Stick Your Neck Out: Be a Giraffe Hero

What would you stick your neck out for?

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The nonprofit Giraffe Heroes Project began in 1984 when Ann Medlock, a freelance editor, publicist, speech writer and writer living in Manhattan, wanted to create an antidote to the violence and trivia that pervaded the media. She felt that people needed to know about the heroes of our times and what they were accomplishing through courage and compassion. Her strategy for the Giraffe Heroes Project was to find unknown heroes, praise them as Giraffes for sticking their necks out, and help get their stories told in the media. This would show what was being done about problems in the world, and raise awareness about the individuals who had the solutions and the courage to do something about it. The stories were meant to feed people’s souls, and get them to take action on public problems that mattered to them.

Medlock was eventually joined in her quest by John Graham, a former US Foreign Service Officer who had been in the middle of wars, revolutions and arms sales. Working at the US Mission to the UN for three years had allowed him to focus his skills and energy on ending apartheid and other human rights abuses, and stopping wars instead of starting them.

Giraffe Hero crew including John Graham in orange shirt

Giraffe Hero crew including John Graham in orange shirt

The project has grown over the years and the Giraffe Heroes Project has now honored over a thousand Giraffes. It has reached over a quarter of a million kids in American schools and countless more people through Giraffe speeches, books and the website.

Here’s one example of a real-life Giraffe Hero:

Somaly Mam

Somaly Mam

Somaly Mam was sold to a brothel in her native Cambodia when she was a teen. After several years of rape and torture, she escaped that life. Then as a grown woman, she braved the rage of the powers that controlled the sex trade and returned to the same brothel, offering food, medicine, education, and freedom to the girls trapped there. Two organizations Mam founded have freed more than 6,000 girls from a hellish life in the brothels of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam despite the constant risk of reprisals against her.

And here’s another:

Dora Andrade teaches poor kids in Fortaleza, Brazil to dance—with their bodies and with their hearts and minds. She sold her jewelry and used the cash to create EDISCA (School for Dance and Social Integration for Children and Adolescents), where she not only teaches dance and self respect, but provides access to meals, medical exams, dental care and computer training. EDISCA’s kids get such great care, wealthy families have tried to get their kids in.

Finally, one more — this one in America:

Sarah Herr is a high school cheerleader in Bettendorf, Iowa. That’s as good as it gets in teen society, right? The prettiest, the most popular girls in school are the ones out in front of the stands, leading all the cheers. But Sarah went beyond that teen highpoint—she stuck her neck out to create and train a whole new squad of cheerleaders, girls who are usually sidelined from teen activities.

Sarah’s project, The Sparkle Effect, is an innovative student-run program that empowers teens to include students with disabilities in school cheerleading and dance programs. Sparkle Effect teams are totally inclusive, featuring both typically-developing students and those with disabilities, working and playing side by side.

Giraffe Heroes are found all around the world. They’re the little guy or gal — sometimes disempowered and sometimes just feeling compassion for the disempowered around them — sticking their necks out to help change the world. Giraffe Heroes lend a hand, lead by example, and promote self-reliance and self-respect.

Find out more about these and other stories, and get involved at Giraffe.org.

About Anita Casalina