When you really begin doing charity work, you start to realize something that just about anyone who has ever given philanthropically will come to realize: it is never enough. There is always more to do, or a more effective way of doing it. There is always a bigger issue or someone in more need or someone less selfish to do the giving. The problems are always deeper than originally thought, much more complicated, and require huge thinking shifts to occur to be properly solved. What can I do? Who am I to be helping? Is this good or is this just making the problem worse?
You will ask yourself those questions if you are giving with purpose. You will realize that you are so small compared to the problems of the world. You will grapple with the social responsibility of your actions. You will wonder if what you are doing is worth it.
I’m on a trip to Thailand and India currently. I will be gone for almost one month to teach self-portraiture and self-expression workshops to survivors of human trafficking. That sentence alone will bring me praise. Someone will read this and write to me and tell me how amazing the work I’m doing is, and I won’t pretend that it doesn’t make me feel good. What needs to happen though is checks and balances, a true and honest look into the work we, and I, do to try and make the world better.
I have struggled on this trip, more than before, with the question of if what I am doing is truly helping others, or if it is self-serving. I know that it is both, logically, as most actions we partake in are. What are the long-term effects? Are there meant to be long-term effects? I am not solving the world hunger issue, stopping animal abuse, or truly rescuing someone from being trafficked. I am trying to heal with the love and self-awareness I have.
Part of my struggle is learning how much deeper the problem is. I returned from Thailand a couple of days ago and felt both uplifted and downtrodden from the trip. It was incredible – beautiful, adventurous, hard-working, emotional. It was also eye-opening. One of my great passions is animal welfare. If you know me you know that this is something I am unwavering on and I live a lifestyle fully committed to ending the use of animals for our personal gain. Being in Chiang Mai, a region that largely makes it’s money on elephant tourism, showed me the depth of the struggle. You see a “sanctuary” and learn it isn’t a sanctuary at all. You see elephants chained and made to blow into sound-making machines for entertainment and realize that it is better than other tour companies letting their tourists ride in baskets on their backs. You see their ears torn up from hooks digging into their skin and realize that the tradition goes too far back to stop it right now.
Why do I bring this up, if I am there to help young women and not elephants? Because being a philanthropist does not mean doing work in the area of your expertise and turning a blind eye to anything that doesn’t fall directly under your jurisdiction. If we see injustice, shouldn’t we speak about it?
I met the most inspiring person while visiting the Mae Wong region outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Her name is Alexa. She went to Thailand to help at-risk girls from being trafficked. She opened a small resort and uses the money she makes from tourists staying at her establishment to pay for housing, food, and education for rescued girls. She speaks out against those who would mistreat any living being. She puts her life on the line for what she believes in. Certainly we won’t all go to the lengths Alexa has to stop the injustice we see, but what can we do?
It is too easy to see all of the corruption and say that there is nothing we can do, or nothing effective enough, or nothing long-lasting enough. I called my husband when I was feeling really sad about the elephants and all the people who still need help in Thailand and I said: “Maybe I should just come home. Maybe I’m not doing enough good here.” He told me what I already knew in my heart. He told me that all I can do is try, and that trying is so much more than what too many do, which is to turn a blind eye.
I’m back in India now. Today I begin a workshop for women who have aged out of the sex-trafficking trade. I have never worked in this capacity before and I am nervous. I am nervous that I won’t say anything useful, that I won’t be able to relate, that they will be uninterested. I am scared. I am hesitant. But this is what I have learned:
You can never know the impact you have on someone, so you might as well try.
You can never know how lives will be changed because of your actions, so do.
You can never know how the inspiration of doing will inspire others to try.
The cycle is a beautiful one. All we can do is try. All we can do is find our unique gift and give it freely. It might not help everyone. It might not solve the world’s problems. I may not be able to free the elephants or rescue all of those in need. I may not have a gift that everyone needs to receive. But I will still give it. I will still give it. No, the actions we take are rarely enough. I will continue to question these experiences. It will never be enough, but it is something and I would take something over nothing any day.
How can you help Alexa? Purchase gifts from Daughter’s Rising, her organization that aids trafficked or at-risk girls.
Rob Domenech - Brooke,
This nearly brought me to tears. As you stated in this entry, we MUST try! My personal motto/mantra for the last 15 years has been: Do what you can when you can do it. I’ve stuck to this personal philosophy quite strongly and when asked why, my response is simply “because I choose to.”
Brooke, you are an amazing human being! Keep giving. Keep trying. Even the smallest spark in darkness will startle the eye.
brookeshaden - I love that mantra so much! I might adopt it! Thank you for your words of encouragement, I will take them with me today.
Cassie - Sometimes it’s better to look at the small picture than the large. What you’re doing with that small group has no doubt made a huge difference to each of them. If only one person learned how to express themselves and it healed them even a tiny bit, then it was all worth it.
I agree that it’s overwhelming to think of the worlds problems altogether, but when you put a name to even just one person that you have helped it seems to feel as though you’re making a positive impact just one small step at a time. I’m sure there’s a saying that fits, something like “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world” I should google it and quote properly but it seems helpful to not get overwhelmed with how much there is to do. You’re doing great work out there and I’m sure that you are helping people.
brookeshaden - I agree, it is that one person. That is what it is all about. Loving that quote, it is beautiful and so, so true. Thank you <3
Georgia Martin Baker - I fell in love with you when I first saw you on Creativelive. And when I saw you were giving an on line class and money was going to go to what you are doing for others, there was no hesitation in joining in. You see! love and giving spread, others want to help. Sometimes, all that is needed is for those in need, to know that someone cares. Finding a creative outlet rally helps bring a soul to find peace.Even if it is for a moment.That one moment can change a persons life forever.
brookeshaden - You are so gracious for writing this, thank you Georgia!! Indeed, knowing that someone cares is amazing medicine.
Donna Wilcox - Oh Brooke, this is so heartbreaking for sensitive souls like your own. Yet it is that sensitive soul that reaches ours and more importantly the women and animals you serve. Always remember that you are enough. For someone or many someones you are enough. I will pray for your remarkable courage and love to sustain you. Thank you for your many contributions to everyone you meet.
brookeshaden - Ah to be sensitive. All my life I’ve heard how bad it is, but I think there are some definite up sides. Not so much the inner battles, but the outer ones that it inspires. Thank you for your kind thoughts, I feel them!
Dave - I’ve been working on a photoproject against domestic violence for 2 years. It’s morphed from my original idea because I discovered that domestic violence is part of a spectrum of crappy things people do to each other. I don’t know if I’ll change the world for everyone, but, I can change it for more than the few I’m told I already helped.
For us to do nothing, when we have the capacity and resources to do something, and know it needs doing, seems evil. I know there are limits to any one person’s ability to affect change in everything that needs it, but we can help change the things we can. Capacity and resources are limited. As individuals, We probably can’t fix world hunger, disease(s), war, poverty, the environment, dictatorships and every other blight by ourselves. We’d go mad if we thought about all the things that remain to be done. The other things will have to be handled by others…
This is all related to the story about the child saving star fishes washed ashore. Though she couldn’t save them all, she did save some.
Maybe what we do is build platforms for others to work from too…
Do your best each day Brooke. That’s all we can do.
brookeshaden - Oh Dave that is amazing!! I am so glad to know that you are using your images for good. What a great feeling. I’m so proud to know you! Indeed, all we can do is our best.
Grace Nightsky - I have a lot of the same thoughts, feelings, and questions that you are describing. I am a knitter. I am knitting warm wool hats to send to North Dakota for the Water Protectors. I knit the hats with prayers and with love. I am on hat 16 currently. I call this my starfish practice. I am trying to make a difference one starfish at a time by warming one head and one heart at a time. And while a small contribution, it is a contribution. And it is something I can practice daily. This I know – the heart warming grows because it also warms my heart, my family’s and friend’s hearts and the heart of the man that arranges transportation of the hats on the next convoy out of town headed to Standing Rock.
brookeshaden - Oh my gosh, Grace, what an amazing thing you are doing. Those 16 hats are making people so happy. I love it!!
Cyd Peroni - This choked me up. Keep going. Have faith. I believe that even the smallest act has consequence. The ripple effect I guess. I see this in an assisted living home where my mom stays. There are so many people who are not even acknowledged (a smile or a hug) in the course of a day, let alone validated with time and attention. Then multiply your tiny ripples over the course of a lifetime and waves of love and change can happen. You may not see it directly, but it still matters. Sending love and strength your way.
brookeshaden - Thank you, Cyd!! I hear you on the assisted living homes. I volunteered in them starting at 9 years old, had one of my first jobs there as well until I went to college. There are too many neglected, but a smile and hug can change their day. Thank you for sharing, I appreciate you.
Fit BMX - When you do work like this, and write about it you are helping the elephants, and all the others in need. Because, when I read your post about helping as much as you can it makes me want to help, it makes me want to go out and do everything I can. So if you look at the big picture, you are doing more than you think you are.
So often right now with the government situation in the US I hear people say “Just forgive, and forget, there is nothing you can do.” And personally I am sick to death of that! I’m not going to roll over on the world’s problems.
I know you are greatly appreciated by those you help. Go with what you love, and the world will follow. (Hug)
Stunning photo!!! 🙂
brookeshaden - Your words are music to my ears. I am so grateful that it inspires you to help, that is a gift to be certain. There is always something to be done 🙂
Fit BMX - I forgot to say, Give your husband props for being such a great supporting guy! He sounds like the best out there. 🙂
Christy Winegarden - My name is Christy and I am a photography student. I have been thinking about how to raise money for an organization close to my heart, as my daughter is on a wait list for a service dog through National Service Dogs Autism program. This has really started to make me think harder about how I could use photography to raise money for NSD, as they also help persons living with PTSD such as war veterans and first responders. This is a great post.
brookeshaden - What a great cause Christy! I hope that you think of something grand! It is always SO hard raising money. People are often much more willing to buy products, so maybe think about that, too 🙂
Helen - I feel that you are doing a wonderful thing that not many do. I’m in a photo club and 5 of us have joined to get a school that the kids in that section of the town are not as fortunate with money. So we will have about 20 kids from 6th grade and during a course of 5 get togeather we want to show them the funtion of a camera and for them to choose a theme they want then we will work with natural lighting as much as possible . so they will come up with there concept costume will be a loan they will make there background, we have 1 day at the end for all of thos will come to life. Then we get them enlarged and have a little show. Hoping that when they get to highschool that we will have opened there imagination.
brookeshaden - That is an incredible thing you are doing, Helen!! I am so happy that you are putting your gifts into the world. Thank you for helping those children! Hugs!
Michael Albers - Thank you for sharing the information about Daughters Rising and for sharing your thoughts. I think that you are making a diference for good.
brookeshaden - Thank you Michael!
Kim Forman - It sometimes feels like shouting into the void. Every once in a while, though, you find that you inspired a pivotal shift for someone and it is all worth it.
What if one of the woman you are teaching becomes deeply involved in elephant welfare and uses the skills she learned from you to create awareness and massive action to prevent their abuse? Or what if she teaches someone else who does so?
We can never know the ripples we send into the world with our actions. All we can do is what our hearts call to us to do, flinging seeds and hoping they take root.
Blessings to you as you continue your journey. <3
brookeshaden - We can never know the ripples we make, that much is certain. Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot to me today.
Lisa Stock - Thank you for this Brooke! Years ago I was involved in a wonderful organization that taught children from all walks of life to write and play music and to reach out to one another to cross borders and boundaries and differences with music. They went everywhere with their workshops – from NY to Haiti to Norway. And every Christmas we had a gift drive for underprivileged children in NY. The kids would write a “Letter to Santa” asking for something – and 9 times out of 10 the child would ask for something for someone else – not themselves – but their sibling or parent or friend. I learned so much from them about giving. — You are making a difference. Humanity has come a long way since our beginning. It takes generations and sometimes centuries – but positive change happens because we keep going. There has been a lot of good change in the last 500 years, 100 years, one year. 🙂 A hundred years from now – people (and animals) will look back and be glad for the work you did – because it will carry the future that much farther into hope and compassion. The giving spirit is the most powerful part of us, and I’m thankful you’re sharing yours with the world. xoxo Lisa
Monica Whitt - Brooke,
I did get tears in my eyes reading your story. I started doing photography more “seriously” about a year ago. I’ve been following you and your work and you are so inspiring. There’s a local organization working with victims of sex trafficking and I’ve wondered how I can help using photography… I would love to hear more about the workshops you teach with this specific group of women. THANK YOU!
Fen - Holy shit, this was the article I’ve been looking for. This was well written and gets right to the crux of a lot of anxieties I’ve been having, glad I found it, thank you for this, I’ve shared it on facebook.