Tonight, OWN begins its 10-part documentary series, Operation Change, which follows philanthropists Bill and Tani Austin and their son Steven Sawalich, who are joined by celebrities as they tackle challenges facing the world today. The Austins are the founders of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, a nonprofit organization that gives free hearing aids to impoverished people around the world.
Each week, the family travels to some of the world’s most remote, dangerous and poverty-stricken places, where they are joined by notable figures like President Bill Clinton, Sir Elton John, Harry Connick Jr. and Marlee Matlin. Throughout each episode, the team immerses itself in a local culture, experiences what life is like for people in that region and works together to complete a sustainable project that will enhance the lives of the community. “We use hearing as a vehicle to come into an area and listen to what the needs of a people are and utilize our networks to figure out how we can make a greater impact,” says Sawalich. “We think that if you help the life of one person, you can help the life of the community.”
Some of the places that Operation Change visits include Colombia, where the team builds a community center out of plastic bottles; India, where they educate families about the dangers of child slavery and sex trafficking; and Israel and Palestine, where they work to create cross-cultural understanding and build a youth soccer field.
“The ultimate goal of Operation Change is raising awareness of what the rest of the world is like,” says Sawalich. “Sixty-one percent of people in the U.S. don’t have a passport and they learn about the rest of the world from news or from what they read.” And when people learn about another culture and understand them at their essence, he continues, “a mother in Kansas is no different from a mother in Ethiopia.”
Operation Change > OWN > Mondays beginning June 23