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I Support Kony2012

Joseph Kony is infamous for his atrocities and crimes against humanity in Uganda and neighboring countries and now the group Invisible Children is trying to make him famous.  Kony is one of the most sought after war criminals and the hope is by bringing attention to him the whole world will engage and finally hunt him down and let justice be served.  His Kony’s Lords Resistance Army brutalized the people of Northern Uganda for 25 years, abducting children and turning them into child soldiers and sex slaves.  An entire region and generation were brutalized and broken.  Now Kony has fled from Uganda and has escaped into the Congo.  He continues his senseless killing and the U.S. has even sent troops to help Uganda’s military track him down.  A couple of years ago we met some of the child soldiers who had escaped and were being prepared to return home at Worldvision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, Uganda.  Their stories are painful but they are also hopeful. Here is the video we produced for HDNet World Report:

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

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The New Normal: Moose in Newfoundland

When I’ve produced stories in the past I’ve always been on location with my crew.  But times in television, well sometimes, they are a changing.  This story about the serious problem being caused by an overpopulation of Moose in Newfoundland was a collaboration between cameraman Greg Locke of Straylight Media in Newfoundland and me in Colorado.  We met via Google. I set up the story and found the characters, he was the field producer, cameraman and sound man, and I wrote the story, did the rough cut and even recorded my first voice over ever.  It’s the new normal. I’m proud we managed to tell an important story about how moose in Newfoundland are so abundant that they are causing deadly collisions on the highways prompting a class action lawsuit against the provincial government.  I wish I had been able to go to Newfoundland to produce this story for HDNet’s World Report but I guess we showed it can be done.  A Canada/USA co-proproduction, with two people who never met and still managed to make a difference.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

 


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The Greening of Greensburg

Very early on the morning on May 5, 2007 I got a call from NBC News to hurry from Denver to Greensburg, Kansas.  There had been a huge tornado and the town was devastated.  Go! Go!  When I pulled into the town six hours later I was stunned to see wreckage so complete that even the bark had been pulled off the trees.  These skeleton sentinals stood over a community of people who were lost and dazed.  The EF-5 tornado had 205 mile per hour sustained winds.  Almost the entire town was in ruins.  It was apocalyptic.

The grain elevator was one of the few buildings left standing in Greensburg, Kansas after an EF-5 tornado destroyed the town on May 4, 2007.

It was hard to imagine coming back from that scene or even having the will to rebuild but Greensburg is a plucky town.  One of the residents, who is now the mayor, Bob Dixson, had a sign on his property within days.  It read “Future home of the Dixson family.  We are blessed.”   They were still optimistic.  I guess when you consider that 11 of their neighbors had died and many more were injured, they were among the lucky ones.  I took this photo when I was out there covering the disaster.  The powerful image made me feel hopeful.

The sign in the rubble of Bob Dixson's home in Greensburg, Kansas following the tornado. He and his wife were among the first who decided to rebuild.

The town decided to pull itself out of the rubble by capitalizing on the Green in Greensburg.  They would come back environmentally friendly and create a community that was truly sustainable.   Over the years I had pitched this story to various news outlets with little success but when Budget Travel magazine singled Greensburg out as one of the coolest small towns in America I had a newsworthy hook and HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports said let’s do the story.

Almost five years later I returned to Greensburg and what I saw was as stunning as that first post disaster morning.  The town is cleaned up and there are beautiful new buildings.  The school, the hospital, City Hall and the John Deere dealership are all built back to the highest environmental standard called LEED Platinum.  There is a pretty little Main Street with shops and even a business incubator sponsored by Sun Chips.  People are living in new eco-friendly homes and are saving up to 2/3 on their utility bills.  And there are wind turbines everywhere powering the community.  Imagine using the same wind that destroyed you to help resurrect yourself!

Bob Dixson's eco-friendly rebuilt home today.

Greensburg still has its work cut out for it.  The town has half as many people as it once did but they are determined to repopulate.  Like many of the small towns in rural America, Greensburg had been dying.  But even after the tornado the folks there said we are not dead yet.  So they set out to create a sustainable future, a vision for their tomorrow that would make Greensburg a place children would want to stay, that would be attractive to new families, invite companies to relocate, and create jobs and economic development.

What’s extraordinary here is that folks in Greensburg are very conservative.  These are not tree huggers but they realized that by going green they could build a community of the future.  Today they are an inspiration for other cities reeling from disasters like tornado ravaged Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  In a time when huge disasters seem to come at us with alarming frequency, Greensburg is showing us how to rebuild and recover.  And the message they send is that green goes with their rural values.  It is just common sense.

The foundation of a new Greensburg is in place.  It has been a gut wrenching process for people who lost everything to imagine something this big when it would have been so much easier to somewhere else.  As the town approaches the fifth anniversary of the tornado this May, they have an enormous amount to be proud about.  I personally would like to go back in five years and see how much farther they have come.  If you are traveling along Highway 54 pull off at Greensburg and see what’s been accomplished.  And if you can’t do that, watch tonight on HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports to see the hard work and ingenuity that brought Greensburg back.

Our Dan Rather Reports crew in Greensburg, Kansas during October 2011 covering the remarkable comeback of the town.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

For more of Vicky’s photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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How to Live Forever

Want to live to be a thousand years old? It’s not far fetched at all if you ask theoretician and geneticist Aubrey de Grey. He believes within the next 25 years there is a 50/50 chance we’ll have the technologies to extend human life indefinitely. I learned of Aubrey and his ideas in 2005 and immediately pitched the story to NBC’s Today Show. They were intrigued. With the help of correspondent Kerry Sanders and the London bureau, we went out and interviewed Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge. When we finished the story we sent it in to the show. It was promptly killed. Too out there for a mainstream audience. Plus it didn’t help that Aubrey looked like Methuselah.

Aubrey de Grey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, CA.

Fast forward to 2011 and there Aubrey was in the news again.  This time I pitched the story to HDNet’s World Report. The program is always looking for stories that deal with interesting issues and are not widely told. This time correspondent Willem Marx met up with Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge and also went punting with him on the Thames River. For my part, I finally got to meet Aubrey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, California. He is tall and wiry and moves like someone with no time to lose.  He lovingly strokes the beard which hangs almost to his waist. I asked him if his distinctive look helped or hurt him as he went out in the world trying to win over scientists and venture capitalists to support his work. He said it helped because people looked at him and saw a guy who is not materialistic in the least. It’s very clear to them that he is not doing this to get rich.

Through his SENS Foundation non-profit, Aubrey and the scientists who work with him are creating an intersection between research on the biology of aging and regenerative medicine. By doing experiments with the building blocks of cells they hope to someday develop treatments that repair the damage caused by aging, and restore people to a state where they are biologically younger than they were when they started. In other words, people could live out their entire lives as healthy as young adults. Five years ago, the scientific community considered his ideas kind of kooky but now the research is catching up with his theories and Aubrey is gaining credibility. “This is not science fiction anymore, this is science forseeable,” Aubrey proclaims.

Of course the implications are mind boggling but Aubrey brushes them off. “People always say hang on. If we stop the problem of aging we’re going to have a whole lot of other problems. We’re going to have overpopulation or dictators who live forever, or how will we have the pensions, or won’t it be boring. If I want to be flippant, I say those are problems I’d like to have, thank you very much. Ultimately I don’t see people who want to get cancer or Alzheimer’s disease or cardiovascular disease or Type 2 Diabetes or any of these things we are going to prevent by curing aging. I don’t meet people who want any of those things so I find it frustrating when people take the view we’re going to create the problems and refuse to adopt any sense of proportion about this and accept the problem we have today is a big one, a problem that kills 100,000 people every day, most of them after a long period of ill health and disease and debilitation and dependence and decrepitude. It’s pretty clear that the problem we would solve is quite a big one, and yes, the transition to a post aging world is going to be a big one, and the more forward planning we do to make it less turbulent the better, but the transition to the industrial revolution was pretty turbulent too, yet there aren’t many people who believe the industrial revolution was a mistake.”

If you want to learn more about Aubrey de Grey and his work and vision tune in to HDNet’s World Report on Tuesday, May 17th at 9 p.m. ET/7 p.m. MT.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Prostitution in Perspective

When I was a senior at St. Andrew’s Priory in Honolulu I was selected by my high school government class to spend a week at the Hawaii state capitol observing the legislature. My assignment was to select one bill under consideration, research it and follow it through the session. I chose the effort to legalize prostitution. At the time, Hawaii had a very active sex industry. My school was close to Hotel Street where the ladies of the night did business.  The bill eventually died (I don’t recall whether it was in committee or if it actually got to the floor) and prostitution continues to be illegal in the 50th state, as it is in all states except Nevada.

Prostitution, Mustang Ranch, Nevada, Reno

Prostitute at the Mustang Ranch outside Reno, Nevada

Recently I revisited the subject of prostitution for a story I’m working on for HDNet World Report.  What got the report off the ground was Senator Harry Reid’s speech before Nevada’s legislature on February 22 in which he called for “an adult conversation” about ending legalized prostitution throughout the state.  Prostitution is already against the law in counties with more than 400,000 people, which includes Clark County (home of Las Vegas) and Washoe County (home of Reno.)  Senator Reid said that Nevada would be more business friendly if the state finally eliminated legalized brothel prostitution from the rural counties as well.  “Nevada needs to be known for innovation and investment,” Senator Reid said, “not as the last place where protitution is still legal.”  As you can imagine, his comments have stirred up quite a pot.

The point of this blog is not to rehash the morality of the world’s oldest profession, nor is it to discuss the economic impact of brothels in the rural areas of the state, or make the case that legalized prostitution seems safer and smarter than its illegal cousin.  The point of this blog is that this journey opened my eyes to the humanity of women who do this kind of work.  Before I criss crossed Nevada visiting brothels I had a predictable response to prostitutes.  They were messed up and misguided.  Who could possibly do this kind of work?  Why would anyone sell their body to a stranger unless they needed the money to finance a drug addiction?  They must have a crushing amount of baggage that would lead them to this lifestyle.  And, of course, many do.  But the ladies we met in the rural and suburban brothels that dot the landscape were attractive, smart, friendly, savvy, confident and defied stereotypes.  Most were not fallen women without other options.  Many were educated and had goals in mind.  They were wives and mothers.  This was a means to a different end.  And at least in the brothels, pursuing their careers as independent contractors, they were confident and satisfied.   Now I’m certain the lives of women who do this illegally, on the streets, is much more dangerous and seedy. But in the safety of the legal brothels we found women who do this with class and dignity.

Asya, Donna's Ranch, Wells, Nevada, Paul Beban, HDNet World Report

Asya with HDNet World Report Correspondent Paul Beban at Donna's Ranch in Wells, Nevada

We met Asya at a small rural brothel called Donna’s Ranch in Wells, Nevada.  She had been working illegally on the street for years with a pimp who eventually dumped her.  Asya cried when she told us how painful that experience was.  But she chose to better herself.  She was sweet and chatty and enjoyed flirting with the truckers over the CB radio.  She smiled and batted her enormous false eyelashes and said she loved her life.  Asya was going to do this for two more years then wanted to start her own jazz bistro in her hometown of Houston.  She said it would be “groovy.”  Her friend, Simone, was a pretty blonde who had finally escaped the streets.  She said she had so many arrests that she would be in prison if she was busted once more.  She was happy here with a big huge laugh and strong opinions.  She loved to help in the kitchen and fancied herself a good cook.  She was saving to buy a house and was proud to be paying her taxes and contributing to social security.  “I do my part,” she said.

Demi, Emily, Mustang Ranch, Nevada, Reno

Demi and Emily at the Mustang Ranch outside Reno, Nevada


At the Mustang Ranch outside of Reno we met Demi.  “This is not my first passion, believe it or not,” she told us.  Demi became a prostitute to get through college and now owns a fashion boutique with her mother in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Her goal is to open one in Los Angeles.  “This is a means to an end for me to create my own life.”  Emily, stood out in a crowd.  She had cascades of platinum blonde hair and a girly dress and once made $84,000 in a month.  She was living with her grandmother and son in a car before she came here.  “I have options.  I just choose to do this as my option.”  She loves her job and her enthusiasm was palpable.  Both wanted me to know how empowered they felt and how proud they were to be Mustang girls.

Finally, at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Dayton, Nevada near Carson City, we met Paige and Brooke.  Paige is a 19 year old, new to the business.  She is studying nursing but hopes to become a physicians assistant instead.  She had the body of an athlete and said she participated in all sports in school.  She spent her free time trying to perfect pole dancing in the parlor and was very good at it and completely comfortable with the television camera.  And then there was Brooke.  She is a household name for her role in HBO’s series “Cathouse” and was featured in Hustler.  She was beautiful, smart and articulate.  We figured she has a career as a politician or lobbyist should she ever change course.  She came here of her own accord.  Wasn’t cutting it financially in Illinois working with adults with developmental disabilities and figured she would try something new.  “I’m using my best asset that I have been given which is myself,” she proclaimed.  Was this her long term career? “No.  I think I’m more of a free spirit than that.  When this is not enjoyable, when it’s not fulfilling, when the wind changes I’ll change with it.  Right now this works for me.  I’m having a good time, I’m making a good living, setting up a good future for myself, able to have the choice to do whatever I want.  And how lucky am I turning 30 to be able to say that.  Really.”

Paige, Brooke, Moonlite Bunny Ranch, Dayton, Nevada

Paige (L) and Brooke (R) at Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Dayton, Nevada

This was one of the most interesting immersions of my career and I came away from it with the realization that many of these women, at least in the legal brothels, are comfortable in their skin and see this as a career like any other.  They are not ashamed and seem to have a good time and they are able to look at the men who come through their doors with compassion.  Many prostitutes, believe it or not, go on to become nurses.  It was an eye opening week for me.  Each of these women made it clear to me they were doing this of their own volition.  They were in charge of their lives.  They were calling their own shots.  You can meet these young women on HDNet World Report on April 12.  See if they don’t make a big impression on you too.

For more on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Fear and Loathing in West Texas

Carol McKinley of HDNet's World Report speaking to young construction worker from the FLDS in San Angelo, Texas.

Just returned from San Angelo, Texas where reporter Carol McKinley and our crew worked on a story for HDNet’s World Report about the FLDS and how the polygamous fundamentalist Mormon sect is integrating into the local economy.  If you recall, members of the FLDS picked up in 2004 and left their homes in Utah to relocate to Eldorado, Texas.  They built a huge compound and the population has been steadily growing.  In 2008, there was a highly publicized raid where their children were removed because of allegations of child sexual abuse.  Some “Saints” are in jail and Warren Jeffs, their prophet and leader, has been extradited to Texas to face charges of aggravated sexual assault.  His trial is now scheduled to begin in July.

All that is the back story.  The report we are doing is about how, despite the myriad of setbacks for the group, they are thriving in their new home, much to the frustration of many in the community.  A huge conflict is emerging in the construction industry.  Men in the FLDS are highly skilled in the construction trades and are getting a foothold in the workplace.  They are hired on residential and commercial projects.  They also work as subcontractors on city, state and federal construction jobs.  People in the community say FLDS men work for less because they aren’t paid comparably for labor, and there is no longer a level playing field in the trades.  In addition, they are outraged that people in the community would hire men who allegedly sexually abuse young girls.  Everyone in this small town has an opinion on this.

With that in mind we set out to tell the story and encountered a climate of fear from almost everyone we met.  Members of the San Angelo construction community who have spoken out against the FLDS told us about being intimidated.  Folks used the words “Mafia” and “extortion” when describing FLDS tactics.  Almost everyone was afraid to go on camera because they worried they would be sued by FLDS lawyers. They believed they would also be threatened or lose their customers and livelihood.  Big burly construction workers would fill our ear with their stories off camera, but few would go on the record.  It took alot of calls to finally convince a couple people to speak out.  They did so with great trepidation.

On the other hand, the FLDS would scatter almost every time we showed up to videotape.  It was like playing hide and seek.  One builder who has a great relationship with FLDS workers and sings their praises spoke to us, but when we went to find his men on the job that day they were gone.  He was stunned that they would flee.  The only explanation, an email saying that we had been poking around Eldorado and he should not talk to the media, that no good could possibly come of that.  Over the course of our trip we repeatedly tried to catch his FLDS subcontractors at work to get video, but almost every time they heard we were in the area they took off.  It seemed they had a sophisticated communication network which tracked our movements and knew when we would be where.  Three young men spoke to us when we caught them by surprise, but you could feel their palpable anxiety.  We believe a couple even gave us fake names.  They could not have been more kind and polite and you wonder why members are so secretive rather than speaking and helping to foster communication and understanding.

Despite the difficulties in San Angelo, we have a very strong story about the fundamentalist Mormon culture and how they are moving forward in the economy.  Many who have spent their lives in West Texas worry aloud that the FLDS will take over.  It’s a culture clash of the first order.  Carol and the crew also visited Short Creek, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints settlement on the border between Utah and Arizona, that was settled almost a century ago.  Much to her surprise the FLDS is building a mansion for prophet Warren Jeffs in anticipation of his triumphant return when his Texas troubles are over.  Watch for more on HDNet’s World Report on Tuesday, February 8th.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Uganda’s Child Soldiers on PBS

As a journalist I’m used to working long days.  Adrenaline keeps you in the game for 16 to 20 hours during breaking news and disaster coverage.  You sleep for three hours then you’re back at it.  But nothing prepared me for how exhausted I would be after just a couple of hours of listening to the painful testimonies of young Ugandan men and women who had been abducted as children and forced to fight in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.  We produced the story for the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer when we traveled to Uganda this past June.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/africa/july-dec10/uganda_11-16.html

During our journey we met up with the young men at World Vision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, Uganda.  We also spoke with Sarah at her home in Orum in the Otuke District of Northern Uganda.  For 20 years kids as young as 9 were taken from their villages, marched to Sudan where they were trained to be soldiers, and sent out in the battlefield whether they were ready or not.  Michael told us how he was forced to kill his own brother.  Justin showed us his body riddled with bullet wounds.  Sarah gave us a tour of the village, pointing out graves including her sister’s.  It was a senseless civil war and the children didn’t even know why they were fighting.  Estimates are that 30,000 children were kidnapped but those are considered conservative.  More than likely the number is over 50,000.  Many spent their entire childhood in captivity and if they were not killed in battle or shot by ruthless commanders, if they survived their wounds and the traumas they witnessed, they might have been lucky enough to escape or be captured by the Ugandan government and sent into the arms of NGO’s like World Vision who work to rehabilitate them so they can be returned to their villages.  It is tough work.  Many of these children come home as young adults after spending the majority of their lives in the bush.  They have been robbed of their education and have little hope for the future.  They need to trust again.  They suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and depression.  One half of them were forced to kill someone.  Communities have mixed feelings about taking them back.  After all, these rebels killed tens of thousands of people and forced almost two million from their homes.  It’s understandable that there are some hard feelings.  Northern Uganda is at peace again and people have returned to their villages.  It’s hard to imagine this terror just a few years ago. But the physical and emotional scars endure for these children.  For their families.  For the people of the region.  And the LRA has not gone away.  Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has just moved next door where they are traumatizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For a longer version of the story watch the link below to see what we produced for HDNet’s World Report.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/15209575?portrait=0&color=ffffff

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Uganda’s Child Soldiers: In Their Own Words

As a journalist I’m used to working long days.  Adrenaline keeps you in the game for 16 to 20 hours during breaking news and disaster coverage.  You sleep for three hours then you’re back at it.  But nothing prepared me for how exhausted I would be after just a couple of hours of listening to the painful testimonies of young Ugandan men and women who had been abducted as children and forced to fight in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.  We produced the story you see below for HDNet’s World Report when we traveled to Uganda this past June. During our journey we met up with the young men at World Vision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, Uganda.  We also spoke with Sarah at her home in Orum in the Otuke District of Northern Uganda.  For 20 years kids as young as 9 were taken from their villages, marched to Sudan where they were trained to be soldiers, and sent out in the battlefield whether they were ready or not.  Michael told us how he was forced to kill his own brother.  Justin showed us his body riddled with bullet wounds.  Sarah gave us a tour of the village, pointing out graves including her sister’s.  It was a senseless civil war and the children didn’t even know why they were fighting.  Estimates are that 30,000 children were kidnapped but those are considered conservative.  More than likely the number is over 50,000.  Many spent their entire childhood in captivity and if they were not killed in battle or shot by ruthless commanders, if they survived their wounds and the traumas they witnessed, they might have been lucky enough to escape or be captured by the Ugandan government and sent into the arms of NGO’s like World Vision who work to rehabilitate them so they can be returned to their villages.  It is tough work.  Many of these children come home as young adults after spending the majority of their lives in the bush.  They have been robbed of their education and have little hope for the future.  They need to trust again.  They suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and depression.  One half of them were forced to kill someone.  Communities have mixed feelings about taking them back.  After all, these rebels killed tens of thousands of people and forced almost two million from their homes.  It’s understandable that there are some hard feelings.  Northern Uganda is at peace again and people have returned to their villages.  It’s hard to imagine this terror just a few years ago. But the physical and emotional scars endure for these children.  For their families.  For the people of the region.  And the LRA has not gone away.  Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has just moved next door where they are traumatizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/15209575?portrait=0&color=ffffff

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Acid Attacks Hit Home

NOTE: THE ACID ATTACK IN OREGON TURNED OUT TO BE A SELF-INFLICTED HOAX.

In recent days there have been two brutal acid attacks against women in the United States, one in Oregon and one in Arizona.  Many of you have read the story I wrote about a courageous acid attack victim from Kampala, Uganda named Juliette on this blog.  HDNet’s World Report aired an “in her own words” piece about Juliette that I produced for the show on April 14, 2009.  It is a very powerful story and Juliette’s ability to forgive her attacker and move on is inspirational.  We saw her again when we were in Uganda this past summer. She is now a mother of two children and despite her injuries she is still beautiful and trying to make the most of her life. I hope you are as transformed by Juliette’s story as I was and as horrified by this unbelieveable terrorism against women, not only in the developing world but also here at home.  We cannot let the perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished.  If we cry loud enough we can prevent more women like Juliette from becoming victims of this terrible violence.

http://vimeo.com/5703299

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Beads, Bricks and a Better Life

It was the most amazing coming out party.  A small village outside Kampala, Uganda, full of women, celebrating the miraculous accomplishment of rising up from life crushing poverty to become homeowners and landowners.  They started singing and dancing in the morning and the festivities did not stop until midnight.  One of the most joyful sights I’ve ever seen.  Thanks to BeadforLife, the people in the bead circle who support this NGO, and to HDNet’s World Report which gave us a home for this remarkable story.  Hope the video makes you smile.

Beads, Bricks and a Better Life from Vicky Collins on Vimeo.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.