Adam Carter on Growing a Step-Sister Relationship

In Chapter 13 of 13 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, micro-philanthropist Adam Carter answers "How Are Your Family Relationships Changing With Age?"  Carter talks about building a relationship with his step-sister and taking her on a micro-philanthropy project trip after she graduated high school.  By giving her an opportunity to raise money and do micro-philanthropy, Carter bonds with his little sister and opens her eyes to non-traditional education possibilities, which leads her to do the Global Citizen Year program. 

Adam Carter is a micro-philanthropist currently living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He is the founder of the Cause and Affect Foundation which raises small amounts of financing to provide direct-to-source project funding for individuals and communities in need across the globe.  To date, Carter has traveled to over 80 countries.  He earned an MA in International Development from George Washington University and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Michigan.


Erik Michielsen: How are your family relationships changing as you get older?

Adam Carter: Well, in the march of time as we all get older; it’s really interesting to see how our relationships and our roles change with each other, whether it’s between son and mother, son and father or even son and sibling.

In the case of—My father was remarried and had two children so, technically my half-sister, which I affectionately call my sister. My sister is 20 years younger than myself. She was born when I was in college. So when I started traveling the world, she was 2-3 years old.

So as she got older, I can only imagine what ideas she had of her big brother—this guy that would come from faraway lands. Each year he’d come back, he’d look different, he’d have a different hairstyle, he’d have different facial hair, he’d have different clothes, whatever, and so over time, we formed a really wonderful bond.

And as she started to mature, she became more interested in these places that I was going and this lifestyle that I was leading, and I could really sense that interest. So I asked her if she would want to join me on one of these trips, and she said, “of course, how can we make it happen?” We were thinking about— in Illinois, you’re able to take your child out to home school them. So we had spoken with the principal. We had gotten permission to do that. It turns out that that was—would be a challenge because she would have to be learning certain classes while we were doing that, and taking my sister around Latin America and teaching her trigonometry and biology didn’t seem to be too cohesive.

So what we did is she was able to graduate early from high school, and so she graduated a semester early, and then she came and traveled with me for four months, and I really approached this as kind of a, almost kind of like a training session. I mean, I wanted it to be as fun and as enriching as possible, and so first thing that we did is she raised money in Chicago before she left. She made these bracelets that she sews and was able to sell those to friends and family and, you know, members of their congregation, whatever, and came up with $1,200, which is quite a nice sum of money, and she was then able visit projects with me on behalf of Cause & Affect, and not only be an observer, but be a participant. Since this was money that she had raised, I allowed her to have a role in—really just teach her the process from the ground up, which is, okay, here we are.

So we started in Guatemala, and we did some wonderful projects there. We repaired some cleft palates. Some of these babies that are born with cleft palates. Surgery, parents can’t afford it. They can’t afford it throughout the life of their kids, unfortunately, and so a lot of these kids grow up almost as a shame—an object of shame for the families, so we’re able to work with an organization that we partnered with before, and do some of these surgeries, which is incredible. It’s $200 each, so, I mean, simply with $600, she’s able to say, “Okay, look, we just completely changed the life of three of these babies.” I mean that’s the kind of thing that you can really feel that effect. And then I took her down to Panama. She had also had another friend that had amassed all these little teddy bears and things. It’s kind of her own pet project.

So we went down to a children’s hospital there in Panama City, and we were able to distribute these to all these kids, and, you know, that was a wonderful experience also to be able to, you know, see all these smiles. Even though it’s a small gesture for each of these kids it was—it brightened their day. And then from there we went down to Brazil and we spent a month in Rio, and she was volunteering with me at some of the organizations that I worked with, and it was incredible to see. I mean, you know, you grow up with somebody, and this is how you talk about the different relationships, you’re used to somebody like, okay, I changed your diapers and we’re playing hide and seek, and you’re getting older and we’re playing around, and here we are in our house—it’s our comfortable surroundings, right. And all of a sudden, here I am, I’m in the middle of Rocinha, this big favela, and we’re going up to visit this project, and we’re walking through these tight alleyways, or we’re on the back of a, you know, they have these moto-taxis to zoom around, and I kind of had a catharsis at one point, where I’m on the back of this guy’s motorcycle and I see my sister zooming up the hill on the back of this other guy’s motorcycle, and you’re just like, “wow, you know, we’ve come a long way.”

So it’s been wonderful to see her open her world and help be a part of that consciousness being born, and she’s actually now back in Brazil. She’s doing a really cool exchange program where she’s working with a social organization down there. It’s a program called Global Citizen Year, which is an incredible, kind of like a gap year program. So it’s been really fun to help, kind of propel her into this new adventure, and, you know, so many people have said, “Oh, man, she’s so lucky to have a brother that can take her to do this.” And I said, “Yeah, she is lucky. I wish I had that.” You know, 20 years ago, I definitely had to kind of jump in headfirst and learn the hard way, but, yeah, it’s been wonderful to see that relationship being able to evolve, in that sense.