While surveying in Pantanal, we wanted to talk with students and parents, so when Ramona, who is in her 60s, invited us in to chat, we didn’t immediately think this was someone who we aimed to talk with. The three of us kindly accepted and sat down. As we began asking Ramona the questions we had written down, it became clear that this was not going to be a typical interview. For the better part of an hour, she described a community of school-aged children with very little direction, even less resources, and a public school curriculum that badly needed support. Living in a humbling, two room house, the matriarch and grandmother of 30 told us how kids often leave school to sniff glue and beg in the streets. Toward the end of our conversation, Ramona thanked us for listening and told us how she has lots of thoughts on life in Pantanal anytime we were willing to listen. As we left, she looked at us with puzzling eyes. Was this merely a conversation with a couple of gringos on a hot summer afternoon? Now that we had an idea of the issues, were we going to do anything? Were we ever even going to come back to this area, so desperate for help? She hugged us goodbye as we tried to ease her doubts about us returning.
At seven o’clock the next morning my cell phone rang with an unfamiliar number. Being that it was 7am and that it was from a Nicaraguan number, I let it ring. Then, a second call; I answered. Ramona’s enthusiasm on the other end starkly contrasted my sleepiness, as she said in amazingly fast Spanish that she had to see me that day. Ocho y media it was, and less than two hours later I was back in her home, sitting in a broken plastic patio chair. We didn’t stay long as she told me she wanted to show me something. Leading us around the barrio on a walk no shorter than 2 miles, she showed us five pieces of available land where we could build a learning center. Now, I pride myself on being the guy who “gets stuff done” without delay, but here was a woman who would be retired in the States, sweating in the heat, trying to create an educational opportunity for her community by putting her faith in people that she had known less than 24 hours. In that time, she asked around to find owners of these plots of land, as well as their asking prices. Ramona had almost immediately established herself as a friend of Amped and a champion of her community.
So there it was. We had survey results clearly indicating a need for our work, an ambassador in the community going to great lengths to have Amped help in her area, and our choice of five plots of land. Standing in front of the final plot, together, we closed our eyes to imagine what would become of this littered, weedy patch of earth. Less than a month later, we finished constructing the Learning Center that Ramona had described was so badly needed. Ramona continues to stay involved with Amped for Education, cooking lunch each day for our volunteers,
When I first had a crazy idea to try and build a school in another country, I told no one. I didn’t want to be the guy who said he was going to do something, talked all about it, and then didn’t. Wanting to research any foreseeable roadblocks that I could before I told people, I worked countless hours before arriving at the harsh realization that this was going to take a bit of capital up front. I was unemployed having just finished graduate school, and left with few options.
Bursting with a secret that I had to tell, I confided in the one person that I knew wouldn’t judge me, even if Amped for Education never amounted to anything more than an idea: my grandmother. At Thanksgiving, after two months of work, I pulled her into a room and began thumbing through my notes, as if she needed any proof to have faith. “If you think you can do it, I have no doubt you will,” she told me. If it was something I believed in Meme was going to help. She promised not to tell anyone and two weeks later, I was armed with enough money to hire a lawyer and incorporate Amped for Education. The organization became incorporated with the state months before anyone knew Meme and my secret.
To this day, no one has provided more moral support for my dreams than my grandmother. Not only did she help with the very first donation to an organization that didn’t yet exist, but she acts as an inspiration to me to live life selflessly and to enable others to achieve their goals. Each and every time I return to the states from Nicaragua she reminds me to “bring pictures on the computer, so I can see it all.” It is only fitting that when the doors opened to Amped for Education’s newest project in October 2014, it was dedicated in honor of Meme.