Nobelity Blog

The Nobelity Blog is a running series of reports on the film and education work of The Nobelity Project (, including reports from our partner project Mahiga Hope High School in Kenya, and numerous other school projects from our Kenya Schools Fund. The blog also includes reports on our films, including the recent SXSW Audience Award winner, Building Hope, and on our advocacy for specific issues related to a more sustainable and just world for children everywhere.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Peace, Love and Education!

I’ve just returned from a 7,000 kilometer drive-and-work tour of East Africa and was amazed and inspired by the progress at all 15 of our Kenya School Fund projects. In the arid lands of Samburu, Daaba Primary is a dream come true. A year ago, fifty students were attending outdoor classes in the dust and sun, and climbing 40-feet into a dangerous open well to fill their water jugs with unclean water. The school now has 8 permanent classrooms and - thanks to a new solar-powered well built with our water partners Well Aware – a safe supply of water for the school and community. These accomplishments are even greater in light of a deadly conflict last Fall that over-flowed into this area from the war against Al Shabab in Somalia, shutting down construction for long and frightening months. 

The courage of the community and our contractor has resulted in over two hundred kids enrolled in the school, half of them girls in a Turkana tribal area where girls have rarely received an education. Daaba is as close to a miracle as I can possibly imagine and I will never forget the amazing welcome and thank you’s from this great community. (If you want to visit the school, our partners at the beautiful Sarova Shaba Game Lodge can arrange it.)

A 10-hour drive to the South, the enrollment at Mutaki Primary has more than doubled – 200 students through grade 4. The new classrooms are a thing of beauty, as is the new solar-powered purified rainwater water system. Thanks to the Beebe Family, Mike Mutaki, BR Cohn Winery and one of our favorite bands, The Doobie Brothers, for making this work possible. 
If you’re fans of the Doobies, you could join the work and help us build a 5th grade classroom at Mutaki.

For the first half of my month-long working tour, I was accompanied by Christy and a group of Nobelity Project supporters who were eager to meet great kids and teachers at every stop. Some of the highlights were  – the first permanent classroom at Mogawka Primary, new water systems at numerous schools and site surveys for more to come. and the grand opening of the Joe Gracey Library, Computer and Music lab at Amboni Primary/Simbara Secondary.

Also at Simbara Secondary School, we cut the ribbon and I filmed the first high school chemisty class at the new Ronald F. and William A. Inglehart Science Lab. An extra special thanks goes to John and Tamra Gorman and family for their underwriting this great science lab. We are excited for it to be named in honor of two distinguished scholars, including Nobelist Ronald Inglehart, author of seminal works on global values and gender equality.

Mahiga Hope High School and Primary continue to grow and blossom. Enrollment is now over 600 students in 14 grades from pre-school to Grade 12 (Kenyan Form Four). Our group was welcomed with dance and music performances that have already earned the students special honors in national competitions. We were happy to unpack new AMD/Lenovo computers for the computer lab, and all toured the gardens that are producing at astounding 45 pounds of greens per day, fresh Kale and other veggies that go directly into the giant school lunch pots! These kids are growing their own food and working hard to shape their own futures! The students and the community of Mahiga have become another great building block and a true inspiration in the global work for Universal Secondary Education. 

The last stop of my tour was to return to Mahiga with NPR's great radio reporter John Burnett. Give a listen to his report on All Things Considered that is set at three of our favorite partner schools, including Mahiga.
Click here to listen to John Burnett's NPR/All Things Considered story
on Kenyan Education challenges and triumphs at three of our key high school projects.

If you'd like to support our projects for the coming year, we're still raising funds for mosquito nets, library and textbooks and several new classrooms. Every dollar counts for something good!
Peace, Love and Education!

Turk Pipkin
The Nobelity Project

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Let There Be Sight

Three years ago when I told our friends at the Seva Foundation that The Nobelity Project wanted to sponsor a Seva remote eyesight camp in Nepal, I didn't understand the challenges involved in providing eyesight restoration surgery and other eye care for people living high in the Himalayas. 
From that first commitment to my just-completed journey with Seva, the road to the Num Valley would turn out to be long and challenging, but the results were beyond my greatest expectations.A big note of thanks goes to our Austin supporters Milton Verret, Lee Thomas and their families for generous donations to support the eye camp in Num and – in a wonderful turn of events – a Permanent Eye Care Center in the larger town of Kandhbari. Ongoing support to Seva comes from TOMS Sunglasses and Blake Mycoskie (who we recently presented with The Willie Nelson ‘Feed the Peace” Award).
While The Nobelity Project was focused on funding and preparations to film the camp, Seva was assembling a team of drivers, support staff, nurses and eye doctors who could perform cataract surgeries in the most challenging circumstances.
Five flights from home I stepped bleary-eyed off the small Buddha Air flight in Tumlingtar, Nepal. Our medical team was waiting in three vehicles and we set out on a steep, dusty road into the Himalayas. Loaded with medical equipment, Seva's 4-WD pick-up barely made the climb to the first town before we had to abandon it and find a Land Cruiser that could handle the rough terrain and mountain switchbacks with steep drop-offs thousands of feet high.
(Important note to Land Cruiser – Seva Nepal needs a new vehicle that can safely carry these doctors to tens of thousands more people in need of eye care and the incredible gift of sight.)
As we climbed higher and higher, rain and mud made the road even more treacherous and at times required us to drag the vehicles forward with their own winches, or to mobilize tractors to remove other tractors that were blocking the narrow road.
Just before dark we reached the town of Num ("Noom") where the whole village turned out to welcome us. This would be the first eye care ever in the Num Valley and we soon learned that a number of blind patients had been carried for three and four days through the mountains on their family members’ backs. One woman had been carried from the Tibetan border.
The following morning, over two hundred patients registered for day one of the eye camp, were given basic eye tests, then examined by Dr. Mali Okada, a volunteer MD from Australia, our team leader Ram Kandel, and Dr. Kamal Khadka, Nepals leading eye surgeon. Patients with eye infections and minor injuries were treated as required – from simple antibiotics to their first prescription eyeglasses – and many were diagnosed with severe cataracts in one or both eyes. A number of these had bilateral blindness from their cataracts.

Two hours later, I was in scrubs in a temporary operating room, standing next to Dr. Kamal as he performed intricate surgery after surgery to remove heavy cataracts and restore the patient's vision. With no electricity in the town, the operating scope had to be powered by generator in a waiting area where a line of patients sat calmly before anesthesia then surgery. I may have lost count, but I believe Kamal peformed 23 cataract straight surgeries without taking a break. Dr. Khadka has performed nearly 50,000 cataract surgeries, an inspiring and heroic triumph of man and medicine.
All of these surgical patients were lined up the next morning for the removal of the bandages from their eyes.
"I love this part," Kandel told me excitedly. "When I remove the bandage, I'm the first person this patient has seen in years. The joy in their face makes everything we do worth all the work, and makes me the luckiest person on earth.”
"Hold up your fingers," Kandel told me as he removed a woman's bandage. "Look at the tall man," he told her in Nepali. "How many fingers do you see?"
Tilting her head she focused her vision on my hand until the image came clear. A smile came over her face. "Two!" she told us triumphantly. Then she looked into my eyes, and I had a brief insight into the joy that has guided Kandel’s life for thirty years.
“Grandmother,” Kandel said to her. “Your granddaughter is here with her new baby. Would you like to see them?”
As the family stepped forward, the woman’s gaze fell for the first time on her great-granddaughter and all at once, like a great choir of light, we all began to cry.

Site-blessing and cornerstone ceremony for the new Nobelity Project/Seva Permanent Eye Care Center in Kandhbari. Hearing of our financial contribution for the PECC, the woman on the left donated land for the center and these community leaders committed to raising additional funds through local donations.

You can learn more about the Seva Foundation and make a donation to support their incredible work at:
To connect with The Nobelity Project or to support our work, go to:

(Click on any of the photos to load the full album of images from the Num Remote Eye Camp)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Kenya Schools Fund Needs You (And our Solstice Party does too)

It's the Building Hope Holiday Happy Hour!
Wednesday, Dec 21    5:30 - 7:30  p.m.
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, 107 W. 6th St. Austin
$5 wine and cocktails/half-price appetizers
Turk will be signing the beautiful new book/dvd of Building Hope
Books are also available online at  - a meaningful and beautiful Christmas present that supports our work.

In the past year, we've worked at schools across rural Kenya to build new classrooms, water systems, libraries and computer labs. Your support has provided real hope and opportunity for 3,000 students at the Amboni, Bondeni, Daaba, Honi, Mahiga and Mugaka Schools.

There is more work to be done. To make a tax-deductible year-end gift to fill the following needs, please go to

Library and Computer Labs at the Amboni, Kabiruini or Irbaan schools
$5,000 - build a library or a computer lab (with extra thanks to AMD and Lenovo)
$250 - a shelf full of library books 
$25 - 3 library books including classics in English and Kiswahili

Rainwater System and Classroom at the Mutaki School
$10,000 - build a rainwater collection and purification system
$5,000 - build a new classroom (using bricks made by the parents)

Textbooks for Daaba, Mugaka and Mahiga Schools
$25 - textbooks for two students              
$500 - textbooks for a classroom/grade

Mosquito Nets to prevent malaria at the Talek School
$10 - a life-saving mosquito net for one student sleeping in the dorm      
$100 - nets for ten students 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Building Hope Book/DVD Release Party - What a ride!

Wow - what a ride! Fom the end of our successful Kickstarter campaign for Building Hope to the book/dvd party on Dec 11 we had two months to work miracles. Two months to revise and copyedit a manuscript that tells the story of Mahiga Hope High School and The Nobelity Project (thanks to copy editor Dana Frank for a great job). Two months to design a coffee-table book with nearly 200 color photos from my five continent journey on the past three movies (thanks toDJ Stout and Stu Taylor at Pentagram Design for a gorgeous design). Two months that also had to include full-color printing on a giant Heidelberg Speedmaster Press (thanks to Rob Wallace and everyone at The Whitley Group, including the master printers that worked over the Thanksgiving weekend).

The book is now at Roswell Book Binders in Phoenix (the photographs may be from all over the world but the book and the dvd are Made in America). The DVDs of my film Building Hope will be added to each book by hand. On Sunday, December 11, we celebrate it all at the Big Book Bash. Hope those in Austin can join us from 6 to 9 at El Sol y La Luna on 6th Street for cocktails, great food, fabulous music by Carolyn Wonderland and special guests, and the first opportunity to take home a copy of Building Hope - the book and dvd.

Purchase party tickets and order your copies at

Thanks to everyone who purchased copies on Kickstarter or at If you can't make the party, you can still buy copies at We'll get them off to everyone the week after the big party.

What a ride!  turk

- here's the party invite:

Party with a purpose! The Building Hope Book Bash!
 Sunday, December 11
6 - 9 p.m.   
El Sol y La Luna
600 E. 6th St. Austin

Music by  
Carolyn Wonderland & Special Surprise Guests!
 Great food and cocktails 

A moving and meaningful gift for the holidays. Proceeds support our Kenya Schools Fund - building clean water systems, classrooms and libraries in rural Kenya.
It's a book! Nine months after our new film BUILDING HOPE won the Lone Star Audience Award at SXSW, The Nobelity Project is releasing a book that tells the full story of Mahiga Hope High School and our amazing global journey.  And every  purchase supports our work with rural schools in East Africa. 
Filled with color photos of our work around the world and insights from the Nobel Laureates and other global leaders in our films, this special edition book package also includes an advance DVD of the film the Austin Chronicle calls "Inspirational Redbull for the humanitarian soul." 

 Can't make the party? Order books by Dec. 18th for holiday delivery.   
Thanks to everyone who ordered on Kickstarter! We could't have done this without you.
Love to hear from you if you are interested in making a year-end gift to The Nobelity Project. We have so many new projects underway that every dollar makes a huge difference-from $5 for a library book to $5000 for a library! Contact Christy at or 512-263-7971. 

Many, many thanks from Turk, Christy and the entire team at The Nobelity Project--including a couple of thousand kids in Kenya...  

ps. Save the Date! March 25, 2012 for the Artist and Filmmakers Dinner
Four Seasons Austin.   

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Building Hope - The Book! With DVD of the Movie

As Building Hope continues to play film festivals and win awards – and as we continue to make fast progress on construction projects at ten Kenya schools – we're very happy to announce what may be our most exciting project yet. Why so exciting? Because of the pace that it's happening, because of an innovative new funding model, and because it gives us the chance to tell the full tale of the Nobelity Project and the amazing journey we've been on.

The story of the high school was much bigger than we could tell in one film. The story of the Nobelity Project is bigger than the three feature

films we've made. So we're very happy to announce the publication of a beautiful new coffee table book that is going tell the full story in words and in pictures.

Building Hope - the Story of Mahiga Hope High School and The Nobelity Project is now available for sale through the innovative fundraising platform, You buy the book in advance and we use the funds to pay for the cost of design and printing. The best part is, with every copy of the book you get an advance dvd of the film, Building Hope.

Please watch our new video pitch for the campaign, then choose which level you want to help us reach our goal. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform. If we don't raise our goal of $25,000, we don't get a dime (and the book project won't happen) so we REALLY need you to step up and buy a book (or many books) for you, your family and your friends.

The book release party is set for Sunday, December 11 at El Sol y La Luna, and we're expecting quite a celebration (Those of you who partied with Dennis Quaid and Marcia Ball at last year's El Sol event know it's a blast!). This book and dvd package is going to be a great holiday gift with meaning, and we're also recommending it to companies who want to buy copies for their clients and employees.

The Kickstarter Project link is also on our website at We've also just launched a fully rebuilt website (way to go Christy!) that has links to our feature films, our shorts, the Kenya Schools Fund and our work in schools. Check it out!

And there are three important dates for your calenders:
Sept 17 to Oct 26 - The campaign to presell Building Hope (the book and dvd)
Sunday, Dec 11 - The Holiday Party/Book Release at El Sol y La Luna
Sunday, March 25, 2012 - The Artists & Filmmakers Dinner at the Four Seasons Austin

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's 9-11-11, ten years after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and

I’m on the Texas-Mexico border this evening with Joe Klein from Time Magazine and, ironically, the great photographer Lynsey Addario who was tough enough to endure her kidnapping in Libya earlier this year and continues to be one of America’s greatest news photographers. All three of us spent much of the decade since 9-11 filming, shooting photos and writing in a lot of crazy places around the world, and each of our journeys seemed to have been launched by the incredible tragedy of 9-11 and by America’s response to the attack on The World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Like the rest of America and the world, there’s no going back to who we were before. We can’t undo the falling of the towers or the growing tragedies of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, but we’re still searching for the best way ahead through the stories we tell in words and pictures. Much of the diary below is about Willie Nelson and a voice that continues to fill a need in so many people. Willie’s still out there doing what he does. The rest of us can only follow his example to the best of our abilities. One happy note – the diary mentions our upcoming American Masters film on Willie which later premiered to great acclaim and was rewarded with an Emmy Award for the best non-fiction series. Thanks for all the music, Willie. We still love you; still need you.

So here’s my Slate Diary #3 – in the wake of 9-11.

And stay tuned for some great news about my new book, Building Hope - The Story of Mahiga Hope High School. It's going to be beautiful.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

We are just back from Kenya and a fantastic working trip to Mahiga Hope High School. Now part of the Kieni West Education District, the school has a fine principal, deputy principal and a growing staff of teachers. Enrollment in the high school has grown from our first nine students two years ago to over 150, now in grades 9 - 11 with an even mix of boys and girls.

Construction on the last two buildings - the science labs and the new primary school classrooms - is also complete. On the primary school side, both the new preschool and primary school
playgrounds are gorgeous, and we were thrilled to cut the ribbons on the final four stone classrooms. Once and forever, the mud floors are gone! The combined schools now have 600 students, all of them working hard to take advantage of this opportunity for a quality education.

We still have some funding challenges. A desk, chair and classroom materials for one student costs $50. We're almost a hundred kids behind and growing by 100 per year, so it's important to raise $10,000 in the coming months.

The story of Mahiga Hope High School is told in our new feature film, Building Hope, an inspiring work which won major awards at the SXSW Film Festival and at Maui Film Fest. Just like the miracle of the amazing changes that have come to this community, the film ends with a miracle of it's own. After months of no rain in this very dry area, The Grand Opening of the high school and the first basketball game on the RainWater Court were rained out by a beautiful, heavy downpour that nearly filled our 30,000 liter water tanks.

That miracle seemed to repeat itself on this trip. With the entire high school, we gathered in the dining hall/theatre. After the drama club put on their first play for us, it was our turn to turn out the lights and show the
students the film in which they star. The room was filled with laughter and joy as we watched how this community's dream grew into reality. As the film progressed towards the miraculous rainstorm that ends it, I began to hear scattered raindrops on the roof above us. Once again, this was the first rain in an extended period and the local farmers were on the verge of total crop failure.

Within minutes, the rain was pouring down in a giant flood of huge drops mixed in with small hail that had been formed high in the clouds above Mt. Kenya. We turned up the movie to overcome the deafening clatter on the roof but it didn't matter for the sound of rain from the film and the skies above us were all one.

To everyone who contributed to building this school - or who is thinking of contributing - you are a part of great and wonderful miracle. Your faith and partnership in this great community will provide real opportunity to young people for generations to come. That's the kind of miracle we can all believe in.

Turk Pipkin, The Nobelity Project,

- Don't forget to watch the trailer to Building Hope at Our New York premiere is coming up on Monday, July 25 at the Tribeca Cinemas.

About Me

My photo
People know me from different things I've done, and often seem to remember me from whatever I was doing when our paths first crossed. If you first saw me on television with Harry Anderson or doing stand-up comedy, you may be disappointed in my current level of funny. On the other hand, if you first saw me as that idiot narcoleptic guy in The Sopranos, I could really use a nap, so I'm still playing that part well. The last few years have been occupied by making three feature docs, Nobelity, One Peace at a Time, and Building Hope. All three were produced by our education and action nonprofit, The Nobelity Project ( I've also written ten books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently the NY Times bestseller, The Tao of Willie, co-authored with the very awesome Willie Nelson.