Elissa is a Canadian artist, NGO founder and mounaineer. She is a prominent name in the Canadian screen industry for over 20 years and has worked for the past twelve 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 and completed an LLM in 2021. Her focus is international human rights.
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 work at home with behavioral special needs dogs and helping grassroots organizations in volatile regions devoted to animal advocacy, rescue, and rehabilitation.
Holly is a writer, filmmaker, actor, and photo essayist with roots in the theater, music and fine arts. Her debut book about late diagnosis of autism in women is set for a late 2022 release. The accompanying documentary, ‘What You See’, is currently in development. As an NGO founder and recovering aid worker, with over 12 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.
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 an interest in moving behind the camera 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
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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 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