Upper Marlboro resident Brian Harley said he first realized his passion for helping others while on deployment as a U.S. Marine in the Philippines in 2003.
“We were walking around town, and this guy walks up to me and three others,” Harley said. “He showed us a photo of a woman and asked us to kill him because she had died, and I guess he was so depressed that he didn’t want to live anymore. Then I realized that I really wished I could do more on a person-to-person, one-on-one basis to help others.”
Although Harley, 29, said he had been deployed twice to Iraq during his four years in the military, that memory has stuck with him the most.
Harley was awarded a $2,225 grant in June from America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization seeking to foster better relations between the United States and the Muslim world. The organization helps fund volunteer service trips administered by other nonprofits.
Harley said he’ll use the grant to help pay for a one-month trip to Rabat, Morocco, where he plans to volunteer at a day care center starting Dec. 22. He said he chose Morocco because it was the only Muslim country in which New York-based nonprofit Cross Cultural Solutions has a program.
CCS arranges trips for volunteers to help at needy hospitals, day care centers and schools overseas.
Stefan Cornibert, an AUA spokesman, said 15 people were awarded the grant in 2012.
“Brian embodies what we’re all about,” Cornibert said. “He’s an Iraq vet. He was in the Marine Corps and he decided he wanted more involvement in the Muslim world in a positive way.”
Harley, who is single and has no children, said he stumbled onto the program on Facebook. Harley said he scrambled to fill out his application, write an essay and get a letter of recommendation from a priest at his church in the five days before the deadline.
“My military experience will definitely help, at least indirectly, because it made me more culturally sensitive and socially aware,” he said.
Harley is working two part-time jobs to raise the remaining $2,000 for the CCS volunteer program. He said he has wanted to help needy children around the world ever since his only previous volunteer trip at a day care in Brazil in 2009.
“Those kids just touched my heart. They made a huge impact,” he said of the Brazilian day care center.
Harley said the CCS-affliated day care centers often are short-staffed.
Harley, who is Catholic, said although the language barrier could be an issue, simply by having a positive presence in their lives, he will be able to improve relations between the Muslim world and the U.S.
His brother, Anthony Harley, 32, of Largo said Brian seems to have an effortless connection with children.
“The experience of helping people while getting to see a whole other culture is just an amazing opportunity,” Anthony Harley said. “... He’s definitely a kid at heart and definitely still loves comics and things like that. He’s not pretentious; he’s just a laid-back and open-minded person.”
Anyone wishing to donate can go to https://my.crossculturalsolutions.org/login.aspx and search for “bharley1” or email Brian Harley at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
“I don’t know if I’m too idealistic,” Harley said. “But I just want to have an effect and make an impact in the lives of these kids.”