My Story…

Mariah Donnelly - Brazil


May 8, 2012

One of the main events that occurred during re-entry in California was the Donor Dinner Night. During this event we had some of our Global Citizen Year donors join the fellows and the rest of the Global Citizen Year staff as we shared our new stories, pictures, videos, and skits from the all-different countries. That night I shared a speech which I like to call, “My Story”.  I would love to share “My Story” with my blog subscribers who were not able to hear it live. Although some parts may be a little different (I usually don’t write entire speeches but rather words and phrases that will keep me on track) below are my genuine feelings and words that I would use to describe my year as a Global Citizen Year fellow. Enjoy!

When the Brazil fellows arrived in September we took a multitude of classes. We had Portuguese classes, culture classes and history classes. We also took capoeira classes for two weeks every morning during our first month in country. For people who might not know what capoeira is, capoeira first originated as a form of non-verbal communication during the slave trade from Africa to Brazil, although today its more of a dance and martial arts form. capoeira requires both mental and physical strength, which is something we quickly learned through our training.

There is one day of capoeira training that I remember so distinctly. Wes our Brazil program director told one of my friends, Tonino, to get on his hands and knees because today everyone in the group would be flipping over him. I remember thinking to myself,” Oh god I can’t even do a simple backflip on my trampoline in my backyard how does this man expect me jump over another human being.” Well I eventually did it, although I hated it and I never wanted to do it again, I got through it even though it seemed to take a century to happen. Later that day I remember Wes coming up to me and saying: “Mariah, if there is anything I want you to learn this year is to let go, find yourself, take down those road blocks, stop being your largest obstacle, stop avoiding the inevitable. You couldn’t do those moves because you wouldn’t let yourself, you are doubting yourself before you even start to begin, how can you succeed if you are already set up to fail.”

To be quite honest when I first heard what he had to say I dismissed it, this guy barely knew me, he didn’t know my weaknesses, and he didn’t even know me! Despite that being said this conversation would make its way back into my life much later in my experience.

For many fellows this year brought a new culture, a new language, a new family and more importantly new failures. I found these things in Brazil too but I would be lying to you if I told you these were the most important things I found because at the end of the day the most important thing I found during my experience is standing right in front of you, and it’s me.

Up until March I was really angry. I was unhappy with how our cohort treated each other, instead of bringing one another up with our words we brought each other down. I was frustrated with my job and my lack of work. I was frustrated with the blatant racism and sexism that was happening all around me. And I was frustrated with my program director Wes, it seemed like we couldn’t see eye to eye on anything.  Through some twists and turns in my adventure at the end of February I ended up changing homestays and being put in a community that was two hours away from the nearest fellow. Because I was away from a lot of the fellows and lost a lot of that immediate contact I was forced to reflect. And so reflect I did.

I thought about my anger and the failures that I had listed previously and my role within those “failures”, and I thought about how I handled things up to this point and I realized I didn’t like who I had become. Instead of finding the solution, I insisted that the problem was too big for a solution to ever exist. And then I thought about what my program director told me at the beginning of the year, and things started to make more sense. I was unhappy with myself because I told myself there was no solution and that there was no way I could do it. I refused to believe that I could make a difference or begin to scratch the surface. So I reflected as we do many times as Global Citizen Year fellows and I fixed it.

I fixed my attitude and the way I wanted to act. I thought about our cohort and how it was broken, and I thought about my role within that mess. So I wrote thank you letters to everyone in cohort and thanked them for their time and their presence. And I wrote letters to my work thanking them for the simple opportunity to work at their organization. And then I blogged about the blatant sexism and racism that I saw everyday to just begin to put what I felt into words. And I thanked my program director Wes for being an unbelievably strong presence through our journey and sticking with us until the end.

I had let myself become my largest obstacle. But now I see myself as my biggest asset. So I left Brazil with a new family, a new language, and a new culture but what I really left with was me. For once I think I might actually know who I am. So to the anger, the failures and the incompleteness, thank you because for once I can here and say that I know who I am and I am happy. I am happy.

Mariah Donnelly