Because this Q&A is uber late (excuses, excuses!), I have chosen a nice, long one to make up for it. Nicolay Bastos, or Nicky, is Caleb’s Hope’s Vice President and Creative Director. She is the one who takes the team’s ideas and turns them into beautiful graphics and designs; the Caleb’s Hope site’s design was created by her and implemented by the team. She’s also the one who keeps us on task and focused, heading in the right direction.
How did you first hear about Caleb’s Hope, and how did you get involved?
Architecture for Humanity Vancouver posted the charette with Caleb’s Hope in August 2010. I came down, met Holly, and worked on a preliminary design concept with about 20 other designers. After my team and I completed our deliverables, I felt like there had to be more I could do, so, I just kept working on the details of the design we had started. I’d bug Holly with drawings every couple of months, so I was pretty much begging to do more work. Not long after, I was honoured with being invited to join the board. Katja Klenk and I met at that initial charette and became fast friends and later, colleagues. She is now CH’s Director of Architectural Design and Sustainability
What is it about CH that drew you to the organisation?
The ethos: a charity not based on hand outs, but doing tough, hands on work with the community, only with their approval and participation. With the ultimate goal being to go out of business: perfect. I feel very strongly about the ethics behind charity work in African countries. It can get very condescending and I didn’t want to have anything to do with any Western organization with a misplaced saviour’s complex. I got to grow up free of political harassment in South Africa, which is more than I can say for the majority of my fellow citizens. South Africa is my first home, where my heart is, and so Africa is my continent and I’ve always wanted to know it better. Immigrating to Vancouver at 12 was extremely difficult. I really loved South Africa and wanted to stay behind badly. The expat experience is very alienating and I’ve always felt a need to reconnect not just with South Africa, but Africa at large. My work with Caleb’s Hope has put me in touch with fellow Africans I was always curious to know, but felt so removed from and out of touch with.
What is your fondest memory of volunteering for CH so far?
Working with Caleb’s Hope is a dream job for me, so there’s no component of the work that feels like a memory. It’s a living, breathing experience that I have an ongoing love and appreciation for. That first charette with A4HV was what catalysed things, so I suppose that would qualify as a fond memory, because it renewed my faith in the value of design to all people, not just to those who could afford it. More importantly, it permitted me to become involved in design in a meaningful way, right away. It was the culmination of a period of deep confusion for me. I had quickly become disenchanted with interior design as it is practiced in the ‘real world’. I did a number of residential consultations immediately following my qualification and although I was happy to help my clients, it was really boring and repetitive work for me. I was rearing to do meaningful work, not rearrange furniture or do a Starbucks run for some over inflated corporate CD. That meant no ladder climbing in a firm that I had no stake in, dropping the standard entrepreneurial model for interior designers that we were presented and actually passionately discouraged from pursuing in school (British Columbia Institute of Technology). My teacher recommended brown nosing at a firm until you earned your crumbs. Not for me, but the alternatives were… well, I was already working in a restaurant. A close friend encouraged me to look into volunteering my services, which lead me to get involved with A4HV, instead of just admiring them from afar. And then not a week after I’d joined, the Caleb’s Hope charette was announced. And I’ve been an engaged and happy designer ever since.
Is there a particular project which has captured your interest over your time with Caleb’s Hope? Why?
Well, Nyara surprised me. I’m not really into jewelry! But I’ve become deeply involved in branding and marketing the product and it’s surprisingly easy because I actually love the product, aside from the usual nachas I get from this work. Mostly, though, it’s the projects that aren’t currently active that interest me even more! I’m making my way to Attiak in a roundabout way. In the next couple of years, when I’ve saved enough scratch, I’ll be spending a year or more bumming around South East Asia, exploring, scuba diving and taking time to focus on Headstrong Design and Caleb’s Hope without the need for a day job. I’ll be making my way back to South Africa by way of Uganda, where I want to take my time. It’s a big deal for me: I’ve never been to the North, but spent my childhood traveling Namibia and South Africa. I’m so excited to meet the rest of the Caleb’s Hope family and wanted to initiate a meaningful, long term project with them. I want to edit and compile an oral/mixed media history book of Acholiland, based on interviews I’ll conduct with as many community members as I can, from elders to children and everyone in between. I do a lot of different art and I’m obsessed with print. I love books and writing. I particularly love a beautifully edited and designed graphic publication. I think this would be a great way to put my skills and passion to use and get everyone in the community involved in reviving their history. More importantly: making it something corporeal, that they can hold in their hands and be a part of. We’d sell the books to put profits right back into community projects, like art and music programs.
What has been the most enjoyable aspect about your work so far?
I love everything about this job. My creativity is free to roam everywhere. I get to design graphics, websites, buildings, interiors, packaging… anything you can think of. I never get bogged down in one activity. I am constantly challenged to improve and broaden my skills and knowledge. I’m learning more than I could ever have learnt in school or a rigid corporate environment. It’s challenging but exciting work, being involved in a young, unique NGO.
Do you own any NYARA jewellery? What does it mean to you?
I do! It’s the only jewellery I like wearing, actually. I’ve never been much for accessorizing, but there’s something about the beads. Nyara is a happy coincidence, as I originally became involved with CH through Architecture for Humanity. I’d never have guessed that I’d be designing glossy jewellery catalogues and getting involved in marketing and advertising in a serious way. I’d always been interested in marketing because that’s the sexy, Donald Draper side of design. But in my heart of hearts, I’m with Bill Hicks when it comes to advertising: I question its inherent value and I don’t care for manipulation of any sort, conducting or receiving it. In this sense, Nyara strikes a conscientious balance. I get to use my powers for good. I get to do the Mad Men thing, but don’t have to sell my soul. In fact, doing the work and actually conversing with Bertha Chin (our e-team leader) on the topic, lead me to the happy conclusion that not all advertising is morally bankrupt. It can be good and sexy, which is the best of both worlds really. I think because I’m working so closely with the jewellery that I get an additional pleasure out of wearing it that goes beyond feeling beautiful and adorned.
(For those who have been with Caleb’s Hope for an extended period of time) What is it that has encouraged your continued support?
The tenacity and mind blowing hardcoreness of the team I get to work with, particularly Holly and Bertha, who I’ve come to know best. That synergy of the like-minded at work on a project, fuelled by passion and the utmost professionalism, is rare and extremely satisfying. Caleb’s Hope is unique: I wouldn’t work for just any charity. There’s no micro management, creativity is not just encouraged but demanded.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
My father took me all around Southern Africa and instilled a love for travel in me from a young age. The first time we visited Plettenburg Bay (a well-known vacation spot about a seven hour drive from Cape Town along the famous rain forested Garden Route) was one of the greatest weeks of my life. We spent hours in the ocean every day and explored the amazing forests surrounding Plet. We’d end most of our days at a pool park with a water slide and a proper swimming pool to do laps in. And then, the inevitable, wonderful braai (barbeque), a South African institution, with steak, boerewors and baked potatoes with loads of olive oil on top, the Portuguese way! I’d always loved the ocean, but I truly fell in love with it on that vacation. South Africa is an absolutely magnificent country and I’m lucky to have seen and experienced so much of it. I can’t wait to go back!
What are your top ten favourite films?
Network is number one and then the rest, in no particular order: Akira, Donnie Darko, Happiness Divorce, Italian Style, City of Lost Children, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, In the Mood for Love, and Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About my Mother).
Where is your favourite holiday destination, and what special memories do you have from there?
Turkey! Everywhere I went was wonderful. Istanbul, Ephesus, Selcuk, Pammukale, Fethiye, Kas, Cappadocia: all amazing. Turkey has everything: culture, dynamic topography, interesting, engaged people who love their country and travel it incessantly! Its history is fascinating and it is at the crux of so many worlds. The memories are like perfect snap shots: soaring over Goreme in a hot air balloon, walking over the Galata Street Bridge in Istanbul, spending hours in the Topkapi Harem, seeing the Pamukkale travertine shelves for the first time, swimming with turtles in Kas and hours spent reading, writing, smoking nargileh and drinking çay and after shaky çay in my favourite spot in Sultanahmet, a café tucked behind a royal graveyard near the Grand Bazaar.
If you were stranded on an island and only had five personal items with you, what would they be and why?
My diary: because I’ve kept a diary since I was 14 and it helps me stay sane and self-aware, stranded or not. A pencil case: for writing and drawing in my diary. I always travel with a pencil case. David Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature: I love Hume and this would be a good time to do him the service of reading the whole thing. Plus, it would serve as a good reminder of what I’d not be missing out on. Mask and snorkel: For obvious reasons. I think that counts as one, actually.
So I get fins, too, also for obvious reasons.
What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?
As far as I can tell, most people who survive zombie apocalypses are far too irritating to risk being stranded with. So I’d probably just succumb to the zombies. From there I guess I’d just spend the apocalypse hanging out, being insatiably ravenous for live brain meat. I’d hope to bring some class to it, maybe pioneer a more elegant gait and drop the whole arms in front thing, which I imagine would get tiring after a while. Perhaps I’d start a modest farm and begin cultivating my own humans (free range organic, obviously). You know, introduce agriculture and see how it pans out for zombies. Generally, I’d opt for a more laid back, leisurely approach to terror and despair, so long as the apocalypse permits.
Have you supported any other charities over the years?
I’ve been donating to a number of NGOs I feel very strongly about over the years. I don’t have much to give monetarily but I do believe in putting my money where my mouth is, so I do (and I have a big mouth). But outside of that and ardent clicktivism (ha!), Caleb’s Hope is the first truly meaningful ‘charity’ work I’ve done.
If you have to eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
My Bucatini Bolognese with Romano. My father made me spaghetti Bolognese as a kid and it has been my favourite meal since before I can remember. My bucatini is a tribute to that, perfected over time and it’s really good! A close second is The Brass Chicken Sandwich. I get misty eyed when I think about that sandwich. Brioche bun, little crispy fried onions, roasted chicken and gravy. Heaven.
When you have time to yourself, what things do you like to do to relax/unwind?
Read books and watch HBO series.
Claim to fame?
I cook really good food.