Becoming an Agent of Change
Story by Jade Sacker
Like many children I wrote a list of the things I wanted out of life. My room was something of a black hole and I lost it for many years, but the hunger for adventure, restlessness, and desire to impact the world in a positive way is intrinsic to who I am. I found the list years later, and had already checked off the first item—going to Africa. That first expedition to Mongola Juu validated my purpose, and I learned through the experience of other cultures how to be an agent of change.
Tanzania was just the beginning. Over the following years, I participated in similar development projects in remote villages throughout Laos and Thailand. At seventeen, I lived and worked alone at an orphanage in Kilimanjaro. Other aid workers I met often asked me if it was legal for me to be living there independently. I understand their apprehension; why a young girl would travel alone to remote villages in Africa and South East Asia can be hard to understand.
It is easy for those of us in developed countries to feel disassociated from the adversity experienced by those living circumstances a world away from our own. During my travels, I’ve learned how important exposure is for truly comprehending and communicating the struggles of people in marginalized communities. I’m aware that the path I have chosen as a female photojournalist whose work documents poverty, conflict, and oppression is unconventional. I also know that there are many people like me, driven by a desire for adventure and purpose, wondering if they should take that next step into the unknown—and to those I say “You must.”
I recently participated in an education fellowship with the Oda Foundation. The village of Oda is nestled in the mountains of one of poorest, most remote, and unadulterated districts in Nepal. It was there, walking heel to toe along the faces of cliffs, exploring the rugged terrain of the ‘jungle’, and working together with the community through my teaching efforts, that I learned to capture in photos the raw, visceral emotions that can’t always be explained in words.
I focused my work on the struggles of women in rural Nepalese villages. Most able-bodied men went to India to find jobs, leaving women and children responsible for the daily tasks and hardships of agrarian life. Because boys were highly valued in Nepalese culture, it was often the young girls who were burdened with dangerous and strenuous chores, as well as caring for their younger siblings while boys went to school. So many of the young girls I worked with felt unable to cultivate the strong sense of self worth and identity that they deserved.
After Nepal I freelanced alongside a documentary crew with the Global Hope Network in Isiolo, Kenya. Just as I had acclimated to my life in Nepal, I found myself once again in a foreign land, searching for human connection. I told myself I was ready for a new adventure. There were so many stories that deserved to be told, and given the brevity of my time in Kenya, I needed to work quickly.
One day, our crew visited a small orphanage. We met a twelve-year-old boy named Kip. He could barely walk, much less talk or eat. He was emaciated, gaunt, and expressionless. He was suffering from aids, the only thing his parents passed on to him was this devastating illness. We then learned that the public hospitals of Isiolo had been shut down for months because doctors were protesting unfair wages. To his family at the orphanage, his fate had been written. We immediately took him to a private hospital and saw that his care was provided for. Gradually, he recovered. What if we hadn’t made it to the orphanage that day? What of all the children we were never able to meet, suffering from this voracious illness, without a chance of medical treatment?
I share this one story with you, knowing that there are far too many I can write. But if Kip’s story moves you, if my experiences as a young explorer inspire you, I encourage you to go out and find your own. You don’t need to travel to the ends of the earth to find your passion. Whether you’re bottle-feeding bears in Borneo, creating a sanctuary for overworked alpacas in South America, or photographing your local parks, I encourage you to find the stories that resonate with you.
To the young girls in the world who spent their childhoods reading of Lewis and Clark, John Muir, and Columbus, wanting to be an explorer but doubting their place in the world—know that you are needed. Know that it is possible. Be cautious, but not afraid. Don’t let your gender hinder your ambition; you are no less capable of paving your road alone than any other. Embrace the unknown and challenge the expectations of your own capabilities—you’ll never know what they are unless you continue to push your boundaries. Take that next step. Take that risk. It’s never too early, and never too late to go out and begin your own journey.