UCC Mainstream Online

Former student creates hope for children

Photos provided by Shawn Pittman
Shawn Pittman, a former UCC journalism student, is traveling the world and collecting stories which he uses to connect needy children with U.S. donors.

Venturing beyond home to explore the world’s terrains and people, its environments and ecosystems, may be the grandest adventure of all. But for most people, those wishes never evolve into plans. 

Shawn Pittman, a former UCC journalism student and recent University of Oregon graduate, also possessed the desire to experience adventure through travel. Initially fearful to explore the world or make a difference in the lives of others, Pittman credits his journalism courses with helping him develop the confidence to lead a life worth sharing.

“I used to be a very fearful person,” said Pittman; “this meant not even talking to strangers, and meeting new people terrified me. My journalism courses at UCC and UO and at times working for publications at both schools was my first step towards shedding that fear.”

Being forced into the community to speak to others and hear their stories gave Pittman the ability to communicate with the world at large. “This gave me the courage to start exploring the world, which in turn showed me that I could use my skills to make a difference in people’s living.”

Pittman is currently on a quest to travel the entire world, and as part of his travels he is collecting stories which he is using to help others.

“My interest [in combining travel and volunteerism] came with my first trip to Russia 11 years ago. I had no interests in travel or humanitarian work, but a mentor of mine was pushing together a team to go run a summer camp for orphan kids in Russia. It turned out to be the experience of a lifetime . . . . Since then I’ve always known I wanted to spend my life helping kids, even if I often didn’t know how.”

Pittman’s travels have taken him to places such as Japan, Russia, France, Germany, India, Spain and Nepal, many times for charitable work.

 “In Russia I worked with an organization called Orphan’s Tree which helps children graduating from Russian orphanages adjust to life on their own. I visited their programs and wrote for their website/blog along with providing photography work,” Pittman said.

“In India I did more photography for an organization based in my hometown called Real Hope Ministries. They provide a boarding facility for kids whose families can’t afford to take care of them anymore. Also, lots of work in the poor, rural villages of Southwestern India. In both places I helped teach kids,” Pittman said.

Nepal is Pittman’s current residence and another location where he tries to create change for children. “Here in Nepal I’ve found a project just trying to get off the ground, a great cause that really needs my help and can make use of my skills. It’s been a perfect fit . . . in under a week we were able to find sponsors to put five little girls through school, and that’s just the beginning,” Pittman said. “It’s good to want to help; to find a cause that can use your energy and talent can be truly special.”

While Pittman’s work has reached out to numerous children and families, the impact of that work has reached into his soul. “Wherever I go, I am amazed at the selflessness of complete strangers,” Pittman said. “How kind and loving people are. Every time I’ve made a dumb mistake, a stranger has stepped in to help save me with no benefit to them whatsoever.”

Pittman’s views of the world and its people may be contrary to general perceptions. Pittman disagrees with people who criticize the world for lacking sympathy and kindness now.  “I have become convinced the people who say the world is becoming a horrible place . . .  never actually ventured out to see the world. I’ve worked in some of the poorest places in the world and [have] seen so much love and kindness . . . .  I believe people are more selfless than ever.”

Pittman exemplified his newfound world view through the story of a family helping him. A young girl recently hiked two miles from her village to meet and guide him back to her home. There, Pittman was offered food and a shower. Nothing was asked in return.

That’s only one example of the human kindness Pittman has encountered. “A hotel owner in Morocco who knew my money trouble gave me my last night free, without me even asking. A random surfer who saw me sucked out to sea and unable to swim back in paddled out to help me back. An information officer at the Mumbai airport . . . helped me scour the airport until we found my passport, and then took me out to breakfast.”

People dream of grand escape and accomplishing great feats. Often times, however, desire is an aimless creation, constantly cycling out will, doubt and inaction. If Pittman’s story is able to teach anything, it is to never be dissuaded by fear. “Be open,” said Pittman. “Things will go wrong, and plans will change, and you can count on that. I used to be very fearful and never tried anything new and always looked for the safe, comfortable solution. I eventually realized how miserable that made me. Now [I] do everything I can to not let fear control me, even when that means actively seeking out things that scare the hell out of me.”

Pittman continues to travel, looking for people of different claim and places of separate origin to help him create stories worth reading. “I’m a storyteller by nature,” said Pittman. “And I find the best stories when exploring the world. Writing and photography are where my talents lie, so I try to find ways to use them to help people wherever I go, whether it be volunteering for a major organization or something much smaller.”

If interested in supporting a Nepali child’s education for $15 a month, email Melinda.Benton@umpqua.edu. She can connect you with Shawn Pittman.