I think most would agree that Ben Affleck's speech on Sunday was a breath of fresh air, and an honest representation of what life's journey to an Oscar entails. Ben so brilliantly reminded us all that life is a dead end when you hold grudges, and although it is difficult, in order to succeed you cannot be stubborn. What Ben spoke of on Sunday also rang true to what he stands for in his everyday life: the importance of the human condition to reconcile and rebuild.
I had the pleasure of working with Ben many years ago on a film I produced for HBO entitled A Body to Die For: The Aaron Henry Story. It was 1993, and I had hired Ben as a young inexperienced actor (he was just 21 years old!) to play a high school football star addicted to steroids. That was 20 years ago, and Ben's talent and passion were already so recognizable.
Many years later, our paths crossed again when we both found ourselves working with initiatives in Africa. His work in founding The Eastern Congo Initiative brought him to the Congo, while my work for SAME SKY brought me to Rwanda. So here we are, two people that met in the movie business, and are now completely dedicated to our work in sub-Saharan Africa. We are both so passionate about fair trade and its potential to help people rebuild their lives.
His success in the Congo has been a remarkable endeavor -- he has taken part of an initiative to employ impoverished farmers to create 100 percent cacao chocolate bars. Ben says something that I have always believed in, "It's not just aid, it's investment." It's an investment in people's future, and an investment for people to understand the power of rebuilding and reconciling.
The idea of reconciliation is particularly powerful in Rwanda, where everybody is working to rebuild after the brutal and swift genocide that killed nearly a million people in a hundred days. At SAME SKY, the 'trade-not-aide' initiative I founded in 2008, we employ HIV+ Rwandan genocide widows to crochet beaded bracelets for an income that is substantially more than the average sub-Saharan wage. We have watched as these women artisans undergo incredible transformations. At a SAME SKY collective in Kigali, Rwanda, one of our artisans now sits next to, and works alongside, a woman whose husband murdered her entire family. But now these women, instead of being Tutsis or Hutus, are both widows working together to lift themselves out of poverty and to rebuild their country.
When listening to Ben's acceptance speech I couldn't help but think of these women. So much of being on the ground in Rwanda is working with others to understand the power of acceptance and the meaning of a prosperous future. It's like what Ben said in his speech, "Work harder than you think you possibly can... you can't hold grudges, it's hard but you really can't." This is advice not just for Hollywood or Rwanda, but for all of us in our everyday lives.
So on the night when Ben Affleck achieved the highest honor for cinema on his outstanding film Argo, he should have been out partying and celebrating when I reached out to congratulate him. Typical Ben responded quickly, not about the film, but rather about collaborating on work in the Eastern Congo. He truly is the living example of the human spirit's capability (whether through movies or charity) to make the world a better place.
Congratulations Ben, not only do you deserve an Oscar you deserve a humanitarian award for being remarkable in all of your endeavors.