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 didnt 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 cant speak for themselves, she amps up the volume
as a passionate advocate. And on stage, with the lights down low, shes
a sultry crooner of swinging jazz standards.
Chet Cooper: I heard you went to a different kind of camp recently.
(laughs) Thats 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 wouldnt 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 Kennedys office.
Their organization is called Teach the Children.
Cooper: So what did you teach them?
Basinet: (smiles) It wasnt 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 Kennedys 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 MINURSOthe UN mission to Western Sahara. It raised awareness
in the States and now worldwide. For instance, theyre living on
500 calories or something like that a day, and four or five staples of
Cooper: Whats happening there now?
Basinet: Well, theyve suffered tremendous rains and now floods,
so theyre in need of blankets and basic shelter. Theyre in
a worse state than they were five years ago when I went to see them. Theyre
Cooper: Whos leading the charge on that right now?
Basinet: Well, James Baker, the United Nations Secretary Generals
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. Theres 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 cant say too much without getting deeply into the way
theyre 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 whats 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: Thats interesting, because when I think of refugee camps,
I think purely of human rights issues, basic shelter, food and health
Basinet: Right. But a lot of reasons why they need those things is political.
So theyre 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
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 microeconomicshow people in conflict,
with limited income, can still find ways to have their own start-up companies
through the power of the internet. Im 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 cant 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 dont 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