Interview with the Wanderlusted Amie Phillips
Hello, miss Amie Phillips, and welcome.
So tell us a bit about yourself… Country of residence? Age (or at least generation)? Time spent abroad?
Well, my name is Amie Phillips, I’m 28, I guess the time I’ve spent abroad is about 4 years (in total)… spread through Kenya, Japan, Europe, India, and South America… the most in India
The best time I’ve spent travelling has been in Kenya and India.. Specifically spending time in the slum in Kiberia, Nairobi… because everyone leans on each other. When you first go to places like that you feel sorry for them because they don’t have all the things we have. But then you start to value the things that they have, which is not necessarily money, but rather the people…. India is also one of my very favourite places.
I would say that my country of residence is wherever I am… but Denver, Colorado (U.S.) is my anchor for sure, and I will always go back there.
If I’m not mistaken, India is the place that keeps bringing you back ‘abroad’… how many times have you been there now?
This is now my fourth time in India… and I met these women 4 years ago. The reason why I came here originally is because my mother read a story while she was pregnant with me about a poet, Amie Carmichael (my namesake), who lived the latter half of her life in India… who’s job was rescuing children from tantric practices after they’re sold to the temple.
So I grew up reading her stories, and being inspired by much of her life… and it’s kind of interesting how my life has echoed hers in many ways.
Falling in love with a community is a dangerous sentiment, I will say that… but it also liberates you from your own sense of individuality.
Do you have a specific destination that you return to in India?
Surely, with all that time spent in one country, you must feel as though you know it very well?
Not really… I feel as though you can never know India very well. There’s so many subcultures and so much to learn… with so many different tribes and so much to explore. I classify Jaisalmer as the ‘west virginia’ of India… it’s a little backwards in many ways, with some practices that just aren’t held on to in many other places.
The traditions that they uphold here are incredible.
I can bargain for a rickshaw, but I’ll never know India fully.
What is it about India that keeps bringing you back?
I have a commitment to these people to help them in whatever way that I can. There’s something about India that I just love, it’s hard to put your finger on. Something about the swirling eddies of colours and sounds… there’s just so much exhuberence of life here. You could never be alone in India, even if you wanted to.
The appreciate the spiritual commitment that India is teeming with… and things such as promises that a friend of mine made (to god) to not where shoes for a year so that god would give her a house. These things I find fascinating.
Can you tell us a bit about your project in Jaisalmer?
It started because I met these people 4 years ago. I went to a cobbler to get a shoe repaired and the man told me that the women I had been hanging out with ‘outside the fort’ were bad women… they prostitute themselves out for 40 rupees… under a dollar. It was something that I found really sad, that these people were forced into that to feed their families.
So trying to help come up with a way to provide social uplifting to them and their community was the idea.
So we had some circle talks and came up with two group leaders who went with us to another village to look at micro finance and income generation projects to help come up with ideas of what they would like for their lives to be able to provide for their families.
They were looking for ideas for that.
So basically the project is income generation.
We really wanted them to be on board with the plan, and not just come in with an idea.
Do you feel like you will actually be able to make a difference?
I think that making a difference takes generations and generations and generations. If we’re able to start this program, it won’t make a difference for 5 years. Maybe a little immediate difference where a family can send a child or two to school… but in a family with 9 children, they won’t be able to send all of them to school. So it’s the idea of using social enterprise and first world business models to help the developing world.
Thankfully other people have helped with that aspect, because that’s not the aspect I’m great at.
There’s also something to acknowledging someone’s humanity. It may not be making a long term difference, but there’s still something to be said for that… in not being jaded.
People may say that you are just doing this to feel good about yourself, what sort of response might you have for them?
I don’t particularly feel like this is something that I really talk that much about (for awhile at least) because it was something I wanted to implement and not talk about. So for me, it’s not really something that makes me feel that good about myself… it involved a lot of sacrifice.
Every time you are trying to do something good in the world, you’ll meet resistence…. but you should continue to fight through it, despite the naysayers. I haven’t actually run into many people that say that… though I’m sure that there are people out there that do.
What do you think that the people ‘in the west’ can learn from life in India?
One of my favourite things that I’ve learned from India is that the ‘heart is like the sun, and the mind is like the moon.’
Sometimes the mind can be a stumbling block if you let it get in the way. Also, the degree of respect that they have for their elders is amazing to me. There’s so many lessons that I feel as though I’ve learned, but they are just those that I have embodied… I can’t put words to them or quantify them.
How did you go about fundraising?
The first thing we did was a communtiy fundraiser… all of our artist friends made some art, we talked to some well-known musicians that were friends of ours, and got beer donated and put on a big fundraiser… and that raised very little… hahaha… because all of our broke friends attended.
I’ve had a couple of very fortuitous meetings that have been a series of doors opening. We have also done some grant writing for smaller grants.
Do you have other countries that you intend to get to, or will it just be India?
I will always want to explore more and learn more about different cultures, but it’s not in the immediacy of my mind… it is in the far future. I am really content with my community and want to put down some roots and be thankful for the people in my life.
It’s in my temple… it’s with me. Other people can be home. Denver is probably more home than anywhere else, but I feel quite at home, in general, everywhere.
Emily Dickenson once said ‘I felt it shelter to speak to you’ … in many ways that’s how I feel.
Anything else you would like to add?
No, I think that pretty much covers it.
Thanks a lot Amie, and good luck.
Thanks for the interview, it’s been a pleasure.