Welcome to part two of our Ripple Effect interview with Amanda Brown, a photographer, writer, lauded volunteer and founder of the AWE International Good Works Foundation. Enjoy!
What is one lesson you’ve learned from your recent experience in Nepal?
How lucky I am to be an American. You can say that, but until you have experienced that it doesn’t truly sink in. It is easy for me to travel. Getting a visa is a no-brainer and in most countries not required. In Nepal, the chance of getting a visa is maybe 1 in 100 and that is after paying a nonrefundable fee that is more than most earn in a year. Also, our ability to “make something” of ourselves is literally handed to us on a silver platter. ALL STUDENTS READING THIS: seriously, and I’m telling you this as a high school and college student who took what I had for granted and barely studied because I was labeled as “gifted” and that schooling was my right to have whether I deserved it or not. DO NOT waste your time in class! Absorb every single bit of information you can, even if you don’t understand why you have to learn it. You are being given a gift that most children in this world do not get. Here in Nepal parents have to pay to send their children to school – therefore, most never go.
On your website you talk about having “a why” for what you do. Can you talk a little bit about yours?
I do come from a long line of strong women and historic change makers. A lot of my ability is just a part of me – runs in my blood. Way back in my family tree I have an Uncle George who was the first President. I always used to hear stories told by my Grandmothers of what was expected of me and how I had to do my part to help change the world, that I couldn’t waste my talents by just existing, but that I had to use my talents to create change. One of my Grandmothers was in the first group of tourists who was allowed into China after Nixon ended the embargo. She also traveled to Egypt and Australia in the early 70’s, before our age of ease and connectivity, and brought back treasures that fascinated me. She opened up my eyes, mind and heart to the world and how big it was.
Last year after facing one of the toughest and heartbreaking times that I had ever experienced in my adult life, I knew that I had to do something to change and to create change. The status quo and the constant headache of dealing with the aftereffects of the economic tsunami had beaten my spirit to a pulp. So in true artist fashion, I hung large sheets of paper on my loft walls and started listing out my strengths, what I was passionate about and what I wanted to do that I thought could create change. 24 hours later I had a plan in place. I was literally at that place where I could have just turned into a numb 9-to-5 statistic or I could breathe some air and spirit back into my life. I chose the latter. And like The Road Not Taken, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced during your travels?
Managing it all! The writing, photography, volunteering, experiencing, working, managing sales, working on the marketing, keeping in touch with friends, watching the bottom line, keeping information out there on my socials, working on the website – every single bit of it is me. I am a one-woman show doing it all right now. That IS the toughest part, the traveling is actually very easy.
What advice would you give to the novice international volunteer?
1. Do your research on the web; there are plenty of organizations that need help. I am one of those who does not pay to volunteer and searches out the organizations that do not charge.
2. Find out specifics beforehand of what you are expected to do, ask about the hours that you are expected to work, ask about the ages of the people you will be helping (working with a 6-year old is completely different than an adult).
3. Don’t be shocked when they expect you to pay for everything, as an American the train of thinking is that our streets are paved with gold.
4. Set your limits as to the time you will work and what you will do. Your time can be sucked away from you very quickly as you get bogged down in their work. Remember that you also came to see and experience the country and the culture. Spending all of your time on task prevents you from the other reason that you came to that location to volunteer.
5. Have fun, laugh, enjoy. Remember that you are leaving an imprint on the people that you work with. Whatever you do, whatever you say, that is the way that they will always remember you, and you will forever represent your country with your actions.