Blind student shares success of crowdfunding campaign

A Mount Royal journalism student blinded by poison drinks while travelling takes back her life and pays it forward with the help of a Bissett School of Business student

MRU student Ashley King was blinded by poison drinks while travelling in Asia. However, she has no intention of letting eyesight slow her down. ~Photo courtesy of Brody Butchart

She took all of the precautions, checked the international travel warnings, made sure she was always touring with a friend, mapped out her route and pre-booked her hostels and hotels.

When Ashley King set off for a once-in-a-life-time trip through New Zealand and Indonesia in 2012, she was sure she had prepared for nearly anything.

"My friends consider me to be the careful one, the safe-thinking type of friend," says the Mount Royal University journalism student.

"Ironically, something bad happens to you and people seem to automatically assume you did something to cause it."

That "bad" thing King speaks about changed her entire life - during a visit to a tourist bar in Bali, King was served a cocktail laced with methanol in place of the highball she ordered.

A day later, she landed in New Zealand and fell very ill. While she lived through the ordeal, she has been robbed of her sight, due to the methanol poisoning. It's a dubious practice that has been documented in various parts of Asia. Methanol is cheaper than alcohol and vendors are rarely caught or prosecuted for swapping in the dangerous substance in bar drinks.

"It's more common to hear about it now than when I went over to Indonesia," explains King. "There are many other tourists who have been served methanol in place of alcohol. Some people have lost their lives."She has done several media interviews over the past three years to tell her personal story. She hopes she can help educate other would-be travellers about the potential dangers of consuming mixed drinks while in certain areas of Asia.

Before leaving Calgary to travel, King had been accepted into Mount Royal's Public Relations Program. When she lost her vision (she currently has one per cent of her eyesight) she withdrew from school.

"It wasn't until the media began contacting me and I began doing so many interviews with reporters about my experience that I realized I wanted to be a journalist," says King, adding she hopes to pursue a career in the broadcasting field. "My first year at MRU, I only took three courses a semester and there were so many nights I went home and cried, thinking, 'I don't want to do this anymore. I can't do it.'

"But, you adapt."

Now in her second year of university, she says she loves school. A challenge that remains, however, is finding summer and part-time work to help pay tuition.


In comes King's friend and fellow Mount Royal student Brody Butchart, a fourth-year Bissett School of Business Marketing and Entrepreneurship student. Through his employment with Calgary's Uppercut marketing and advertising agency, Butchart was tasked with helping to create a new and innovative type of crowdfunding site aimed at helping post-secondary students raise capital for everything from tuition to other innovative projects that advanced their education.

Ashley King stopped by CJAY 92 Calgary in Sept. 2014 to talk with Gerry Forbes and was given a generous cheque for $5,000. The $5,000 helped to pay for her tuition to Mount Royal University and means that King has successfully reached her RCKTSHP campaign goal! ~Photo Courtesy of Brody Butchart

The site, RCKTSHP, includes crowdfunding campaigns, internships and jobs prospects as well as scholarship opportunities.

Butchart says he felt that King's story would resonate with possible donors - he set up a profile on the site for her to raise tuition capital.

"I know (Ashley) and think she has a compelling and inspiring story. She's had to take out student loans and, because of her disability, she is unable to work. I couldn't think of someone who was more deserving and I thought people would be drawn to help her," says Butchart.

He was right.

While King's goal was to raise $8,000, after only three months she had secured nearly $9,000 from 82 backers on the RCKTSHP site; enough to cover tuition as well as give back to an organization that made a profound difference in her life.

Paying it forward

King decided to donate the extra $1,465 she raised on RCKTSHP to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), an organization she says helped give her hope.

"There are many organizations doing amazing things that I could have donated to. But, the CNIB has been in my life since I lost my sight and they have had a profound effect on me."

When King first lost her vision she says she was in denial, unable to accept that she would never fully see again and confused about how to move forward.

"There were so many questions I had that my parents didn't have the answers to," King says. "The CNIB brought a girl to my house, roughly my same age, and I really just wanted to ask her simple questions like, 'how do I do my makeup? How do I go out with friends? What do you do on the weekends for fun?"

"It was amazing to be around someone like that because she showed me that there was light at the end of the tunnel. It was inspiring and I hope I can help inspire someone else one day. You do go on, you live and things get better."

Her life may be different now, but she doesn't feel that she misses out on much that her fellow students are taking part in.

"I've had boyfriends, I've swam with sharks, I've even figured out how to do a smoky-eye makeup look by zooming into a YouTube video and watching up close," she says, with a laugh.

King was accepted into several broadcasting diploma programs and communication degree programs across Alberta, she says she chose Mount Royal's Journalism degree Program because of the opportunities it could open up for her in the future.

"I want to be a broadcaster. However, there are many other places a degree like this could lead, too," she says. "Maybe I'll explore travel journalism. Going back to school at Mount Royal has been a huge and amazingly positive thing for me."

Jan. 8, 2015 - Theresa Tayler