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Friday, 20 November 2009

Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks

Written by Rachael Repoff
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Barton Brooks, leading by example, is making up his own rules for saving the world.

Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanagesWhile reading O Magazine, I came across an article about a man named Barton Brooks. Barton was a real estate broker in New York and also worked for some time in the fashion industry. Feeling unfulfilled in his current situation, he left his job and changed his life’s focus.

 

He decided that his new job would consist of traveling to different countries, finding communities in need, and lending a hand doing whatever was needed. Barton founded Global Colors, a one-man, non-profit organization that creates self-sustaining grassroots projects around the world throughGuerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanages random acts of service. Thus far he has worked in Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique. Projects range from building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, and helping orphanages.

 

It was no accident that I first learned about Barton Brooks through Oprah. I see them both as humanitarians that epitomize the power of belief; they are both living proof that one motivated person can improve the human condition.

 

Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanagesI called Barton the day after he got back from Uganda for our phone interview. He answered the phone brightly, “Rachael?! Hi! How are you? It’s so great to finally connect with you.” His friendly and easy manner made me feel as though I already knew him. Despite the fact that he was exhausted from jetlag, he still spoke to me for over an hour about his cause with infectious enthusiasm.

 

inTravel: You started Global Colors four years ago, at the time, what was your goal?

Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanagesBarton: I wanted to start a campaign where one person could travel anywhere in the world and help in some way. I just really wanted to connect the world one volunteer at a time. It may sound crazy, but I see it as part of my job to help people figure out how and where people can make a difference.

 

inTravel: No, that doesn’t sound crazy at all. Okay, so there’s Global Colors, the non-profit organization you founded, but what exactly is Guerrilla Aid and how are the two connected?

Barton: That’s actually a good question. Guerrilla Aid is the name of a division of Global Colors, but it’s also a term I use to describe the style of volunteerism I do. I encourage people to simply go somewhere, do something, and help in some way. Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanages

One of my goals is to start a Guerrilla Aid Movement in the US. I’ll be honest though, I don't always follow exact channels of protocol, but I’ve learned that if you’re creating your own projects, there isn’t nearly as much red tape involved.

 


 

inTravel: I love the picture of your mother, Carla Brooks, riding side-saddle Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanageson a motorcycle in Uganda. You must feel so blessed to have a mother that is so supportive that she’ll often travel with you. Who else has been a major influence in your life and your work?

 

Barton: If I had to pick one person I’d say Margaret Mead. Her core belief was that we can learn the most from simple observation. I learned that I can’t place anyone into a mold of what I think they need. My work became more meaningful once I began asking people “how can I help?”, and then starting from there. That was a really important lesson for me.

 

inTravel: You’ve been written about in O Magazine and you’ve been interviewed by Gayle King on Oprah Radio. As an Oprah fan, I wonder if you’ll indulge me by letting me ask you the Oprah Question Tell about your Biggest Aha! Moment?

Barton: (Laughs) Sure, that’s actually an easy one. My ‘Aha’ Moment came when I was traveling through Cambodia with friends about four years ago. We passed by a group of young boys, laughing, running and playing near a temple. As I looked closer I saw the only thing these kids had to play with was a deflated football. That moment, for some reason, really opened my eyes to the kind of poverty that exists. Then everything became clear. I knew my entire life was about to change. I thought someone needs to help those kids, so why shouldn’t it be me. Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanages I further thought if someone is going to change the world why shouldn’t that be me too? It was soon after that moment I created Global Colors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

inTravel: How do you choose the countries you go to?

Barton: I try to learn about everywhere, and then focusGuerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanages on someplace I've never been and a culture I've never understood. I try to learn as much as I can about why a tourist would go there, and I find out about some of the issues they are dealing with and then I figure out what I could help with... Then I plan the project accordingly.

 

inTravel: Where are you heading next?

Barton: Mongolia. I've been fascinated by yurts, the vast open wilderness, and the local traditions - especially the annual horse festival called ‘Naadam’ in July. It sounds amazing, and I really want to see it, so I’m planning my trip during that time. Also, after a little research, I found a guy who rescues children out from under the city streets (warm caverns during the harsh winters) and then takes care of them and gives them a home.

 

inTravel: That sounds amazing. I feel like I already know the answer to this, but do you ever look back and miss your old life?

Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanagesBarton: No, never. I never really felt at home in New York; I always felt as if I was living to exist, if that makes sense. I always joke that I have ‘Life ADD’, it’s just that there’s so much I want to do in the world.

 

inTravel: I used to live in New York and I completely relate to that feeling of “living to exist”. When do you feel most gratified, like you’ve made the biggest difference?

Barton: The most gratifying thing to me is when I meet someone and teach them something new and I know I’ve changed the trajectory of their life. Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanagesOccasionally, someone will get so excited by what they’ve just learned that they can’t wait to leave and start putting into practice. That’s the moment, when I see someone walking away from me with a new sense of purpose.

 


 

 

 

inTravel:  In March of 2009, you were riding a motorcycle on the Uganda/Congo border, when you were hit by a truck and left for dead on the side of the road.  I can’t even begin to imagine what that must’ve been like for you.  Would you mind telling us about the accident?

Barton:  First of all, I’ll say it was by far was the toughest experience of my life.  It began at the end of a day I’d spent building a mud hut for an old man named Kilembe.  I got on my bike and was heading home.  About half an hour later, I came around a blind corner only to be faced with a speeding Land Rover on my side of the road. We both swerved to miss each other, but ended up swerving in the same direction and I got broadsided - with my left side smashed between my bike and the truck.

inTravel:  That sounds horrific…What’s the next thing you remember?

Barton: I woke up in the dirt feeling blood dripping down my neck.  I looked down at my leg and my femur was broken in half and laying strangely perpendicular to my body.  My arm was also twisted in a way it shouldn't have been and I noticed there was blood everywhere, but I think it was the pain that kept making me pass out...  

inTravel:  At this point, do you remember what you were thinking?

Barton: My only concern and prayer at this point was "please let me survive so my mother doesn't have to fly to Africa to pick up my body - she couldn't handle that"...

inTravel:  It’s very telling that you were in that dire situation and your greatest concern was about someone else…What happened next?

Barton: After a while, a small taxi drove
by and the people he was transporting agreed to get out so he could
take me to a clinic.  They then proceeded to cram in all my broken parts into the back seat.  Eventually, they jammed me in; I could feel the bones grinding against each other the whole time.  I've never even imagined pain like that, so yeah, I was screaming as well...  I believed that there was no way I'd survive the ride, but after about two hours of the most painful experience ever, we arrived at a medical clinic in Kisoro.

inTravel: When you arrived at Kisoro, I understand there was quite an extensive list of things that needed attention.

Barton:  I had a cracked skull, both bones in my left arm were broken, my right shoulder Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanages, Barton Brooks accident, Rachael Repoffwas broken and dislocated, my left femur was broken in half and poked through the back of my thigh (that was the most painful), and one of my shin muscles was sliced in half.  I also had both my ACL and MCL were torn off and several huge gashes around both of my eyes.

inTravel:  It’s no wonder you were screaming

Barton:  Yeah, I really didn’t think things could get much worse until I was told that the "technician" was too drunk to take any x-rays of me.

inTravel:  Wow that must've been disheartening to say the least.

Barton:  Yes, but life got much better as soon as a Dr. Robert Schreve walked in; he was a Dutch doctor who was in the area on a short medical mission. His wife held my hand as he started to work, yanking on my ankle to straighten my femur, pulling my arm straight, and sewing up my leg - all of which really sucked with no pain killers.  

Guerrilla Aid: an Interview with Barton Brooks, Guerrilla Aid,  Barton Brooks, Global Colors, Guerrilla Aid Movement, volunteering Southeast Asia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina, Senegal, and Mozambique, building homes, giving bikes and school supplies to kids, helping orphanages, Barton Brooks accident, Rachael RepoffHe got everything together and said he wouldn't attempt any sort of invasive surgery due to the chance of infection, so I'd have to get to Kampala to sort things out.  I stayed in Kisoro for three days to stabilize and was incredibly blessed to have Dr. Schreve, his wife, and my angel of mercy, Marie McGee taking care of me until we could arrange the plane, and then they loaded me in the back of a truck and drove me to an airfield to get to Kampala...

My first night in Kampala they did some work on my leg and unfortunately used a drug called Ketamine (an animal tranquilizer) to put me out.  I've never done a drug in my life so to be put me on something like this resulted in giving me the most horrific hallucinations ever. Imagine hallucinating in the Matrix - but awake - while someone is doing surgery on you... Not cool...  

It got much better after that, and eventually I was being prepped for transport back to the states to do the major surgeries.  I was in Kampala wondering how to get home, when my mother and brother were given the green light by the embassy to come over and help get me back to NYC.  Many tears were shed the day I saw my mother’s face as she stepped into that dark room, and I was so glad my prayers of having her pick me up alive were answered.  It still humbles me and makes me cry to this day - my 70 year old mother flying 30 hours to bring me home.
Although my brother and I have always been close, this took it to an entirely new level.

inTravel:  When I first contacted you in November, you wrote me an email from Uganda, so obviously you’ve already been back there.

Barton:  I have been back; it’s amazing to see how far they've come with all the generous contributions we’ve received since we started the project there. These beautiful people have prayed for my recovery since the day of the crash - a fact that continues to bring me to my knees in gratitude for them. We had a beautiful celebration, a few tearful reunions, and visited all the projects successes.

 

For more information you can visit to www.globalcolors.org or www.guerrillaaid.com .

©Rachael Repoff

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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