Barton Brooks has turned a passion for travel into a mission to make a difference through grassroots international age. He founded Global Colors, an organization that undertakes projects ranging from educational resource in Cambodia to creating vegetable gardens near African hospitals. In their efforts, Global Colors provides both financial and volunteer aid in collaboration with other organizations. The end goal is geared toward creating immediate change while teaching individuals, families, and travelers to do the same in their own environs.
Barton’s personal story began when he sold his only real asset (a hand built Shelby Cobra replica) to aid children in Agnkor Wat. The proceeds of his sale provided an education, and a launching pad for Global Colors. Since then Barton has been an advisor to the United Nations, developed projects for First Lady Laura Bush, and launched a corporate reforestation volunteer vacation program in Africa. These are just a few examples of his work and the work of Global Colors. The organization continues to create self-sustaining grass roots projects for the communities it serves.
Read the full interview with Barton Brooks after the click.
SL: Tell me a little bit about your background and the impetus behind your organization.
BB: I’ve been running my own grass roots organization for about four years, going around the world doing international aid. Anywhere from Uganda to Nepal.
SL: What spurred you to start the work and what are some of the projects that have really meant a lot to you?
BB: I was traveling in Cambodia and I wanted to help this group of kids who I’d met. I couldn’t find an organization that could help them, so I came home and decided to start my own. The organization has been geared toward that sort of thing; teaching any volunteer, anywhere in the world, how to do a grass roots fix wherever you are, whatever you have. From that time I’ve given cows to the Massai in Kenya, built shelters in Kenya as well. I’ve got an orphanage in Nepal, Mobile libraries in Laos, and the school in Cambodia. Just stuff like that. Going into a community, figuring out what they need, and then creating it with them.
SL: Do you work with pre-existing grass roots organizations in those countries as well?
BB: Yeah, that is pretty much the only way I work. I find a local NGO, somewhere in the world, and then help them accomplish the goals they have been unable to meet yet. Whether based on funding or man power.
SL: That’s fantastic. I was in Guadalajara last year, where a friend was working for an NGO doing street schooling.
BB: Oh cool.
SL: Having done work with a few NGOs in America, I hadn’t had the opportunity to work outside the US before, or be involved, and it was interesting to see the unique challenges facing the organization. It was started by an American woman, and it was also amazing to see the reaction of the kids.
BB: It’s crazy what one person can do. I’ve learned that anywhere in the world you can truly change a few lives if you just spend a few weeks and do something.
SL: The notion of it being possible to change one life, and how that life can then change another, is often lost.
BB: Absolutely right.
SL: Could you perhaps give a quick case study of one of the programs you’ve been involved with? One that has meant a lot to you and speaks to the mission of Global Colors?
BB: Cows in Kenya. After 9/11 there was a group of Massai that raised all the money they could, and they eventually raised enough money to buy 14 cows for America. They did that because it is their most precious commodity and the best thing they could give. So they bought 14 cows and put them in a field and had a ceremony saying “America, we give you these cows.”
I found that nobody had gone over there to thank them or to formally accept the gift. So I went over to Kenya and did that, and in turn gave nearly 100 cows to every widow in their region. A cow in the Massai is basically life. Morning milk for the family. Afternoon milk they can sell, which pays for flour and corn. A cow equals life. I started that project by saying the first born cow goes to a neighbor in need. We started with 100 cows, and now there are over 750 in the district and everyone is doing a lot better.
SL: Given the scope of Global Colors, you must be on the road how many days a year?
BB: About half of the year.
SL: And you are based in New York when you are at home?
BB: New York or LA. I was hit by a truck last march. I was in Uganda riding a motorcycle and was hit by a truck. Broke my femur, broke my left arm, and damaged my skull. I finished my final surgery just recently, and will be back in Uganda in December.
So, this past year I haven’t been out much. I’ve been in rehab for the past 8 months.
SL: So… unfortunately I have to follow that up with a question about your favorite Aether product and why?
BB: My favorite product is one of their jackets which I can roll up and throw in my bag. Its the most comfortable and warm, water proof, its my all around favorite thing. It keeps me dry and warm so I can do my projects. It’s a great jacket that I won’t go anywhere with out. It’s got a hood and its warm, but light enough so I don’t sweat during the day. It’s the perfect jacket.