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A creative blog by Lisa Schultz on The Whole 9

Lisa Schultz has spent a lifetime observing the human parade. Now at the helm of The Whole 9 and The Peace Project, she reports in on her findings and asks that you join in.

The Starfish

Inspired by the photos that photojournalist Pep Bonet took of Sierra Leone’s amputee soccer team in the early 2000’s, we launched The Peace Project in July 2010. Shortly after this, Pep and I were talking and he said to me “I always wonder whether the work I do makes any difference.” Traveling the world chronicling the horrors of war and other evils perpetrated upon the earth and it’s inhabitants, Pep has seen far more ugliness than I ever will, but coming to Sierra Leone this time, I truly understand the hopelessness that caused him to utter these words.

My trips here have always been made alone (except for the few times I’ve had the pleasure of having my Peace sister, Michele D’Acosta by my side). This solitude has afforded me the opportunity to observe and think deeply and my perspective has shifted dramatically from that of a (by comparison) privileged white woman to a member of the global community who intimately knows and is saddened by the reality that we live in a world of excess that is taken by too many and shared with too few.

For some reason, I felt this even more deeply as I made the long journey this time – perhaps because I spoke with many who were sent here by Big Pharma to conduct clinical trials on Ebola vaccines – the renewed proof that the world is willing (and able) to pitch in and solve Africa’s big problems if there is a way to make money off of them (while ignoring the root causes of the problems) sparked anger that has been hard to shake as I’ve met with true heroes like The Peace Project’s trusted partner from CAPS, Edward Bockarie, who fights for pennies to fund work that truly helps the people of Sierra Leone survive and thrive in this brutally hard environment.

If this country is challenging for the able-bodied, it’s almost impossible to navigate for the disabled – many of their bodies maimed by polio and broken during the brutal Civil War that raged through Sierra Leone in the 90’s. As mentioned previously, it was photos of some of these men that inspired me to launch The Peace Project. But there is perhaps one photo for me that, in as much as is possible, tells the heartbreaking and unbelievable story of this war – it was taken by Greek photographer Yannis Kontos and is shown in this post.

“Do you want a long sleeve or a short sleeve?” members of the RUF purportedly asked their terrified victims during the war before brutally chopping off their arms with machetes for reasons I’m not knowledgeable enough to speak on, but I know arise from the desire to intimidate. If the thought of losing one arm in this manner is too terrible to imagine, unfathomable is the thought of losing both of them…and surviving…as dozens of men (and even a few women) have.

Prior to one of my early trips to Sierra Leone, Dominic Hoffman, who introduced me to Yannis’ photo and who, as a father felt this father’s pain deeply, gave me some money and asked me to pass it along to this amputee. In a country devastated by a war that, for all intents and purposes, shut down it’s rural education system for nearly a decade which effectively left an entire generation uneducated, and that now has an unemployment rate that tops 70%, the opportunity for the disabled to make a living are virtually non-existent, and most are reduced to begging – the man in the photo was one of these. After much searching, I learned that he had passed through to whatever is next – hopefully a place far kinder than the one he had left behind. I subsequently used these funds to help one of The Peace Project’s early programs which provides for the education of disabled children and children of parents that are disabled – one of which was Adagali Bangura, a man who had also had both arms chopped off and who was living in unimaginable squalor with his wife and children.

Over the past four years, we’ve taken many poignant photos of Adagali as we’ve met with all of our sponsored children including two of Adigali’s, Marie (sponsored by Sandra Cooper) and Michael (sponsored by Robert Gonzalez). These pictures have captured his struggle to do even the most simple things — punctuating the reality that there are so many things he will never be able to do again. In early 2014, thanks to the generosity of artists like Chris Liddiard from the UK’s Chalk Gallery, we were able to provide financing for Adagali to start a soap-making business.

Although I am ever optimistic and have learned to never underestimate the potential of determination, I’ll be honest and share that I didn’t hold out much hope for the success of Adagali’s venture – a venture that was started by a man who is close to illiterate and had no business skills I was aware of. The fact that he barely had time to begin operations before Ebola broke out and wrecked further havoc on Sierra Leone’s battered economy, had me dreading, rather than looking forward, to news from him this trip.

Yesterday, Tejan and I set out for National Stadium to meet up with many of The Peace Project’s sponsored children and their parents. While picking up some food for everyone along the way, Tejan spotted Obai, the man whose care he had been in when we met so many years ago. Tejan called out and Obai turned, his face lighting up as he came towards us – giving me the fist bump that is considered an appropriate greeting during these times, but unable to restrain himself as he turned and jubilantly hugged Tejan. Since Obai’s English is as limited as my Krio, I asked Tejan to tell him that the adoption was approved and he would be coming to the United States. As Tejan relayed the news and Obai looked at me smiling, I couldn’t stop my tears as I thought about the unlikely road this amputee and I had shared since he had set aside what little pride he had left on September 13, 2010 to beg an unknown white woman to provide for the education of a promising boy that wasn’t even his own. I also remembered vividly how, on my second trip to Sierra Leone, Obai broke down in tears as he recounted how Tejan’s uncle had raped Tejan’s sister Bekiss, and consequently Tejan’s now-deceased father had come and taken both Tejan and Bekiss out to the farthest reaches of Sierra Leone. Once again, Obai begged for my help and shortly thereafter, I found myself in a van with Musa Mansaray, Albert Manley Mustapha and a mechanic, heading out on a cross-country trek to meet Obai in Kabala and ultimately bring Tejan and Bekiss back.

Musing on all of this and more, Obai, Tejan and I continued onto National Stadium, where I was greeted by the bright smile of Musa Mansaray and others called out “Mama Lisa” before I was presented with a gift of a large bag of fruit by those that scarcely had the money to feed their own.

As has become typical, I spoke briefly to each family and when Adagali approached me, I mentally steeled myself for unfortunate news. Unnecessary because, against unimaginable odds, Adagali’s business was thriving and he proudly told me that he was now employing five people. He then asked whether The Peace Project could provide funding for a machine so that he could make laundry soap and further grow his business – employing more amputees like himself that had at one point, thought their useful lives were over.

My smile matched Adagali’s and I looked in his eyes and saw a sparkle I hadn’t seen before. As I gave this man with no hands a fist bump, some of my hopelessness lifted and I thought about the fable of the boy who was seen walking along a beach strewn with thousands of starfish washed up by the high tide. A man watched him picking up one starfish after another and then throwing them out into the sea and said “What are you doing? Look at all these starfish – you can’t make a difference.” The boy looked at him, reached down, picked up another starfish, threw it out to sea and said “I made a difference for that one.”

If this story of the unbelievable power of the human spirit inspires you, please consider visiting where your donation of $10 or more will not only help fund a soap-making machine for Adagali , it will provide employment for other amputees and fund the on-going work of The Peace Project in Sierra Leone.

In a name.

I remember my first flight to Sierra Leone, back in September of 2010 – the anxiety at what I would find, the fear that had been instilled in me about how unsafe this country was (easy to understand since Sierra Leone was still in the aftermath of one of the most brutal wars in Africa’s recent history). What I found surprised me – a country of unimaginable poverty and despair. People whose lives have been completely different than mine, but who can be generous beyond anything I would have ever imagined. People of passion and integrity. A land that keeps giving and giving. Warm winds, stunning sunsets, a deep smell of earth and trees of incredible beauty. A rhythm of life that, oddly, is simultaneously chaotic and languid.

In some ways Sierra Leone saved me as much as it changed me and I’m here this time because it also, unexpectedly, gave me a son.

This week I’m hoping to finalize Tejan’s adoption after several years of fits and starts. The boy I met in September 2010 has turned into a young man and it’s time to bring him home – home to the United States – a country where, despite the ignorance and the hatred and the racism, there is still incredible opportunity, and where a small boy who was once orphaned, without possessions and alone in Africa, can become anything…and anyone.

“So you know when you come to America, you’ll get one of these.” I said to Tejan this morning as I held up my U.S.A. passport. As he does when he’s particularly happy, he looked up at me with lighted eyes and then averted them – perhaps afraid to believe that his fortunes might really change so drastically. Although I’m disillusioned about many things in America, I still believe what I said next is true “The U.S.A. passport is one of the most powerful documents in the world – with it, you can go almost anywhere.” Again he smiled.

“You know, you’ll also have a chance to change your name if you’d like.” I said hesitantly – a reality I hadn’t even thought about until someone mentioned it to me recently. Oddly, Tejan looked at me without surprise as I continued “You can either keep Sow as your last name or you can take Schultz.” He looked at me and said without hesitation “I want your name.” Tears welled up in my eyes as he stepped into my arms and I held him and thought about how a tiny baby had been given away into a family with the last name of Schultz. I thought about how this tiny baby became a young girl who became a woman and then a mother with a name that never seemed to fit. And then one day, after launching The Peace Project several years ago, I looked up Schultz and found it means (among other things) “head of a village” and “justice of the peace”.

Today, as I always do, I think of miracles – how time and space are often irrelevant in this dance we do in life. How we find our children in the strangest places. And how an unwanted name can become someone’s most cherished gift and a perfect fit – if you give it enough time, love and intention <3

The Fishes and The Loaves

I’m near the end of the second leg of my trip to Sierra Leone and I realize that I’d forgotten what an endurance test this trip always is.  By the time I reach my hotel, I will have traveled  close to 35 hours and while in the early days of The Peace Project this seemed novel, at this point, it just seems long.

The patience of my dear, long time friend, Charles Hopkins has marked the beginning of most of these trips and his good humor in getting a traveler like me, who despite stellar intentions, always manages to just barely make it, to the airport  is commendable.  Our trips invariably begin the same way – him dragging my heavy luggage down the stairs while I ask anxiously “How much do you think it weighs?”  Today as he dragged a huge bag filled with 100 white canes and 30 pairs of Peace Tips weighing in at ½ lb. each, he said 65 lbs. to which I answered (as I always do) “Are you sure it’s not 50?”

Once again, Charles was right, and despite my most valiant tactics at check-in as I explained I was going to Africa and these canes would change people’s lives, the United representative was unmoved.  What followed was comedy that only Michele D’Acosta (whose scenarios like this at Sierra Leone check-in rival mine) can understand…and it also doubled as an impromptu test of compassion for my fellow travelers and United staff.  As I took white cane after white cane out, the luggage scale didn’t move and I nervously moved the bag on and off, praying for a break and thinking of how badly these are needed in a country where the only aid that the disabled receive is from NGOs like The Peace Project.  I pled my case numerous times during this process to no avail and at one point, I turned to the snarling Colorado Springs bound passenger next to me, and explained “I’m sorry – I’m going to Africa and these are for the blind – it’s the only way they receive help like this.”  Her face contorted with fury, she spat out “I DON’T care.”

And thus, another trip to Africa has begun.

In the end…

In the end…

When I was a young child, my father used to tell me “You know Lulu, you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” With a heart full of ire, I scoffed at his words, but remarkably in a life where I’ve forgotten much, and a childhood where I remember little, his words still ring in my ears.

Since we launched The Peace Project, I’ve thought a lot about legacies — what we leave behind when we pass through, whether it’s just through the day or whether it’s through this life and onto whatever is next. And as I become convinced that it’s how we live our lives and who we touch (and how) that defines our measure as human beings, I’ve started to measure my words more carefully, to give more generously and more often — of my time, my blessings and the beauty that I know each one of us has within us to share. Every day, I appreciate friends like Dan Reed, Meg Martin, Elena Alvarez, David Kahl, Christian White, Chris Galligan, Stephen Gardner, Hernando Solo, Tiffany Davis-Rustam, Eliyahu McLean, Kelly Zirbes, Gene Garvin, Jesse Hunter, Diane Ekker, Karen Blessen, Ray Hennessy, and so many others that consciously take the time to spread love in a world that, too often of late, seems consumed with hate.

I sometimes falter and I often forget how powerful we are to create a shift and make someone’s day…but then I am gently reminded…usually when I need it the most.

Last night as I worked in the gallery — another late night in a string of years of late nights — a young gal walked in with a hand full of roses and said “Are you the one that makes the signs?” Although I have been joined at the sign making by others including Heidi Huber-Kalin, Kimberly Bretz, Lisa Lesniak, Michele D’Acosta and others, it seemed easier to just say “Yes.”

She reached out her hand offering me the flowers and said “I come by here late every night on my way home and I see your sign and I just wanted to say thank you.” Tears immediately sprang to my eyes as she, somewhat embarrassed, turned quickly and walked away leaving me to think about what I could write on the sign today to thank her <3

In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

The 12th Day of Gratitude

The 12th Day of Gratitude

Anything is possible.

I’m grateful for what I have…and for knowing that this is not all there is. I’m grateful for everyone that chose to patronize The Whole 9 Gallery this holiday season and for everyone that has supported our work in so many ways over the past four years. I’m grateful that due to the hard and enthusiastic work by many including Stephen Gardner, Ray Hennessy and Dianne E. Bernard, The Peace Project was able to finish our first community in the Philippines and I’m grateful for all of the people there that have pitched in and become friends on this journey including Paulo Esgana, Albert Camay, Lorna Saludar, Leah Cosido, Flora Saludar, Alfred James Saludar, and Allan Monreal . I’m grateful that the butter was soft last night when we made the chocolate chip cookies for Santa and that I’m able to hear my daughter exclaim “OMIGOD! OMIGOD! Look Mommy!” upon seeing what Santa brought while we relax in our warm, safe house, looking forward to a day filled with family and an abundance of love and food and communion.

I’m incredibly grateful for Elias Bangura who brought my son Tejan into his family while we finished the adoption. Little did either of us know that this process would take over two years, yet his generosity has never stretched thin even though everyone in the beleagured country of Sierra Leone is stretched thin every day — while they battle yet another enemy — this time called Ebola, that has caused countless deaths, families to be torn apart and the entire educational system to be shut down while unemployment rages, inflation skyrockets and children like my son Tejan say matter of factly that they’re “Studying” on Christmas and reveal that “There are no presents this year because of Ebola.”

Celebration is in order today for the many reasons we choose to celebrate (and just having a day off is enough for me!), but my gratitude is tempered with the understanding that our work is far from through and that we all have a role to play.

Perhaps I’m most grateful for the fact that despite all that I’ve seen, I’m still an eternal optimist. And this optimism, plus my faith, leads me to believe that if parents in countries worldwide can work together to inspire the belief in hundreds of millions of children that there IS a Santa Clause, then anything is possible. We too, just have to believe.

The 9th Day of Gratitude

The 10th Day of Gratitude

“The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because its only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create.”
~~Chuck Palahniuk

Yesterday, I had the extreme pleasure of joining Barry Taylor and the religious/philosophical community he’s created here in Los Angeles. We chatted about a new idea he’s working on called LifeLabs and the possibility of hosting it at The Whole 9 Gallery. I enthusiastically said “That would be awesome. We’ve got this amazing space behind the gallery where…” I abruptly stopped myself and started laughing “That was weird. The area behind the gallery is where our neighbors smoke and we park our cars, but I’ve been thinking about transforming it into a lush sanctuary.”

Every day, I think about how lucky I am to be surrounded by artists, musicians, writers, poets, and others like Karen Blessen and Eliyahu McLean who are able to visualize something beautiful…and then bring it to life.

This morning, my daughter woke and immediately reached under her pillow and grabbed a $5 bill. “Look Mommy…the Tooth Fairy came. Do you think she’s real?”

I smiled and replied “Absolutely.”

The 7th Day of Gratitude

“If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking.”
~~Maya Angelou

For so many years as a child and a young adult, my thoughts turned far too often on what I didn’t get from my parents. The changes in perspective that happen when you have a child of your own are somewhat miraculous and I feel blessed that these days my thoughts turn often, with immense appreciation, to the many things I did get from my parents. Oddly enough, I recently realized that although I think often of how my parents stayed up late on Christmas Eve wrapping presents and assembling toys to surprise my brother and I with, I can’t remember a single one of those presents. I remember many other things about the holidays — the warmth of the house, our family visiting, the abundance of food, and my fondest memory, baking chocolate chip cookies with my mother.

This tradition is one that I’ve continued and this morning when I experienced a few moments of stress about whether I should get my daughter more than a few presents, I thought back to last night and in my mind’s eye, I could see her while she stood at the kitchen counter on her “helping” chair, flour flying about and chocolate chips spilling onto the floor while she laughed and grabbed for my hands to lick the cookie dough off my fingers and shrieked (as I had so many years ago) “Mommy…I get to lick the spoon!”

The 4th Day of Gratitude

The 4th Day of Gratitude

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday, the online auction The Peace Project was holding to fund our Peace Center on Bantayan Island closed and once again I was reminded that if you open your heart and share your gifts, the shift begins and lives change. Thanks to all that contributed including Helena Hötzl, Adam Stone, Brian Leighton, Eddie Barbini and a newcomer to our community, Joel Lambert who not only contributed his time, but also purchased this photograph from Pep Bonet that was previously in my collection.

I met Joel at an exhibition we hosted at The Whole 9 Gallery gallery on Friday night and he offered to promote a meet and greet with him to his network. Joel is a former Navy Seal who now stars in Manhunt, a series on Discovery Channel which features him getting dropped into dangerous situations worldwide that he must then extricate himself from.

Not only did Joel promote his experience, he also bid on (and won) this piece.

Doing this work is often disappointing — coming across people like Joel that say what they’re going to do and then not only do them, but do more, is what keeps me looking for the light. Rereading this post that I wrote about this photo in my early days of The Peace Project in Sierra Leone reminded me of the magnitude of my blessings during a season when it is easy to lose sight.…/th…/2011/02/02/looking-for-the-light/


It’s these small acts of kindness that mirror the endless supply of generosity in your heart.

The 2nd Day of Gratitude

Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

I was recounting the glowing reports I heard about my daughter at her parent/teacher conference last week to a friend and lamenting how I often feel guilty that my daughter’s idea of a play date is an evening spent in the gallery working with mommy and how God knew what I needed — I needed a daughter that could raise herself. My friend sagely replied “The most important thing for a child is to know that they are loved.”

I thought about the truth of this statement and it caused me to think, as I often do, of my grandmother, Claudia. Being an adoptee and growing up in a family where I always felt like somewhat of a misfit, I never had the love in my heart that allowed me to recognize the love around me. After yet another altercation with my father around the age of 15 or 16, I “ran” away and ultimately ended up living with my widowed grandmother Claudia who, after welcoming me with open arms, laid out the rules “Don’t hurt yourself. Don’t hurt anyone else, and don’t get thrown in jail.”

Remarkably I managed to comply, and with the healing balm of her unconditional love, my journey towards the woman I am now, began. Although she’s been gone close to 30 years, I think of the ways she influenced me almost daily. Her love of life taught me the importance of celebration and her open acceptance and staunch friendship of those that were different from her caused a rift in the belief system that I had been raised in and paved the way for what I now know to be true: we are all the same and the ultimate lie is that we are not.

Wherever you are grandma, I hope you are as proud of me as I was of my daughter last week. Thank you for everything you gave me then and continue to give me now <3


I am grateful to you for writing this vivid and unfolding story of gratitude. Claudia would be so proud of you.

Gracious Giving.

Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you.
~~Madeline Bridges

When I was a young gal of 23 and making my way up in the frigid town of Chicago. I met a strapping young lad who was slightly older than myself, literally fresh off a farm in the South with stars in his wild eyes and a brand new job at Rolling Stone Magazine on his resume. Since Chicago is a walking town and back in those days I had a lot more time on my hands, I spent a lot of time on the streets. Awkward and unsure of how to deal with the homeless and desperate people that asked me for money, I asked my new friend who replied “I hand out whatever change I have in my pocket that day until it’s gone.”

Since most people I knew shunned those living on the streets, I was impressed — his strategy resonated with me, so I adopted it as my own. Over 20 years later, I came across this once stout lad who was now a bloated, unhappy husband, the stars gone from eyes that were now only wild after a few of the many cocktails he consumed daily in a job that he hated. I was eager to share with him how much of an impact his open hand policy had had on me “I just have to tell you…” His face grew bemused as I unfolded my story and when I finished he said flatly “I don’t remember that.”

Recently, David Richard Thompson and I were on the streets of Culver City doing our first Peace Project/Parkour collaboration and asking those walking by for a buck in exchange for one of the Parkour athletes doing a backflip. Our goal was to pay for as many crutches as possible for the second phase of The Peace Project’s Operation Rise initiative. We joked and hawked and many passerbys stopped, watched, and reached into their pockets. But I also, for the first time in my life, had people turn their faces away from me, pretending they did not see or hear me. It was a revelation.

A few weeks ago, Willow and I were down in Laguna Beach, hanging out on a brilliant afternoon and watching beautiful boys playing volleyball while children giggled and laughed, trying to catch oversized bubbles. A young man approached me hesitantly, sheepishly, and said “Ma’am can you spare some change. I’m trying to get a sandwich.” I smiled at him and enthusiastically said “Absolutely!” as I reached into my wallet. Taken aback he said “Really”, I smiled and said “Of course. Times are tough these days, aren’t they?” I handed him some cash along with my standard blessing “Here’s to better days my friend.” When he looked at the cash, his face brightened, his downtrodden demeanor changed and he raced off to quell his hunger while I thought about how easy it is to make someone’s day with a kindness they may remember long after you have forgotten.

This series of moments really brought home to me how many of us give — we give as if the receiver should be grateful (really grateful) that we’ve chosen to be gracious. Some of us give grudgingly, in subtle and often overt ways, letting the other person know that they are an imposition, less than us in their time of need. We give because we feel we should, all the while feeling like our giving is going to leave us with less than enough.

A few years ago, while we were doing one of our Peace Project exhibits in San Francisco, a disheveled and slightly wild-eyed gal walked into the gallery asking for money. I offered her some water and some cash and as she left, someone said to me “Wow. That was generous.” I thought about the reality that we were surrounded by art, the rights of which had been generously granted to The Peace Project to help us create peace, and I smiled and replied “I’ve never had to skip a meal because I gave someone a buck.”


This is so exquisitely written, Lisa. It was a pleasure, and I’ve seen you walk this walk.
Here’s to better days, my friend!