Featured Drone: Taya Weiss '99
I conduct research on illicit weapons and counterfeit pharmaceutical trafficking. For the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, I attempted to quantify the volume and value of the illicit trade in guns and ammunition, and counterfeit anti-malarial and anti-infective drugs into West Africa. I have been a research consultant in the human security field since 2002, conducting fieldwork in many parts of Africa.
My memoir-in-progress has the working title "Open Door Blue Sky". It is primarily about skydiving, which I have done more than 1400 times since 2002, and the choice to embrace a high-risk life. The story explores what happens when the consequences of risk materialize, and how (or whether) that changes things.
I am the Board President of Raise the Sky, a non-profit that connects skydivers to charitable and humanitarian causes. Through Raise the Sky, I just organized the first official South African Wingsuit Formation Record at the Johannesburg Skydiving Club, my home dropzone. I have spent the last year organizing the upcoming US National Wingsuit Formation Record attempt, as well. In November, my team will attempt to set the largest recognized wingsuit flying record in the world in Southern California. Proceeds from the event will go to support our charitable partner, City Year Los Angeles. Our theme: "We drop out of planes to keep kids from dropping out of school."
Having lived in South Africa for quite a few years and still calling it home, I am involved with several projects in and around Johannesburg. I work with a preschool and AIDS Support Group in Kliptown, a neighborhood in the township of Soweto where the Freedom Charter was signed in 1955. Despite its revolutionary history, people there still live in informal shacks and suffer disproportionately from unemployment, HIV/AIDS, and lack of access to services. After meeting a troubled little 4-year-old girl at the preschool who turned out to be deaf, I started the Silindile Trust to help get her to the right school and support her mother and baby brother in transitioning out of severe poverty. I remain her biggest fan. She is now thriving in first grade.