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PANAMA: Bridging the Inequality Gap for the Darién Province

Although the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index has ranked residents of Panama as the leaders in “well-being” for two consecutive years, three weeks in communities of the Darién province exposed me to the destitution and gubernatorial neglect that blankets this eastern region. Inhabitants of the Darién have been stigmatized, leaving them to persevere without access to clean water, health care facilities, or economic opportunity. My experience led me not only to question the validity of the Index, but also to consider the ways we can empower a forgotten sub-population.

“A little further down the road, you’ll find that it comes to an end,” my local Panamanian guide remarked while en route to the compound where we reside for the following three weeks. At the time, the idea of a place with no road was beyond comprehension. How could people stay connected? How could they receive supplies? The answer to these questions is simple -- they don’t.

Soon after arriving in Panama, I began to comprehend the “Darién Gap” — a 99-mile swath of undeveloped swampland and forest located within Panama’s Darién province — as a symbol of the many development projects that have been discontinued in the region over the past decades. I found that the double-edged sword of indigenous isolation offers cultural preservation on one side, clean water and healthcare deficiencies on the other.

The border between Panama and Colombia is the only one in the world that remains unpaved! While the decision to stop construction of the Pan-American Highway provided benefits to some groups, such as law enforcement officers against drug traffickers and indigenous inhabitants of the Gap who wish to preserve a traditional lifestyle, it also resulted in neglect of an entire region. With the fastest-growing economy in the Americas, Panama now has an opportunity to improve the quality of life for all its citizens. Yet despite the recent boom, the nation has the greatest economic inequality in the Americas with nearly 40 percent of the country living in poverty. Many of those who endure economic destitution live in the eastern half of the country, particularly in the Darién. 

My three weeks in Panama were dedicated to community visits throughout this beleaguered province. Meeting with officials as well as individual households, we conducted surveys to determine the accessibility of fundamental necessities, such as clean water, health care, and education. I was an intern for a nonprofit based in Panama City, but which conducts most of its projects with American undergraduates serving communities of the Darién. This nonprofit creates partnerships with communities located in proximity to a road or a rocky pathway that Panamanian officials call highway. More indigenous groups are sheltered within the Darién Gap, undisturbed and unacknowledged.

According to community members who responded to our surveys in July 2014, lack of access to clean water is the main problem affecting daily life for an appreciable number of residents in the Darién province. Although the Panamanian government’s Ministry of Health is responsible for water distribution by means of aqueduct systems, complications such as project incompletion, water shortages, pipeline damages, and contamination from pesticides/animals inhibit achievement of the goal. Residents described complex, inconsistent, and seasonally based methods for receiving water. In the past, families might go two months without water when a government-constructed pipeline to a water tank is broken. When water finally arrives, it will sometimes come out dirty or contaminated from passage through farmland. 

Observation and conversation with members of various communities taught me that collaboration between locals and external, resource-rich groups has been a driver for successful growth in this area. Yet one person I met described the Darién province as “the temple of abandoned development projects” for the number of missionary and nonprofit groups that have attempted and failed to provide assistance to families in the greatest need. In an indigenous community named Emberá Puru, I noticed little blue water filters strewn about the property. The leaders explained that a missionary group had provided over 100 filters, but not explained how to use them. The group left after a week of what could be described as “voluntourism” — volunteering abroad that resembles a tourism opportunity — and the community was left with pieces of plastic polluting the land.

The neglected Darién province is not a unique case. Panamanians from other parts of the country (like Panama City) expressed surprise and/or distaste when my group revealed we were working in this eastern region. These people hold onto misconceptions, such as the idea that the Darién is filled with dangerous members of drug cartels or that it’s a completely unlivable swampland.

While the “Darién Gap” might lack a constructed road, the population of this area has done its best to overcome deficiency through resiliency. When a government or its people show indifference toward improving the lives of an entire population sector, outside measures need to be taken to reduce inequality. But “outside measures” should also be performed through culturally conscious and responsible mechanisms in order to achieve sustainable success. No clear-cut solution exists to resolve problems such as clean water, healthcare, and education inaccessibility in the Darién province, Panama. However, creative and collaborative efforts have the power to mediate substandard conditions and to catalyze change – one household at a time.




Sarah is an undergraduate at Yale University and a content editor for As a traveler who has visited 30 countries (and counting!), she feels passionate about international development through sustainable mechanisms. Sarah has taken an interest in the intersection between public health and theater, and hopes to create a program that utilizes these disciplines for community empowerment. She is a fluent Spanish speaker with plans to take residence in Latin American after graduation. 



A Meditation for Nepal

When tragedy happens to others it’s our human nature to want to block it out. But when something devastating happens it’s almost incomprehensible.

On April 25th an earthquake of 7.9 magnitude struck Nepal.

At least 2,430 people died in Nepal alone an another 61 people died in India. It’s feared that, as the epicenter of the quake moves from Nepal to India, things could get worse. And they are getting worse according to my friend Vishakha Shukla.

Vishakha is a surgeon in Delhi, India, who has been helping patients injured in this natural disaster. “Things are turning from bad to worse,” Vishakha said. “I felt three more tremors this afternoon. I just saw a building collapse in front of me.” Talking about the injured she has been treating Vshakha says, “I am shaken but I have to hold it together and stay grounded for my patients. Most of them are outside and not ready to be moved to the hospital and it’s rough treating them.”

Vishakha will be leaving with a rescue team to help at the epicenter in Nepal tomorrow, though she’s not sure how they will manage.

I have other friends who I have been speaking to. They are all safe. But knowing people that are involved seems to make something like this feel real. What can we do when it feels like we have no control?

Well aside from continuing to send messages of support we can do some practical things like donate to organisations helping in the thick of things, even a few dollars helps.

I’m not one to pray,while living in a tibetan Buddhist community for the last year. I did do a daily compassion meditation called Tonglen. The idea is to take on the suffering of others and give them happiness and comfort.

From my own experience, not only does this change us but it also inspires us.

“Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense.” ~ Dalai Lama

It’s important to understand that taking on suffering doesn’t involve burdening yourself with other peoples suffering. Studies show that compassion meditation can change our psychology and the very structure of our brain, helping us be more focused and mindful.

With the inhale you breathe in the wish to take away the suffering, and exhale the wish to send comfort and happiness to people, animals, nations or whatever it is you decide.

You can do this for a single person or many. Breath in as fully as you can and, as you exhale, radiate as widely as you can.

Here is a video I did that explains the practice and guides you through the meditation. I invite you try this practice:



Aron is President of the non-profit, Shift Foundation, and is an expert on awareness and high-performance training. Over the last 20 years he has taught yoga and meditation and has studied and been initiated into awareness traditions from around the world. Using his background in psychology and life coaching, he has created a powerful and practical system for personal transformation.








The World's First Surf + Social Good Summit in Bali

Easkey Britton is a world renowned pro-surfer, activist, oxfam hero and co-founder of Waves of Freedom. Here MISSION speaks with her to learn more about the first ever Surf + Social Good Summit that will meet in Bali, Indonesia on May 15th-18th...

Easkey, what led you to surfing and to the idea for this first ever Surfing and Social Good Summit?

I grew up where the land meets the sea, on the North West coast of Ireland, where the ocean was my constant playmate. Born into Ireland’s first family of surf, I’ve been surfing for as long as I can remember. Surfing is the driving force in my life and my lens to focus with. Growing up somewhere so isolated it’s where I found my belonging, my passion and purpose, my attraction to the unknown. I understand the importance of female role models in sport and was lucky to have got my hands on a copy of the only women’s surf magazine at the time and read the story of the iconic Hawaiian surfer and ‘Queen of Aloha’, Rell Sunn, who became my female hero. Rell, who battled cancer until the end of her days, taught me the power of sharing your passion and that surfing has this power to connect us all. Most importantly, I learned the power of giving and that surfing didn’t have to be a selfish pursuit. One of my favorite quotes from Rell is:

Surfer and Activist Easkey Britton‘You give and give from the heart until you have nothing else to give.’ 

Life may not be the way it’s supposed to be, it’s just the way it is. It’s the way we respond that makes a difference. Rell knew that better than anyone, and that’s what this initiative celebrates - the power of surfing to connect and create positive impact, even in the face of great challenge.

What is your vision for the Summit, what do you hope it will achieve?

This is the coming together and shaping of a global movement – the Summit is not a one-off isolated event. It's about community-building for social change through collaboration, connection and collective leadership for greater impact, recognising that we can create much greater impact through collective action. To that end we all meet as diverse mix of social equals, open to listening and sharing the diversity of our perspectives and knowledge and creating space for dialogue.

What the Summit seeks to do is to bring together people across the spectrum, from different sectors, with different perspectives and approaches and yet sharing a desire or vision to create positive impact, be that through business, charity, advocacy, activism, innovation, or research. In a way it's to shake up current discourse, or as some say, "common surf mentality", and perhaps see things in new ways as well as be able to offer others unexpected insights. The aim is to create a space that facilitates a process for open dialogue - to be heard and to listen. 

It's not about telling people what they should and shouldn't do, what we think surf+social good means, but rather an exploration of what we think it means in different contexts, how we are already doing things, or how we might wish to redefine surfing's potential to create change. This is a beginning  - to map out the successes and opportunities, as well as challenges and obstacles, and to form new opportunities for collaboration through research networks and project partnerships that we hope to create during our final day, the Impact Lab, May 18th.

Can you highlight some of the main speakers and organizations who will attend?

The focus is less on a day full of presentations and talks and more on creating a space and process for engagement, interaction, and dialogue.  That said we do have some really exciting keynote speakers and forum guests from all around the world who we believe capture the diversity of issues and opportunities that exist within the surfing world, including the President of the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea, Andy Abel; Dr. Belinda Wheaton a gender and action sports expert from the University of Waikato, 3 x world longboard champion, activist and founder of The Inspire Initiative Cori Schumacher, the business sector is represented by the likes of Waterways Travel and social enterprise Salt Gypsy, and other organisations using surfing to create social impact such as, Waves for Development, My Destiny, Little Seeds, Beyond the Surface International and A Liquid Future – to name a few!

The Summit is a co-ed event but can you highlight some of the events highlighting women's empowerment through surfing?

In celebration of May as Women's International Surfing month and recognition of the unique and positive impact surfing can give to women and girls, we are dedicating a full day of the 3-day Summit to celebrating the achievements and addressing the challenges for surf as force for women and girls globally. The Girls Make Waves Action Day, May 17th, is a special event that focuses on how access to and the experience of surfing can promote self-empowerment for women and girls. 

The aim of the GMW Day is to create a series of engaging workshops and surf lessons led by a diverse mix of inspiring local and international female leaders and surf-stars. We explore how we stay connected, share experiences, learn from each other and grow a community of surfing for positive change. We aim to help develop local female leaders within communities.

How can people get involved, either to sign up or get involved in other ways if they cannot attend.

You can still make waves even if you can’t make it to Bali to ride them!

  1. You can support and give to our S+SG initiatives via our online fundraiser on our Crowdrise page.
  2. Be part of the community, join the conversation about Surf + Social Good and sign-up for our newsletter to receive updates and news pre-, during and post-Summit, and our twitter, instagram and facebook
  3. Learn more about the #surfsocialgood movement and how to get involved in the @surfsocialgood Summit #letsmakewaves

Get involved!  We want to know, What does surf for social good mean to you? Tweet your answers @surfsocialgood  




Easkey is an internationally renowned professional surfer, artist, scientist and explorer from Ireland, with a PhD in Marine Environment and Society. Her parents taught her to surf when she was four years old and her life has revolved around the ocean ever since. She is co-founder of the non-profit Waves of Freedom which uses the power of surfing as a creative medium for social change.


NEPAL: First Hand Traveler's Account of the Earthquake

On April 10th, I left Kathmandu, Nepal, after an inspirational wellness retreat with Elev8Nepal. We spent ten days in the highly spiritual nation, staying in Pokhara for the majority of the time. However, the capital city of Kathmandu and its historic world heritage sites left a tremendous impression on me.  On Saturday, April 25th, a devastating earthquake hit the nation of Nepal, and brought destruction to the capital. It is with sadness that I share that many buildings and temples that have stood for centuries crumbled under the magnitude of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Saturday morning, I awoke to read a status update from Brian “Soloman” Steadman, a friend I met on the retreat, who stayed behind to spend more time Nepal. His story and photos will add to the many to come as the dust settles in Nepal. Below is his startling eyewitness account to the disaster:

This morning, I left Lumbini to Kathmandu with a friend I’ve been traveling with named Mirjam. There was a terrible storm last night in Lumbini and I was glad that it had cleared enough for us to fly out. We got to Kathmandu and checked into a hotel and took a nap. I woke up from the nap and started planning out my day when the building began to shake.

At first, I was just shocked and in disbelief. “Is this really happening, is there really an earthquake?” I quickly snapped out of it, ran to a pillar in the room, and hugged onto it. Mirjam got up and I shouted at her to find a doorway or pillar. She ended up running to the pillar I was under. I was surprised at how long the quake lasted, and was scared that it might become more intense. We watched out the window as the three story building next door started to collapse under the shaking. Half of that building is gone now, and I don’t think anyone was in it, thank God.


After it stopped, we just heard screaming from outside, and I could only think of the worst. We ran to grab essentials and get out of the building. We ran out of our hotel, and saw that a temple just outside of the alley our hotel was in had completely collapsed. All I could hear was the sound of women and children crying. I went to the building and someone said that there were people in there when it had fallen, and a large amount of Nepali men were busy trying to clear the rubble. They had already pulled one person out of the rubble. I tried to find a place to join, but there were already too many people working on it. At this point a strong aftershock hit, and everyone started screaming and running for cover.

Kathmandu consists of many very old buildings that are around four to five stories high, all made of very old brick and mortar. The streets are very narrow and there is no place to go that is out of the way of falling rubble. We were told that Patan Darbar square would be safe, as it has a larger clear area. We went down the street to the square. Before we left, the men managed to pull another person out of the rubble.

Durbar square consists of a palace and five or so very large temples. When we got to the square we found that two of the temples had completely collapsed. People were already trying to dig out the rubble to save the people who had been in the temples when they fell. I ran and joined in digging out the rubble, and Mirjam went to get water and food for the workers. I worked for around an hour and a half clearing rubble and trying to save some of the woodwork of the 1600 year old temple, but we didn’t find anyone. At this point the military showed up and took over. All the while there were aftershocks. Whenever one hit, people began screaming at the sky, which I’ve found out is a Nepali custom to prevent more earthquakes.

I was walking away when someone came up and said my name. It was Niraja,n a Nepalese guide I had befriended when I was last in Kathmandu. He was also helping to clear the rubble, and we all left together. He was in northern Kathmandu in a bus when the quake began. He said that when it started, people tried to run off of the bus, but the quake was so intense it rocked over and fell on those trying to flee. He said that at least three people died. He also said that a mutual friend of ours named Rabin had also been in Patan Durbar square, and had apparently gotten buried under the rubble of the other temple I had not been digging on. They had pulled him out after an hour of being buried and he’s ok and currently in the hospital. He also had heard that Dharahara tower had fallen and killed over 120 people.

We walked around Patan, checking the damage to the buildings and temples. There are cracks and loose masonry in all of the walls, and some buildings have partially crumbled. We went to the Mahabuddha Temple, and it looks fine. We thought we were safe and that the earthquakes had stopped when another hit. The 50ft high stone temple began to sway in front of us, and we ran. Luckily it didn’t topple. After this we decided to go straight to Narajan’s family home. It is in an area that does not have tall buildings, and is very sturdy. Both Mirjam and I are staying here for the night, as there is an earthquake warning in effect. Local legends say that when an earthquake hits, another one hits later in the night. We went to our hotel to pick up things and the manager was glad that we had already found a place, as he was having all the guests go to locations that are more safe.

We went and picked up some food at the remnants of what was supposed to be a local Lakshmi festival. We then went to the market, which is alive and well, and got supplies for dinner. One of the people we met says that the small villages outside of Kathmandu have been leveled, and his grandfather’s house is gone. There hasn’t been an aftershock for a while and I think the total has been 13 quakes in the past 6.5 hours. The family is cooking a big Thali to calm everyone’s nerves and things have began to quiet down a little. Hopefully this is it for the quakes.

TEXT + PHOTOS by Brian Steadman


THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DAISY YOGA, a blog of writings inspired by the practice of teaching and learning yoga, and founded by Lauren Coles, who aims to bring yoga and meditation into the work force to improve people's work-life balance, increase happiness and reduce stress. Lauren can be contacted at



NEPAL: Waves For Water Heads Toward Kathmandu

Waves For Water works on the front-line to provide clean water to communities around the world, and that becomes especially urgent and important in disaster zones such as the recent earthquake in Nepal. MISSION spoke with Waves For Water Founder Jon Rose as he was about to depart to Nepal.

How would you describe the Nepal earthquake in comparison to other natural disaster zones you have worked in?

I don't usually like to speak in sensationalized terms but feel it's necessary right now, to truly convey the context of what the people of Nepal are dealing with. As we speak, the death toll has already topped 4,000 people, but from my experience we should all be prepared for it to end up many times that number. To put it into perspective the capital city, Kathmandu, has a population of about 1 million, with a total of 2.5 million across the entire valley. The initial quake was 7.9 magnitude, followed by a strong aftershock of 6.6 a half-hour afterward, along with at least 15 aftershocks of 4.5 or greater, the USGS reported. The current reports say that around 6 million people have been affected by this between Nepal and its surrounding countries.

Waves For Water Founder Jon RoseHow does water factor into the equation?

Much like many of the other disasters zones we've responded to, Nepal already has a great need for a clean-water program like ours (cholera is an ongoing problem). Clean water is preventative medicine, It’s also one of the only things to help stop the spread of disease. They have access to water in this region, in this whole valley. It’s just not necessarily clean.

What is your plan of action?

We will base just outside of Kathmandu with our in country partners, Insights Himalaya Alpine guides, and focus on the smaller communities around the region that have been cut off and have no access to help.

How can people help and get involved?

In the case of relief missions, if people are keen to travel and help, they should do just that. We feel our Clean Water Courier program is a great outlet for people because it gives them a real solution that they could implement during a trip here; one that has a very measurable and tangible impact. But we want to specify that the program is only a platform to give people the tools to go do it themselves. This is and has always been our philosophy - empowering people to take initiative, step outside their comfort zone, and create a unique experience for them themselves. We believe that everyone can be a humanitarian this way! That said, we realize that this model isn't for everybody and we apologize if you are looking for a more traditional structure to volunteer, but we are being authentic to our founding nature as adventurers. W4W was born out of our love for discovery, travel, and adventure… and so we want our "volunteer" model to stay inline with that by encouraging and empowering people in this way. If people are not up for getting out there on your own and creating this type of experience for themselves, then they can always fundraise to support our teams ongoing effort on the ground here - either way they are helping to get people access to clean water.

People can also donate directly on our site The money raised is going straight towards buying and transporting more filters to feed the local networks we have set up on the ground. In addition, people can create a personal fundraiser page on our site to crowdfund for this project through their social networks. It's important to note that the money raised through these fundraisers go towards the specific W4W project that the user selects when creating their fundraiser page. It is not a platform where the user gets the funds after the fundraiser is over. It is just a way for people to fundraise directly for our projects, but in a more personal way.

For those people who want to get out into the field we have our version of a volunteer program called - Clean Water Couriers. It is not a traditional volunteer model, it is more of a DIY (do it yourself) model that is meant to be utilized by people who want to travel and have a give-back component to their trip. Waves For Water does not send people anywhere, it's more about each person creating their own travel experience; then crowdfunding on our site to buy filters for their trip. W4W provides the platform and serves as a resource of information and knowledge around the filter systems; and how they may go about distributing once their on the ground. It's very simple and very guerrilla, by design.

As always, we greatly appreciate your support.



CUBAMERA: Five Years to Glory

The journey to create a Cuban American music festival.

Every mission has challenges. Visions take curiosity and execution takes courage. By writing this I am exposing my work and I accept the consequences. Countless hours were spent on this meaningful mission and the joy lies in the path taken. Daily happiness is the balance to achieving the ultimate goal and money is necessary to keep the dream alive.

I’m a pretty well traveled kid from California and decided that Havana is where I wanted to kick off the 2009 year. Some business was involved but I wanted to see what Americans couldn’t see. My mission has always been to make a global difference and have fun doing it; I was looking for personal growth and a career shift… I had always been drawn to music. Later that year I had a couple ideas regarding Cuba that evolved into conversations with a handful of friends. One conversation with my buddy Alistair Monroe sealed a partnership and the passion project began.

photo: Bret JohnsonWe were led to an international license attorney that had helped with three major cultural concert events in the past 20 years in Havana (Music Bridges, Kool & The Gang, and Audioslave). Recognizing that this musical connection has been on pause for too long, we sought to reestablish it and then share it. I kept adding to the core team, setting goals and painting the vision to form the CUBAMERA Project.

By September 2010 we emailed a proposal to the Instituto Cubano de la Musica (ICM) in Havana, built a website, and started discussions with artists, managers, event producers, and video production professionals. The CUBAMERA Project was, and still is, simply a cultural exchange program willing itself through a jagged window. The vision has been based on a cultural bridge of music and arts; seems simple enough and is totally legal. We were forced to do this independently and under the radar because it involved Cuba, which made it even more challenging.

photo: Yarrow KranerBefore these recently revised policies, a formal proposal needed to be presented to Cuba to get a “letter of invitation” but communication delays occurred all the time so we traveled to Havana in May 2011. We had our first in-person meeting with the ICM, dinner with a representative from the Ministry of Culture, walked through many potential music venues, and discussed which American artists would be best for a concert and cultural exchange. The ICM Director asked if we could bring Sting and U2. I remember saying, “we would love to but they aren’t American, they can come anytime they want” and that’s when we realized that nobody else must be able to accomplish anything very significant in Cuba, even from Europe; it must be tough for anyone to bring artists down there, no matter where they are from or how big they are- bigger challenges, bigger results. By the end of that trip, a roster was approved, a formal proposal was sent again, and then we waited. The original lineup intended to be the Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews Band, Michael Franti & Spearhead, the Crystal Method, and Ozomatli (the roster proposed in 2011).

Again, we couldn’t let it leak out; no press or attention was sought after, the experienced voices told us to not let people know until we go and to certainly stay away from the Cubans in Miami. Until now, CUBAMERA has kept all artists on the roster hush hush due to cultural and political sensitivities of Cuban-Americans worldwide but the potential lineup has always been built on roots, respect, education, and collaborative juices between two cultures so that we would be invite back year after year, to do it again and again.

photo: Bret JohnsonIt looked promising and potential dates in February 2012 became available but months later were pulled due to the Pope’s visit so we asked for dates in May. To be proactive I wrote and sent many letters of intent to internationally-known musicians and managers. Artists can’t get paid in Cuba and I was getting a ton of resistance trying to lock down major artists on “maybes” since there were no set dates and no performance fees, artists and managers have to be really interested in the mission.

I reached out to artists like: Chuck D, Sting, Santana, Lionel Richie, Damian Marley, 311, Bruno Mars, Herbie Hancock, Ben Harper, Trombone Shorty, Dumpstaphunk, and Jackson Browne with attempts made to Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, Enrique Iglesias, John Legend, Quincy Jones, Green Day, Metallica, Neil Diamond, and so many more known and relatively unknown artists. Many conversations continued regarding all aspects of creating a solid cultural exchange production in a country with limited resources and infrastructure. The team was building, more people were getting involved which meant I had to be the cheerleader and carry the positive torch that this was “gonna happen.” One thing a dear Cuban friend told me was “just get the first one done”… that still sticks with me.

photo: Bret JohnsonThe original vision continued as three nights of Cuban and American music in the Karl Marx Theater and then one big day-long festival at the outdoor venue that was built during the “Special Period” just for concerts (right next to the US Embassy on the Malecon) called the Tribuna Antiimperialista Stage.  All we needed was that letter of invitation with exact dates and venues from Cuba to get things started and then all the details needed to be prepared for the US Treasury Dept’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Their approval would allow the American travelers and artists to produce a public performance for free and film it so the content could be “disseminated” and sold to pay for everything. Yes, free to the public as required by OFAC. Sponsors? Who was gonna sponsor anything in Cuba? And, this OFAC application needed the names and passports of EVERY person traveling including all musicians. Talk about herding cats?

Finally, in March 2013 we received the invitation with dates in late May but no outdoor performances allowed. Scrambling to get all ducks in a row with roughly three months to go, I got copies of passports and all signed documents to bring a total of 60 people to Havana, that included:  four bands, a production team and a film crew. Funding was so hard to find, Cuba was still too mysterious for investors. I got a CUBAMERA credit card to pay for travel and we prayed that somebody would support us ($250K more was needed). We lined up with some key Cuban musicians to perform and collaborate like: Kelvis Ochoa, Descemer Bueno, Yasek Manzano and Dayramir Gonzales. Later on we added the Thievery Corporation, Sheila E., Aloe Blacc, and G. Love & the Special Sauce. Our music director was Printz Board (former MD/keyboardist of the Black Eyed Peas) and we tried to figure out how to arrange things with the solo guests like: Bobby Bare Jr., Marky and Michael Lennon (Venice, Pine Mountain Logs), Aaron Neville, Jara Harris (Slapbak, Jordin Sparks), Kenny Livingston (Sugarcult, Good Man Down), and Ian Moore. All of that effort and we couldn’t get things arranged within the 3-month window so we tried to move the dates for September but failed to get enough funds together.

photo: Yarrow KranerTo date, CUBAMERA has been invited by Cuba’s government three times and approved by the US government twice! It has cost me more than $60K and recently sold a house to afford my full-time work on this project for the past two years. The latest event was poised to be in October 2014 for a legendary showcase of music. The approval was for 152 travelers all-willing to work and perform for the cost of travel and the opportunity to make musical magic and history in Cuba but we could not pull off the big plans and produced a small jazz concert with Dayramir Gonzales and special Cuban guests. 

Now, more than ever, there is an undeniable sense of urgency to get these musicians together and collaborate. When artists get together there is a silent communication—the look, the move, the instinct—with other artists for the next chord progression or beat to advance the song and play along. It is a different language and is totally easier to see when musicians don’t all use the same spoken language. It’s magic and infectious to a music fan, like myself. It’s the love of music and collaborating with others that drives my effort—creating wonderful experiences for all involved is what I do. I bought a $5 leather belt in Havana that says “CUBA” on it and that’s the belt I put on 95% of the time, for three years running… I am dedicated to the positive energy. If we build the platform and prove the concept then maybe we can build up to a big annual festival…unless Obama calls me and tells us to go for a big celebratory gig. Why not? It could happen, I have sent enough communications to our government that someone must have heard about this project.

With relations normalizing there are some partnerships and sponsorships on the table to help me finish what I started; I can pull off an event for less than $1.5 million. There are several ways to do things and I think we have a pretty solid approach to respect the craft of music making, performance and education. Similar to Ry Cooder and Wim Wender’s masterpiece, the Buena Vista Social Club, CUBAMERA intends to shine a bright light throughout the world to show off the beautiful sounds and people of Cuba while cultivating a new journey for American musicians. Governments set up cultural exchanges for reasons and our reason is simply for the arts. There needs to be better support of the arts in America, that’s obvious. Part of our goal is for that to happen.

Sincere gratitude goes out to so many people that have helped me in this journey. It is difficult to put the correct spotlight on people since everyone played a different role, offering different expertise and guidance, and the many more that turned me away that led to more fuel for the fire. Thank you in hugs to the ladies of the ICM: Susana and Eileen; The CUBAMERA Core team of: Art Arellanes, Lloyd Bryan Adams, Alistair Monroe, Yarrow Kraner, Christian Lamb, Paul Prewitt, Lionel Pasamonte, Peter Bowers, Leslie Sinclair, Kelly Love, Tom Wright, Chuck Haifley, Krish Sharma, Cathi Black, Jen Klewitz, Ashley McCue, David Simpson, Jason Auerbach, Juan Carlos Saizarbitoria; the legal council of: Dave Marglin, Jebb Dykstra, Bill Martinez, Whitney Broussard, Laurie Gelfand; and all of those that carved out time and then carved out time again, keeping yourselves available like: Todd Work, Alisa Froman, Carleen Pickard, Becca Olstad;  especially the production crew and the artists/management/supporters for the constant changes in scheduling: Kristen Foster, Ken Jordan, Printz Board, Catherine Enny, Amy Blackman, Garrett Dutton, Kenny Livingston, Damon Vonn, Jason Brown, Gilbert Davison, Dave Geller, Bruce Eskowitz, Kevin Lyman, Stuart Ross, Jara Harris, Rich Luboviski, Michael Stavros, Monica Perez, Evan King and many more; and my family, friends and girlfriend(s) for putting up with the countless hours that I talked about this project over the past 5 years. Huge respect to everyone…but we’re not done, there is more to do and I will finish what I started. Peace!



Bret has been traveling since his flight attendant mother gave him birth. He has kept his cup of curiosity full by lettering in four sports in high school and then studying Exercise Physiology at UC Davis while starting a mountain bike team and a graduate project. After college he hosted Planet X TV, the pioneering show for the action sports lifestyle and parlayed that to work on events such as: Aspen Jazz Festival, MTV Sports & Music Festival, Telluride Film Festival, New Orleans Jazz Fest, Bumbershoot, X-Games, and Burning Man. He has worked as a VP for Pabst Brewing Co. and Rockstar Energy Drink plus consulting duties for Men’s Health Magazine, Gibson Guitars and Spin Magazine. Bret has appeared, hosted and produced on TV shows for Fox Sports Net, Outdoor Channel, CBS, USA Network, Discovery Health, MTV, NBC News, and the Warped Tour Radio Show. These days, sights are set on Cuba. 

For more information, or to get involved, email: 

More information about the photographers:

Bret and photographer Yarrow Kraner are collaborating on a gallery show of their recent trip to Cuba. Yarrow is Founder of, a Director at Virgin Produced, an Aspen Institute Fellow, and recently named 2015 top "100 Creatives in the Country" by Origins Magazine. He's also featured in a book, Talent for Humanity, released April 2015.




The Pitfalls of Pursuing Your Purpose

Living with purpose is a noble ambition, but it's not something that can be sought. A purposeful life is created within.

The trajectory of my 20s reads like a dilettante’s handbook, or a drunk pirate’s treasure map; winding, dabbling, non-linear. Like most children of the 80s, I was raised in the height of the self-esteem movement, with its encouraging maxim that I could do anything I wanted to do, and be anything I wanted to be. Thankfully I’ve also had the privilege of parents who supported this view. When I proudly announced in 4th grade that I would be the first woman president, no one batted an eye. When I decided to move to Manhattan after high school, I was given a hug, two cans of mace, and a membership to Bally’s Sport’s Club; just in case I wound up homeless and needed a place to shower.

I had faith in my own resourcefulness and in the benevolence of mankind. I didn’t have a plan, per se, but I was on a mission to find my purpose. Oh, sweet purpose. The final frontier.

The importance of purpose is not a new concept, but one that seems to be on our minds quite a bit these days. According to the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 60% of the millennial generation listed a “sense of purpose” within the organization when asked why they chose their current employers. Purpose-driven books topped the New York Times bestsellers list in 2014, with titles like Your Life Calling by Jane Pauley, and The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change by Adam Braun. And ranking third in the Top 10 most watched TED Talks of all time, Simon Sinek asks us what “our purpose, our cause, our belief” is; urging 21 million viewers worldwide to connect with our “WHY.” I’m responsible for at least 30 of those views, I’ve shared this gem so often.

On one hand, I find this turn toward purpose incredibly heartening. In a culture that traditionally values metrics of success, it suggests that we’re asking ourselves how to live by our own standards, collectively elevating meaning over measurement. When I was a Girl Scout our motto was: “Always leave things better than you found them,” which is an idea reflected in the popularity of purpose. We’re consciously contemplating what we’re built for, and how best to contribute to the world.

On the other hand, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that all of this “find your purpose” business is somehow missing the mark. There’s something lacking from the conversation; and it’s the small but mighty distinction between having a purpose and living a purposeful life.

It may seem like a matter of syntax, but syntax is important. The way that we talk about things reveals our relationship to them, and ultimately, how we approach them. In the case of purpose, it’s the difference between seeking the keys to redemption and revealing what’s already there.

During my decade as a dilettante, I would lay awake, fixed on the water stain above my bed wishing for some sort of map. I had tried my hand at acting and spent a year in film school. I wrote sketch comedy on the side, worked in food advocacy, studied design in undergrad, and worked enough crappy waitressing jobs to redefine my notion of humility. I had a passion for travel and yoga, but could that truly be my purpose? I’d always had a knack for organizing, but was this my soul’s North Star?

When given too much gravitas, finding “our purpose” can be frustrating, and at worst, a trap of paralysis. If we truly have a calling, a single purpose in this world, what if we never find it? Are we destined to go through the motions, a half-lived vessel of unrealized potential?

Defining our purpose as a destination or a single pointed direction bears resemblance to searching for “The One”. Even if we do find our forever person, or the mission statement we can live by that fills our days with meaning, there might always the lingering question of whether we’ve made the right decision, if we’re missing out. Even if we feel a sense of certainty, it’s easy to attach the expectation that it will always remain the same; which pits our hopes against the laws of ever-changing nature.

Purpose was just another way of chasing that magical “someday” that precluded my self-acceptance.

If you had asked me about my purpose when I was 7, I would have given you a cock-eyed stare, most likely because I was busy discovering the world through first-time experiences. Everything had purpose; from crickets to kickball to Paula Abdul.

It all clicked into place during one of those crappy waitressing shifts. This wasn’t, by any stretch, my forever career. I smelled like fried calamari and had ketchup in my hair. However I decided to try an experiment. What if I tried treating all of this like it mattered? What might happen if rather than approaching this like a sidebar to my life’s purpose, I brought purpose into my approach? What if I am purposeful instead of waiting for one to redeem me? The answer is that I stopped looking for my purpose—the one I claimed ownership to—and allowed purpose to flavor my moments.

I can’t help but think that rather than having a purpose, we simply have purpose. It’s something akin to dignity or meaning, an inheritance of being alive. We can direct our purposefulness through clearly chosen intentions, but ultimately, it’s a quality we possess, not a statement, a job title, or a place that we find.

My friend Marisa once told me a story of an MTA employee who worked in a Brooklyn subway booth. Each morning she would emerge from the train, and he would lock eyes with her, and greet her warmly. They became familiar through their daily exchange; a wave, a smile, a connection. She talks about how this always made her mornings, they joy he brought to his booth, his generosity of spirit. After some weeks she noticed that she wasn’t alone. This tollbooth employee had a relationship with every regular commuter, exiting the train and waving. Some mornings there would be dozens of people who would wave, and stop to say hello on their way to the subway stairs.

This man’s purpose wasn’t raised on a banner for the rest of the world to see, but rather he connected to the world through the act of purposeful living.

If you’ve decided that this is the year to find your purpose, the good news is you can relax. It’s already there and best lived through you. The way to find purpose is to apply it generously; to the crappy jobs, and the sleepless nights, and the hours stuck in traffic. If our lives are purposeful, then nothing gets excluded.

Our moments, after all, only have the meaning we give them.


More from Sonima:

9 Empowering Mantras to Shift Your Mindset  

Opening Yourself to the Serendipity of Chance

Harnessing the Potential of Beginner’s Mind





Adreanna is a sufficiency-centered coach + meditation instructor that teaches women how to rally their resources so that they can expand their freedom in business and life. Connect with Adreanna at