His work, however, is not without its hazards. He's been stranded on an empty stretch of the Mekong River after the boat he was traveling on broke down. He's had dysentery and bug bites, and every once in a while sees a snake he wishes he hadn't. And last March, while riding a motorbike on a rural road in Uganda, Brooks came around a blind corner and was hit head-on by a truck. He broke his right shoulder, lacerated his face, and shattered his left arm and several bones in his left leg; after passing several hours splayed in pain on the side of the road, he was rescued by a passerby and driven to a clinic two hours away. He has spent the past seven or so months recovering in hospitals in Kampala and New York, where he just had his eighth surgery.

But somehow it's all worth it. One of Brooks's videos from his time with Uganda's Batwa people shows him meeting a white-bearded old man named Kilembe, who was living alone in a straw hut, unable to walk and with very little food. Asked what he most needed, the man said he'd like to live in the nearby village so he wouldn't feel so isolated. "Okay," Brooks said brightly, as if discussing what to make for breakfast, "so we just need to build him a house?" Over the next two weeks, assisted by villagers, Brooks built a thatched-roof mud hut for Kilembe, a communal chicken coop he then filled with chickens, and a beehive colony to help the villagers establish a source of income. Now finishing intensive physical therapy, Brooks expects to be back in Uganda by Christmas to check up on Kilembe in his new home before continuing on with a round-the-world Guerrilla Aid odyssey meant to promote the idea that small gestures can make a big difference. And that the rewards are entirely mutual.

"Honestly," Brooks declared one day last winter, while videotaping the lush hillsides and Batwa villagers using pickaxes to clear land for the coop, "I am the luckiest man on the planet."

More Stories of Giving

Sara Corbett is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine.


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