THE SPA IN ME
Interview With Alexander Souri, Founder, Relief Riders International
Alexander Souri founded Relief Riders International in 2004 and Relief
Workers International in 2008. He designs and supervises the relief
missions, coordinates the work of the core team, and directs marketing
and sales efforts for Relief Riders International.
Prior to founding Relief Riders International, Mr. Souri worked as a
producer in both theater and film. He has worked on successful projects,
such as "The Matrix" and "X-Men," and directed commercials and
industrial films in China.
Born in New York City to a French mother and an Indian father, Mr. Souri
has always had a global perspective on life. As a young boy, he was
educated at a boarding school in India; he attended an international
high school in Sophia Antipolis in Valbonnes, France, and later
graduated from Simon's Rock of Bard College in Great Barrington, MA.
Alexander Souri says, "Relief Riders International is designed to
offer individuals, not only an exhilarating journey, but the chance to use
their skills, enthusiasm, and experience to promote positive change. I
know from my own travels to Rajasthan that for every gift I have given, I
have received gifts that have changed my life."
Thanks so much for joining me in this conversation. Can you share how you became interested in creating a humanitarian-based and adventure travel company?
I started my career as a producer in special events, theater, and film.
Eighteen years ago, my father and four friends passed away during a six-
month period. This powerful rite of passage served as a intense catalyst
in taking a deeper look into myself, in order to start the process of
figuring out who I truly was, what I really wanted, and what I needed to
shed, in order to start living a life dynamically blended with purpose,
adventure, and meaning. In short, allowing myself to express my true
nature and act on all of the things that inspired me. Pulling Relief Riders
International down from the ether was an incredibly beautiful process of
creating an experience that would leave both my riders and I, and the
people we met, transformed in a positive way.
What gave you the idea to include horseback riding and motorcycle
riding as part of the volunteer experience?
I learned horseback riding at a very young age in India. While I was
born in New York city, my parents often travelled to India, and when
they did, my father would always send me to riding school. It was a
remarkable experience to have been able to wander on horseback through
parts of New Delhi that were still very much barren and desert like.
The real wisdom and power of learning how to ride took place a couple of
years later as my father decided to send me to a very strict boarding
school in the foothills of the Himalayas. We grew up in a French
household, speaking French between my mother, sister and me. I think my
father felt that I was missing out on the other half of my origins and
wanted to make sure I would get in touch with my Indian roots. I was
literally transplanted from New York city into a school that was perched
on a cliff, which proudly mimicked the likes of a British boarding
school and all the experiences that came with it. Strict dress codes,
army like discipline for everything, and last but not least, corporal
punishment. I was a kid from New York city, and had long hair, a free
spirit, who was allowed to go to the movies and play video games in
arcades. All that stopped. My father knew that the experience was not
going to be an easy one. He asked the principal for permission to allow
me to go down to town so that I could go riding. At the time, there was
no riding culture, and nobody really rode horses. I spent most of my
time off processing my boarding school reality on horseback in the
Himalayas. When my father passed, I was awakened to how much
unprocessed trauma and abandonment I had experienced while I
was at school in India. All of it came flooding back, and naturally, and once
again, the horses came back to start the process and healing my
childhood experiences, and my father's passing. That was my
“threshold crossing event” as best described by Joseph
Campbell in “The Hero’s Journey.”
Where have you held your most recent Relief Ride and relief work?
We have worked in India, Turkey, and Ecuador. Our last ride took place in
India, right before the start of the pandemic in November of 2019. It
has been two long years, and we have finally re-launched our November
2022 Pushkar Relief Ride scheduled from November 11-20, 2022.
Who are some of the humanitarian relief workers or organizations that
have influenced you? Why is their work meaningful to you?
Interesting question. It’s never been asked to me. I don’t think I
was really influenced by any humanitarian organizations other than in an
ambient way of knowing they existed. Actually, the opposite happened. At
the time, and this was in 2003, you had to be a celebrity to really get
involved in the humanitarian field. Most celebrities would become brand
ambassadors for Unicef or The Red Cross. This made me incensed as I
wanted to find a way to give back, and that’s when I decided to put
together an experience for myself, that offered the general public an
opportunity to dynamically give back while visiting new countries.
Voluntourism actually called us, while they were still in
development, and had not yet officially launched, telling us that we
were the perfect definition of their mission charter and thus they
coined the term Voluntourism by our example.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was
impacted or helped by Relief Riders International?
This experience goes back to 2004, on our first ride, and at our first
medical camp in Khirod, Rajasthan. Please keep in mind that while I had
experienced a vision of Relief Riders International conceptually
speaking, like anyone attempting anything new or never been done
before, I relied on my team, and simply had to put one foot in front of
the other and move forward. We also had no idea what to expect at our
medical camps, which was staffed with six medical specialists, a general
physician, an ophthalmologist, an ENT (Ear Nose &Throat) physician, a
dentist, a dermatologist and a gynecologist.
We had been told by the Rajasthan Board of Health not to expect
more than 60-70 people to attend the camp and
that we should be lucky if we even saw those numbers. This first medical
camp was attended by 559 patients. An unbelievable experience. The camp
lasted 10 hours, and while we were shutting down the camp, a young
impoverished lady came up to me. She was holding, what seemed like a
very dirty cloth wrapped package. Before I really understood what was
happening, she had unwrapped her 6-month-old baby girl and thrust her
forward showing me her baby’s back, which was seriously infected and
had bloody skin lacerations from neck to pelvis. I was shocked as the baby
was running a high fever. I knew the baby did not have much time left.
I quickly called Dr. Arora, our Executive Medical Director, who
assembled a team of nurses and started to treat the baby by cleaning the
wound, and administering the necessary medicines. We usually run our
medical camps in pilgrim hostels. Since the baby needed on going
treatment, we arranged for the lady to stay at the hostel for a few
days, in order to have her baby receive ongoing treatment from the local
nurses we worked with. Thankfully, the baby made a full recovery.
Nothing really prepares you for anything like that, especially on what
was my first day of work at our first medical camp. I have often thought
about that baby while on horseback and wondered whether I would ever
see her again. I have always hoped to meet her somewhere in the
Thar desert again, on one of my rides. I now have a magical four-year-old
daughter in my life, which as one can imagine, enhanced the experience I
had so long ago.
Do you have any upcoming relief rides?
Yes, we do. It is the Pushkar Relief Ride from November 11 -20, 2022.
We will be riding to the world’s largest horse and camel fair in Pushkar, Rajas
while performing our signature humanitarian programs along the way.
When you wake up in the morning, what keeps you encouraged to
continue with the work you are doing?
I have always loved my job. It’s a privilege to be able to ride
through rural communities on horseback and provide them with some type
of medical support. The thought of knowing that you are going on a
purposeful adventure always fills me with joy and excitement.
To learn more about Relief Riders International, please go to the following website and social media pages:
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