Thursday, February 28, 2013

Caring Causes: The Nobelity Project

Through challenges and triumphs, the documentary Building Hope chronicles The Nobelity Project’s construction of the first high school for a remote African community and shows the connections between Americans and Kenyans who believe that education should not end after the 8th grade. As a teacher, I love to support education here and around the world. High school education has been correlated with a variety of positive measures of standard of living, but can be hard to reach in certain areas.

I had a chance to interview the creator, Turk Pipkin, about the project.

1) What inspired you to start The Nobelity Project?
My wife and I had both worked in film and television for many years but felt there were a lot of pressing challenges in the world that were being discussed in mainstream media. Our film Nobelity was based on interviews with nine Nobel laureates and looked at some of the most pressing problems we face in the world. The time and trust we were given by Desmond Tutu and others quickly inspired us to form The Nobelity Project as a global education nonprofit.
 2) What is the biggest difference between your previous work with The Sopranos and your current work?
"Have you heard the good news?" I was fairly certain that the opinions of that crazy narcoleptic guy on The Sopranos was not going to get the reception we needed - hence the solution of relying on distinguished Nobel laureates. But my role as Aaron Arkaway in The Sopranos did make it a lot easier to find the funding to make the first couple of movies, and that enabled us to use the profits from those movies to begin partner projects in Ethiopia, Kenya, India and elsewhere.
3) Why the focus on Mahiga Hope High School?
Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai invited me to come to Kenya to plant trees with the women of The Green Belt Movement. I wanted to plant trees and ended up at Mahiga Primary School - a rural school with mud floors and slat walls and no water for the kids to drink. We partnered with the school to build a purified rainwater system. The power for the purification allowed us to build a computer lab, and the next thing I knew, the community was dreaming big about having a high school. At that point, I didn't realize that education for those kids ended at the 8th grade. Once we decided to build Mahiga Hope High School, our goal was to do it quickly (didn't want to lose one more class of 8th graders) and we wanted to build a beautiful and fully functional school on a tight budget that would show that it is practical for every community to have a high school. I think we were 100% successful.
4) What other initiatives are you currently working on?
Proceeds and attention to Building Hope have already allowed us to expand our work in Kenya. Our Kenya Schools Fund has built water systems, classrooms, libraries and science labs at 17 schools across rural Kenya.
Last year we partnered with the Seva Foundation on a remote surgical camp in Nepa to provide eye surgeries that restored the sight of many blind people, and are following up with a permanent eyecare clinic.
We have tree-planting and conservation partnerships in Kenya, Uganda, Mexico and Texas, where we are working with local high school kids to replant Bastrop State Park, site of the most devastating forest fire in modern Texas history.
And we have a Nobelity In Schools program that works with middle and high school students across the U.S. to engage them with the issues that will shape their futures.  
5) What are some ways for people to get involved?
Students and teachers can enroll in Nobelity in Schools at www.nobelityinschools.rog
We have a very big video channel at
And we encourage everyone to watch Building Hope (or read the book) and see where your passion is to reach out and lend a hand to others - whether in East Africa or East Austin - we're all neighbors, and we all benefit from the help we give and the help we receive. The Building Hope book on the iBookstore is gorgeous. First 7 chapters are a free download.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary DVD as a thank-you for this post.

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