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10. World Changing Couples
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World Changing CouplesWorking together can be hard on a relationship, but for these amazing couples, the day’s challenges—championing the environment, combatting illness, empowering youth—are great enough to make any domestic dispute seem trivial. Meet the world changers: three couples whom we salute for making this world a better place.

Karsten and Leanne wait out an August 2003 snowstorm in the Richardson Mountains in the northern Yukon Territory.

The Adventurers
It took a trek through the Arctic for Leanne Allison, 37, to find the perfect metaphor for her marriage to husband Karsten Heuer, 37. “I remember watching this pair of tundra swans flying together,” she says. “They were flying in unison. I felt that’s how we are together.”

Indeed, the Canmore, Alta., couple often need to function in unison given their habit of spending months together travelling through North America’s most remote regions, like their 1,500-kilometre trip through the Arctic in 2003. The couple followed the migration patterns of the porcupine caribou to highlight the ecological importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The project yielded a book and a film, both named Being Caribou, which chronicle the couple’s experiences.

It was the pair’s second politically minded journey: Four years earlier, Leanne joined Karsten for much of a 3,400-kilometre journey aimed at assessing the viability of connecting parks and conservation areas from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon Territory. For both trips, Karsten says, he employed the same publicity-savvy strategy: Attaching a grand-scale adventure story to an under-told conservation story. Call it David Suzuki meets The Amazing Race.

For Karsten, a wildlife biologist and seasonal park warden, and Leanne, a former mountain guide with a degree in outdoor pursuits, teaming up as ecological activists was a long time in the making: The two were kindergarten classmates, and were one another’s first boyfriend and girlfriend. They lost touch after that year, growing up in different Calgary neighbourhoods, and didn’t reunite until they were both 20. “I was working at the Calgary Canoe Club for one of Leanne’s best friends,” says Karsten. “She said to Leanne, ‘You’ve got to meet this guy. He’s the male version of you.’”

Leanne discovered that she and Karsten had been living parallel lives. They began camping, paddling and backcountry skiing together, and their relationship blossomed. “We really valued each other’s friendship,” says Karsten, omitting some details that his better half includes. “We did briefly get together,” Leanne says. “But Karsten decided he still wanted to be with a woman from university.”

After more than a decade of staying in touch as friends, Karsten invited Leanne to join him on his Yellowstone to Yukon trek. Once Leanne arrived, Karsten says, “It hit me over the head how great it was to be with her.” Karsten and Leanne began dating again, and went on to complete the trip together.

Now the couple makes up for lost time on their trips. “People say, ‘I can’t imagine going for five months being in a tent with my wife day after day,’” says Karsten. “Well, I couldn’t imagine seeing Leanne for a half an hour in the morning and an hour at night.” Leanne adds that their communication on trips becomes almost telepathic: “We do better when we are around one another all the time.”

Leanne says their experiences have made them better parents for their two-year-old son, Zev. “The things we learned about accepting difficulties have been incredible preparation.”

Zev hasn’t slowed them down either. Last summer, the family took a week-long canoe trip, eight-month-old baby in tow. The experience had its challenges, says Karsten. “Sometimes Zev was wailing, and Leanne was trying to breastfeed, and I was battling the winds, so it added an extra level of stress.” Still, he adds, “We’re keen to get out again.”

Another interesting project is sure to come along soon, but in the meantime Karsten and Leanne are recovering from endless readings and screenings of Being Caribou. “Sometimes it all seems like work,” says Karsten. “But overall these projects are about passion, and passion and life are inseparable.”

Marc and Roxanne in the summer of 2004, around the time they opened the Kenya School of the Savannah.

The Believers
Marc Kielburger, 29, and Roxanne Joyal, 29, have witnessed more suffering than most people do in a lifetime, and neither is 30 yet. Through their extensive involvement with Free the Children—the charity started in 1995 by Marc’s younger brother, Craig—the pair have seen the ravages of illness and war in some of the world’s poorest nations. In spite of it all, Marc and Roxanne are two of the most relentlessly optimistic people you’ll ever meet.

“There’s a generation of kids in Canada who are learning about volunteerism, civic engagement, social involvement,” says Marc. “Once that generation become lawyers, politicians, bankers, teachers, mothers, fathers, I think the world will be a very different place.”

Over the past decade, Marc and Roxanne have helped Free the Children enrich the lives of one million youth. With their support, FTC has built more than 400 schools, given 125,000 people access to clean water and shipped $9 million in essential medical supplies to more than 40 countries around the developing world. And together the pair helped found Leaders Today, an organization that teaches leadership skills to more than 350,000 North American youth every year.

It’s a partnership that traces back to the Klong Toey Slum of Thailand. In 1995, the year that Craig, five years Marc’s junior, established FTC, Marc and Roxanne were 18-year-old parliamentary pages living in Ottawa. After dating for about six months, the pair decided to do a summer of development work together in Thailand, which turned into a year. “My mother was very unhappy about it,” recalls Roxanne, who grew up in the outskirts of Winnipeg. Marc, a Toronto native, laughs, mimicking her mother’s response: “Who is this guy! You don’t know who he is!”

After returning to Toronto for a year, Marc went to Harvard University, Roxanne to Stanford University. They reunited at the University of Oxford, where they completed law degrees, both as Rhodes Scholars. In 2002, Marc returned to Toronto to run FTC. Roxanne joined him two years later, moving into their newly purchased condo in Toronto, but has spent the last year in Ottawa clerking for the Honourable Justice Marie Deschamps of the Supreme Court.

Nowadays, Marc travels constantly throughout North America, working with school boards to create leadership training programs for youth. “We’re about systemic, long-term, sustainable change,” he says. “We want to change attitudes.” Marc is currently adapting his book, Me to We: Turning Self-Help On Its Head (John Wiley & Sons Canada, 2004), for an American audience. Roxanne spends much time abroad, focusing on her pet projects: the Kenya School of the Savannah, a centre that offers youth a taste of participatory development, and a new project that will teach Kenyan women about entrepreneurialism through jewellery making.

Marc admits that their hectic lifestyle is unsustainable, especially given the couple’s desire to start a family eventually. (They’re set to tie the knot in February.) “I don’t think we want to do this forever,” he says. “For the next three to five years, it’s fine.”

It would be easy for Marc and Roxanne to see the developing world only for its problems, but in a line of work premised on the belief that empowered kids can chip away at poverty, AIDS and global inequality, there’s no room for cynicism. “I love what I’m doing,” says Marc. “It really is a privilege. It’s just awesome.”

Eric in 2003 with a group of Ugandans who had been displaced by the civil war.

The Healers
In spring 2004, Samantha Nutt, 36, and Eric Hoskins, 45, were in the Democratic Republic of the Congo shooting a documentary on the impact of war with punk rockers Sum 41 when a battle unexpectedly erupted on either side of their hotel. “We were holed up for about a day and a half as rounds of bullets were shot all around us,” says Eric. “There was a risk that we might not make it out alive.”

Everyone was safely evacuated, but the incident reminded the couple of the volatility of the areas in which their charity, War Child Canada, operates. “You make a decision to take an acceptable amount of risk to better the lives of people in need,” Eric says.

Samantha in Iraq in 2003 delivering humanitarian supplies during the war.The organization, which Sam founded in 1999 (Eric joined a year later), provides emergency relief and long-term programming to children affected by war in 12 countries. War Child’s benefit concerts and albums have raised awareness among hundreds of thousands of North American youth. (Their latest album, Help! A Day in the Life, in stores now, features songs by Coldplay and Metric.)

It’s a passion for Sam and Eric, who have been concerned with international health since they graduated from medical school at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., nine years apart from one another. By the time they met, they had similarly impressive resumés, but with Eric several years ahead. After finishing medical school in 1985, he went to the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where he completed a Ph.D. in public health.

Eric was lecturing at McMaster about his experiences living in Sudan, Iraq and Jordan when he met Sam in 1993. It was the first Eric had heard of the medical student. But, during her own Rhodes Scholarship interviews, Sam says, “I kept hearing, ‘You should meet Eric Hoskins. You two have so much in common.’” They went for coffee, ostensibly to discuss the scholarship. “We’ve been together ever since,” says Sam, who was ultimately overlooked for the scholarship.

Though they share many credentials, Sam and Eric are strikingly dissimilar people. “We have similar objectives, but our personalities are different in a complementary way,” says Sam. Extroverted and vivacious, Sam is often War Child’s public face. She has established links with many prominent Canadian musicians, including The Tragically Hip, Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavigne. Eric, Sam says, is the more straightforward, reserved type. “He’s a great strategic thinker,” she says of Eric, who oversees War Child’s international programs.

The couple’s shared vision drives War Child, and Eric is passionate as he articulates a key principle. “We don’t use the almost pornographic images of these suffering, pathetic-looking Africans to portray the people that we are working in partnership with,” he says. “We believe in their strength and courage.”

Until recently, the pair, who continue to practise medicine part-time, almost always travelled together. “When I go to an African war zone, it’s a life-changing experience,” says Eric. “To do that together gives us more to share.”

That has changed since May 2005, when their son, Rhys, was born. “We want him to grow up with us around,” says Eric. Sam, who took a six-month maternity leave, says there’s no more time for self-pity after a tough day. “We go into crisis management,” she adds. “He’s starting to toddle, so it’s, ‘Keep him away from the electrical socket!’”

This summer, the family moved into a larger home in Toronto—is this a sign the family is growing? “It’s never a good time to ask when he’s teething,” jokes Sam. “We might,” says Eric. “When you see parents who have lost their kids to war, you realize what a privilege it is to have a child in this wonderful place.”

It’s the kind of answer you expect from a couple for whom work and life are inextricably linked. “Even when we go out for dinner, we talk about our relationship, our boy and the peace process in Sudan,” says Sam. “It’s all part of what drives us. It’s wonderful when you can share that.”