Born and raised in Moncton, Canada, Holly is a true polymath: A multi-media artist, NGO founder, trekker and mountain climber, a scholar, ecofeminist and a yogini of 18 years devoted to the ten living principles of yoga. She is deeply committed to conscious living and honouring all sentient beings and the natural world. An activist for peace and sentient rights with a focus on women, children, non-human animals and our interrelations with the natural world, Holly has worked for the past ten years for the rights of displaced people and victims of trafficking – namely child soldiering, rape survivors and sexual slavery – and has been documenting her experiences throughout east and north Africa climbing mountains, sitting with indigenous persons and rescuing animals. Randomly, she has survived Malaria four times and a lightning strike once.
She is currently studying law with University of London and is an active ongoing student of UNITAR, satyagraha and non-violent communication. She is a proud ambassador to Canada’s Give 30 supporting those who face hunger across the nation. She is also an advocate for responsible foreign investment, social enterprise, and challenging colonial narratives and tired aid models in African nations.
Elissa’s roots are in the theater, music and fine arts. Her childhood was spent primarily with pencil or brush in hand – to draw, paint or write. Elissa began studying the flute and piano at age 12. Excelling in flute, she competed at local and provincial music festivals with her school music program. Elissa’s original career path was to either enter the fine arts or performing arts as a classical musician and composer. Her first time on the boards, however, instigated a complete change in focus. As a teenager she won her first awards for BEST DIRECTOR and BEST NEW PLAY at provincial drama festivals. After several years focused on film and television, in 2005 Elissa returned to the stage with the original contemporary ballet,’BruK’. Written, directed and produced by Elissa and mounted at the Beaumont Theater in Vancouver, the highly acclaimed run was sold out before opening night.
An acting veteran in ‘Hollywood North’, her extensive film and television credits include critically acclaimed and award-winning productions from MGM, CTV, Fox, Warner Bros, NBC Universal, The CW, Syfy, Lifetime, Showtime, Sky and ABC. Her career in front of the camera in film and television opened the door to a natural curiosity and exploration of the world through a lens.
As a filmmaker, Elissa is motivated to tell stories that explore cross-cultural understanding and human rights through innovative yet accessible narrative and documentary films. Having nearly a decade of NGO work in East Africa under her belt, the danger of the single-story narrative of African nations and the pillaging of their resources by ‘first world’ nations is a primary focus in her work.
As visual artist, Holly is currently developing ‘Matriarchy’ – a multi-media exhibit focusing on forgotten female leaders within the spiritual, peace-building and scientific movements of previous centuries to present day. She is also actively developing ‘Aniconism’ a geometric exploration of divinity and nature.
As a child in 1991, Elissa read No Easy Walk to Freedom which was her first real introduction to Nelson Mandela and apartheid in South Africa beyond her social studies class. In April 1994 she watched television news coverage of the historical South African General Election. Soon after she watched the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech on a DVD-Rom encyclopedia at the school library for the first time. She became obsessed with MLK Jr, Mandela as well as Mahatma Ghandhi. These respective freedom and peace movements had a strong impact on Elissa’s path as an activist.
At age 16 she volunteered for SIDA/AIDS Moncton, canvassing high schools to participate in the AIDS Walk. With homophobia and a stigma with AIDS deeply ingrained in the culture no school agreed except her own, Moncton High School. 19 students including Holly completed the AIDS Walk. While enrolled at Dalhousie University, Elissa joined Students for a Free Tibet and participated in marches and peaceful vigils. She marched in the February 15, 2003 anti-war protest. As a youth mentor for over 9 years, she has volunteered with various organizations working with at-risk and special needs children. She has had the honour of being an in-class volunteer for vulnerable children in both Vancouver and South Central Los Angeles classrooms.
As the founder of Caleb’s Hope, Holly worked with refugee women and children in Atiak region of Northern Uganda – widows, former child soldiers, sex slaves, PLWHA, and child headed households. With the ongoing assistance of local leaders and experts, they developed the Atiak Women’s Business Group; a women’s social enterprise group focused on sustainable economic independence and child welfare and education. AWBG currently focuses on farming as their sustainable industry of choice with many having dreams to expand their farming productions while others use funds to complete school or plan to use profits as start-up capital for other business endeavors.
Unfortunately the deeply flawed and oppressive colonial structure of most foreign aid in Africa has systematically led to an inevitable unhealthy co-dependency between western charities and their developing nation recipients, despite the best of intentions. Because of this reality, Caleb’s Hope could no longer, in good conscience, continue programs in Atiak. All programs were completed, fulfilling the NGOs promise in Atiak in 2014. Moving forward, Elissa and other organization members believe that investment in local enterprises and community based organizations is a better direction for the good of all.