By Lili Martinez
While riding from Vietnam to Thailand on an old Russian motorcycle, Adam Swartzbaugh was hit by a truck. Though he had to spend two weeks recovering at a hospital in Bangkok, the experience changed his life.
Swartzbaugh will speak at Kenyon this Friday, Feb. 17 through the Burton D. Morgan Innovation Greenhouse Program, which supports student entrepreneurship and small business and “seeks to cultivate entrepreneurial spirit and its creative opportunity” at the College.
The people Swartzbaugh met after recovering from his accident in Thailand, in particular a young girl working as a child prostitute, inspired him to stay in Thailand and eventually found the GENESIS Network, a nonprofit that uses social networking to advocate for international human rights. The 27-year-old also holds degrees in international relations and development studies from Brown University, speaks six languages and served as the battalion commander of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Providence College, and has since graduated and become a U.S. Army First Lieutenant.
Scott Gosnell, coordinator for Innovation Greenhouse and a member of the Career Development Office staff, decided to bring Swartzbaugh to Kenyon because he hopes the breadth of Swartzbaugh’s experience will inspire Kenyon students to self-start, despite the stress of college.
“If you look at Adam’s background, you see that he has done a lot of things very quickly with minimal resource and a lot of energy and made a very big impact from those,” Gosnell said. “You also see that he has not just done a lot of projects, but he’s succeeded in a lot of areas. He was a teenage cycling champion, he graduated from an Ivy League university with two degrees, he founded two very good philanthropic organizations, he’s doing great things with the Army … so I thought it would be interesting to bring him to Kenyon to share some of those areas with the student body.”
Swartzbaugh started the GENESIS Network (which stands for Global Empowerment Networking to Enlighten Social Improvement and Sustainability) after doing relief work with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Thailand. His sister, Lauren Swartzbaugh, explained that the trip went longer than expected. “His stint was going to be brief, but he ended up falling in love with the people and was inspired by the level of community there,” she said. “He was there for over a year, and over the course of the year you end up seeing a lot of things you wouldn’t see. [Thailand is] one of the epicenters of [child prostitution], and that angered him to the point where he came back a different person, saying, ‘There has to be something I can do.'”
The GENESIS branch in Thailand, Kid Launch, has built three schools and currently educates 300 students, according to Lauren Swartzbaugh. The organization also just received a grant from the Australian Embassy for $17,000, which “is exciting because it helps us break ground for a new school in Thailand. … The most motivating factor [for our volunteers] is that success is measured in terms of schools built, or kids helped, and quite honestly their lives are saved because of it,” Lauren Swartzbaugh said.
One of her brother’s best qualities is his ability to inspire others, Lauren Swartzbaugh said. “After a conversation with him, you find yourself walking away all giddy and excited to make something impossible happen,” she said. “He is truly one of the most remarkable human beings I’ve ever met, and I’ve traveled a bit and met some pretty profound people, but he takes the cake.”
The title of Swartzbaugh’s talk is “Getting into the Right Kind of Trouble and Back Out Again,” apt for someone so young who has done so much. “This month I’m jumping out of planes and training with Italian special forces, in a couple months I’ll be in Thailand building a school and in a couple after that I’ll be in Afghanistan conducting long-range surveillance operations to disable an insurgent network,” Swartzbaugh said in an email. “After that, who knows? We can change the world in any way we see fit – taking the first stepand tripping a couple timesis a part of the process.That’s the message I hope to convey.”
Adam Swartzbaugh will be speaking on Friday, Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Gund Gallery.