Autistic polymath, Elissa is an ecofeminist artist, mountaineer, and NGO founder with Asperger's.
An activist for peace and sentient rights, Elissa has worked for the past twelve years for the rights of non-human 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. As an ecofeminist, she rejects speciesism. Her passion for non-human animal welfare led to becoming a certified force-free canine behavioral specialist (CPDT-KA) which allows her to go further in her work at home with behavioral special needs dogs and helping grassroots organizations in volatile regions devoted to animal advocacy, rescue, and rehabilitation.
Elissa is a multi-disciplinary artist: writer, filmmaker, actor, and fine artist. Her roots are in the theater, music and fine arts. Her childhood was spent primarily with pencil or brush in hand – to draw, paint or write. Elissa began studying classical flute and piano at age 12, with theatre following in her secondary school years. Her professional repertoire expands on her roots with work spanning the stage, film and television, and fine arts.
An acting veteran in ‘Hollywood North’, her extensive film and television credits include critically acclaimed and award-winning productions from MGM, Netflix, CTV, Fox, Warner Bros, NBC Universal, The CW, and ABC. Her career in front of the camera naturally progressed to more prominent roles behind the lens as a filmmaker.
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.
MOUNTAINEERING AND TREKKING
– more information coming soon –
Her NGO work focuses on international law and how it relates to human rights, specifically women and childrem, 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.
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.
"If we within the aid and humanitarian industry don't talk about where we're failing, how can we improve? Rooted in Euro-colonial patriarchal ideology, the system is broken and always has been. It's impossible for empathy to truly exist and flourish if you're clinging to 'our' idea of 'right'. How can you say you are in service to those in need if you're not even willing to listen? And yes, that means take some criticism too. 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. Your way isn't the only way - or even the right way. We are to serve intelligently from a place of compassionate mindfulness with awareness and insight, not blindly from ego motivated by pity. It's time to de-colonise the system." - Holly Elissa