By Robbieana Leung
Snowcapped mountains flashed beneath my feet as my friend and I clambered into the Telluride Gondola. We clumsily piled in to make way for three fellow Mountainfilm Festival participants, whose ecstatic grins mirrored our own. The cube lurched forward, and we flew, effortlessly soaring at 9,000 feet, over summer’s winter wonderland of sun, snow-kissed ski trails and trees. Our spirits and smiles were weightless.
As we marveled at the encompassing magic, we asked each other, “What documentaries are you most looking forward to seeing?”
When the question returned to me, I produced a dog-eared page, sporting a giant star above the words, “Baseball in the Time of Cholera,” a sure-to-be riveting film about the scandalous United Nations mission to Haiti, set to the backdrop of children living and loving life.
“That’s our film!” our newfound friends exclaimed.
The filmmakers were relief workers in Haiti when cholera broke out after the calamitous 2010 earthquake. Having seen firsthand the death, destruction and denial surrounding the disaster, their goal was to share “Baseball” online to garner awareness and put pressure upon the U.N. to take responsibility for its actions.
As we approached base camp at 12,570 feet, one of the filmmakers handed me a “Baseball” DVD and business card.
It read, ‘RYOT – BRYN MOOSER.’
Then we hopped off the gondola, waved goodbye, and I never saw them again.
It was not until two years later, for this interview, did I begin to understand these words were true forces to be reckoned with.
WHO IS BRYN MOOSER?
Simply put, Bryn is a storyteller. In more technical terms, he is a humanitarian, musician, filmmaker and journalist. However, for those who have had a privileged glimpse into his life, Bryn Mooser is perhaps most accurately an encyclopedia of spellbinding stories.
Diagnosed with the travel bug, he is a seasoned passport, a prescription of kindness and service, and alchemist who transforms forsaken street kids and discarded baseball equipment into Haiti’s lively, premiere baseball league. The pages of his life story tell of years spent in Haiti: living in an abandoned tent through hurricanes, editing documentaries on bumpy roads in a truck, and creating beams of light where desolation and death live.
The self-proclaimed “gypsy” is of Eastern European ancestry, but Africa runs deep in his veins. It has been home since he was 16. His love for the continent was immediate since he first set foot in eastern Zimbabwe with his mother on her Fulbright scholarship.
And thus begins:
CHAPTER ONE: THE MAKING OF A REBEL
While Mom opened the Pan African University and ran its teacher education program in 1996, Bryn and his sister volunteered at a clinic during the height of the HIV crisis. Exposed to doctors and nurses fighting on the front lines amid arising political troubles, he became deeply grateful for his lot in life: born in the U.S. to a well-educated family and equipped with copious opportunities. Challenged in the most rewarding and fun ways, the patriotic youth returned to the U.S. with a desire to serve his country and give back.
Striking a chord with his own beliefs, the Peace Corps was a natural next step for Bryn. The idealistic, yet pragmatic, governmental institution believes that the key to promoting peace, friendship and a greater society lies in serving and learning about other cultures. Established in 1961 by President Kennedy, its three tenets are to: (1) go and serve a community of an interested country, (2) promote a better understanding of the American culture and (3) bring your story and cultural understanding back to America, your community and family.
The third tenet is the driving influence for Bryn’s work. To him, its value lies in helping Americans to see the world in a more authentic way; a world that is not different and scary, but has similarities across continents. Kennedy reasoned that maybe then, people would be less inclined to drop bombs and more inclined to work towards peaceful solutions and a more compassionate society. Bryn agreed and was sent to The Gambia in 2000.
CHAPTER TWO: THE TOUGHEST JOBS HE EVER LOVED
Living in a mud hut for two years, serving and becoming part of the local community, Bryn realized the whole meaning of life: be a good person to those around you. By being a positive force in one’s community and by spreading a bit of light and love, one can have an impact today that carries throughout generations.
When asked if the Peace Corps’ slogan, “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” was true for him, Bryn credits it as his most definitive life experience. “I’ve been lucky enough to love every tough job I’ve had,” he says. “I jump headfirst into difficult jobs and problems all the time, but it’s the ones I really believe in.”
Led by this mentality, it is no wonder that stories often find him. Whether set in New York after Hurricane Sandy, or in a cholera- stricken, post-earthquake Haiti, the award winning filmmaker and humanitarian reveals, “The stories remain the same: how do we show the beautiful side and face of humanity in terrible disasters? When responding to disasters, you see sorrow, heartache and terror, but you also see incredible resilience and hope.”
This is the unifying theme of the multi-genre storybook that is Bryn Mooser and the documentaries that he makes.
CHAPTER THREE: A LITTLE BIT OF LIGHT AND LOVE IN CITE SOLEIL
Hollywood-bound after The Gambia, Bryn returned to Los Angeles to engage in his passion for film. Re-routing him back to a life of service and travel, the film industry pointed Bryn to the Artists for Peace and Justice, a non-profit that supports communities in Haiti through programs in education, healthcare and dignity. He became the program’s Haiti Country Director in 2010 and worked alongside his hero, Father Rick Frechette, and local Haitians in creating the Academy for Peace and Justice, the country’s first-ever free secondary school, which educates and feeds 2,000 students in the slums of Port- au-Prince.
In true Peace Corps fashion, our protagonist spent three years in Haiti literally living on the ground. He slept in a tent discarded by the Italian army. Dedicated to those displaced in tent camps after the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake, it was important to live like his colleagues and friends, who had become family.
And so, the adventurous soul braved epidemics and hurricanes in a little canvas hut behind a children’s hospital – but don’t get him wrong, “I still had wi␣ in it, so it wasn’t roughing it too much,” he chuckles. Once thought to be temporary, Haiti’s tent communities survive even to this day, long after the media coverage has faded. Bryn and David Darg (RYOT’s co-founder and seasoned disaster-relief worker) have seen the tent community, Cite Soleil, take a life of its own, transforming into new slums with churches and schools. Seizing the opportunity to fill evenings with activity and light to contrast the looming darkness, the partners-in-crime joined local efforts to build the first movie theater since the national disaster.
Poetically captured in the much-decorated film, “Sun City Picture House,” their project is a moving testimony about a disaster-torn community that comes together over a shared love for film.
Echoing Cite Soleil’s indomitable, prevailing spirit, the zealous humanitarian exclaims, “It is infectious to visit Haiti because you will see poverty like you’ve never seen before. You’ll see suffering like you’ve ever seen before, but you will also see dancing like you’ve never seen before; laughing like you’ve never seen, singing like you like you’ve never seen before; and people who are so strong to stand in the face and humiliation of poverty, and with a perfectly ironed-pressed shirt, show up to work the next day with a great attitude. It’s an incredibly inspiring country.”
CHAPTER FOUR: THE REBELS START A RYOT
With a passion for people so evident and drive to act upon awareness so resolute, RYOT was born in 2011. It began out of a frustration and belief that young people can and should demand more from news networks. Bryn believes that news stations should empower its audience by showing that in spite of the world’s complexities, there are real solutions that can be taken to make our world an even more beautiful place to live in.
RYOT’s philosophy is simple: Anyone can make an impact no matter who they are.
Providing a new dimension to the traditional, corporation-to- consumer ␣ow of news, RYOT encourages “activism journalism.” The organization invites viewers to respond immediately to what news they have read, without the hassle of searching for trustworthy organizations. Welcoming viewers to “become the news,” RYOT enables them to support 150 organizations that it deems most effective on the ground. Whether donating, signing a petition, tweeting support, writing representatives or volunteering, Bryn believes each and every action is significant because it reflects a choice to live life compassionately and to be kind to those around.
The founders realize the urgency of their work. Along with his dedicated crew, Bryn labors around the clock, from the moment he opens his eyes until the moment he goes to bed.
Their fuel? The steadfast belief that they can make a difference and knowing what is at stake.
“If we don’t succeed, then it’s a world where people are sharing the 25 funniest cat videos and 13 best pizza toppings, and that becomes what we are consuming. And we should be striving to consume more meaningful content, hear more meaningful stories and ultimately help people to engage in their own communities and the global communities at large that they are a part of. And so that’s the mission. And if you believe in whatever mission it is you are doing, there’s nothing you’d rather spend your time on than that. For me, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than trying to make RYOT bigger, better; more people reading it, more people seeing it,” Bryn declares.
RYOT’s industrious efforts are to grow its foundation into a top news source for young people, where its reporters and journalists around the world cover breaking stories and purposeful responses by action-minded, conscious citizens. Although it is in competition with traditional networks, the revolutionary news source is the first and only organization to make it easy to do good. By simply getting news from www.ryot.org, readers are making an impact in the world.
Every click not only contributes to awareness and action, but ad revenue as well, of which a portion is given to RYOT’s featured nonprofit of the week.
While RYOT has a strong list of successes last year – over $1.5 million raised for international nonprofits, tens of millions of articles read on its site, hundreds of thousands of actions taken, relief teams at the forefront of major humanitarian crises – Bryn is most enthused by young people’s powerful testimonies about how the brand has engaged them in the news and their communities.
CHAPTER FIVE: HOW TO START A RYOT
To the dreamers wanting to push their ideas into action, Bryn insists one must never give up or sell out original ideas.
“Be strong, because it is not easy to start something that matters. It is so vital that we commit to doing work that helps others. Believe in it and be willing to sacrifice everything for it, because that’s what it takes,” he explains.
So how does one change the world in < 15 words? The guru that began a worldwide RYOT affirms, “Be compassionate and kind to every single person around you. Only love.”
Over the phone, Bryn mentally counts the words and laughs, “Did I get that right?”
Yes. Yes, you did…in more ways than fifteen.