Sam Reiss, Founder & Executive Director
A sophomore at Harvard College, Sam Reiss founded X-Change the World in 2012 while a student at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA. He originally developed the program as a way to connect students from his high school with Burmese refugees in northern Thailand, and has shepherded the organization through its many stages of international and curricular growth. At Harvard, he chairs the Citizenship Tutoring Program at the Harvard Institute of Politics, which pairs Harvard undergraduates with Harvard employees to provide tutoring for the U.S. Citizenship test. Sam is also the Publisher of The Harvard Advocate, the oldest collegiate literary and arts magazine in the United States. For fun, Sam backpacks in New Hampshire, runs a weekly radio show on WHRB 95.3 FM and nervously watches most of Novak Djokovic’s matches. Right now, he’s probably rereading “The Map” by Elizabeth Bishop.
Matt Zients, Chapter Director – Kenya
From St. Alban’s Academy in Washington D.C., Matt Zients is the President of Bulldogs for Change and is X-Change the World’s Kenyan Chapter Director. While studying at the African Leadership Academy over the summer of 2012, Matt met Sam Reiss and learned about X-Change the World. Since discovering his passion for service and realizing his zeal for Africa, Matt has worked tirelessly with Sam to bring and effectively run X-Change the World in its first African chapter.
Rebecca Diamond-Rodriguez, Chapter Director – Vietnam
A junior at the Archer School for Girls in Brentwood, CA, Rebecca Diamond has always had a passion for giving back to her community. She fell in love with helping others and being the voice of her peers in Student Council, where she has been a class representative for the past four years. Rebecca has a passion for learning about and helping the world, which led her to contact Sam about bringing X-Change the World to Archer. Now, she is thrilled to be leading X-Change the World’s Vietnam Chapter, connecting students from the Will to Live Center in Hanoi with girls from the Archer school in Brentwood.
Caroline Spiegel, Chapter Director – Laos
Caroline Spiegel, currently a junior at Crossroads School, fell in love with X-Change the world after her very first X-Change last June. President of the Crossroads Teen AIDS Ambassadors and Vice President of Crossroads’ Medical Awareness Club, she originally discovered her passion for service when she started volunteering at a preschool in Santa Monica. She has been a teacher there for four summers, guiding activities for children ages 2-5. As X-Change the World’s Laos Chapter Director, she is committed to building a fluid and comprehensive learning experience for students from Crossroads School in Santa Monica and Lanou’s Library in Luang Prabang.
Ryan Dishell, Chapter Director – Thailand
A senior at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA, Ryan Dishell first sought out service experience at the beginning of the 2012-2013 academic year. After just a short conversation with his classmate Sam Reiss, Ryan decided that X-Change The World was exactly what he was looking for. Ryan found his passion for global engagement in his first X-Changes. Utterly inspired by these initial experiences, Ryan now gathers his fellow peers to connect regularly with students in Cambodia, helps develop curricula, and works closely with the whole X-Change The World team as the Cambodian Chapter Director.
Willy Newirth, Chapter Director – Congo
Willy Newirth is a senior at the Thatcher School in Ojai, California, where he is very involved with the school’s outdoor and theater programs. After seeing Sam’s Tedx talk, he reached out to see if he could bring the program to Thatcher. Because of his passion for Africa and his desire to better understand the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Willy has taken the helm of X-Change the World’s DRC Chapter. He is working to connect students from Thatcher with students from Yole!Africa in Goma, DRC.
Venerable Somnieng Hoeurn
Venerable Somnieng Hoeurn founded and runs Life and Hope Association (LHA) at Wat Damnak Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. One of Cambodia’s pre-eminent spiritual leaders, Somnieng has carved his own path in monkhood. From working directly on HIV/AIDS issues to championing the protection, health and education of vulnerable children, particularly girls, he has challenged the stereotypical role of a monk and is empowering communities throughout Siem Reap. Growing up in a poor family, Somnieng became a monk so he could continue his education. Despite many challenges, he not only completed high school but later earned the opportunity to study Business Management at St. Ambrose University in Iowa where he graduated in May, 2010. This year, the Venerable Somnieng recieved his master degree of public administration at Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government.
In 2000 Petna founded Yole!Africa as a center for art, creativity, and cultural exchange. This special space is a platform for exchange, where young people from different backgrounds and social status can come together to express themselves through their talents. The center is a rare place in eastern Congo where youth can come to escape the chaos of Goma’s busy streets, do something meaningful, and relax in an atmosphere that feels like an alternate reality compared to the grit that surrounds the concrete and barb-wired walls. Yole! provides free equipment to youth, including microphones, speakers, laptops, and video cameras and free training for film editing, music, and other arts.
Lenou Sypasurt is a young man who dreams of a literate youth population in Laos. With money he saved from working as a dishwasher in Australia, Lenou rented a small house near Luang Prabang, converted it into a library and classroom and invited the local youth to come – for free. Lenou grew up in a small rural village where the “local” school was far away and there was no library nearby. As an adult, he was determined to help the children in Luang Prabang have more opportunities than he had as a child. In 2009, he opened Lenou’s Library—a special place where children can borrow books, study, or take English classes.
Jefta Kishosha is the Project Administrator for Africa Schoohouse’s Ntulya School Project. His mission is to ensure the survival of the Sukuma people, address community needs, and preserve their cultural traditions. Kishosha comes from a long line of Sukuma Bagalu Dance society members and he takes pride in maintaining cultural customs and teaching others about these traditions.
Mahesh founded General Welfare Pratisthan (GWP) in 1993 to promote the socioeconomic empowerment of women. GWP works to educate the community about sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, reduce the number of girls who are trafficked to neighboring countries like India, and provide girls with business education, mentoring and micro/small business loans. GWP programs have impacted over 2000 girls and their families.