Holly Elissa is an ecofeminist creative, social entrepreneur, mountaineer, and NGO founder.
Elissa has worked for the past fourteen years for the rights of animals and women and children who are refugees/displaced people and victims of trafficking – namely child soldiers, rape and sex slavery survivors – as the founder of Caleb’s Hope and more recently United Commons and Femmes Mondiales. Her original education being in theatre and film, Elissa returned to school and obtained a law degree in 2020 to better serve under her NGO. She completed an LLM in 2021 and is currently fulfilling requirements to be called to the bar in California. Her legal scholarship focuses on an ecofeminist analysis of historical hegemonic patriachy and it's relationship to animal law, environmental law, and international human rights - specifically the rights of women and children.
Tsleil-Waututh First Nation-led and organised Stop Kinder Morgan protestsUnceded territory, Burnaby Mountain
Her passion for animal welfare led to becoming a certified force-free canine behavioral specialist (CPDT-KA) which allows her to go further in her volunteer rescue work at home with behavioral special needs dogs and helping grassroots organizations in volatile regions devoted to animal advocacy, rescue, and rehabilitation.
Brownie, rescue dog, SOS Animaux, Marrakech, Morroco.
Holly is a writer, filmmaker (and retired actor) with roots in the theater, music and fine arts. Her debut book about late diagnosis of autism in women is set for a 2023 release. The accompanying documentary, ‘What You See’, is currently in production. As an NGO founder and recovering aid worker, with over 14 years of humanitarian work under her belt, the danger of the single-story narrative – specifically of African nations, displaced persons and disabled people – is a primary focus in her storytelling.
Syrian children and family crossing by boat from Egypt to Sudan, 2012
Separation Wall, Bethlehem
Tahrir Square unrest, Cairo, Egypt, 2012
Elissa is motivated to tell stories that explore cross-cultural understanding and human rights through innovative yet accessible narrative and documentary films as well as mixed media and video essays. Her work in Africa and the Middle East contributes to her point of view, specifically the danger of the single-story narrative.
Atiak Technical School Students building a roof for a new home for a homeless woman and her children, Atiak, Uganda, 2010
Street cat, Sinai region, Egypt, 2012
MOUNTAINEERING AND TREKKING
– more information coming soon –
Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro, 2008
Her NGO work focuses on international law and how it relates to human rights, specifically women and children, environmental law and animal law. After her own ‘white saviour’ blunders, she is a reformed aid worker and contributor to challenging colonial narratives and tired aid models in African nations as an advocate for responsible foreign investment, social enterprise, and humanitarian aid.
Separation wall, Bethlehem, Palestine, 2018
As the founder of Caleb’s Hope, Elissa worked with refugee women and children in Atiak region of Northern Uganda – widows, former child soldiers, sex slaves, PLWHA, and child headed households. With the ongoing assistance of local leaders and experts, they developed the Atiak Women’s Business Group; a women’s social enterprise group focused on sustainable economic independence and child welfare and education. AWBG currently focuses on farming as their sustainable industry of choice with many having dreams to expand their farming productions while others use funds to complete school or plan to use profits as start-up capital for other business endeavors.
Unfortunately the deeply flawed and oppressive colonial structure of most foreign aid in Africa has systematically led to an inevitable unhealthy co-dependency between western charities and their developing nation recipients, despite the best of intentions. Because of this reality, Caleb’s Hope could no longer, in good conscience, continue programs in Atiak. All programs were completed, fulfilling the NGOs promise in Atiak in 2014.
Refugee camp, Aiak, Uganda, 2008
"If we within the aid and humanitarian industry don't talk about where we're failing, how can we improve? Rooted in this eurocentric (and patriarchal) ideology, the system is broken and always has been. Too many western charities cling to their idea of 'right'. Too many participate in a victim-saviour relationship with people on the ground. And too many pretend you can build healthy, independent economies from charity. You can't help if you're not willing to listen and not willing to admit where we have failed and where we have harmed with our 'good intentions.' It would behove everyone to have a little more humility; with mouths shut and ears open. Academic credentials and lengthy resumes don't make anyone infallible nor all-knowing. There is no room for arrogance, fragile egos or pity. It's time to decolonise the system." - Holly Elissa