From her home in Australia, to the slums of Bangladesh, Amanda Ryan is an earth angel who is proving that age and experience mean little when it comes to making a big difference.
When you read Amanda’s resume, its hard to believe she was in high school just four years ago. The Bachhara company director, founder of JAAGO Australia and fair-trade fashion designer has never let her age or lack of formal experience stop her from achieving what most others could only dream of.
She left her hometown of Wollongong, Australia, at 16 to live and study in Japan. This led her to work for an international non-profit organization and later to travel through India volunteering for charitable organisations. Amanda discovered while the need and chaos of India overwhelmed many people, it balanced her out. So, she began searching for new opportunities to live and work in Asia – a quest which led her to the slums of Bangladesh and the people of JAAGO.
Describe yourself when you were young… did you always know you wanted to make a difference?
When I was young I guess you could say I was the class clown and constantly in trouble. But I was always extremely interested in international politics and what was going on in the world. In high school I would often attend events on human rights, making the long trek by myself on a train from Wollongong
Ive always known I would do something along the lines of what I am doing now. My current path a been shaped and molded along the way as I have learnt more about myself, the world and what I can do in it. There was never really a point where I said “okay now Im going to be a charity worker or philanthropist”. Its more the fact that Im choosing to be a human being who sees all other human beings as my equal and they deserve my respect and as much assistance as I have within my power to give.
What is it about JAAGO and Bangladesh that speaks to you?
My first international volunteer stint was to India. As soon as I arrived in Delhi I felt like I had returned home. I think the chaos of countries like India and Bangladesh level out the chaos of my personality and I feel a real sense of peace being there.
After volunteering at a leprosy colony and girls orphanage in India I realized this is what I wanted to do with myself and I set about trying to research how I could open up and school that would allow children to have the basic right of being able to dream of a bright future. I was deeply saddened in India when I saw that the dreams I had as a child of being a teacher or a doctor or a dancer. Is not a luxury these children have. For me if I could not pursue my dreams I would not be me. Because I can pursue my dreams I am making a contribution to the advancement of our world. Just thinking about all the wasted potential of these beautiful children is heart breaking for them and unfortunate for the whole world.
When doing research about organizations that had a similar ideal to my own about non discriminative assistance, I came across Korvi Rakshand and the Jaago foundation. Two weeks after introducing myself to Jaago founder Korvi over email I quit my job was on a plane and arriving in Bangladesh with my life savings to volunteer for two months.
How has the work youve done so far made a difference?
I dont really know what we measure making a difference on. But I know that 320 children who never had a chance to go to school now have a chance to because of Jaago. This will grow to around 600 by next year with the development of two new schools being built. I think the real difference is the difference.
What is your day-to-day life like?
At the moment my day-to-day life is pretty crazy. A week feels like a day and a month feels like a week. Natalie (Bachhara business partner) and I are extremely passionate about our vision and live and breathe Bachhara constantly. On top of that I am also working on getting Jaago Australia the charity established and trying to help out a school for autistic children in Bangladesh. Im just extremely thankful I have an amazingly supportive partner and family surrounding me.
How can others help?
The thing I really love about Bachhara is that it is so easy to help. Since I have started my work in Bangladesh so many people have contacted me wanting to know how they can help and up until now I have not had an easy way to give people the “how” to help. Women especially always want to look beautiful and as Westerners we will always shop and consume. Bachhara gives you a chance to still do those things without the guilt. You know that youre supporting an intuitive cause that is providing €˜real change in the lives of so many disadvantaged people in Bangladesh.
When are you next off to Bangladesh?
Natalie and I will both be heading to Bangladesh in January to start production of our summer 2011 line. We both love being in Bangladesh very much. Our sewing centre is just off the Jaago Foundation school in the Rayer Bazar slum. We have become familiar faces in the slum area, much to the amusement of the locals. Two tall white women with kids hanging off us constantly provides quiet a show for the local slum dwellers.
How are you helping autistic kids in Bangladesh?
I assist at a school that autistic students. In Bangladesh, autism is something most people know nothing about. Most autistic children are given to an orphanage at birth or they spend their lives indoors in their family home to avoid public embarrassment. I came across a school that happened to keep receiving a large number of students who were autistic yet not diagnosed. I have been doing my best to introduce them to people who know more about autism and provide as much awareness and education on the disability they are dealing with.