How photographing a pencil changed my life.

It was only a few years ago, I met Adam Braun through a mutual friend Reed. I was looking to get involved with a developing world charity as I’ve always felt giving back of my talent is a big part of who I am.

Adam and I connected over a beer, and I soon realized that he was going to build something big. He has a bleeding heart for the cause, and a brain to build it like a business. At the time we met, he just started Pencils of Promise and built one school with another on the way. I chose to buy a ticket, fly out there, to travel through Laos creating a brand photo library of the kids, schools being built, and local culture. It was a leap of faith to invest in such a project.

Now today Pencils of Promise has built over 350 schools, and not only do they built schools, they are bringing a higher quality of education through hygiene programs, teacher training programs, eReader technology and more in Laos, Guatemala, and Ghana. I’ve had the opportunity to photograph in each country multiple times for the organization.  One of the biggest things I love about PoP is the transparency of financials, and the sustainability that they’ve integrated into their process. Each community is vetted, and they have to put in 15-20% of the build before PoP will put a school there. It gives the community a stake and investment, so they take care of it.

A couple years ago, on a PoP trip to Ghana with Adam, we attended an inauguration ceremony for a school that was just finished. As we walked through the board of photographs of the school build, tears filled my eyes. It hit me so hard to be standing there now seeing the physical structure. The speeches from the kids were powerful much like the one with Olivia below, it brought me to tears, and upon returning home this experience inspired me to start my own school fundraiser.

Two years later after donating a couple birthdays, sending emails, pushing on social media, etc., I raised $25,000 through small donations from $10-$200 each. Such an accomplishment and wonderful feeling, but not even compared to the feeling 6 months later to see photos of the finished school and my family name on the plaque. The feeling is incredible to know that I created something big for others, which is what it’s all about.

So you ask, what have I learned from photographing a pencil?

Countless things but here are a few…

• Education is the one thing that most of us take for granted – If you live in a 1st world country, you live in a world of privilege. Even if you are at the poverty line, you still get basic education. In these countries, that’s not the case. Most communities don’t even have school buildings let alone the opportunity, and if they do a lot of times it’s walking over an hour to get there.

• Education creates a better world for everyone – When people are educated, they make better decision that better the world. They understand the basics, of even basic hygiene that prevents sickness. Education opens people’s minds to think even bigger and solve the problems we have in this world.

• Education teaches people how to fish – I’ve been on the ground in a lot of these countries, and foreign aid is a big problem. Most of the time it’s handouts that create a dependency mindset, and people expect them to be given the fish instead of learning to fish themselves. When you teach people to fish for themselves, it creates a bigger more sustainable ecosystem.

• Primary education is the most essential part to a child’s path – They must start early. Learning the basics of language, hygiene, math, reading etc is essential to further education. To know that even being educated is important and the mentality that kids don’t get if they live in a small village. Jorge the PoP Guatemala country director is a prime example of this. He went through primary, and had to get scholarships to move on to further education and because he went to primary, it gave him the knowledge that he needed to continue. He now runs PoP in Guatemala and supports his family and pays for his siblings to go to school.

• Giving without the intention of receiving is essential to life – I’ve always believed in giving on a certain level, but I feel now having gave to PoP my life has multiplied exponentially. Working with has given me so many opportunities that I never would have dreamed of including photographing Justin Bieber and becoming friends with Usher. When I met Adam, and for the whole span of my time with PoP, I’ve always given without expecting anything in return. The universe brought it all back to me.

• We can all use what we have to give, it doesn’t have to be money – Not all of us have the funds to give, but we have talents. For me, I feel so blessed to have a talent that is useful, I started by giving of it. Think of what you have to offer the world and find a place to give it. We all have expertise in different places and organizations always need it.

• The impact of creating something for others is an incredible feeling – It’s hard to explain the feeling of building a school until you’ve actually accomplished it. To rally and enroll your tribe into helping to build your goal is no small feat. The feeling of seeing the physical structure and the kids you’ve impacted is priceless.

• Giving back you get back in more ways than you can think – I touched on this above, but I believe my life has grown exponentially from giving. Tony Robbins says it right “The secret to living is giving” Not only in what goes around comes around, but the incredible fulfillment you feel from it.

• You have to give to a cause that resonates with you – Everyone feel passionate around different things. Choose a cause that resonates with who you are as a person and what you care about and you’ll put even more effort and energy into it. I am passionate about education on every level. I feel that it’s essential to life no matter where you are. Learning of all types of things keeps you alive. It keeps you passionate and helps you play your part in making the world a better place.

• Anyone can do it – It’s as easy as deciding to create. You can start your own fundraiser or even donate to mine.

So, Just GIVE. Why not?


You can contribute along with me and help develop the quality education for these kids here at this link.