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.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Glimmer of Hope

Nobelity Project Appeal - Help us provide clean water for rural communities in Ethiopia

Once again, there is exciting news from The Nobelity Project about our new film, One Peace at a Time.  And for the first time, we’re asking our supporters to be a part of our partnership with an organization that’s doing amazing work for a better world. I’m referring to A Glimmer of Hope, an Austin-based nonprofit that has transformed the lives of 2 million people in Ethiopia by providing clean water, schools, health care and economic opportunity. Read on and I’ll tell you how you can join us in this work.

The goal of One Peace at a Time is to highlight successful programs that are producing positive change through efficient and innovative programs. In the past year, I’ve filmed amazing work in India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ecuador and many other countries, but on my recent trip to Ethiopia, I was blown away by the scale, the efficiency and the passionate care with which A Glimmer of Hope is fulfilling a vital mission.

Ethiopia is an extremely rural country with a population of 75 million people living primarily on agriculture. The per capita income for the nation as a whole is about 35 cents per person per day. While the capital of Addis Ababa is pleasant and has a rapidly expanding economy, the rural areas have almost no infrastructure. Traveling with two Glimmer staffers and with representatives of a number of Ethiopian partner groups, Katie Pipkin and I spent many days filming and shooting photos at school, health care and veterinary posts in the remote South Omo region. Driving from project to project for 12 to 16 hours a day, we never saw a paved road, but we did meet thousands of people who turned out to welcome us in grand Ethiopian style at the dedication of new classrooms and other facilities.

Donna and Philip Berber, the founders of A Glimmer of Hope, have put tens of millions of dollars of their own money into this work, but the true key to their success is their philosophy of development from the ground up, rather than the top-down, heavy management and planning approach that has so often failed in Africa. 

“We start by visiting rural communities,” Philip Berber explained to me, “and simply ask what it is they need and way. Then we find local partner groups who have the know-how and the ability to help themselves if they’re provided with resources and capital.”

An extended tour of the Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia illustrated that point perfectly. This beautiful mountainous region was devastated by drought, famine and the Eritrean war – and we saw a fair number of soldiers and tanks still patrolling in the area. Among the partner reps we toured with was Tekelewoini Assefa or “Tek”, a hero of the Eritrean War who played a key role in saving half a million people from starvation by walking them from camp to camp on a three-month journey to refugee villages in Somalia. After the war, a similar effort from REST (the Relief Society of Ethiopia) brought these refugees home.

The long-term solution to famine and drought in Tigray stems from the work of groups like REST to bring clean water, education, health care and more to these wonderful people.

One afternoon, we parked atop a tall ridge and began hiking to the valley below to see a new hand-dug well that had been built in partnership between REST, A Glimmer of Hope and the local community of Bet Mekea. This was perhaps the tenth new well we’d seen, and we’d been greeted by incredibly moving ceremonies at all of them - by hundreds of children lined up to sing and clap hands for us; men dancing in circles as they chanted and proclaimed the great future that lay ahead because they now had water. Large groups of women who had selected representatives to tell us how local women – and children - had been walking up to six hours a day, carrying 60 or 70 crushing pounds of water in a jerry-can on their backs to supply water for their families. The hand-dug wells built with Glimmer had changed that forever. Those six hours per day were now time and energy that could be devoted to producing food and to earning an income. For the children, it meant there was now time to go to school for the first time in their lives. (And I saw quite a few 18-year-olds sitting by 7-year-olds in new first grade classrooms.)

And here’s the most incredible part – those wells were built for an average cost of $3,500 each. The simple fact that six dollars per person can literally transform the lives of a community of 500 people is one of the most profound and moving truths I have ever witnessed. This is possible because it is the people of these communities who do the work. The local people build a road by hand that will allow a truck to bring cement and a pump. They dig a well ten or twelve feet in diameter and perhaps sixty feet deep, and they dig it by hand. They line the well with rock and cement, and install a hand pump and chlorinator that they are trained to maintain. Because the water is clean, they are not plagued by illnesses like cholera. It’s been said that clean drinking water is the most important element in education.

At the bottom of the valley at Bet Mekea, the newly-completed well was protected by a sturdy rock wall, and herders with groups of donkeys and goats were bringing their animals to water. For a long moment, I looked up from my video camera and thought that it was the most beautiful spot I had ever seen. There was no visible town, but several dozen local people had gathered to break bread and share their homemade honey with us. 

Through a translator, I asked what was next for Bet Mekea. Did they need a school, a health clinic? Their answer surprised me in a very wonderful way. Yes, they hoped to build these facilities, but first, they were concerned about three neighboring communities who did not yet have clean water.

Their compassion and sense of justice was very moving to Katie and myself, and we made an immediate commitment for the Nobelity Project to find the money to fund these three wells for the villages of Grater (300 people), Grakubi (350 people), and Beles (250 people). 

This past weekend, the Nobelity Project staged a concert and fundraiser in Fredericksburg, Texas. This wonderful event was sponsored by Mark Shurley who won the auction at our January Austin event for a concert-at-home from the legendary Texas Band, The Flatlanders. With full band in tow, Joe Ely, Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock rocked the house at Hondo’s on Main. Before the music started, we asked the crowd if they’d contribute to our wells in Ethiopia. Christy and I were hoping to fund at least one well (at approximately $3,500). Before the night was over, we had pledges to fund FIVE wells. 

This is incredible news for us, but there is one catch. The fifth well is a matching grant from Doug Richards, Dr. Mary Travers and the Foundation for Dreamers. To match that donation and complete funding for six wells, I’m asking each of our supporters to make a donation in any amount for clean water in Ethiopia. It doesn’t matter if you contribute a dollar or a thousand – either way, you’ll be a part of something truly grand! We’ve set up a special donation button for these wells on our donation page, or you can make a donation by check. Just click here.

100% of these donations will go directly to A Glimmer of Hope and construction of the wells. Thanks for being an important part in our efforts to shine a light on solutions that work. By working together, we truly can build a better world, One Peace at a Time.

Turk Pipkin, May 13, 2008


The Nobelity Project’s film on The Open Architecture Challenge is a huge hit! “The Challenge” played at the World Economic Forum in Davos, at the TED Conference during their live global webcast, and has almost 70,000 viewings online at youtube.

Our deepest thanks goes to Caroleen Feeney and FACT for their contribution of $35,000 to the Kallari Association in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador. These funds that have already been used to purchase the land for Kallari’s organic chocolate factory which will support their work to preserve the rainforest. This was the first of many great things to come from “The Challenge.”

On June 1, I’ll be in Capetown, South Africa for the 50x15 Partners Summit and the World Economic Forum Africa, and we’ll be announcing the winning design and community from the Open Architecture Challenge!

I’ll also be continuing to Kenya to visit our partner school, the Mahiga Primary School, where work is underway on a rainwater collection system to provide clean drinking water, on an electrical system, and on a sturdy and secure new classroom that we hope will soon house a computer learning lab for the school. Thanks to AMD and 50x15 for their efforts there, to Julian Kunik and everyone else who’s made a contribution (and we’re still looking for donations to fund the new computers).

Next Month – watch for the official release of “One Child at a Time” our new short film about the Miracle Foundation orphanages in India. This film includes our journey by train with 120 orphans for the grand opening of the beautiful new Sooch Village Orphanage.

In the meantime, you can learn more about The Miracle Foundation at:

And don’t forget to check out A Glimmer of Hope at:

No comments:

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.