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The Nobelity Blog is a running series of reports on the film and education work of The Nobelity Project (www.nobelity.org), 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.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

From Mahiga With Love


After years of film edits and fundraising for our partner schools in Mahiga, Kenya I knew that my first visit was going to be a great experience. But I had no idea how much I’d be affected by the trip, or how much I’d come to love these wonderful kids and their families.


Though Kenya is a beautiful country and in many places green and productive, Mahiga is a dr

y zone, which is almost intolerable in an agricultural economy. As we drove from Nairobi past the Aberdare Mountains to the school, I could see the poverty rise as the water table dropped. The drier it got the shorter the maise

crops stood, the skinner the cows, and the more kids I saw toting wood and water rather than going to school.

Pulling into the schoolyard for

the first time we saw, rising over the old metal roofs of the Mahiga Primary

School, the new two-story stone classroom building with its beautiful green roof. I thought back to a day when we’d received two envelopes from donors – one with $5,000 to underwrite a classroom-one with $5 from a retired teacher. Both meant the world to me at the time and even more standing in front of the beautiful and very real stone building that will soon house the new high school.


The primary school was letting out for the day and when the kids saw Turk, cries of “Pipkin!’ filled the air. Shy smiles followed introductions to me and to our girls, Katie and Lily. It took a while and a lot of questions for them to figure out that Turk had brought two daughters and not three. Ha! After all these years, I’m the littlest Pipkin.


As I met

the kids, the faces from Turk’s photos and footage came to life. The high school students – studying in temp classrooms while we build the new school - were full of questions about why we were there, about the States, and my kids. Among those students was George, a very bright sophomore who wants to be a journalist. When Turk isn’t in Kenya, George has been shooting video footage of construction with an HD Flip camera.

Our resident design fellow Greg Elsner has been living in the community for a year now and is quite the rock star. “Misch!” the kids call out, using his Kikuyu nickname. Greg is the lead architect of the RainWater Court, a technically challenging build that is now making fast progress toward an October 1 ribbon-cutting. Greg’s girlfriend and fellow architect Christina Tapper has joined him in Kenya and is helming the set-up of the school library and designing a beautiful new preschool. The two of them have taken on monumental tasks under tough circumstances, and they are true heroes to me.

Our longtime community partner, Joseph Mutongu, welcomed us at the school like family. He proudly showed me around the school— pointing out the first tree that Turk planted 5 years ago that is now taller than he is. Like every visitor to the school, I also planted a tree, the first in the High School’s new orchard.


This trip was just a small part of this incredible journey we are all taking together. Thanks to everyone who’s made a connection to these kids through your donations. We’re almost there, and your continued support will really make a difference in the lives of every kid who attends this beautiful new school.

From Mahiga with love, Christy



Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Brief Stint on The Sopranos (and in the NY Times)

Very nice to have a feature story in the NY Times that includes our work at Mahiga Hope High School. Framed around my frequent travels and my role as that idiot narcoleptic Aaron Arkaway in The Sopranos, it's already bringing some nice attention to the school effort.

Read the times story here! "The Travel Advantages of a Brief Stint on The Sopranos"

Lots going on in Kenya at Mahiga Hope High School. Check out this new photo from Greg Elsner of the finished classroom walls. More info at Nobelity.org and on The Nobelity Project FB page:


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Feed the Peace - with Willie Nelson and more

What a crazy and emotional, wild and wonderful Spring it’s been for The Nobelity Project. A short update on my trip to Haiti and Mahiga Hope High is below, but first a report on our biggest event ever, The Artists & Filmmakers Dinner.

It was a stellar night at the Four Seasons Austin as 40 Texas stars joined us to honor Willie Nelson, to celebrate the DVD release of One Peace at a Time, and to complete principal funding of Mahiga Hope High School (okay, there are a few things left to fund, and we could use your donations at www.nobelity.org/donate.)

The Four Seasons event began with photos of friends, and it was quite a list of friends. Here are John Paul and Eloise De Joria, Lyle Lovett and April Kimble, and Marjoe Gortner.

Bill Paxton flew in from L.A. and another season of his HBO show, Big Love. Ricardo Chavira got a day off from filming Desperate Housewives to attend with his wife Marcea.

We had nearly 500 people a the cocktail party and some competitive bidding on the auction items. Fender donated a Stratocaster that Jimmy Vaughn signed. Born Free Safaris had a trip to Kenya (that sold twice!) and there was even an Apple iPad loaded with Nobelity Project photos and music. We also want to thank Gibson Guitars and Strait Music for additional instruments that helped make the night a great success. Some of the hottest bidding was for our framed photos and for gorgeous paintings donated by Carlos Ortiz, Bale Creek Allen, Judy Marquez, MM Pipkin and the amazing Katie Rose Pipkin.

More thanks go to the Four Seasons Austin and all their amazing staff for great service, great food and for making it possible for a small nonprofit to put together a world class evening.

Speaking of world class, the biggest thanks of the night go to Annie and Willie Nelson for everything they've done for The Nobelity Project. Willie and Annie's dedication to the idea and reality of Peace is a great inspiration. When Willie told me to "Feed the Peace!" in One Peace at a Time, I don't think he knew he'd be naming his own award. But here's Christy handing Willie the Feed the Peace Award.


A couple of minutes later, Willie helped us present three more FTP awards to the Kunik triplets who raised $10,000 to fund the new kitchen at Mahiga Hope High School. Inspired by these amazing 13-year-old kids - and by Mickey Bice who'd contributed funds to build the Chemistry Lab at the high school - the crowd stepped up with some more big donations. In less than five minutes, we had commitments for the biology and physics lab, a dining room to go with the new kitchen, and to get things rolling on a new pre-school.

That put the real show onstage. We'd already seen show-stopping
performances from Kat Edmonson and Ruby Jane, and now Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely and Ray Benson sat down and began to play their favorite Willie songs. Soon Willie joined in and before you knew it, 500 people were singing along to On the Road Again. Add in Texas jazz trumpet master Hannibal Lokumbe who managed to seque On the Road Again into Amazing Grace, joined by 20 more amazing Texas musicians, and you've got one unforgettable night.

Thanks to everyone who came out, and to our many wonderful sponsors: CSE and C3, Patron, Malibu Family Wines & Shiner Beer, Austin American Statesman & KGSR, Freeman, FILO Productions & Dynamic Reprographics, Four Seasons Austin and John Paul & Eloise DeJoria. And congrats to Mickey and Liz who got engaged during the dinner, with Willie handling the ring! And to Steve Prince for making that great connection to Mickey.

Speaking of work, I left the next day for Haiti where I toured school sites with Architecture for Humanity and Concern Worldwide. Even after all the reports I'd heard and seen, I could hardly believe the damage and the challenges the Haitian people are dealing with. Despite this, I came away feeling we can have a tremendous impact by rebuilding schools better than before. More info to come when we have budgets in hand, but take a look at these kids and ask yourself, “don’t they deserve better?”

In the meantime, check out our latest video which show one amazing day during construction of Mahiga Hope High School. Here is Building Hope - Foundations.

If you don't have a dvd of One Peace at a Time, order at nobelity.org or at Amazon. And don't forget to Feed the Peace!



Monday, March 22, 2010

High School Construction Begins! Mahiga Hope Library & More

More great news on The Nobelity Project’s work to build Mahiga Hope High School in Kenya.

- Construction is underway and moving fast!

- We hope to complete funding on April 11 at the Artists & Filmmakers Dinner where Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and forty more great Texas artists will help us honor Willie Nelson with the "Feed the Peace" Award.

- Free DVD release party April 9 at Waterloo Records features Kat Edmonson in-store concert and the launch of 1000 Books for Hope campaign!

After a devastating multi-year drought, the rains have finally returned to Kenya and crops in the Mahiga area are growing well. But just as we were ready to begin construction, the road to the school became too muddy for construction trucks and deliveries. A contractor to gravel the road was going to cost thousands of dollars, but the local community had a great solution. Buy six dumptrucks of rock at a fraction of the total cost, and we'll spread it by hand!

One week later, 115 men and women showed up with hoes and shovels and set to work spreading over 100 tons of gravel. Check out this photo - some of the women are carrying children on their backs - and those are kids who we all hope will one day be graduates of Mahiga Hope High.

Construction on the Classroom and Libraries Building started almost immediately. Architecture for Humanity design fellow Greg Elsner, Kenyan architects Multiplex Systems and the local community reviewed all the bids from Kenyan contractors and inspected their work at other locations.

The bid was awarded to Minorah Contractors who beat the heavier rains that are expected soon by digging foundation trenches and getting the foundations above ground in record time.

These great photos from Greg and Joseph Mutongu say it all!






I'm headed to Kenya this week for the ground-breaking of the RainWater Court, for final planning of the science labs, kitchen and dining hall, and to do a little work myself.

I'm also taking Flip Video Cameras and a new Dell laptop for the 9th grade class to film construction progress and archive the footage.


The Nobelity Project Artists & Filmmakers Dinner - April 11 at the Four Seasons Austin

The big event on Sunday, April 11 is going to be an incredible night - every attendee has dinner with one of 40 great Texas artists, and there's an incredible show with Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Ray Benson, Hannibal Lokumbe, Kat Edmonson and Ruby Jane. This is a big fundraiser at fundraiser prices (more info on buying tables or seats at nobelity.org), and we hope to complete funding for the school and guarantee that it will be open for classes by the end of summer.

Our DVD release week also includes a 5:00 p.m. April 9 One Peace at a time Party at Austin's Waterloo Records. There's an in-store performance by Kat Edmonson, and we're also asking everyone to bring ONE book for the launch of:

1000 Books for Hope

To fill the shelves of Mahiga Hope Library - and other libraries we're planning or partnering on from Morocco to Bangladesh - we’re asking students and adults to donate just ONE book. The key is to donate your favorite book, or a book that has had great meaning in your own life.

Donors are asked to write their name and hometown inside the cover, and a short note about why they love the book, or what it has meant to them. Those names, cities and notes will be the entry to a world of learning and endless possibilities. (A small donation for shipping will also help.)

Mahiga Hope Library will serve boys and girls, men and women, from pre-school to an adult literacy program, so the possibilities for what books would be useful are also endless. Young reader books and non-fiction books about science, technology and the world around us could be particularly useful. Think back to your childhood - was there a book that helped get you where you are today?

Several schools in Austin are participating in the drive, and you're encouraged to bring your book to Waterloo Records for the party (and please buy a DVD of One Peace at a Time while you're there).

You can also make a book Donation by Mailing to:

1000 Books for Hope

P.O. Box 161925

Austin, TX 78716

If you can slip a small cash donation in with the book, that will help us cover shipping to Kenya or another Hope Library!

Thanks to everyone for your incredible support. We couldn't do it without you.




Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mahiga Hope High School: “It’s getting real!”

I just received a great update from Kenya about progress on Mahiga Hope High School. Greg Elsner, our AfH Design Fellow says ground-breaking for the RainWater Court and the Classroom/Library block will be in early February. Hailing from Minnesota, when Greg says "It's getting real!", he means months of hard work are turning into something truly amazing – a modern high school that will change this community forever, and will be a model for schools across Africa.

Check out Greg's amazing design for the Rainwater Court that will house organized sports, an outdoor classroom, community meeting space and provide clean drinking water for the school! Photo below by Greg shows our first class of 9th graders using the age-old 3-4-5 method of laying out a square to site the RainWater Court on the campus. (And note the trees in the background that I helped plant as seedlings 4 years ago.)

After months of hard work in Mahiga, Greg came home for Christmas and I joined him in Fargo, ND for a sold-out screening of One Peace at a Time at the historic Fargo Theatre. It was 11-below zero outside, but warm and welcome inside where we had a great screening response and raised $2,000 for the school, funds that have been designated for the toilet block at the RainWater Court. (Sanitation facilities are crucial – particularly for teenage girls – and it’s not easy to raise money for toilets.) Thanks to everyone in Fargo and to everyone else who's been inspired by the movie to help with this rewarding task.

Two weeks of screenings at Regal's Arbor Cinema in Austin also generated lots of support for the school, and thanks to Bank of America and the Dell Foundation, we were able to buy movie tickets for hundreds of public school teachers, many of whom brought or sent their students to see the movie and get connected to the "real" world.

After 8 months of hard work – with One Peace screenings from Nairobi to Maui and a hundred places between – we’ve funded two of the three main facilities at the school.

– The Nike GameChangers Award is funding construction of the RainWater Court (and providing Greg’s important services on the ground). Big thanks to Nike and Architecture for Humanity!

– Donations from individual classroom sponsors, screenings and a lot of other supporters who care have funded construction of the classroom and library block.

The biggest challenge remaining is construction of 3 Science Labs – Chemistry, Physics and Biology. We are searching hard for underwriting sponsors of these labs.

For a tax-deductible donation of $10,000, a company (or a family) can name one of the science labs and provide a science education for hundreds of students in Kenya. Contact us or make a donation at The Nobelity Project's site, Nobelity.org.

There are no middle-men, no bribes, no government skimming – we work directly with the community of Mahiga and the local education board, and have reliable oversight from Greg and our community partner Joseph Mutongu and hundreds of parents who know this is THE BIG OPPORTUNITY FOR THEIR KIDS!

Two Addition Ways to Support This Work:

1000 Voices for Hope – Our fundraising partnership with GlobalGiving.com has raised $17,000 for the school. Watch the Video and you'll be inspired to donate $100 and Join the Choir with Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Emily and Martie of The Dixie Chicks.

1000 Voices for Hope on YouTube

The 12-year-old Kunik Triplets in Austin have launched the Kunik B'ai Mitzvah Project with a goal of raising $5,000 for the kitchen at the high school. We all know you can’t learn on an empty stomach! Check out their FB project page at the link above

Thanks to everyone for your support, and for all the messages about the inspiring things that are happening in your lives because of One Peace at a Time and Mahiga Hope High School. Turns out that we all need the same thing - each other.

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 (www.nobelity.org). 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.