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As a child, Cynthia Basinet found that her thoughts were often scattered. As she grew older, she learned to focus and go deeper within. From that still place inside, she began to seek her own counsel and listen to her own voice. What she didn’t realize back then was that she was managing her ADHD.

These days, the former international model uses that voice in myriad ways. By speaking softly, she brings comfort to refugees of war and famine. For those who can’t speak for themselves, she amps up the volume as a passionate advocate. And on stage, with the lights down low, she’s a sultry crooner of swinging jazz standards.

Chet Cooper: I heard you went to a different kind of camp recently.

Cynthia Basinet: (laughs) That’s true. I visited Africa through a division of the United Nations and the United States Western Sahara Foundation. They sent me as a part of a delegation to refugee camps for several days at a time to help raise awareness of the conditions there. We often visited two or three camps at a time because the people were often separated so that if a disease broke out, it wouldn’t annihilate them.

Cooper: What happened during your visit?

Basinet: We sat with the UN leaders as the children put on something of a concert. We traveled with a staffer from Senator Kennedy’s office. Their organization is called Teach the Children.

Cooper: So what did you teach them?

Basinet: (smiles) It wasn’t just one thing. We were there trying to address all kinds of needs. Teach the Children was there to distribute shoeboxes that had been made by a Christian organization in, I think, South Carolina, and each member of the church filled a shoebox. Not just one church, I think it was several. And they waited for the trailer to pass through customs, because you kind of have to pay a little extra money to get your merchandise. But on the way in, the truck broke down. So we were all waiting for it to be fixed, so we could take the boxes to the children. Someone from Kennedy’s staff was there to observe and file a report, because the senator was the most supportive of the refugees’ situation at that time.

Cooper: So there was a concert?

Basinet: Well, they put on concerts quite a bit to keep morale up. And they play the music over the loud speakers at night when the people go to bed to lull them to sleep, like a lullaby.

Cooper: Do you know of any benefits that have come from that trip?

Basinet: I know that they were able to get the money that they needed from MINURSO—the UN mission to Western Sahara. It raised awareness in the States and now worldwide. For instance, they’re living on 500 calories or something like that a day, and four or five staples of food.

Cooper: What’s happening there now?

Basinet: Well, they’ve suffered tremendous rains and now floods, so they’re in need of blankets and basic shelter. They’re in a worse state than they were five years ago when I went to see them. They’re destitute.

Cooper: Who’s leading the charge on that right now?

Basinet: Well, James Baker, the United Nations Secretary General’s personal envoy to Western Sahara, has always been a supporter from the beginning, since 1991, I guess, probably way before that. But he recently resigned. There’s a bipartisan organization that this group falls under, and it has a lot of different people on the masthead: Ambassador Coors, Donald Rumsfeld… But their program has been upstaged by Iraq and North Korea, and the issues there of late.

Cooper: North Korea?

Basinet: I can’t say too much without getting deeply into the way they’re working politically, but I think the key is getting to the people and exposing what they are living through. The organization was the one that smuggled out the tape back in 2005 that was shown on NBC, and it was the first time we saw what the living conditions were in North Korea. They deal with emerging nations and nations in conflict, hot buttons, before America goes in. They try to support the underdogs that are trying to stand up against what’s going on that are on the side of America or the Western world. They support smaller entities that are trying to walk a democratic path.

Cooper: That’s interesting, because when I think of refugee camps, I think purely of human rights issues, basic shelter, food and health facilities.

Basinet: Right. But a lot of reasons why they need those things is political. So they’re all organizations in at once trying to mediate their needs and their applicability to the world now.

Cooper: You were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize?

Basinet: (laughs) Yes. That was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first woman winning the Nobel Peace Prize and to highlight the fact that despite thousands and thousands of women around the world working towards peace with individual peace projects, only 21, I think, have won in the last 100 years. So a woman, whom I believe is in the Swiss Parliament, put forth an idea to nominate 1,000 women around the world based on the population from each country to represent other women that are working towards peace.

Cooper: What was your part in that nomination?

Basinet: Well, they were trying to include different members of society other than just human rights and nonprofit organizations. They also wanted to include people in the arts, such as a recording artist, and they looked at the project in terms of microeconomics—how people in conflict, with limited income, can still find ways to have their own start-up companies through the power of the internet. I’m a huge proponent of the internet, and the idea of building your own allies and not having to wait for a government organization to step forth to help you.

Cooper: Are there companies in that area that bring internet access to the camps?

Basinet: No, not at all.

Cooper: Have you talked with any companies about that?

Basinet: What I tried to get, immediately after coming back from the camps, was extreme sportswear sunglasses, because they have such a high rate of cancer in the eyes from the silica, the sand. One pair of sunglasses could be shared amongst 50 different people, and at least it would allow them the ability to live. We think about global warming in America, but you can’t imagine how much it is affecting people living in camps without shelter. The winds are stronger, the sun is stronger, the heat is stronger, the rains are stronger. So it was so frustrating just trying to get that, and I don’t have any accessibility to Silicon Valley or any way of getting computers. All I could do was to impress upon the head of the hospital and the head of the school to use their resources to help the people in the camps.

Cooper: How did you get started in modeling and end up singing?

Basinet: I started as a house model for I Magnan and then Bob Mackie “discovered” me and put me in his show. After that, a modeling agency in San Francisco picked me up. Then I moved to Paris and modeled for five years in Europe. When I came back here, I started making commercials, music videos and movies. Then I had a voice coach and in ‘97 I started recording music.... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Ty Pennington issue include Humor Therapy — Wheel Fun!: Headlines — National Employment Month; PTSD: Mentor Day — Disability Legal Right Center : Eve Hill — Honoring a Winner: Matt King — Building Accessibility Into Your Computer: Yoga & MS — Ancient Practice/New Mobility: Got Soy? — What’s the Fuss?: Green Pages — Recycling 101: Recipes — It’s Greek To Us: Breast Cancer — Think Pink and Grace Wright: Patients Beyond Borders — Budget Surgery Abroad: Tom Olin — Chief Photographer of the ABILITY Movement ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from theTy Pennington issue:

Ty Pennington — From ADHD To ABC

Jamie Schubert — Whoop De Doo To Cancer

Cynthia Basinet — Finding Her Voice

Patients Beyond Borders — Budget Surgery Abroad

Yoga & MS — Ancient Practice/New Mobility

Got Soy? — What's the Fuss?

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