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Kathy Eldon is a journalist, author, producer, activist but most importantly, mother to two amazing children, Dan and Amy Eldon. Her life changed drastically in July of 1993, when her son Dan Eldon, a Reuters photographer was stoned to death in Somalia, Africa by an angry mob reacting to the UN bombing raid on the suspected headquarters of warlord General Aideed. He was 22. Kathy's journey has been shaped by this tragedy and transformed by what she has created in its aftermath. She has turned a personal tragedy that would have broken most people into a life-inspiring lesson for humanity. Kathy and her remarkable daughter Amy, are models of compassion, hope and forgiveness in a world too often filled with hatred, revenge and bitterness.
When I first met Kathy, ten years ago at Dr. Raymond Moody's workshop on spirit world, I had just lost my Dad, Jack Jewell, but she never made me feel that my grief over the passing of my father at 77 was any less than the loss she felt over her son's untimely death. Kathy seemed like a beacon of light in a tunnel of pain we were all trying to understand. After telling Dan's story to the hushed room, Kathy said she felt like she had gone through the doorway and was now in the courtyard…ready to communicate but unsure where to go from there.
When I spoke with Kathy Eldon, I wanted to understand what helped her to go on after her son's death. She told me that she was inspired by her heroes. "Churchill and Gandhi definitely gave me the strength to get through the early days after Dan's death. Churchill's words about never giving in were pinned up on my wall. When I thought I couldn't go on.... I would stand there crying....see the sign and say, 'Damn it, I have to go on!' You know there's that famous quote about what doesn't kill you outright will make you stronger. It's so true. And Gandhi.... (also inspired me with) the sense of being powerful without feeling you have to win by force...learning how to float."
Kathy spoke about Dan for MY HERO. "I'm a little bit cautious about the word "hero" because everyone's a hero. We all have that potential. Heroes have a sense of light about them, I think, or should. They make us feel that we can be bigger than we thought we ever could be. I think in a curious way, Dan saw the hero in other people. He saw the qualities that we all maybe have inside us but we've forgotten about or we don't believe in. Dan saw the magic and the potential in people and I think that's a wonderful quality to have, and to do that at such a young age is really very special."
Dan was allowed to guide his unconventional life with his own light. He was always working to help people, finding new and unusual ways to offer support. One such effort that Kathy described was Dan's co-founding of "The Student Transport Aid," dedicated to helping refugees fleeing Mozambique.
In his journal Dan stated his objectives for the trip that he and thirteen other young people took across Africa to deliver their aid:
"Team Deziree" Free at Last Voyages, the Search for Clean Water in a Swamp: Mission Statement for Safari as a Way of Life...
To explore the unknown and the familiar, distant and near, and to record, in detail with the eyes of a child, any beauty of the flesh or otherwise, horror, irony, traces of utopia or Hell. Select your team with care, but when in doubt, take on new crew and give them a chance. But avoid at all costs fluctuations of sincerity with your best people."
One of the "best people" that joined Dan on his "Team Deziree" trek across Africa was his little sister, Amy Eldon. She was Dan's favorite model, cherished confidante and dearest friend. She was fifteen years old when she accompanied her brother on this adventure.
And Dan's heroes? "He had many," Kathy explained. "You'd be hearing a music mix coming from his room and suddenly Martin Luther King's voice: 'I have been to the top of the mountain...' You know,... stunning. Bob Marley was a great hero of Dan's along with Gandhi, Churchill and Ralph Waldo Emerson. (He) specifically (liked) Emerson's Recipe for Success in Life. We found it in his things."
The loss of a son that would have crushed so many is now giving meaning to others. I spoke with Kathy recently to find out how she and Amy are doing.
So where are you now, 10 years after entering that courtyard, wondering where to go from there-how to communicate with your son Dan?
"I would say that we have settled into a very enjoyable relationship fraught with the usual mother son dynamic and sometimes I feel he isn't listening to me and then the miracles happen and guidance comes. When most of the challenges occur, I'm not really peaceful enough to listen and perhaps that was true when he was physically around as well. We tend to become so busy with our important affairs that by the time we are prepared to be still and present-the time to connect has passed. I believe firmly that Dan's energy has guided many of the projects that we have been involved with. Early on they were mostly Dan or journalist related but now it the spirit of what we call the Global Tribe. It's transformed into a Team Spirit-and it's no longer Dan oriented but it's in the spirit of his vibrancy and all encompassing light."
Kathy and Amy have created many wonderful projects through their company, www.creativevisions.org. Like Kathy, Amy has had to deal with her own anger and grief over the loss of a brother whose life had been dedicated to helping others. Instead of being a war correspondent, like Dan, she chose to become a "peace correspondent" and tell stories that bring people together-not tear them apart. Her first project, Dying to Tell the Story, took her on a journey of trying to understand the path her brother had been on. It told the stories of journalists at risk and includes interviews with top war correspondents Christiane Amanpour from CNN, BBC anchor Martin Bell and British photographer Don McCullen.
Kathy says, "Dying to Tell the Story continues to be used in schools and UNY's around the world to teach students about the role of journalists in conflict zones and perhaps they are more dangerous since we made the film. It continues to be a very important vehicle and contains a very important message. That led us to wonder about the consequences of war on children. So we made a film about an ordinary group of teenagers, who, in response to the violence around them chose to create a peace movement in one of the most violent countries in the world, Columbia. Our CNN film, Soldiers of Peace, A Children's Crusade, premiered at the UN and profiled 5 young people who have shown extraordinary courage in the face of great turmoil and death threats. Thanks to the efforts of one of the producers, all the students were educated in the US and continue to be active in the cause they began."
Deeply inspired by the young people who were seeking solutions to the challenges they faced we created a PBS series about such individuals around the world-Global Tribe. Amy Eldon traveled around the world looking for individuals who were standing up and making their voices heard about their problems. We shot in Lebanon, South Africa, Philippines and Mexico to create a series that recently sold to 14 countries in the middle east-and the website continues and there are lesson plans attached to spread the word in the educational community.
Eager to attract a younger audience we decided to shift our focus to the internet and created the Global Tribe network, www.globaltribenet.org, to encourage young people to learn more about local and global issues and give them the tools and resources to make a difference. The outcome-a global youth fund. The global tribe network is spearheaded by Amy Eldon and her team of young activists: Charles Tsai in Vancouver, Canada, Alison Fast in the US and Soiya Gecaga in London, England. We have been supported by a number of foundations and are very excited about the possibilities and what can happen when young people are equipped with media tools and the ability to raise funds for the projects they identify as important.
Kathy's life continues to be a swirl of activity. She gives talks around the world about Dan and forgiveness and making your life count. "I speak about journalists at risk. I talk to womens groups about transformation and to grieving groups about the gift of grieving and always the underlying theme of forgiveness, both of yourself and others to be able to experience life to the fullest."
What would you do or say if you had the attention of the world for 1o minutes?
"I think what we are lacking is a sense of connectedness, that we are all one and that what one person does in California effects people in Kenya or Sri Lanka. We are truly members of a global tribe. Every action, every deed reflects the awareness we have of the planet and if we are to have a future we must live consciously. Be aware that every action has a consequence and be responsible. Wake up."
What brings you joy?
"I love seeing potential in people and helping them believe in themselves."
What makes you laugh?
"Lunacy. The total lunacy of my life the ups and the down and the ins and the outs the overs and unders and throughs. You can cry but ultimately you just have to laugh."
Who is your hero?"
"I have so many heroes-Esther Armstrong, the woman I wrote about in the My Hero book. I was in grade 5 and it was the first time I had thought about having a hero. Also Wynette Jameson in Texas. She teaches journalism in a little town and turns out the most extraordinary kids that are receptive to issues and ideas in a way that I have rarely seen She's selfless, creative, courageous and kind. I've never met her but she is one of the thousands of people I have been blessed to encounter. As a result of losing I have gained so much. Ghandi and Churchill are still my heroes and Slater-because she represents all that is great about young people and she is magical. She knows the power of belief. She's a visionary kid who has discovered the power of the individual to effect the world around her. She does it without any affectation and appears to enjoy the journey while remaining a normal and unaffected kid who has this beautiful spirit."
Heartened by the fact the feature film Ghandi took 14 years to launch, Kathy continues to work on telling Dan's story through film. "I have been encouraged by Orlando Bloom who believes that the message is so important for young people to hear. It's about achieving your potential for yourself as well as the planet. True stories are particularly challenging to tell but I continue to believe that we will arrive at that particular destination one day and it will have been worth the journey."
How is your life now?"
"I'm so grateful for my life and I have many moments when I feel the word grace is the only word to explain how I feel for all that is around me. A tremendous peace. And it's all fine-I wouldn't have chosen the path but having been given it I am grateful for the learning along the way and for the people that have touched me. And right now I am almost at a crossroads and I don't quite know where to go next and Id' like to have this conversation in 5 years to know where I went. I'm really grappling, I'm hoping it's the film and that everything I believe will come out of it. I do believe if we get this one right we can launch a generation of young people that will pursue something bigger than themselves."
When I asked Kathy 10 years ago what she'd learned from Dan since he passed into spirit world, she said, "I've learned that people can have a profound influence even after they're not physically around. Dan's energy and spirit...he was like a comet...he TOOK OFF--- but the sparks from that comet continue to set fires in people and I think will continue to do so for a very long time. I now believe that energy does remain and that physical death is not a total death. I think our spirits have a life after the physical death....so I've learned a lot."
This time she reminded me of a part of Dan's Mission Statement: If you're broken down, look for solutions not problems, there is little difference between being lost and exploring. The most important part of vehicle maintenance is clean windows, so if you're broken down you'll enjoy the beauty of the view."
Dan Eldon loved Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem:
To laugh often and love much
To win respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends
To appreciate beauty
To find the best in others
To leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition
To know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
I believe the Eldons have succeeded beautifully.
Kathy, Dan, Amy and Mike Eldon
for more information visit
MORE WORKS INSPIRED BY DAN ELDON
After Dan's death, his father, Mike Eldon, wanted to create an organization to
benefit young people in Dan's adopted country of Kenya.
Uncertain as to what
to name it, he decided on the DEPOT,
which stood for the "Dan Eldon Place of
. Why the DEPOT?
Mike explains that when he used to try to get Dan
to clean up his eternally messy room, filled with piles of books, journals,
tee shirts, postcards and other projects which Dan was working on, Dan
protested, saying his room should be thought of as a "depot," a place of great
Working in collaboration with the Rotary Club of Kenya, Mike founded the first
DEPOT in an old coffee plantation ouside Nairobi in l994. Since then, the
DEPOT has hosted over 4,000 students, aged 5 - 24, who visit the center for a
series of special weekend programs designed to encourage leadership training,
creativity, environmental awareness and problem solving techniques.
A highlight of the DEPOT is a replica of Dan's room, complete with artifacts
Dan collected on his many safaris, and his desk, filled with pens and brushes.
The halls are filled with Dan's photographs and art.
The DEPOT reminds people that you don't have to live a long time to live a
The Dan Eldon Place of Tomorrow is a center
designed to bring out the confidence and self-reliance of young people through creativity, team
building and leadership activities. The first DEPOT
in America was dedicated on July 13th,
1996, at the Blazers Safe Haven in Los Angeles. The DEPOT offers programs for learning and
practicing good teamwork: planning, communication, tolerance, problem solving, time
management and so on.
Rochelle Curley, a visitor to
The Dan Eldon Place of Tomorrow, wrote in their guest book:
The first time I met Daniel Eldon was flipping through the pages of his journal. Seeing
the world through his eyes made me look at my life and where it was heading. Dan had
accomplished goals that some people can't even conceive. He affected my life in a way
no one else ever had. How can I feel so much pain for someone I have never met? It
is the sorrow that I have for the world for losing someone so talented and gifted. No
picture is worth dying for....but a life is. I have never met Dan or ever will, but I never
will forget him.
Angel Catcher: A Journal of Loss and
Kathy and Amy Eldon created this journal to help overcome the
loss of a loved one but also to celebrate that person's life. "It is a way to catch...and
THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION was edited
by Kathy Eldon and culled from seventeen black-bound journals filled
with collages, writings, drawings and photographs found in Dan's things.
Kathy wanted to publish the journals as a way of showing other people
how a life could be lived and that you could create your life as art and
art as your life. In the margin of his Mission Statement for Safari as
a Way of Life he wrote, "Look for solutions, not problems."
MY HERO wishes to thank all of the Eldons
for sharing their story with us. We are inspired by their great humanity and ability
"to find solutions, not problems." This page is dedicated to the spirit of DAN ELDON. We are touched by his positive energy and thankful to his family for sharing and illuminating his inspirational life with us.
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West Hollywood, CA 90069
Kathy Eldon contributed her hero story to
MY HERO: Extraordinary People on the Heroes Who Inspire Them
. Your purchase of this book helps to support this not for profit educational web project.