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An Interview With Adam Swartzbaugh

Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11

They showed me the inner workings of this whole operation, as much as they could without anybody knowing I was there. At one point, one of these individuals took me into a brothel because I wanted to see it. Going inside was just that lightbulb moment — when you're walking through what felt like a dungeon and you see these little cubicle rooms, all that's inside is a small bed and maybe a night stand. Some rooms are empty. In some rooms there's what you would imagine from your typical hooker off the street in America, and in some rooms there were children.

In one room there was a girl in particular who looked like she was eight or nine years old and she was just kind of staring from the doorway at me. It kind of scared me for a second, because she looked like a zombie, like the undead or something, [and] was standing there with these big brown eyes as if the soul had been ripped out of them.

The reality is that if you want to completely destroy a human being, turn them into a prostitute as a child and you've accomplished that.

So it was really at that moment where I wanted to start burning things down and blowing things up, because it was one of the worst things I had ever seen. But I didn't have the capability, the wherewithal, to do something like that. So that was one of those moments when I realized I need to be able to handle situations like this and respond to them, and I also wanted to do something in the long term that was going to root out whatever the source of this problem is.

So that's why I went in the direction of education, because you're creating long-term results, getting at the root of the problem of lack of social and economic opportunities and then pulling in children from communities that are at risk or refugees or orphans and giving them the resources and opportunities to continue their life.

TKC: So in joining the Army, you feel that you have the infrastructure you need that you didn't have yet as a student at Brown University?

AS: In the Army it's a yes-sir, no-sir environment, but it's also very much execution-focused. It gives you a framework for what you need to make happen, and it provides benchmarks along the way. It provided structure for my free-floating ideas and the ingenuity that's over on the Brown side. At first it was kind of tough to bring these two worlds together, but once I did, I found they wove together quite well. Today, these projects are the heart and soul of what I'm trying to do to address these issues, and the Army sort of provides a framework within which I can bring these ideas to fruition.

TKC: Is there anything you would like to communicate to Kenyon students about your mission or how we can change the world too?

AS: I would just say that sometimes we get caught up in this linear pursuit through life. We get through our education, towards a career and some kind of job that we can hold on to, and making money and all these things are a means to some other end that we haven't yet identified. So I think if we can sort of figure out what our passion is, what we really care about, [we can] work backwards from there.

Because if you really care about something and love something and you know what that is, figuring out how you can accomplish it, how you're going to get there, is a piece of cake.

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