"Find your passion, and make it happen"

Friday, January 28, 2011


Written by Gabriella Sundar Singh

With reporting by Victoria Sherman

Living in a glass enclosure in Union Station? Done that. Sky diving while handcuffed and blindfolded? No problem. Escaping from a straight jacket while wrapped in 50 feet of chains, dangling one and a half miles above the surface of the earth? So yesterday.

Scott Hammell is an escape artist and Guinness World Record holder known for his death-defying stunts. On Monday night he came to the University of Guelph to tell a captivated audience about something he considers more frightening: poverty, hunger, and the lack of education in the developing world. They’re real-life problems that no amount of magic can make disappear.  

Hammell, 25, combines magic tricks, escape artistry and stories of his travels in Kenya as part of unique program  that aims to inspire people to make a difference. 

The Kitchener-born magician, who grew up juggling and doing magic tricks at school, said he knew from from the start he wanted to entertain people for a living.

All that changed after he was invited by Free the Children founder Craig Kielburger on a trip to Africa three years ago.

The daredevil, who overcome his fear of heights when he 18 by sky diving out of a plane blindfolded with his wrists handcuffed to his belt, said he was stunned when faced with the living conditions of the people in rural Kenya.

"That’s when I decided I really wanted to make a difference,” he recounted

Scott told his audience about Jane, a village elder living in a hut with 11 of her children, eating one bowl of rice a day.

He also joined women in the village on their regular treck to fetch drinking water that was so muddy, it could be mistaken for chocolate milk.

The mile-long treck was strenuous, but even worse was "knowing that these women are doing it four, five, six [or] seven times a day,” he said.

“Once I started thinking about how much we take our education and our water for granted here, I knew that I wanted to get involved to expose North Americans to what we’re dealing with here versus what their dealing with there," Hammell said.

Today, Scott works as a motivational speaker with Me to We, a social enterprise founded by Kielburger whose proceeds help support Free the Children's ongoing intiatives.

He boasted that the charity has built over 650 schools in Africa, in areas where “children walk barefoot on rocky roads, risking animal attacks, just because they’re so passionate about learning.”

Hammell, whose motto is "Entertain and Inspire," did exactly that, mixing stories about poverty with his trademark one-liners and lots of slight-of-hand.

He also encouraged students to become involved by volunteering in their communities and setting goals.

"Find your passion, and make it happen," Hammell said.

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