The story goes I went to El Salvador and came back a different person. My brother and I vacationed every Summer since the age of 7 and as we stayed with our grandparents and extended family, I inevitably developed a deep-rooted love for my parent’s homeland. A love which 1 year grew even stronger when our customary 2 month stay became a little more long-lasting than usual - 5 years. The plan was for all of us to move entirely to El Salvador but along the way some plans changed and even though our parents never relocated for financial reason, they still visited twice a year. I ended up living in El Salvador between the age of 12-17.
While there, two of the most significant values one could acquire living in a developing country were awareness and compassion. We lived comfortably and while we were never deprived of anything we might have had already been accustom to living in the states, it was certainly easy to hop on one of the many packed, hot, bumpy and wildly colored buses and escape to a neighboring town and come across the cruel reality of those living without the most fundamental resources. Being in contact with so much poverty and deprivation became overwhelming at times.
Not a day went by then where I didn’t acknowledge how fortunate I was for having access to food, a home, and equally significant in getting an education regardless of how jarring the adjustment was specifically when it came to teachers who rarely ever used the chalkboard because all the important stuff was invariably dictated in Spanish and falling behind could become your worst enemy.
Having observed other people’s hardships and living conditions, I began getting the longing for what I could possibly do to help but I failed to follow through in figuring it out because when you’re a kid, you’re very likely to believe that you’re too young to make a difference.
At one point, I recall distinctively being scolded at times by my grandparents for not being responsible in taking care of the toys or knickknacks my parents wound send me because in their eyes, they magically disappeared but in reality I use to give them away. I understood my parents had worked hard to purchase these things for us but at the time that was probably the only sort of “giving” gesture I could think of.
What got me thinking about all of this was a book. Normal parental responsibilities predominantly keep me away now from nosediving into a new book the way I use to but the fact that I managed to read this particular one non-stop in a matter of 3 days was a palpable sign that it’s story, it’s author and it’s overall message resonated with me tremendously. I kept thinking back to when I use to live in El Salvador and all these mental pictures of poverty-stricken kids kept regurgitating.
What’s The Book About?
The book is titled The Promise of a Pencil . To give you a brief synopsis, as a college student, Adam Braun elected to do a semester at sea, an experience that exposed him to some of the world’s most impoverished countries. Everywhere he went, he would ask a child, “If you could have anything, what would you want most?” His purpose was to collect answers like souvenirs, but one child’s response—“a pencil”—changed Adam’s path in life.
Following his semester at sea and an internship working with the Cambodian Children’s Fund, he set his sites on creating an organization to change people’s lives. His friends and family encouraged him to pursue a job in finance. He could save money that way and after a couple decades start a non-profit. But after less than a year with a prestigious New York company, Adam realized he couldn’t wait and one day quit his lucrative career in finance to pursue this passion to build a school by establishing a for-purpose organization called Pencils of Promise which has broken ground on more than 200 schools around the world and continues bringing quality education to more than 20,000 children in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
As I’ve mull over Adam’s purpose more and more, the idea of presence has become even more important to me and taken on new dimensions of impact.
In the book, Adam says, “Many of us spend our entire lives in the same bubble—we surround ourselves with people who share our opinions, speak the way we speak, and look the way we look. We fear leaving those familiar surroundings, which is natural, but through exploration of the unfamiliar we stop focusing on the labels that define what we are and discover who we are.”
Above all, living in El Salvador gave my life purpose which I had failed to recognize before. Many times I took things for granted, like most kids do, not knowing what you’re living for and perhaps too indifferent to even care. Adam Braun’s story has truly reignited that passion to participate in things that matter to me. Things I always cared deeply about but that I never managed to find a platform to utilize as a driving force make a difference.
Up until this day, I still carry what I saw and felt it like a sack of gold, valuable and heavy to carry around which I feel can only become lighter as I give back to those children who deserve nothing less than a quality education. Here in the states, we almost have privilege to be able to be disinterested in school where in El Salvador you have to actually have privilege family to even attend. Big difference.
How Do We Make A Change?
The cost for educating a child with Pencils of Promise is $25. It’s $500 to train a teach, $10,000 to build a classroom and $25,000 to construct an entire school. My objective, with the investment and support of you is to build a full-fledge school. How do we do this?
As I write this, I currently have 28,000 Followers on Instagram. From that amount, I’m well aware that probably 50% of those “Followers” are comprise of ghost Followers and inactive accounts which brings me down to around 14,000 veritable users. To make up for that deficit and to increase the chances of building a school together, all I’m asking is for the support of Instagram friends and beyond in investing $2 towards the $25,000 I’ve committed to raising.
As the saying goes, “$2 is less than you would pay for a good cup of coffee” with the difference that theses $2 will go towards a cause that will change the lives of kids who deserve nothing less than a quality education. “Purpose can manifest from so many different places, but it most often appears through the small things that enable us to feel connected to a broader whole.”
When you are building schools in rural parts of developing countries, you have to keep in mind that any money which you make think is not enough could be sufficient to build a lot of schools.
I've been told by casual acquaintances that raising money for a good cause is challenging because not everyone’s experiences and ambitions will invariably align with yours but what I do want to share is that when it comes to the meaning of life for me, it’s become less and less about me and more about how I can help people and try to make an impact on those who may not necessarily be seeking support themselves.
My camera, in the last year has unquestionably become this treasured and never-expiring license to meet people which I believe will most likely lead me to discover more attributes about myself. It’s no secret that online communities like Facebook and Instagram can make billions off of user data and activity but who says we can’t utilized these very platforms to change people’s lives ourselves?
Beyond sharing life experiences on Instagram which I use incessantly to highlight photographic skills I may or may not have, I feel there’s no better time to invoke the support of those who have equally uncovered more about themselves and taken part in such an amazing photographic community on Instagram.
I would love for you to join me by investing as little as a $2 towards the $25,000 goal and building a school together. I constantly think about how can I make an impact in the world with the passion I have for photography as I take into account the life-changing experience I had while living in El Salvador.
Please help me reach my $25,000 fundraising goal by donating $2 today. Everyone has promise. Education unlocks it.