A One-Man International Aid Organization
Brooks, it turns out, can do a lot of things—not because he is any handier than the rest of us but because he is perhaps more willing. He carries a little Canon point-and-shoot camera with him everywhere, uploading pictures and videos for the many people who follow him online. When a couple he met in Katmandu last winter introduced him to the 40 orphans they'd taken in off the street who were sleeping on the concrete floors of their three-bedroom home, Brooks introduced the 40 orphans—laughing and tumbling around, all the while shoeless and subsisting on rice—to his online friends. "If you show happiness that needs help, people respond better," he remarks. "Rather than saying, 'Look how sad they all are—everyone's hungry,' I say, 'Hey, I've got these amazing, joyful kids. Let's help meet their needs.'" Thanks to the instant nature of Internet donations, he spent the next two weeks buying bunk beds for the children and kitchen supplies, as well as installing a water tank and an awning for the sun-scorched roof.
Anybody can do Guerrilla Aid, according to Brooks. It is simply a matter of showing up somewhere and offering some small bit of your time and energy. "If you're on vacation in Cancún, there are three orphanages within driving distance," he says. "Why don't you make that part of your spring break? Go in, do something, get out." Guerrilla Aid is about fitting yourself into the culture you're visiting, he adds, noting that he never plans a project in advance but rather arrives in a new place and starts by asking questions and listening. "You don't just show up and say, 'Here's me and here's a present from the U.S.,'" he explains. "You say, 'What do you need? What can I help you create?' And then with them, you create what they want. You are building upon their idea, not some idea of your own."
Over the past several years—traveling on a budget of about $20 per day, with periodic breaks in the United States—Brooks has given away clothing, wheelchairs, bikes, water jugs, and chickens. ("Chickens are kind of a universal theme," he says. "Almost everybody is better off with a new chicken.") In rural India, he passed out notebooks and pens to schoolchildren. He laid bricks at a temple restoration project in Nepal. In Mozambique, leading a group of volunteers, he built a well and planted saplings on a deforested patch of land. He has given milk cows to Masai widows in Kenya, added books to a library in Laos, planted vegetable gardens in Senegal, and hauled firewood in Ethiopia. Last March, arriving on foot in a rugged and hilly part of southern Uganda, he held a fund drive to buy thumb pianos for members of a pygmy tribe who'd been forced to sell their traditional instruments in order to afford food. Brooks's blog posts to his own tribe of supporters at home usually reflect his irreverent humor ("Is my butt looking better? Because with all of this hill climbing, there's got to be something that comes out of this…."), wide-open heart ("Okay, I'm crying again!"), and unswerving focus on whatever is left on his to-do list. "We're still a bit short on chickens, cows, and dresses," he wrote from the pygmy village last winter, "but all in all we're well on our way."