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Doing Good without Getting Killed

Philanthropology Episode 1




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PLUG for The Good Road television show


Earl:  Philanthropology is the companion piece to our TV show on public television called The Good Road. I'm Earl bridges


Craig:  and I'm Craig Martin and we capture stories of mercenaries missionaries and misfits.


Earl:  It's a raw look at the messy and complicated business of global philanthropy. And Craig and I set off around the world to places where people are doing good.


Craig:  Inner city ghettos border camps for refugees, rural health clinics and fully armed anti poaching teams are some of the impossible situations we'll explore in Season 1.


Earl:  In The Good Road television show we present half hour episodes where exploring this messy cocktail of community, culture, and compassion with the do gooders who see the world's greatest problems and say. Hell I can fix that.


Craig:  It's positive and powerful stories of the brightest lights in the darkest corners.


Earl:  It's authentic storytelling about real people tackling complex issues.


Craig:  It's Batman not Superman.


Earl:  We're looking for change makers

Craig:  Do gooders


Earl:  social impact renegades who risk it all and ask nothing in return.


Craig:  It's people like you. You're our people our tribe


Earl:  and this is our show.


Craig:  Check out the good road on your local PBS station starting in April.



Craig:  It's not every day that you find yourself in the middle of the Kenyan bush staring down the largest elephant in the world. Earl and I were filming an anti poaching episode for a public TV show The Good Road


Earl:  and it wasn't the starring so much that was interesting. It was the sheer panic that followed immediately after the staring


(Elephant Roar)


Earl:  What you just heard was Tim. Notable is the largest and most valued elephant in the world. Each Tusk is worth 250000 U.S. dollars in China. So when half a million dollars of ivory wasn't happy with our presence he started to charge Craig, me and the crew


Craig:  it was a tense moment for sure but the world of philanthropy is fraught with risks and danger. And if you're going to do good you're going to end up near the bad, ugly and downright terrifying.


Earl:  In this first episode of Philanthropology Craig and I want to address the risks and dangers of being a do-gooder in our world today.


Craig:  Stay tuned as we share stories about life on what we call the good road.  Hear from our director, Andy Duensing, about what it is like to film in locations that many might deem unsafe.


Earl:  And hear from Nick MacDonald, a career humanitarian, who risked his life to help people every day


Advertising Spot:  The Great Courses


Earl:  This is it brother! We're starting this podcast. Philanthropology.


Craig:  I'm excited about it! It's based off the TV show.

Earl: You're gonna get to see the behind the scenes interviews. You're going to get to meet some of the people that you know we consider part of our tribe.


Craig:  Yes sir, the do-gooders (we're calling them do-gooders) try calling us you all listening do-gooders


Earl:  when things hit the fan “do-gooders” put on a cape and they run out


Craig:  and “do-gooders” don't run from the gunfire “do-gooders” run towards it


Earl:  in the TV show we discover that people like anti-poacher, Craig Miller, who helped us survive the elephant charge.  You don't survive by chance but because of expertise and smart decision-making.




Craig Miller:  You know the Rangers are going out and really are risking serious injury or death almost every day. And you know they're going to be phenomenally brave unbelievably good in the bush to minimize that.


Craig:  I do recall being with you and out with Tim and there was that “oh shit” moment when the realities of the fact that you're in the wild and anything can happen. You've lived that probably thousands of times what goes through your brain when you're like in one of those “oh shit” moments.


Craig Miller:  “Oh Shit!”, that’s about it.  A couple of other choice words as well.


Depends on the situation yet again depends on the situation that one in particular is as you just very focused on trying to look at the elephant and read the signs and see what it's actually doing and then when it's getting closer and closer and your heart stops beating faster and faster and you begin to start looking for escape routes and then immediately afterwards it's generally about two or three cigarettes before I come down.


Earl:  Well in Philanthropology, there's a lot to cover.  But I think we start with things like, what are the motivations?  When people watch the trailer of our show, invariably, one of the things they say is how do you not get shot.


Craig:  And I think, you know, it'd be interesting if we talked to our director who had never, by the way, been out of the country.  Before this he'd been like, I don't know, somewhere in the Caribbean. But, Andy Duensing, our director is brilliant.  And to hear his perspective from the very beginning of it all is fun.




Earl:  So Andy, as I understand it, before The Good Road, your international travel experience has been mostly strawberries and champagne pedicures in the Caribbean?


Andy:  As you say, prior to this, I had traveled to places like Aruba.  Which can be really extreme and dangerous if you're not careful.


Craig and Earl:  All right. The Pina Colada might not be perfect, or the towels may be too warm!


Andy:  And I had been to the U.K. but that's kind of like just another version of American in a lot of ways.


So don't really feel like I got to experience anything outside of the norm until I got brought onto the show.  And I was immediately thrown into a three week trip into the bush in Kenya, Tanzania, the middle of the Indian Ocean.


After spending way too much time online, looking at things at REI, that I thought I needed. I realized there were some practical things I needed just to get in the country.  And that was vaccinations.  Because, I didn't have any vaccinations, for a number of reasons.  But not only did I have to get vaccinations, but my very first vaccination I ever had to get was the yellow fever vaccine. I now know that all vaccines have waivers and things.  But the yellow fever vaccine is particularly harrowing because you go to this place, and you're signing this thing, and checking all these boxes that say you may have an adverse reaction, and these are the possible side effects. Okay? You know, you're reading it and you see, DEATH.


Craig :  Oh yeah that.


Andy:  And the thing about it was, I was talking to the woman and I told her I was leaving in about three weeks or maybe two and a half weeks.  It was some ridiculously short amount of time.  And she was like, “you realize this vaccine has to be in your system for over a month for you to generate the antibodies that will actually protect you from yellow fever”.


Earl:  We probably gave you a month to get it done.


Andy:  Well… So I have to get this vaccine, which might kill me, but it won't be effective in case I get yellow fever. I was saying. “So you're telling me that this isn't going to work if I get yellow fever” and she was like “it might, but probably not”. “Do you want it or not?”   Because you have to have it to get into the country and you have to have this little yellow piece of paper, which is now meaningless, other than the fact that it gets me into this country where I might get yellow fever.


Craig: But it got better after that, right?  Because much like the feature film work that you've done, when we got to Kenya and Tanzania and started the expedition and the accommodations were just like you have in the states, right?


Andy: I may have been looking at REI for my coats and my boots but that is not where the tents came from that we were put in.


Earl: Sorry my bad!


Craig: Earl bought a bunch of cheap tents on eBay.


Earl (joking):  I felt like the tents were very much like our crew. They were all disposable.  If we didn't come up if we didn't come back with them what's the worst that could happen?


Craig:  But on that trip Andy tell us about the very first kind of “oh shit” moment with Tim.


Andy:  I can tell you about better “oh shit” moment. This actually is probably a better a better way of describing what it was like to go from shooting commercials and music videos and feature work to this TV show.  The yellow fever thing, that was more like a mistake just an accident.


But this actually describes just the way it is to make this show on a daily basis. Which is, you know, we've been travelling in this like convoy of Land Rovers and motorcycles from Nairobi down you know wards the border of Kenya and Tanzania into the beautiful landscape of all these national parks.  We finally, after like eight hours of travelling dirt roads, and bouncing up and down, we get to this Ranger station which is even in a more remote place.  And it's dusk, and we have to set up our tents, and I'm usually pretty gung-ho about stuff like this, even though I don't have a ton of experience with it.


And so I was all excited and getting my tent out… and then…  I don't know which kind of random meal got me, but all of a sudden, I felt the call of nature, as it were.


Earl:  So when you say this is a “oh shit” moment, it’s literal!


Andy:  And I went up to Eric from the BRCK team, who is leading this expedition, and I was like.. “Where's the outhouse?”


You know I thought I'd be cool and just go ahead and assume there were no bathrooms here. But surely there's like an outhouse.


And he was like, “Well, I mean the bathroom is all around you”.  And he just kind of gestured into the darkening void. That was like the plains at sunset.  And I started walking out there, and he's like,  “I would grab a headlamp!” and so I get a headlamp. And as I'm getting farther away he's like, “keep an eye out for snakes!”  I'm still walking out there, cause I like my privacy and so I'm kind of going out towards a kind of… nice large volcanic rock, that looks like something I could squat behind.  And as I’m almost out of earshot, I hear him say,  “And if you hear any lions, just come back!”


Craig:  That made it so easy to do your business.


Andy:  I thought he was just trying to scare me, until the next day when we saw a fresh zebra kill!  That was from a lion!!

Earl:  So tell us about Tim… To set this up, Tim is the world's largest “tusker”.  I think each one of his tusks are worth about two hundred fifty thousand dollars on the Chinese market. So, we want to get a shot of Tim.  And he just happens to be along for the ride.


Andy:  Yeah well I distinctly remember sitting in another four wheel drive vehicle of some kind, and looking out the window through these layers of trees and foliage.  And you can see this trio of elephants, and they're enormous!  And then Craig (a different Craig) says “we can get closer if you want…”  and it seemed like a good idea.


Earl:  And I think was the extent of our safety briefing at that point.


Andy:  So we get out of the vehicle and we start kind of edging closer and closer to these three massive elephants. I mean, the biggest elephants I've ever seen! And as we're walking towards them, Craig is like,  “if anything happens don't move.  Because if you move, all of a sudden they can see you and they'll come after you. They don't have great eyesight so you can kind of like just don't move and everything will be fine.”


Andy:  And then we get close enough, you can look at this elephant in the eyes.  And it kind of looks like it can see you, even when you're not moving!  I don't know what he was saying. I guess he was right, but I don't know.  I guess it heard us, or saw us, or something… because all of a sudden, its ears fly up. I guess this is how elephants let you know they're upset.  And it charged us! I mean it literally. The elephant just ran at us!


Earl:  That's the scary part, because there wasn't a tree to protect us!


Andy: Yeah, I know this because I completely ignored what he said and immediately got behind the closed doors.  We have a little bit of this on film but the cameraman had similar ideas. He didn't want to get killed either!


Earl:  I will tell you this is a little bit like the filming we do.  Some of our best shots are not stuff that we really scripted. So it’s not like we said, “Cue the elephant, and action!  It's like, holy crap, run!!!


Andy:  Thankfully Craig knew what he was doing and basically distracted the elephant and it stopped. Because I know he said it was a false charge, but I don't buy it.


Craig:  So a couple days later we go to cross the Indian Ocean on what's called a dhow, which is this boat that looks like it's from the 1500s.  And our crew, at near midnight, sees the boat.  We're gonna cross the open ocean for five hours from Kenya to Tanzania. So what’s going through their brains as they approach the boat?


Andy:  Well it strikes me as you say this that in both instances, like setting up the tent in the middle of nowhere, and this dhow… you guys would tend to plan it so that we would have anywhere from like six to 10 hours of travel before you sprung these things on us!


Earl: I actually walked up to the boat first and said, “there's no way we're gonna make it”!   Then I went back to Craig and I said, “Get the camera crew cause I just want to film this.”  And they were wondering why? It's dark!  I said, let’s just catch it on camera the very first time they lay eyes on his dhow…


Andy:  …and all of a sudden, we're walking down this long wooden pier and we get to the edge. The Tide is out and we're looking out at this kind of glistening muddy sandy shore and there looks like a small ancient shipwreck like it had been abandoned.


Earl:  I thought it had been abandoned.


Andy:  Like a thousand years ago! That was absolutely not the case. This was the boat I had a ticket on!


Craig:  Well I just remember the film crew literally kind of almost mutiny.  They were like, “We’re not getting on that thing!!”


Earl:  Well, they understood that we had a lot of expensive gear, with crew and all that stuff. We understood that we just got to get on that boat.


Craig:  Yeah we've got to make the show!  So, Andy, subsequent to that?


Andy:  I mean, it's all fun and games and we're having fun.  But there are some issues in doing this kind of work. We only pop in and out.  But there are people who live in these situations.  


Craig:  You know thinking about the first time you set foot on Burmese soil.  Knowing that their their government is one of the most oppressive military governments in the world. Things like that. What does your family think about you taking these kinds of risks to do the show?


Andy:  I maybe didn't mention a whole lot about Myanmar initially but it's you know it's hard!  I mean, you guys know I don't even like flying!  So on top of the personal fear of just having to get on an airplane to go any to any of these places knowing that you're going into places that are potentially dangerous but you have to you know you have to kind of weigh the dangers and for us we take a lot of steps to ensure…..  actually, that's actually not true.  You guys take, like, a step.

We don't do completely insane things, we just do mostly insane things. I mean you know we do this research and we kind of figure out what is the danger and what's the cost benefit. We knew what we were getting into when we went.  And we knew that it we were not going to be putting ourselves in a position where we're calling a whole lot of attention to ourselves, or covering any of the volatile things that are going on there.  But at the same time, we still snuck in with tourist visas! And every time you go to an airport checkpoint with a drone and thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment it can be a little sketchy in non western airports.


Earl: Yeah I know. Honestly for me, the most terrifying part of every trip is customs because you know that they could shut you down. You spent all this money to get there and you know that they could absolutely just shut you down.


Craig:  Right. You'll have no recourse.


Andy: Now aside from that kind of logistical stuff. One of the things though is that we usually have a pretty good idea of the people that we're following the people were going to interview and we may not know a ton about the situation we're walking into but we try to put ourselves with people that we can trust. I think that's a big part of it. We know that they're doing really interesting work day in and day out in these places and we just have to be there for a week or two.


Craig:  So if they can do it all the time, we kind of put ourselves in their hands.


Andy:  That's really the only way to do it.  At times it's easier to do that with the CEO of a big tech company in Nairobi, than it is to do it with a punk rocker from Yangon, Myanmar.  But at the end of the day you know they both Eric and Kyaw Kyaw were amazing at putting us in situations that were really interesting and also kind of letting us into their world.


Craig:  And that's what it's all about. So it's it's there are some dangers for us but it's not anything close to what the people whose stories we're telling have to deal with on a daily basis.


Well Andy we're honored to have you as first part of our very first episode. Thank you for kind of sharing the funny moments and also the risks involved.


Earl:  We really appreciate it and hopefully you're with us for the long haul. At least in spirit!





Earl:   How many people have come up to us and said we would love to travel with.

Craig:  Yeah, everybody wants to carry our luggage and everything.


Earl:  What they don't see is what goes on behind the scenes because you know what you're not getting on our trip. You're not getting reward points you're not getting hotel.


Craig: The places we're staying, like in Uganda, where you keep saying that there is trouble whenever Craig says “Stop the van!”


Earl:  Yeah. That's the common thing of every good story that we've ever had. The non scripted.  I think we walk into these situations, and we say, what I think we have an idea of who we're going to interview and what we're going to do but, because we keep our head on a swivel, and we pivot quickly, all the good stuff has been unscripted!  You know?  It's like the example of the circumcision ritual. We're pulling up or stopped in a big traffic jam and there's a bunch of young youths coming out.  And they've got… Congas?  or Machetes?


Craig:  And I get out.. and they're surrounding me, and saying “money money money!!!”

Earl:  And I close the door and lock it!


Craig:  And of course, I'm reaching for my wallet because I'm trying to find “money, money, money” because they've got these big machetes.


Earl:  Yeah well that's some of the greatest footage!


Craig:  And I remember the Muslim revival, which was so funny.  They see us, and next thing you know, they're calling us over. They want to marry you off to a Muslim woman!


Earl:  And they get you and I both to read in the Koran.  I'm sure that that's being used for propaganda somewhere! 

Craig:  Part of this is really very serious issues, and you have to kind of process through the risks.


Earl:  So each one of these stories remind me of Free Burma Rangers.


Craig: Yeah. That's a great story. You and I worked on a film called Free Burma Rangers, which is about our good friend Dave Eubank. And sadly, not too long ago, one of his Rangers, Zau Seng, lost his life on the frontline in Syria.


Earl:  Free Burma Rangers is a non-profit organization they're based out of the northern part of Thailand. They started working in Burma in Syria and Iraq and some other places but they really help the internally displaced people around the world. And that's an example of people really doing really seriously dangerous work.  And the film itself is super power.


Craig:  Yeah people want to check it out. Yeah you can go to the website at . It's coming out February 24th and 25th in a Fathom event and it's gonna be great! 


Earl:  Really, check it out because that is going to sell out!


Craig: So we've learned that some of the stuff is funny and fun but there are risks involved. And you interviewed a guy who's amazing, Nick MacDonald.  Talk about him.


Earl:   Nick is one of those guys that has a career worked in disaster risk response and recovery and has been in some of the most difficult situations across the world. And Nick McDonald is not one of those relief cowboys, but he's one of those guys that has operated in the Wild West when things go horribly wrong and he has been in the thick of it.


Nick:  My name's Nick McDonald. I'm a humanitarian aid worker and social impact consultant. I started out in the mid late 90s in the UK and my first real job I guess was with a small organisation run by the Quakers that was dealing with refugees after the Bosnian war. So I started out with them in Belgrade and I worked with them for a little while in Belgrade and then I moved to Croatia with a few families of refugees who were displaced from Croatia during the war and we were basically running a little a little refugee return program that was about agricultural restarts and human rights around refugee return.


Well the first half of my career really was in displacement and conflict. So I spent a lot of time dealing with people who had been forced from their homes either as internally displaced people or as refugees largely because of war. And it was in 2005 that I made the pivot to work a little bit more on natural disasters. I ended up in Sri Lanka for the Indian Ocean tsunami and I was deputy director for Mercy Corps and Hurricane Katrina.


Earl:   So you think about what kind of people get into this type of work. You know Nick McDonald's a good example. But who does this professionally? Who does and why do they do it?


Nick: Well there's a really diverse bunch of folks who end up in this line of work. And everybody has a story about what drives them to leave a comfortable job at home and go and work in an environment like that. You certainly get the caricature of the relief cowboys those folks still exist although I think they're rarer than they used to be and you know 20 years ago I think the field would have been dominated by those folks. But what you've seen over the last 20 years is a real attempt to sort professionalize and bring in standards of professional conduct standards of work in these environments and really make these environments more professional and more accountable.


So I think now if you if you walk into a relief office in a conflict setting you're much more likely to find a more diverse range of folks you'll find you're kind of logistics relief cowboys who are you know fit that stereotype but you're much more likely to find people who are coming from other Southern world nations as well. So if you look at recruiting most big aid agencies they're major recruiting no longer comes from Europe and America. You know for a lot of agencies they're major recruiting now comes from within Africa Asia the Middle East.  And you also find Europeans and Americans. But it's a much more diverse world than it used to be.


Craig: Boy, the Nick McDonald content's really great! And it just reiterates the fact that there are a lot of risks involved but you can mitigate against those risks.


Earl:  Life is full of risks and people that you know again run to the fire run to the gunshots or run to the action are the ones that take the biggest risk. But like you say, wise decisions in the heat of the moment can make all the difference in the world.


Nick:  Well look I mean there's two ways to look at this because, yes, I mean, I have had friends and colleagues who have been through dreadful things and some of them have lost their lives doing this work. But let's pan back to the risk landscape as a whole and let's look at humanitarianism as a profession. And when you look at the number of people doing this work and where they're doing it and the sort of act 2 aerial situation you find that humanitarianism is not in the top 10 most dangerous jobs in that people in the US do right.


It's about as dangerous you know in terms of deaths per capita per year as being a truck driver in the US. It's not as dangerous as being a deep sea fisherman. That's actually a job that is quite dangerous a lot of truck drivers die every year. It's not something that we know that we panic about though it's it is a risk when you look at the statistics you find that that risk isn't evenly spread. It's it accrues disproportionately in about five countries in the world. And if you if you read the New York Times this year you'll know which ones they are and that the main killers of aid workers used to be road traffic accidents about five or 10 years ago it became deliberate violence.  So those are still the two biggest killers of aid workers.  So the risks are not just from hostile bad actors like thing. 


Earl:  It's not just people. You're working against diseases whatever the gods want to throw down on humankind. Right? Volcanoes in New Zealand. Tsunamis in Southeast Asia, It's all the natural disasters. It's all the infectious diseases. It's all the things that we do to each other and that we do to ourselves. It's all of it.


Craig:  And you were telling you were talking when you were talking to Nick you were talking about this drug anti malaria or some people take called Lariam, which gives you hallucinations.


Earl: Yeah well it's one of those things that's like an unintended consequence. Right you're trying to address this idea of I don't want to catch malaria because that's bad. But then the effects of taking Lariam produced these hallucinogenic kind of visions of people.  Nick had a great story about that.


Nick:  So we were in West Timor my my wife and I she wasn't my wife then but is now and this was it at the time just after East Timorese independence and the U.N. was running refugee camps there for people who had fled to East Timor and they were also running a war crimes tribunal to try to prosecute people who had fled East Timor into West Timor because they committed war crimes. So it was a tense situation. We were it was a malarial area and we were taking.


I forget which one it is that gives you gives you hallucinations Lariam that was the one I was in we were on Lariam and it was not doing me any good at all. I found myself feeling paranoid feeling like people wanted to kill me I had these awful dreams all the time and it wasn't until the day that everything went wrong and the UN office got attacked and we had to evacuate in a hurry and honestly it was still ranks in my top five worst days of my life that I realized it wasn't the Lariam people people were actually trying to kill.


Earl:  You know what you could do instead work as an insurance agent in a cubicle you don't have a sponsor that's an insurance agency.


Craig:  Now I think you and I growing up kind of in this world I think it really is the best job in the world.


Earl:  It is the best job.


Nick:  I mean I think for the right kind of person if it's if it's your thing it's the best job in the world.


I mean you get to you get to engage in problems that are that are genuinely important you get to do things that you would never get to do in other lines of work. You get to meet people and go places that you would just never have access to. I mean it's an amazing job but it's also a lifestyle. It's not it's not a 9 to 5. You know you'll be away for months or years. It takes a toll on your personal life. It's something that is a you know an enormous kind of commitment.


So it's a question of Is that what you're looking for. And for some people it is and I think it's a great line of work


Earl: So Philanthropology is going to be a fun ride. It's going to be an interesting ride.


Craig:  We're going to deal with all kinds of topics, “white savior complex”, money and philanthropy and things like religion.


Earl:  So I'm looking forward to this all these unintended consequences all of this crazy cocktail of you know religion and politics and ethics and you know everything that screws up you know the good in the world and those people that are trying to solve it.  In a really complex background these characters are amazing and the fun part about this is you know the TV show is kind of limited to a certain time. And it's also got you know a lot of entertainment value. This is kind of we can drill down into some interesting topics and have fun with them.


Craig: Right. This is going to be amazing. So check out our Web site. It's gonna be  and then you're going to find behind the scenes, extended interviews and some just funny stuff that Craig and I get into.


Craig:  All right. So the next episode is a very serious very interesting and difficult episode. You want to know what it is?


Earl:  Let's hear it.


Craig:  The White Savior complex


Craig:  The Philanthropology podcast is recorded at In Your Ear studios in Richmond, Virginia


Earl:  With direction from our producer Carlos Chafin, Engineering help from Andrea Stefl.


Craig:  Earl and I also get creative direction from Andy Duensing,


Earl:  We also want to thank all our “do gooders” who gave us their time, support and gray matter.


Craig:  And finally we want to thank our original investors in all of this our wives and kids specifically our wives who put up with us. Pam Bridges and Erika Martin.


Earl (singing…) And to all the girls I've loved before….



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