2014 Press

In late February, Dalai Lama awarded Nipun with an “Unsung Hero of Compassion“, award and he graciously received it on behalf of ServiceSpace.
During last year’s annual retreat, Rajesh attended our community night and was quite moved. With Phil Borges, he was invited to photograph the Unsung Heroes of Compassion and he urged us to nominate some everyday heroes from the ecosystem. Nipun sent along a long list that included many ServiceSpace volunteers and friends. They came back and insisted on nominating the nominator himself!

Given our shared value set, the ServiceSpace ecosystem has close ties to Dalai Lama’s community. Yet, it was incredibly special to be blessed by the Dalai Lama. It was a beautiful weekend at the Ritz Carlton in SF (we ended up staying on the same floor as the Dalai Lama!), with 51 honorees from around the world and their guests. It was such an honor to meet many of the “Unsung Heroes”.

One of the first people we met was Jill Seaman.  As a doctor born in Russia, she first went to sub-Saharan Africa in 1989 while helping ‘Medicins San Frontieres’ respond to the epidemic of kala azar. “Every evening I would look down the dirt airstrip and see a line of ‘stick’ people — people so malnourished they had trouble standing up — using their last strength to get to our treatment center. We worked with few supplies, without food for patients, and all attempts to get potable water in the midst of this war zone failed. Still, 89 percent of our patients survived in those early years, and I became a part of the whole there.”

In the late 1990s, the region — still in danger from kala azar – was ravaged by two new threats: war and tuberculosis (TB). “It was a devastating time,” says Jill, “and no NGO in the region was willing to undertake treatment of TB because it requires six solid months of drug therapy—something thought to be virtually impossible to provide in a situation like this. Sjoukje de Wit, a nurse, and I decided to try. We were two crazy women trying to show that even under these most desperate circumstances, people wanted treatment enough to complete a six-month course of therapy.”

From her presence you could tell that this woman has walked the talk. ”There are times when I have been completely scared, when our village was attacked and burned to the ground…I was completely panicked. There’ve been times when the planes go overhead and I know there is a lot of bombing; sometimes I just have to close my eyes and say, ‘What are you going to do now? Don’t be scared; take a deep breath and do what you want to do.’ But that isn’t the worst thing that’s happened. The worst thing that happens overseas is rationing care—how much time are you going to spend with someone who is sick, what medicine are you going to use, how much effort are you going to use to get special medicine for someone who is especially sick? These types of things are incredibly horrible because you see people coming in and they are just skeletons and you think, ‘I’m going to eat dinner tonight? That’s just not right.’” Today, she spends time serving in remote regions of Alaska and Sudan. “I’m putting my skills to good use. I can’t imagine a bigger honor,” she humbly adds.

Right after, we ran into was Jake Harriman, a former Marine and Platoon commander, who left the army to wage a more constructive “war on poverty”:

“We were on Highway 7 awaiting resupply. I heard a vehicle rapidly approaching. We fired warning shots. The driver, a gaunt Iraqi, jumped out and ran towards us, waving his arms. As I raised my weapon a military vehicle stopped behind the man’s car. Six men jumped out and began spraying his car with bullets. The Iraqi man stopped, screamed, and began sprinting back toward his car. It was then I realized what was happening.”

“Southern Iraq was a desperately poor region. Iraqi Special Forces had been coercing poor farmers to fight Americans, promising they would feed and educate their children if the farmer picked up a weapon. I had no doubt this man was one of those poor farmers. Yet instead of fighting, he was trying to escape across our lines to safety. By the time we got to the car it was too late. His wife lay slumped over dead on the passenger seat, his baby girl had been shot, and he was cradling his six- year-old daughter who was choking on her own blood. I put myself in his shoes. I thought, ‘I live in a world of choices. But what choices did this man have?’ Something awoke inside of me. That day, I vowed to devote my life to giving people choices and hope where none previously existed.”

We kept meeting such amazing people. :) Maggie Doyne (and her mom) was delighted to meet us, in gratitude for their previous features on DailyGood and KarmaTube. Her video on KT was titled, “23 Year Old Mother of 30″. And it read: It is not unusual for high school graduates to take a year off to “find” themselves before starting college. And that’s exactly what Maggie Doyne intended to do. At age 18, she strapped on a backpack and headed for the South Pacific Islands to start her trip around the world. Several months later, she traveled to a remote village in Nepal, where she felt a deep sense of belonging – a sense of home. Distressed by seeing so many working children, many of them orphans, she decided to sponsor the education of one child. Soon, one became five, then ten, and Maggie very quickly realized that she wanted to build a home where these children could live. In five short years, this 23 year old has built a home for 30 children, as well as a primary school for 230 children.

The list went on with James Alexander, who turned his life towards compassion after 28 years in jail. Or 16-year-old local named Kiran, who decided to create a technology nonprofit called “Waste No Food” to take unused restaurant food and donate it to shelter. Or Nir Oren who lost his Israeli mother after suicide bombing, and started hosting circles with Israelis and Palestinians families — now having hosted over 600 of them! Many of our friends, from Grace (who received this award earlier in 2001) to Darlene to Tarsadia family to Anne to Ziggy to Marsha ended up being in the audience. At the  luncheon, our table of 12 was right in the front, with big philanthropists, including a fellow who ran the foundation for Sergey Brin and told us some great stories of small acts of kindness. :) It was beautiful to see, that no matter who they were, every single person in that room was equally excited to be in the presence of the Dalai Lama.

Peter Coyote was the thoughtful emcee, Grandma Agnus opened, Dalai Lama followed. He shared a short talk about his hope in the next generation, following the award ceremony. As each of the honorees are being called up, the audience of 700 is asked to hold the applause until the end. The ever-so-graceful 79-year-old Dalai Lama stands up and dynamically blesses each one in their own special way. (HHDL greeted Nipun with a big smile, as Nipun touched his feet in the Indian custom and they embraced.) As I watched each person’s name being called along with a description of what they were doing in the world, I couldn’t help but tear up. Generally, we are presented with big problems, and here were open-hearted pioneers that each represented many solutions those problems. It was kind of overwhelming, in a good way. Inspired by all the real heroes of our world, I thought about how every single one of us has the capacity to be a solution in the world, by shining our light as brightly as we can. The energy in the room just elevated, until the end when there was a long — very long — standing ovation.

Father Boyle ended the day with a really touching talk that connected to the heart of what these heroes stand for: “The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship. The good news, as Mother Teresa reminded us, is that we belong to each other.” – See more at: http://www.servicespace.org/blog/view.php?id=14471#sthash.KRf89Ig7.dpuf


February 27, 2014 • Tom Stockwell
(0) Comments

Fifty-one honorees gathered together on Sunday to be acknowledged by the 14th Dalai Lama in recognition of their contributions to humanitarian efforts. These 24 women and 27 men, ranging in age from 16 to 85, are working in 18 countries worldwide. Among them were seven residents of the Napa Valley: Craig Bond, James “Alex” Alexander, Paula Dhanda, Susan Dix Lyons, Robert Hampton, Sandra Hansen and Luc Janssens.

“It was truly humbling and inspiring,” said honoree Bond, from St. Helena, who was recognized for his work with children through the nonprofit St. Helena Choral Foundation. Bond said, “I was overwhelmed, especially meeting so many others who were being honored. They are doing incredible work.” Bond paused for a moment, reflecting. “It was a once in a lifetime event,” he said. “And it motivates me to do more.”

The event, called Unsung Heroes of Compassion 2014, was held at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco before a jam-packed ballroom with 700 guests, and broadcast through a live webcast to more than 900 screens around the world. Nominees were gathered by Dick and Ann Grace of Grace Family Vineyards and the Grace Foundation, and organized by a new nonprofit called Wisdom in Action. It was the fourth Unsung Heroes of Compassion celebration; previous ceremonies were held in 2001, 2005 and 2009. The Graces had traveled the world meeting nominees after Dick Grace was inspired by a personal request by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.

“This event is like a rheostat of humanity,” Dick Grace said, “… of humanity and the compassion that we are striving to inspire. It’s not about celebrity, but about service to our fellow human beings. The true unsung heroes are the millions of people in the world to whom these honorees serve: people without resources that struggle day-in and day-out just to survive. These honorees are their representatives, brought together to remind and inspire us about the work that we must still do.”

Grace said, “If this event can do anything, it can help us all see the goodness in the hearts of people who are working — often without support or compensation — to provide medicine, food, shelter and education to those without resources in a world distracted by material concerns. It is an appeal to goodness.”

The event was co-hosted by Dick Grace, actor Peter Coyote, Father Greg Boyle, American Indian Elder Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim and Zen priest Furyu Schroeder. The entire event, quietly chaperoned by FBI agents, was a reminder of the government’s concerns over the Dalai Lama’s security. But, according to Grace, their presence could not dampen the spirit of the event. “The joy in the room was iridescent,” Grace said.

The Dalai Lama spoke for approximately 20 minutes before greeting each honoree. He spoke about the progress and the challenges that he sees in the world, and praised Grace for creating an organization that brings such dedicated individuals to wider attention. “The reality is,” he said, “that we are social animals and each of us depends on the community within which we live. It’s as if we are all part of one body, so what happens to others affects us, too. We have to take care of each other.”

Though the celebration was not billed as a fundraising event, the contributions and sponsorship donated by supporters enabled Wisdom in Action to provide small honorarium to each honored individual to support their projects. But this and previous Unsung Heroes celebrations has inspired a growing group of sponsors who wish to make the work of Wisdom in Action more sustainable.

Led by Gary and Yucca Rieschel, the concept is to invest and fund the Wisdom in Action organization to permit more frequent events. But that, according to Gary Rieschel, is not all. “The idea is to help the nonprofit transform into a ‘service platform’ for past and future honorees. There are now 200 of them, but that number will grow. We want to help create ‘best practices’ for these humanitarians,” Rieschel said, “to help provide support, and to help link organizations together in collaboration, essentially to provide them with the services they need to help them more efficiently perform their important work.”

But for the honorees themselves, Sunday’s event was seen more as a milestone on their individual journeys of commitment and service. “Every one of us questions why we were chosen,” said Chris Waddell, a past Unsung Hero from 2005 who works with the disabled. “‘Why me?’ we ask. We’re humbled and in awe. We all feel overwhelmed by the honor. But this is not the end.” Waddell spoke from his wheelchair before the assembled honorees the night before the event. “No. This is the beginning. This is your ‘graduation ceremony,’ in preparation for all the work you will do in the days and years to come.”

Detailed profiles of the honorees can be found at newunsungheroes.org/2014-event/2014-honorees. An archive of the recorded event can be found at newunsungheroes.org/2014-event/live-webcast.

Copyright 2014 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Febuary 21, 2014 8:00am PST

San Francisco, CA, February 21, 2014 – His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be the honored guest at a luncheon event at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, California, on Sunday, February 23, 2014. His Holiness will acknowledge and thank the 51 highly compassionate individuals who are the honorees of Unsung Heroes of Compassion 2014.

The honorees—24 women and 27 men—range in age from 16 to 85, work in 18 countries worldwide, and represent many ethnicities, cultures, faiths, and backgrounds. Gathered from the far corners of the earth, each demonstrates the timeless and universal human goodness celebrated by every wise culture.

“These individuals have been selected as representatives of the tens of thousands of people worldwide who quietly serve the disenfranchised and work to improve our communities through their personal efforts,” says Dick Grace, founder of Grace Family Vineyards and board chair of Wisdom in Action, the organization hosting the unique celebration. “We don’t see them or hear about them in the daily news, but they exemplify a humanism and heroism to which we must each aspire.”

Among the honorees to be acknowledged are:

  • Mazen Faraj and Nir Oren, who co-led Parents Circle Families Forum, a network of bereaved families in Israel and the Palestinian territories working together for reconciliation and peace;
  • Carol Nawina Nyirenda, a Zambian woman who transformed her battles against HIV, TB, and cancer into a passion for educating and supporting individuals with these and other diseases worldwide;
  • Miguel Rodriguez, who founded Sagrada Familia in Peru to love, educate and care for 1,000 young people who would otherwise be without homes or families;
  • Miagul Sahar, who provides life-saving care to infants as the Nursing Director of Afshar Hospital in the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan;
  • Peggy Wellknown Buffalo, founder of The Center Pole, an organization that gives Native American young people from the Apsaalooke Nation the tools they need to succeed in the modern world while retaining the values and traditions of their own rich culture.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the exiled leader of the Tibetan people and a Buddhist teacher. The 1989 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Dalai Lama is an outspoken proponent of nonviolence and compassion, and is loved and revered internationally. Wisdom in Action (WIA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of compassion in action. WIA is hosting Unsung Heroes of Compassion 2014, the fourth event of its kind since 2001, to raise awareness that it is each individual’s obligation to help the disenfranchised among us and to acknowledge that each act of compassion makes an important difference to the world.

Co-hosting the event with Dick Grace will be actor, Peter Coyote, founder of Homeboy Industries, Father Greg Boyle, Takelma Indian Elder of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim, and Zen priest from Green Gulch Zen Center, Furyu Schroeder.


Local Man Among List of “Unsung Heroes” to be Honored by Dalai Lama
FEBRUARY 11, 2014 10:00 AM

It’s been nearly a decade since Budd MacKenzie first visited Afghanistan and saw a newly built school made possible by his fledgling organization, Lafayette-based Trust in Education.

Today, the non-profit group Wisdom in Action announced that MacKenzie is one of 51 people from around the world who will be honored at the organization’s Unsung Heroes of Compassion Awards event in San Francisco later this month.

The event, which will be attended by the Dalai Lama and emceed by actor Peter Coyote, recognizes individuals working to ease the suffering of disenfranchised people across the globe.

Since MacKenzie’s first eye-opening visit to Afghanistan, the 68-year-old attorney has returned to the war-ravaged country 16 times to monitor ongoing projects and come up with new ways to better the lives of thousands of rural Afghans.

“When you meet the people and you see firsthand poverty up-close…it was very difficult for me to just sort of go back to the life I’d been leading before that,” MacKenzie said.

In 2003, the longtime attorney founded Trust in Education to provide relief funds for residents in the villages and refugee camps around Kabul.

MacKenzie was inspired to get involved after reading “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a book detailing the United States’ involvement in the Soviet war in Afghanistan, including the government’s arming of Afghan Mujahideen fighters.

Those weapons later fell into the hands of the Taliban, which the U.S. continued to fund up until 9/11, MacKenzie noted.

“I began to get an appreciation for U.S. involvement in the region and realize the conditions that exist in Afghanistan are in significant measure consequences of our involvement,” he said.

“You have an entire generation that’s known nothing but war, and 98 percent of the population that doesn’t want to fight – they’re the victims of war,” MacKenzie said.

“We need to be anti-war but pro-victim and proactive in helping them rebuild their lives. We owe that to them.”

Wisdom in Action spokeswoman Elizabeth Share said she nominated MacKenzie for the honor because “he is representative of people who believe that every small action is worthwhile.”

“There is no way Budd MacKenzie and his organization can resolve the massive humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan right now, but that’s what’s so inspiring…that didn’t stop him from helping one person or 10 people, or one village,” she said.

Over the past decade, the organization has opened two schools and financed classes for some 1,500 Afghan students, including 1,000 Afghan girls – a remarkable feat in a country where the Taliban and other extremist groups long kept girls from getting an education.

Trust In Education opened an all-girls school in Afghanistan last October.

The organization keeps its schools and classrooms open by paying for teachers, school supplies and heating in the winter.

While education is the organization’s main emphasis, it also strives to address rural Afghans’ short-term needs, partially through regular, massive deliveries of rice and clothing with the help of the U.S. military, according to MacKenzie.

The most recent shipment provided enough rice for more than 300,000 meals for about 2,000 families, he said.

In addition, Trust In Education has distributed more than 400 solar ovens to help Afghan families cut energy costs, provide a way to safely cook food and sterilize water and eliminate some of the 2,000 deaths in Afghanistan annually due to smoke inhalation, according to MacKenzie.

As with most of the non-profit’s work, the solar ovens were assembled and funded by Bay Area volunteers. Trust In Education raises funds for these and other aid projects through a range of grassroots sources, from individual donors to donation drives at schools and rotary clubs, he said.

“More and more people and organizations are coming to me and saying, ‘How can I help?’” said MacKenzie.

Wisdom in Actions hopes to inspire a similar urge to get involved by shining a light on organizations like MacKenzie’s through the Unsung Heroes of Compassion event, said Share.

“We hope people will come away with awareness that whatever your entry point into compassion is, start there. But just start,” she said.

Wisdom in Action was created in 2001 to advance the work of the organization’s Unsung Heroes of Compassion award recipients worldwide.

About 150 people have received the Unsung Heroes award at the organization’s events in 2001, 2005 and 2009, according to Share.

This year’s honorees are doctors, nurses, teachers, non-profit workers and others. They hail from 18 different countries but most also work internationally, said Share.

Past recipients have included many Bay Area residents, such as Leslie Acoca, who ran a residential treatment center for drug-addicted children in Marin County, Emily Arnold-Hernandez, founder of San Francisco-based refugee rights group Asylum Access and Imad Aljanaby, an Iraqi refugee who helped create a community center for Iraqi expatriates in San Francisco.