Expedition!

We’ll keep you all posted.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…. jd

Posted by JD in * Making A Difference!!, 2 comments

And The Blog Goes On….

It has been a tough couple of weeks.  The boys and I moved from our three-bedroom house in Plaza Midwood to a one-room efficiency apartment with no air conditioning.  That in itself was quite an adjustment.  We wanted to get everything in storage and get used to living in small quarters…  But then all hell broke loose.

My aunt and uncle who raised me my entire life both passed away 2 weeks apart.  And in between that, I was diagnosed with a carcinoma on my lip and had to have two surgeries.  …one to remove a lymph node in my neck (which came back negative, thank God) and another to cut out the cancer on my lip.  The good news…  all is well and it’s all taken care of even though currently I look like Angelina Jolie.  It has felt like a spiritual battle…  as if the dark forces were trying to get in the way of us going out and making a difference in the world.

Isn’t it interesting how things end up working out?  I had mentioned to my sister six months ago how I was concerned about leaving my elderly aunt and uncle behind while we did this trip.  Now they have both passed on.  It’s like they moved on to pave the way for what we are about to do.  Though the loss is great, I feel that it’s part of a master plan.  And as far as the lip…  The doctor said that I was incredibly lucky to have caught it before I left for a year abroad.  Truly, I am the luckiest man alive.

Enough squawking.  Back to preparing for the great journey!

So now we are slowly getting back on track.  We have a little more than 3 weeks left until we ship out.  It has crept up on us quickly.  We are getting used to living in small quarters, though I do have to admit, it’s a bit cramped and hot.  By the way, the neighbors at our new place have been incredibly kind and baked us cookies and have been so welcoming.

Our visas are almost all in order, we have most of our immunizations done and we are preparing for the home stretch.  If you have ever taken a trip, you know that it seems like you are never going to get everything done before you leave.   Well, it REALLY feels that way to me.  Leaving for a year, there is so much to get in order.

But I have made the To-Do list and I have been checking things off each day…. And come July 1st, we will be on our merry way.

We are still raising funds and will continue to do so as the trip progresses.  If our mission resonates with you, please donate here on the website.   Until the next blog… Coming soon.  jd

We will be posting a video blog this week as well.

Posted by JD in * Making A Difference!!, 0 comments

And The Weekly Blog Begins…

Jackson simply said, “Shouldn’t we be trying to make a difference in the world”.  Now he’s learning that words and ideas are powerful things.  Not every idea sees the light of day, but this one had a certain spark that caught, and now we stand watching in amazement as it unfolds.  It’s really thrilling.  I have to say, I’m really proud of the fact that I have two sons who actually care about the world around them.

The planning process continues to be overwhelming at times.  I can’t begin to tell you how many days I can hardly get out of bed because the task just seems too daunting and frightful.  That’s when the belief your children have in you, is bigger than your own belief in yourself.  See, my kids continue to believe I can do great things…  they haven’t quite figured out I’m just a scared kid like them, who’s acting like a grown up because that’s my job.  I guess sometimes you just have to fake it ’til you make it… for the boys.

So let’s see… What’s been going on?  Well, besides meeting with Esther Benjamin of The Peace Corps who gave me great advice on planning this trip… To the wonderful guidance and support of Robert Shapiro, former principal economic adviser to Bill Clinton… To the support and friendship of Peter Cipkowski at Scholastic… I’ve just signed with a great literary agent, Steve Ross, who published Obama’s book – “The Audacity of Hope”.

We have received a grant from Wells Fargo/Wachovia Foundation. We have managed to meet with His Excellency Ambassador Joseph of Haiti, met with The Australian Embassy, had a beautiful e-mail from Yoko Ono, been interviewed by a number of magazines including Creative Loafing in Charlotte, been invited to appear on Fox News Rising, we’re being featured in The Whole Life Times in Los Angeles, yesterday had a phone meeting with the Foreign Policy Dept at The Clinton Foundation,  and just got off the phone with Janet and Fritz in Haiti at Dessaix-Baptiste Music School in Jacmel, where we will be staying and working in June of 2012.

Over the last few months we have organized an incredible group of friends who have worked tirelessly to help put this project together.  And I need to mention them…My dearest Kristina Haddad, Bo Henderson, R.A. Buck, Tony Lydgate, Robert Shapiro, David Kirkpatrick, Duncan Tucker, Bert Woodard, the wise and wonderful Lisa MacLeish, Rachel Woodhouse, Linda Britt, Lindsey Moser, Liz Branca, Jennifer Taylor, Mary & Mike Gutowski, Patrice D. Evans, Paige Hauff, Rebecca Thomason, Kathy Abernathy, Drew Grey, Michael Lightweaver, Francine Popkin, Sue Sandford, Wheelock Whitney… and that’s just to name a few.

Thanks for joining us on this extraordinary journey.  I’m so honored to be able to be part of this grassroots effort.  I know somehow we are going to make a difference.  Perhaps we’ll discover what it means to be a citizen of the world and a member of the human race… not separated by borders, belief systems, skin color, or political doctrine.  The possibilities are endless, don’t you think?

Posted by JD in * Making A Difference!!, 2 comments

And the Journey Begins…

This is our first blog written on Thanksgiving Day, 2010.   My boys and I agreed that we wanted to make a difference in the world, so we came up with the idea of “Twelve in Twelve.”  We will travel to 12 countries in 12 months doing humanitarian work.  In addition, we will shoot a documentary of our travels with the intention of inspiring others to make similar trips.  Our itinerary is as follows:  Russia, India, China, Cambodia, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Australia, South Georgia Island, Paraguay, Peru, and finishing up our tour in Haiti.  After that, we will live in Mississippi for a month to document the poverty in our own country.

With the help of so many people and the generous contributions of individuals and corporations, we will make this trip a reality.  My goal is to encourage others to do their part in making a difference in the world.  We all know that there are huge global issues facing our planet, but so few of us are aware of how we, as individuals, can actually help.  With our documentary, I hope to shed some light on the pressing needs in different areas of the world and how someone wishing to help, could actually make a difference.

Ultimately, the goal of our project is to set up “The Twelve in Twelve Network.”   We will establish a resource to help guide and assist people who are interested in doing global relief work.  Our organization will serve as a “One-Stop” resource, for everything to do with humanitarian relief work.   We will help plan travel for individuals and families, in terms of their time commitment, low cost travel options, areas of greatest need, kinds of work the traveler wishes to perform, safety and medical concerns aboard, and setting up accommodation and/or host family situations.

I’m excited to go out and see first hand what my boys and I can do to make the world a better place.  I know it won’t be an easy trip, but I want to teach my sons to be the men the world needs. I want to teach them that sometimes you just have to stand up and take some action.  To make a difference is to live a life fully, and that is our intention.

Please join us as the Lewis boys travel all seven continents, from country to country.  We will be posting video and written blogs along the way with what we have learned, discovered, experienced, and how we are attempting to make a difference.

Posted by JD in * Making A Difference!!, 2 comments