Question: When the earthquake in Nepal hit on April 25, you helped start an Indiegogo campaign to aid earthquake survivors. What made you want to start another campaign, rather than donate to earthquake victims through an existing campaign? What specifically is it being used for?
Answer: The Indiegogo campaign was actually something my friends and I were doing for a class, “Fundraising for Nonprofits,” that is required for our communications degrees. Initially, we were assigned 3 Angels Nepal as our nonprofit and we had to do things like create a social media strategy, do a needs assessment, and ultimately launch and run an online fundraising campaign for the organization. Our fundraiser was supposed to only be raising money for 3 Angels Nepal’s anti-human trafficking aspect, but the night before we were planning to launch our campaign the first earthquake hit.
There were a couple days of radio silence from all of the 3AN staff who we had been getting emails from in Nepal, but we eventually all received an email from Rajendra Gautam — the organization’s founder — informing us that everyone in the 3AN team was safe and that they were rushing immediately into emergency-response mode.
After talking with my partners for the group project, we decided to completely restructure and rebrand our fundraising effort to include emergency relief, as well as having a portion of the funds raised go to funding a long-term anti-human trafficking operation in the affected regions.
How successful has the campaign been so far? How have you got the word out? Is there still a need?
The campaign was wildly successful by the standards of the class. Our teacher, Michelle Rai, initially said that she was only expecting students to raise a couple hundred dollars for their assigned organizations. We raised over a thousand — not a whole lot from a professional fundraiser’s standpoint — but to be raising money that’s going to have a tangible impact in a disaster zone as part of your homework is a really great thing.
The money that we’ve raised is funding emergency food, medical, and shelter relief projects, as well as safe housing for trafficked girls and women, education and job training, and border patrols between India and Nepal that rescue girls who are being trafficked.
My group members and I started by just talking to our friends and family, asking for “seed money,” and from there we posted our campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where many of our friends picked it up and shared it themselves. We were able to raise plenty of money to our cause, and it helped us all to build meaningful connections with the area and survivors. Being able to raise money that we know is going to have a tangible impact on the ground of a disaster zone as part of your homework is something that really made this quarter special.
The earthquakes in Nepal this year caused a horrifying amount of destruction, and the close timing and impact of the subsequent aftershocks have only added more strain on survivors. While our campaign has now ended, there is still a massive need for emergency relief and long-term support in the area. Organizations like 3 Angels Nepal, ADRA Nepal, SOS Children’s Villages, and Global Communities are doing everything they can to pave the way for long-term development and rehabilitation projects that are equally as important as immediate relief.
You are a student at PUC right now, right? Tell us what you are studying. When do you graduate? Why did you choose PUC?
I’m currently pursuing a B.S. in marketing communications as well as a B.A. in English writing. I plan to graduate in two years. I transferred out of Washington Adventist University (where I had been for a year and a half) last year when all of my teachers kept mysteriously disappearing. It’s honestly ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time, the teachers and academic environment at Pacific Union College are so incredibly rich and student-friendly.
Why these degrees, instead of something like international relations or development?
When [Vogue editor] Anna Wintour addressed the Oxford Union this year, one of her warnings to the current generation on surviving in today’s world was to “avoid becoming overspecialized.” I think that’s one reason why I leaned toward these programs, as they both leave you with skill-sets that are applicable to every aspect of life and work. While I would have loved to pursue something as interesting as international relations or development, I felt that I might be overspecializing in a sense and wouldn’t be getting all the skills needed to succeed in my career.
My personal philosophy is that undergraduate studies are just a way to get your toe in the water, and graduate school is the best place to really dive into a particular area of study. I’m currently debating between a master’s in international development and integrated marketing communications, but there’s still a while before I have to make that decision.
Additionally, the communications and especially English departments at PUC are so incredibly strong. You can really tell the difference when you see students coming out of those departments compared to others, just in how they speak and carry themselves.
What would be your ideal job someday?
I really want to be working for some sort of foundation — ahem, leading — something big like the UN Foundation. Humanitarian work — especially things like women’s rights and economic empowerment issues — is so important to me that I can’t imagine stepping away from it. I always laughed on the inside when I heard people talking about “being called to serve,” but now I think I finally understand the feeling.
I believe you worked for ADRA China last summer. Where were you based? What were some of the projects you worked on?
I did! I was based out of Hong Kong, where ADRA China has its fundraising headquarters. While I was there I did a lot of work with the ADRA Angels, which is a volunteer group in Hong Kong that does fundraising and awareness in churches and communities all over the area.
I also developed a program for ADRA China called “ADRA-cation.” That was a seminar-style curriculum designed for high school-aged kids in Hong Kong and Macau to teach them not only about ADRA’s work, but humanitarian and development work in general. The program teaches kids how to get involved, and how to start small-scale community-based fundraising projects of their own.
I also worked with the Hong Kong government with a multi-million dollar grant that had been given to ADRA China to do a disaster response project in the Philippines following typhoon Haiyan.
Can you tell us about your experiences with ADRA Indonesia?
After my work stint in Hong Kong, I hopped over to Indonesia for a couple of months as I was invited to observe some assessments that were being done by some of the field staff there. We went to several project sites where ADRA had responded to disasters in the past years. One of these disasters was a massive series of floods that wiped out several rural communities in the Bekasi regency of Java. We also traveled to the Karo regency in Northern Sumatra where we did another assessment of an ADRA response to a volcano eruption in the area.
The goal was to train a team of local surveyors to enter their communities and gain information that we could later use to assess the effectiveness of ADRA’s emergency response efforts and from there determine the best way to improve these efforts in the case of future disasters.
It was such a great experience, because when you’re behind a desk doing fundraising work you don’t always get to see the impact of your work. Being able to meet some of the beneficiaries and hear what their experiences were firsthand, as well as see the gratefulness on their faces, is honestly an experience that can’t be fully described.
You seem to have worked in a lot of amazing jobs for someone who is still an undergraduate! How have you managed to land these jobs? How do you have time to do all these extra projects? What motivates you?
It’s always really entertaining to see people’s reactions when they find out that I’m running around the world working on various projects while I’m only nineteen and still finishing up my undergraduate degrees.
As for getting the jobs, I would have to say that the most important thing is being completely fearless when you approach various organizations. I think people really notice two things above all else in interviews: confidence and passion.
I was recently speaking with the founder and board chairman for an organization working in Kenya and because of my age, his immediate assumption was that I was looking for an internship. I have to be totally honest, it took a level of fearlessness to let him know that I actually wanted to interview for an open board seat. I actually just finished interviewing, and I sent off my nomination last night so we’ll see how that turns out!
In terms of finding time, I let go of my 4.0 a long time ago. I initially tried keeping my work to just during the summer, but I realized that I felt really bored and empty without something like that on my plate. I ended up picking up a consultancy for ADRA China last term that kept me sane, so to speak, for when I needed a break from academia. I don’t consider myself one of those people who is “designed” for university or academia, but I understand fully the importance of higher education; so for me it’s all about finding ways to keep school interesting.
Honestly, I have the most amazing and supportive partner in the world; he is constantly motivating me to do more and do my best. Between him and my family, I have a really incredible support system — I don’t think I would have been able to achieve half the things I have without their support. On top of that, I just always try to motivate myself as much as I can. I always try to set my goals high, so that when I accomplish them I feel good — but even when I don’t, I’m still ahead of the curve.
Would you consider yourself more aware of social concerns, both in the US and internationally, than most of your classmates? If so, what do you think prompted this awareness?
I don’t want to say yes, because I think to a degree everyone is aware of social issues — especially ones that are demographically important to them, such as police brutality, LGBT rights, or women’s ordination. However, I think that because of the work that I’m involved with, it is important to stay up to date on international happenings.
I think you really notice things like poverty and women’s rights a lot more when you engage in humanitarian work. Things like female genital mutilation, refugee rights, and systematic poverty were things that I had in front of my face growing up because both of my parents were aid workers and missionaries.
I think I’m more in tune with disasters than anything. When I was around 10 or 11, my parents started taking me out to the field with them. I traveled to Sri Lanka and Indonesia following the 2007 tsunamis, and that was my first major exposure to the horrifying realities of life in the developing world. While I was living in Sri Lanka I remember having an armed guard that had to escort me between the compound where I lived and the ADRA office that was literally right next door. That was when a lot of conflict was going on between the government and the Tamil Tigers, a separatist group. It was as a result of those conflicts that some people close to my nanny in Sri Lanka were killed in some of the more violent riots.
After that I traveled with my parents again to Jogjakarta, in Indonesia, following the earthquake there. After that it was the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, which was the first time I remember seeing dead bodies — something I don’t think you ever really come back from.
I was just living in those disaster zones for short periods of time, but there are other kids my age and much younger who are still living in the ruins of those disasters. Those frightening realities were just a snapshot for me, but for a lot of those kids it’s what they experience their entire lives, and I think coming to that realization makes things like the Nepal earthquake, the Ebola virus outbreak, and the refugee situations in Europe and Africa just really personal to me, which is a big motivator for my work.
Where are your parents originally from, and where were you born? Who did your parents work for when you lived in all those places as a kid?
My mom is American, and my father is Indonesian — he moved to the United States after meeting my mother and attended graduate school here. I was born at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, but moved to Addis Ababa after 6 weeks — my mother only came to the States to deliver.
Initially both of my parents worked for ADRA. My mother is currently at ADRA International, and my father is consulting between various organizations in the United States, Indonesia, Sudan, Lebanon, and China.
How do you feel about living in California after spending a lot of your childhood in such exotic places?
I don’t have anything against California, but being in Angwin in particular is a massive challenge to adjust to. When I was living in D.C., Hong Kong, Beijing, and Jakarta I got really used to being super mobile. But here, you’re not going anywhere unless you have a car – and even if you have a car you’d better be prepared to drive two hours to the closest anything. I was just joking with someone who had worked with ADRA in Afghanistan about how terrible even the cell reception is here; I had better internet and cell reception in the Tibetan highlands.
What is the worst job you have ever had to do?
When I was an intern I had to pick up someone’s lunch order once, and there’s something weirdly degrading about having to do that. But in the end it pushed me to work harder, and it was nice to see that I eventually reached a point of indispensability so that other interns and staff members were being sent out instead.
What specific experience in your work so far have you found the most rewarding?
When I was working at SOS Children’s Villages one of my workmates taught me how to use a Keurig [coffee machine], and I remember that being a really monumental moment in my life. I’m really embarrassed about this, but office technology is really intimidating for me.
On a more serious note, any opportunity you can get to see firsthand the impact of your work — especially fundraising work — is seriously rewarding and motivational. When I traveled out to Garzê TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region/Prefecture), to watch a neonatal health project assessment, that was the first time I really made the connection that the boring work writing proposals and making phone calls and hounding prospective donors has this tangible and very vital outcome. Projects like that have ended up saving countless lives, and bettering entire communities for generations to come.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6853