Changing the World 101
Globe trotter with local ties shows others how to make a difference
December 01, 2010
PLYMOUTH — While the desire to make the world a better place is something that most individuals have felt at some point in their lives, figuring out how to take the first step toward change can be a daunting challenge.
A young globe trotter with ties to New England is hoping to make the process easier with a new crash course on changing the world.
Jason Connell, founder of Changing the World 101 — an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the less fortunate, whether they live just down the street or half a world away — recently brought his message to a local audience during a special presentation at Plymouth State University.
Connell, an energetic 24-year-old who was born and raised in the town of Westford, Mass., explained during an interview just prior to his Nov. 17 presentation that he was given his first taste of the lifestyle led by the downtrodden while visiting a small village in rural China at the age of 19 and seeing a young woman pick food of a trash can and place it in what he thought was a blanket at first.
He realized after taking a closer look, he said, that she was, in fact, trying to feed her infant child.
"I was blown away," he said. "It was so alien to me."
Deeply affected by what he had seen, Connell shared the experience with his college mentor, who suggested that he set out to try to make a difference in the world, prompting a remarkable journey that has taken him to "25 or 30" countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America on a mission of change.
Working almost exclusively with college students — many of whom, he said, desperately want to help the less fortunate, but have no idea where to start — Connell established the Changing the World 101 program as a way to share his experience in organizing and fundraising with students at schools throughout New England, giving them the tools they need to make a difference on their own.
The organization is growing slowly but steadily, he said, explaining that he started out traveling around to eight or nine schools, and now visits 16 regularly.
All of them, he added, have reported an increase in student volunteerism in the wake of his seminars.
Among those who were inspired to make a difference after seeing him speak, he said, were a pair of students from Plymouth State who journeyed to northern Uganda — a region that he said has been torn apart by rebellion and civil strife in recent years, its economy left in shambles and its people under the control of sadistic rebel troops.
"It's a place that needs help," he said, explaining that the plight of those in northern Uganda was driven home for him by Opyeo, a young pregnant woman who was caught walking home one night after the curfew imposed on her village by the rebels.
As punishment for breaking the rebels' curfew, Connell said, Opyeo was forced to watch as rebel troops lined her entire family up in front of her and hacked them to death, one by one.
While stories like Opyeo's can create the impression that the world is a lost cause, Connell said, the point he tries to drive home to those who attend his seminars is that all is not lost; that "there are solutions that work, and there is hope."
Connell said he has found, in his travels, that the biggest obstacle to making a difference is making the commitment to pursue change, and sticking to it.
"The first step is refusing to fail," he said. "The rest is easier once you overcome that."
While many would-be crusaders for change have been discouraged by an inability to raise funds in support of their efforts, Connell promises that the advice he offers through his presentation — which comes from his own experiences — can help students raise as much as $2,000 "very quickly."
As he travels from one school to the next, Connell said he has come to enjoy the "human connection" he is able to make with audiences, and is "thrilled" to hear how many students follow through on their desire to make a difference after seeing him speak.
"I'm really proud … I'm shocked, actually," he said. "I can see an even larger impact in the future; that's what I'm working towards."
More information on Connell's Changing the World program can be found at www.changingtheworld.com.