The Adventures of a Former VISIONS Teen Leader 

Shawn O’Bryant was a VISIONS Summer Leader and Director in Ecuador & the Galápagos from 2011-2013. Like many of our amazingly talented staffers, Shawn has been traveling, adventuring, and working hard to make his positive impact on the world. We recently touched base with Shawn, who is currently living in Amman, Jordan, to see what he’s up to these days. It ranges from skate parks to street art with a purpose.

 What kinds of things did you take away from your VISIONS experience in Ecuador?

My work with VISIONS was a very pivotal time for me. It was a real blessing to be involved with such high-quality programs and with leaders who were involved in service education for the right reasons. One significant thing was how effective and important clear communication is for a team in the field, with both leaders and teen volunteers. VISIONS unique format, which emphasizes reflection and communication during the program, is a model which can be applied to life in a broader context.

I also took away a feeling of shared accomplishment. Everyone in the programs pours so much energy into what we do that everyone can really take tangible ownership of the completed projects.

What are you up to these days?

I am currently living in Amman, Jordan. Earlier this year, I worked as a Field Director for the Institute for Village studies, leading a university global health trip to India. The trip focused largely on the Tibetan community in the north and remote northeastern states of Assam and Aranachel Pradesh. Along with a group of 14 students, we implemented health screenings, worked in under-resourced slums, and did health assessments with mobile health clinics. It was an amazing trip full of India magic and olfactory overloads.

Tell us about your skate park project in Jordan.

I recently helped build the first skatepark in the country with a huge and hilarious group of local and international volunteers. We had representatives from over a dozen countries who were all involved for the sheer love of skating and the completion of the project itself. Along with the skatepark, we’re developing a loaner skateboard program where local kids without access to skateboards can borrow gear for the day. It’s been amazing to watch how quickly the kids in Jordan have picked up skating, and there will certainly be a strong generation of Jordanian shredders in no time. Watch out!

How about your art projects?

I have also been working with an organization called aptART, focusing on the Syrian refugee population that has flooded into Jordan in recent years. Working within the massive refugee camps of Azraq and Zaatari and in the host communities that surround them, we encourage displaced youth to “paint outside the lines.” They create thematic street art murals on issues such as social cohesion, peace and reconciliation, water, sanitation, and hope. We have had some amazing results, providing an opportunity for artistic expression, leaving behind an aesthetically pleasing space, and hopefully fostering positive conversation and reflection amongst the youngsters.

 How did your work with VISIONS influence the work you’re doing now?

My work with VISIONS really opened my eyes to the world of service education and international civic engagement. It gave me experience and confidence to continue working within the global community and engage positively with the world. In many ways, VISIONS is like a family, and just like family, VISIONS has been formative and influential in how I relate to the world, both professionally and personally. It’s played a major part in where I am today, and it’s given me a positive model to constantly reference during my other endeavors.

 What to you hope to be doing 10 years from now?

I hope to still be able to feel good about the work I am doing, still be learning from my mistakes and accomplishments, and be waking up excited each day. I would like to continue to pursue my interest in writing, photography, and video work. I would like to write a book. Yeah, a book in 10 years, that sounds good.

Check out more information about Shawn’s latest projects:

Learn more about VISIONS Ecuador & Galápagos, where Shawn worked for three summers.

VISIONS in The New York Times