Ember Hero: Michelle Larson

Story By James Pearson

Michelle Larson doesn't look the type to wade through knee-deep trash along the border of two developing countries. She's pretty, stylish, and at the very least hygienic. Nonetheless she points to one such jaunt into the garbage as a formational moment in her life.

"The first time I took a visit to the city garbage dump in Mae Sot, Thailand [a Thai city on the border with Burma], I found myself knee deep in the trash, playing with the children who live there," Michelle recounted to us by email from Mae Sot.  "Many of them had skin problems, horrible coughs, and smelled like… trash." The children's Burmese mother said that settling her family in the dump was the lesser of two evils, that keeping her family in Burma was far more dangerous.

Michelle has since spent the last several years traversing the borderlands of Thailand and Burma, educating herself on the brutal military regime that tyrannizes the Burmese people to this day, and exploring ways to support the many refugees that flee for their lives.

She helped found an organization called Eleho that publicizes the hardships of people in Burma and supports the best organizations serving them. And recently she was asked by those organizations to teach English to Community Health Workers, helping them to better understand the medical texts and drug labels that they rely upon. She is there now, working on a voluntary basis to spread hope in Burma.

We are proud to announce that Michelle is our next Ember Hero, and that 50% of all online sales through the end of October will be donated to Eleho to support Michelle's work. 

And Michelle's commitment to Burma is only her latest endeavor in making the world more just.  She grew up in Portland, Oregon and when she was still very young she remembers seeing homeless people in the city's downtown, some without shoes or coats, trying to shelter themselves from the rain. She started volunteering with a soup kitchen and a women's shelter, and she began to wonder about poverty not just in her hometown, but globally.

Years later in 2006, after seeing the film Invisible Children, she joined the organization's first national tour to raise awareness and funds for children affected by a civil war in Uganda. She finished her college degree from an Invisible Children RV as it sped across America to screen the film.  "I was blown away at how many people selflessly gave of their time and resources on behalf of the children of northern Uganda," said Michelle.

Injustice, she says, happens everywhere. "It can be found in our own neighborhoods, and in our own cities. If you are looking to engage in the fight against injustice, you don't have to look far." Michelle, though, still has her eyes on a pile of trash on the far side of the world. "Being there that day," she says, "with garbage all around me, I felt a strange responsibility. Now that I have seen with my own eyes, I am compelled to share."

We are glad that she has shared her mission with us, and we hope that you will be inspired by her work as well. We're proud to donate 50% of all online sales through the end of October to Eleho to support Michelle's work. You can shop online here.

Posted on October 10, 2010 and filed under Ember Hero.