Mark Riser is traveling the world filming the stories of child sex abuse survivors. His mission: to help them rise up and live their dreams.
It’s day 3 of my fundraising campaign to help Alejandro live his childhood dream. He wants to become a Nature Photographer. I’ve spent the last 5 months preparing for this. I learned how to be a motorbiker, and a filmmaker, so I could do this.
I made two intro videos and a website, and launched myself by the seat of my motorbike into a world of survivors and their dreams.
Why? Because when I was a little boy, late at night, my dad would steal me to the basement. There, he buried his pain in me. During the day, he was a gentle, but distant man.
Why? Because of a promise I made in the Amazon, when I was dieting for months on plain rice, scaly river fish, and jungle plants, trying to heal myself.
Because I’ve been hurting so bad inside, and my heart is opening up to others who share this hurt.
Because I want to live a life of meaning and service. I believe that is a good way to be happy.
So on a cold, rainy day in January, 2014, I rode my new motorbike up Howe Sound from Vancouver to Squamish with a few close friends and my two therapists, to be with thousands of wintering eagles.
There, I began my trip, proclaiming “We Are Made To Soar” on behalf of all those who have been caught in the darkness of sexual violence.
I want to reclaim hope and the possibility of triumph over suffering. I want to help others rise.
Through the cold January rain, I rode south. Washington gave way to the windswept coast of Oregon.
I stopped in the Redwood forest to film an interview with giant ancestral trees as my witness.
Next stop, Alejandro’s home in Sacramento, California.
Alejandro is the first survivor I have had the privilege of helping. He’s strong, humble, and has a warm heart. He’s a survivor of the civil war in Nicaragua, of family violence, sexual abuse by a relative, as well as multiple priests who raped him when he was a boy. Oh, and he was drugged and date-raped as a young adult.
Alejandro is not broken. He’s just very affected by all the betrayal he has suffered as a child and adult. How could you not be?
He’s been through the empty hollow of addiction, numbing his pain year after year with alcohol and work. He’s seen therapists and been to some amazing healing weekends put on by Male Survivor, where I met him.
Now, he’s ready to tell his story to the world and claim his dream. I set up my cameras and begin filming his journey. Nature has been his healer, and he wants to dive deep into it, and to photograph it. “I’ve seen so much ugliness in the world,” he tells me, “Now I want to see the beauty, and capture it through my eyes.”
I’m here to help him live that dream.
Over the next two months, we go out on many trips to take photos. I lend him my camera. He plays with aperture, exposure, ISO, framing, composition, light, shadow, trying to work the beast while keeping his eye on the beauty.
I suggest we go hiking. He’s never done that! We go up to Lake Tahoe and he climbs a big peak. 9100 feet. It’s an achievement! He says he feels at peace up there, with the wind, the mountains and birds. He’s beginning to take some beautiful photos.
It amazes me that some people think that helping survivors of child sex abuse is not important. When we have an illness, we do something to support our immune system.
Survivors ARE our immune system. We know.
How can we protect today’s children when we allow survivors, who have been discarded all our lives, to be discarded once again? Only when survivors heal and rise, empowered, will we find the strength as a society to fight child abuse.
Alejandro’s dream of seeing the beauty in Nature is both a deeply personal path for his own healing, and also an act of service.
He opens up his guts and spills his pain. With colored crayons, he draws scenes of terror from his childhood. His hands shake. Tears roll down his cheeks. My camera is rolling. His bowels hurt. Neither of us eats or sleeps well. We both get sick.
By telling his story so courageously, and living his dream so boldly in the face of all the nay-sayers, Alejandro is giving hope to other survivors. And he is helping kids. Because some kid is going to see his story, and know that he or she is not alone, and that it can get better.
If you care about kids, I invite you to care about survivors of abuse. Because we are the ones who can make a difference. Because we’ve been there. We know how perpetrators operate, and how the cycle of silence and shame kills. We’ve lived that. Survivors hold the keys to unlocking this terrible wound that affects us all.
I climb and fall with Alejandro’s good days and bad. It’s a labor of love. I want him to rise, victorious, and claim his truth. He was never meant to be demolished by what happened. He was meant to change pain into purpose, to change ugliness into beauty.
I want to soar with him to beautiful new heights.
“Everybody else would have told me, you’re too weak for that, you can’t do that,” Alejandro says to me after a big hike. “But you gave me encouragement. I thank you for that.”
This project is breaking my heart, and healing it at the same time.
Working with Alejandro is my first stop on this journey. With your support, I hope to be able to help other survivors to live their dreams– survivors of all genders, ages, races, and sexual orientations.
So we’re running an Indiegogo fundraising campaign.
My fundraising goal is to help Alejandro, and also to help the next survivor I meet. I hope to inspire others with the triumphant stories of courageous survivors, rising out of the ashes of a difficult past.
Please visit and share with your friends. If you can, we’d appreciate your support.
If you know a survivor of sexual abuse (and chances are, you do), please ask them to stop by the website and share their dream with us:
I invite everyone to read the ‘Privacy’ section on the website. We only share what survivors give us direct permission to share.
We are standing tall with the dreams of children and proudly proclaiming, “We Are Made To Soar”.
Will you join us?