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Sej Saraiya | Award-winning photographer

We had an opportunity to catch up with Sej Saraiya, award winning photographer, ethnographic and fine-art photographer and filmmaker documenting indigenous peoples around the world.

If you had a million dollars to contribute to a cause, where would you choose to donate?

I would spend the million dollars toward humanitarian causes and toward the protection of nature and the environment. (Although I do believe that with more conscious humanity, the second part will become a resulting by-product.) Since we are the destroyers, change begins from within us.

To enlist, here are some of the causes I support:

  • Saving our planet from exploitation (or, at this point, over-exploitation).

  • Saving our oceans; protecting wild animals from poachers and human-caused extinction.

  • Teaching young girls why and how to say no, teaching them how to physically defend themselves.

  • Working toward a society that is appreciative of the diversity that exists on our planet, not only among human beings, but also with the biodiversity.

  • Working toward a more spiritually-conscious society. The long-ruling patriarchy has harmed both women, men and people of all genders. I hope to live in a more conscious world where, instead of projecting our wounds onto others, we learn to heal them and then heal those around us.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Author Erica Williams Simon said, “Don't ever attach yourself to a person, a place, a company, an organization or a project. Attach yourself to a mission, a calling, a purpose only. That's how you keep your power & your peace.”

This quote has been a game changer for me. Such simple words yet so profound. I find myself going back to them every time I have major decisions to make. Or when I am overwhelmed by emotions or pulled apart by difficult work situations. These words help me stay on course.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

I remember the time in my life when I had come to a crossroads. I had a choice to continue my life as it were or take a leap into the unknown. I chose to leap. The journey that followed became the defining factor of my life and made me into the photographer, educator, and conservationist that I am today. I consider that breaking away from the comfort of a life that was unfulfilling and perplexing to instead answer to my soul’s calling to be my biggest accomplishment.

What drives you to give back?

The more important things I know today that help me overcome life’s curveballs were not taught to me in school, college or university, but rather by people I met along the way: fellow travelers, photographers, spiritual seekers, and mentors. Life education is a must, yet the most important things are not offered as general education in school. Like how to handle our emotions when they get out of hand; how to file taxes; how to navigate relationship problems; how to grow plants and vegetables; or how to co-exist with other living beings that we share our planet with. While experience has been a great teacher, there is so much I wish I had learned when I was younger and there are many mistakes I wish I could’ve avoided. Over the last five or six years, I have indulged in mentorships with the people I look up to and deep dived into subjects of my interest and of importance with people who have walked the path before me. The lessons have been invaluable and helped shape me. I wish to be that person for others.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Saying no to something you don’t want to do is the most powerful thing you can do for yourself and the world. I wish I knew this when I was younger. Being nice or being perceived as nice has no real merit or advantage in life and is actually quite detrimental to both parties involved. Oftentimes, when we say yes so as to not offend someone, we’re setting them (and ourselves) up for false expectations which often results disappointment and/or resentment. Someone else might be really happy to do what we didn’t want to but said yes to. And it is not our duty to protect others from that search toward finding the right person. We all have a life purpose, something only we can do. And it’s important that we do it during our time on earth. Saying no to things that are not ours to take on allows us to stay on track.

What is one thing that inspires you?

Nature is a big source of inspiration for me. The way a seed germinates under the soil and turns into a plant and then tree in due time. Nothing is hurried or forced yet everything is done. Similarly, a river does not stop when it encounters a rock but rather finds the path of least resistance and keeps flowing by going above or around it. To me, this is a great way to think about obstacles in life and in work. Observing nature often helps me find solutions to my problems.


1000 Spotlights: Why We Give reflects our mission of giving back, to mentor and to inspire those around us.

Through a series of interview questions, we explore academic inclinations and intrinsic motivations behind why we give, and talk with those inclined to make a difference in the lives of students. If you are involved in charitable activities, volunteer and paid academic engagements or in community service, we want to talk to you.

Write to us to nominate yourself or someone else who fits the bill.


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