Tony studied International Political Economy, focusing his research on issues of economic equity, inequality and development studies. Currently based in Cape Town, Tony's experience with GIVE has sent him across the globe, giving him the opportunity to apply his coursework in the real world in rural communities throughout Nicaragua, Tanzania and Laos.
What is your favorite travel memory?
Arriving in Jiquilillo, Nicaragua in 2016, I felt different. It no longer felt as though I was visiting a place or taking a trip somewhere, but rather, returning home. Upon my arrival, old friends were there to greet me with hugs and lots of chisme to share and, as I walked through the village, I could hear my name through the crash of ocean waves and from behind mangrove thickets.
Starting up conversation was easy: I knew everyone's name, they all knew mine. The kids jumped on my shoulders like old times and made fun of me like they would an older brother. This arrival was one of the most heart-warming because it is when I realized that this place was home. This is one of my favorite travel memories because it was one of the first times that I felt comfortable enough to call a space home that was so far-removed from everything I'd known.
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
I have changed and grown immeasurably. A wide-eyed 18-year-old embarked on the trip of a lifetime to Nicaragua in 2013, not knowing that he'd soon find his passion. I remember arriving in Jiquilillo for the first time and thinking to myself "this is what I want to do" and, since that moment, I worked very hard to make that happen.
Some of the biggest lessons I learned early on while working with GIVE were lessons in patience, adaptability and improvisation. As the years passed and I became a powerful and confident leader, I delved deeper into the communities that welcomed us each year, getting to know the people with whom I used machetes to chop down trees with daily. Some of my favorite memories have been listening to the stories of men and women in remote villages like Jiquilillo and Sop Chem, and I mean really listening. Through acts of sharing and love, they have taught me so much about respect and humanity that I will carry with me forever.
One of the most profound lessons I've learned (and am still learning) is that I come from a place of privilege, and it is my obligation to use that privilege to give a voice to those who are otherwise unheard. A beautiful part about GIVE is that it inspires me to continue growing indefinitely, as I learn more and more with every day I pass in one of these remote villages.
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
I've written countless recommendation letters for students who end up applying to the Peace Corps, to medical school, master's programs, many of whom only realized their passions from their trip with GIVE. Those stories inspire me all the time because I identify with it so much.
One that comes up time and again over the years, however, is when students reconnect with me to speak about the idea of 'Team Human' and how much it impacts their daily life. This is a very simple idea: lead with love by helping the person next to you however you can. The universality of this idea allows for students to incorporate the premise of it to every aspect of their lives, leading to a focus on spreading acceptance, love and universal kindness.
If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?
I've been diving in Nicaragua countless times, but never got to experience doing a diving course like the one GIVE offers on Little Corn Island. Of course, I have been exposed to the inner-workings of the program by working closely with the guides and leading volunteers, but I have never gotten to do something as incredible as construct and lay an artificial reef.
I feel at home in the ocean (and I sorely miss Nicaragua), so I think this would provide an ocean-focused trip to the island that I never really had before. It is also a lot of fun to identify fish and I would love to learn how to monitor and assess the health of a reef so that I can think more deeply about the reefs I visit when I dive elsewhere.
What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?
An often-forgotten key to development practice is understanding the dynamics of power in a relationship. As descendants of colonizers from the "developed" Western world, our presence in rural communities has, historically, yielded only negative outcomes for already disenfranchised folks. An NGO can very easily replicate this colonial attitude, putting its Western values above the traditional ones found in this faraway land, and importing its ideas about how life should be lived as a "better" alternative to the unique way of life of those in a remote village. GIVE occupies a very unique and precarious space in this conversation, as it can very easily be just another colonial force. Instead, GIVE leads first with respect. Every person I have worked with puts his or her own pride on the back-burner in favor of respecting and listening to local leaders, mothers, children, engineers, fathers. In this way, they are checking their own power, inherent to someone coming from the developed West, and allow for those who have traditionally been silenced to have a voice.
Having worked in Nicaragua for so long, I got to experience this on a multitude of levels. When we started a project developing homes for climate change and domestic abuse refugees in Jiquilillo, we had a big plot of land that needed to be cleared. With a whisper of local knowledge, we invited the women and their families who would be receiving those homes in future to show us how it's done. With their machetes, they taught us how to clear the land and proceeded to join us every single day thereafter. In that moment, my team empowered these people--mostly women--to teach us Westerners skills they knew much better than we did. We shifted the power from us to them. The end result? A year later, more than 30 homes were built, decorated and lived in. A community called "Villa Esperanza" (the Village of Hope) emerged, where families were raised together.
What I hope this shows is the unique attitude of GIVE as an organization focused on equity and respect. Each member of every team I've worked on operates from these two places at all times and always wants to see the person next to them succeed.
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
I don't know much about business, but in terms of development, a huge key is recognizing and understanding privilege. GIVE is able to have such immense impacts on rural villages globally because it makes participants aware of their privilege, and teaches them how to use it with compassion towards a goal of equity and justice. The lessons learned on GIVE trips transcend the experience and can be carried with the participant in every aspect of daily life. Empowering global citizens as a mission of the program gives its model longevity and reach, without limiting a participants' impact to the time he or she spends on the ground.