Thursday, April 7, 2011

TEDxCMU - Michaelene Risley (you-shoulda-been-there-last-night episode #2)

On Sunday, April 4, I was the Master of Ceremonies at TEDxCMU, an independent student-run initiative operating under the TED conference umbrella. This is the second year we have done this. For me it was very exciting and a lot of fun. I have to give serious props to James Pan and his team, and to Drama student Brian Rangell for their excellent organizational work. One of the speakers said "oh, I was so glad to see there was a grown-up behind all this," and I said "don't misunderstand. I'm not in charge of anything. I work for the kids."

I want to make several posts about this event. But this one is about Michaelene Risley. I sat next to her at the dinner beforehand and almost instantly I realized I was in the presence of an extraordinary person. Michaelene was living a pretty recognizable US middle-class lifestyle, an entrepreneur and soccer mom, who suddenly decided to drop everything and follow her dream - to become a documentary filmmaker in some of the most dangerous conflict areas in the world. She was investigating the sexual abuse of very young women in Zimbabwe, where there is apparently a cultural myth that indicates that having sex with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS. Michaelene discovered and documented the horrible truths about this state of affairs, which include women and girls being raped by fathers, brothers, cousins... and the youngest reported victims being less than two days old. Because of her work, she was detained by the Zimbabwe authorities and thrown into a Police Torture Center, along with her assistant (first job out of college!). She was not tortured, but she continued her work inside the prison, and escaped from Zimbabwe with a horrifying story to tell. Her presentation at TEDxCMU was powerful and deeply moving. Here we are together in McConomy Hall.

Read more about Michaelene and her film, Tapestries of Hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment