Welcome back to our new interview series, The Ripple Effect. The Ripple Effect explores the emotional impact of volunteer travel and its lasting effect on people’s lives. Today we’re speaking with Amanda Brown, a photographer, writer, lauded volunteer and founder of the AWE International Good Works Foundation. AWE, funded by the proceeds from Amanda’s children’s books, provides books, teaching supplies and volunteer teachers to under represented, marginalized communities around the world. Amanda’s mission: to touch lives with happiness; to push herself beyond her means; to explore, experience and share; and always to give back. This is part one of our interview with Amanda Brown, author, photographer, and volunteer extraordinaire! Check back in tomorrow for part two.
How did you first get involved in volunteering?
It was a natural pattern that grew to be a part of me as I grew up. I do credit a lot of my character and willingness to help with being a member of 4-H during high school. The effect of being taught about leadership at an early age helped to shape me into the adult that I am today. I’ve also learned that a lot of people talk the talk, but few walk the walk. I talk it and walk it! It isn’t always easy, but it takes you on a journey that makes you discover everything about yourself. Wanting to help and create change is now a part of my DNA. I know that the people that I am elbow-to-elbow with right now will never forget me…and I will have them forever imprinted on my heart.
I’d love to hear about some of your favorite places and projects. Is there one that really sticks with you?
I started Amanda’s Big World Adventure in January. I thought I had everything outlined and the plans in place. Boy, was I wrong! What I did learn was to let the journey lead me. I decided to change my itinerary and go to Bali. That was one of the best detours that I have ever taken. While I was there I spent a lot of time photographing the workings of the “Friends of the National Parks Foundation.” The effort that Bayu is putting into saving the indigenous wildlife and habitat of the islands of Indonesia is incredible.
In Nepal I’ve been working with the Vajrayana School. The students there are absolutely incredible. Most of them are Tibetan refugees and have lived through and in some cases are still living through conditions that Americans would never dream existed. The pictures and stories that I have put on my website and Facebook page blow my friends minds. It is a third world country in every way, and the chances of their ever being able to improve their lot in life is slim to none. With the main industry of the country being tourism, they learn English to help secure a job in a country where unemployment is 48% and adults here have an average of 2.4 years of schooling. I had no idea that it was that bad until I got here. It is astounding to me to see children sleeping on the streets, but that is normal here. Of the two volunteer positions so far, I think that Nepal has definitely tugged on my heart the most.
How do you think taking photographs changes or enhances your experience of a place or project?
I think the photography enhances everything that I do. It gives me the opportunity to help tell the story. You know the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”? Well being on the other side of the world experiencing life in a completely different manner than what we have in the States could never be described well enough in words alone. My taking a picture of the telephone lines here or the children sleeping in the street shows proof of how different it is. I have a huge following in the States who are living vicariously through my travels – from old high school friends, to people I have never met that I inspire, to the students at the school that I adopted in Atlanta.
When I read the statistic that only 1 out of 3 Americans has a passport, it absolutely blew my mind as to how much Americans really truly don’t know and haven’t experienced in the rest of the world; that means that 2 of 3 can’t even travel to Canada or Mexico! My seeing, experiencing and sharing the story have already changed me dramatically. I’m hoping that it helps to give insight and broaden the views of my followers in countries around the world.
My photography is also the one piece that is funding my trip. When I came up with this idea and started preparing for life on the road; the only things that I knew that I could do while traveling in order to make an income was my photography and writing. The miniatures, limited edition prints, gallery collection pieces and commissions that I have for sale are what keep my wheels turning in a forward direction. I hate those moments when the wheels stop moving – it’s frustrating and scary! I tell the story on my site of everything that I do, experience and shoot so those who collect my work already feel as though they are a part of it. It’s their way of adding value to the lives of the people I touch and it gives them something beautiful to show on their wall.
Please check back tomorrow for part two of our interview with Amanda Brown.