Elton John and Harry Connick Jr. are among the celebrities participating in a new OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network ten part documentary series entitled, Operation Change premiering on Monday, June 23rd at 10 pm ET/PT. The series follows Bill & Tani Austin and their son Steven Sawalich from the Starkey Hearing Foundation, a global non-profit organization that gives free hearing aids to those in need, as they are joined by celebrities and philanthropists to tackle some of the most challenging issues plaguing our world today.
Operation Change gives viewers unprecedented access to some of the world’s most dangerous, desolate and poverty-stricken places. The series features former President Bill Clinton, Sir Richard Branson, Sir Elton John, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Donna Karan, and Harry Connick, Jr. among many others, each working to benefit a different region and local organization. From the West Bank of Palestine to the wilds of Papua New Guinea, this documentary series reveals the untold stories of some of the world’s seemingly insurmountable challenges, as well as its greatest heroes.
“Hearing loss is a global epidemic, impacting more than 360 million people worldwide, yet it can often be helped. Hearing aids empower people to better connect with their families, communities, and the larger world,” said President Bill Clinton. “I have seen first-hand the amazing impact that the Starkey Hearing Foundation and Starkey Hearing Technologies are having on people all around the world. I am lucky to call Bill and Tani Austin as well as Steven Sawalich my friends. And I am proud of the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with them and this work. It’s empowering people to live more independent, prosperous, joyful lives.”
“Working with this family, and supporting their efforts through the Starkey Hearing Foundation, has been an incredibly uplifting experience for me,” said Sir Elton John. “When people are cared for and not forgotten, their human spirit comes alive, and that’s why when they approached me, I had to be a part of Operation Change. I know everyone who watches this series will want to be a part of it as well. My friend Oprah Winfrey’s network, OWN, is the perfect vehicle for this groundbreaking series.”
“Our family has always found fulfillment in helping others,” said Steven Sawalich, of Starkey Hearing Foundation and CEO/President of Articulus Entertainment. “Through our charitable efforts, we have seen firsthand the needs and challenges people face all over the world. With the help of some of our celebrity supporters and local partners, Operation Change chronicles how together we can make a difference in the lives of people around the globe. We are thrilled to share this emotionally-compelling series with OWN viewers.”
Each week, Bill Austin, his family, volunteers and a different celebrity/philanthropist will partner with local organizations that are working to empower their community. Throughout the hour, they work together to complete a sustainable project that will help enhance the lives of people in need. The family will immerse themselves in local cultures and experience firsthand what life is like for people in that region.
The series is produced by Articulus Entertainment. Executive produced by Steven Sawalich, Natalee Watts and Teri Weinberg. Melinda Cea is co-executive producer.
Below is an overview of the regions featured in the documentary series:
Operation Change: Haiti
Three years after one of the most horrific earthquakes ever recorded, the team comes face to face with a nation struggling to survive. In the tent cities of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, lives a man who ties himself to his children at night because he fears they will be kidnapped. In Jacmel, a woman is still reeling from the death of her son, whom she lost shortly after the earthquake. The team works with fashion designer Donna Karan, actress Maria Bello, entrepreneur Bill Rancic, and non-profit organizations including World Wide Village, We Advance (co-founded by Bello) and Karan’s Urban Zen.
Operation Change: Colombia
The team immerses themselves in one of the most dangerous slums in Bogota, Colombia. They focus their efforts on building a community center out of plastic bottles for displaced refugees, who fear for their lives at the hands of guerrilla militia. Here, the team works with former President Bill Clinton, actress Marlee Matlin and the non-profit organization Nukanti Foundation for Children.
Operation Change: India
This episode explores the millions of orphans who face abusive households and flock to India’s large cities, only to become victims of sex trafficking and child slavery. While these children beg, borrow, and steal for survival, the team struggles to educate them before they become prey to the ruthless life of the streets. The team works with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the non-profit organization Salaam Baalak Trust.
Operation Change: South Africa
Beyond bringing HIV/AIDS medication to the wild bush lands, the team travels out to aid local clinics that work to provide much-needed food, water and education before the epidemic claims another life. The team works with Sir Richard Branson and non-profit organizations including Virgin Unite, Bhubezi Health Centre and Ulusaba Pride ‘N Purpose.
Operation Change: Lebanon
Beneath the bombed-out shell that hides the ‘Paris of the Middle East,’ thousands fear that tomorrow will never come. As the team fights for sustainability, they join local activists to build a skate park and save an endangered community outlet on the brink of being shut down. The team works with non-profit organizations including Ayadina and Lebanese Skateboarding Association.
Operation Change: Malaysia
In a booming Asian metropolis, one segment of the population has been deemed a burden by society, and the team fights to change perceptions and create opportunities, while discovering just how able the disabled really are. Here, the team works with Sir Elton John, World Champion Boxer Manny Pacquiao and the non-profit organization The Beautiful Gate Foundation.
Operation Change: Israel and Palestine
Trapped on the border of two warring territories, volunteers experience firsthand the tension between Israel and Palestine. With the help of peace activists from both sides, they strive to cultivate understanding among children and those whose lives are constrained by a wall. The team works with singer/musician/actor Harry Connick, Jr. and the non-profit organization The Parents Circle Families Forum.
Operation Change: Tanzania
The last remaining traditional tribe of Africa, the Maasai, is battling lions and hyenas for one resource: water. Far removed from modern-day conveniences, volunteers work to obtain a sustainable supply of water and are supported there by football players Greg Jennings, Tommie Harris, Larry Fitzgerald, Ray Lewis and the non-profit organization WorldServe.
Operation Change: Ethiopia
More than one million Ethiopians suffer from an unsightly, yet preventable condition, Mossy Foot disease, which renders them outcasts from society. Providing assistance and education, Bill, Tani and Steven work with the non-profit organization Mossy Foot Foundation to overcome the fear and prejudice surrounding this disease.
Operation Change: Papua New Guinea
In the land of the unexpected, the team travels into a jungle to help a village plagued by tribal warfare fueled by the drug trade. They work with the non-profit organization Touching The Untouchables.
Author: Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites.