Dreams are universal, opportunities are not.
This. This phrase, this thought, this realization, is enough to break a soul. It is enough to cause a panic, enough to catch a breath and still a mind. It is enough to make one notice themselves, the world they were born into, what they do with that world. It is enough to make a heart cry out in fury, in desperation, in confusion.
All people have dreams.
Make good products for good people, not poor products for poor people.
A picture of two African women, squatting above a brown stream as if in the position to pee, sucking from a straw. Two children cling to their backs as they wait for their mothers to hydrate.
“The product these women are using is a water purifier. It is used like a straw, and is completely effective. This saves lives.”
Nods. Applause. Relaxation as the conclusion that usable water filters are being created, and perhaps the world can be saved.
“Would you invest in this product? As a company, would you say this product is good enough? Is the money worth the outcome?”
Nods again. “Of course,” is the obvious answer.
“Only adults can use this product. Children do not have enough strength to suck out of the straw to get the water. They must wait for their parents to drink and then somehow pass the water to them. Or, another product must be made for the children.
Do you continue to support this product?”
Again, nods. Hundred of adult lives could be saved. It is not the ideal product, but it seems relatively perfect for adults.
“Why are you applauding this product?”
“Why are you saying this product is good enough, when it requires grown women to wade into water with their children swinging from their backs? When it requires them to crouch and dirty their feet and clothing?”
Realization sinks in.
“How many of you could picture your mothers doing this? How many of you would go to your mothers, look them in the face, and tell them you made the perfect product, all they had to do was wade into murky waters and bend over and suck and suck and suck just to get a drink?”
We must always remember a person’s dignity.
Every person’s dignity.
Speak your truth with courage,
Listen with even more courage.
Have strong opinions,
Hold them loosely.
Each of our opinions have been shaped by our cultures, by what we have been exposed to, and by how much we have allowed ourselves to feel and be curious. It is important to invest in our opinions. It is important to feel confident in our decision making, and therefore feel confident in our places in the world.
Our need to be confident in our opinions stem from a need to believe in ourselves. The need to believe in ourselves is much stronger than any need to believe in what we believe in.
Everyone deserves to be heard,
but some voices are heard more than others.
Always give time to listen.
The world isn’t as big and scary as people sitting comfortably think it is.
Sharing a bus seat with my good friend Anna Denniston on our way back from KIVA headquarters in San Francisco, we talked about how and why we both decided to take a gap year with Global Citizen. She and I have both been raised in Iowa City, but she and I have also moved multiple times in our lives, forming connections to different parts of the world, and claiming places other than our town of Iowa City to be “home”.
This is not something everyone can do.
Iowa City is a worldly place. It is artsy, it is cozy, it is open. However, it is very much a nestling place– a town that is very easy to never leave, or at least not for too long. It is a town that once someone is born into, it is often hard to imagine living and settling down elsewhere.
For me it was different. Though a good place to grow up in, by the time I graduated high school, I knew I had to get out.
While thinking about all of the people I surrounded myself with in high school, and the various decisions we all made in terms of where to go to college, it dawned on me how much humanity is split into three parts.
1. People who never leave the place they were born.
2. People who travel and get tastes and glimpses of other parts of the world, but who always return to their hometown.
3. People who truly and fully move– out of their town, out of their state, out of their country, out of their continent. The people who’s “home” means wherever loved ones are, wherever they feel the most at ease, wherever feel right at that particular time.
One of these groups doesn’t necessarily have to be better than the others. In fact, these groups are mostly decided by wealth. As is almost every aspect of life.
However, I do believe that if one has the means to travel, and not only travel, but immerse themselves into a new culture– taking time to learn the history, study the language, and eat and dance and dream with the locals– then one must.
I believe it is a duty. An obligation.
To the world, and to ourselves.
The world isn’t as big and scary as people sitting comfortably think it is.
A large part of the fellows in Global Citizen Year come from an international school called UWC. These schools are placed all around the world, and students attend their junior and senior years. The countries in which the schools are placed are not as important, however, as the countries represented inside the schools.
Going to UWC is like living in every country at once. You are away from your home, but so is everyone else. Everyone is learning languages together, everyone is sharing their religions and cultures and food together. Going to UWC is like entering a pool that has been filled with water from every part of the Earth, and though the values and mindsets are overwhelmingly similar, these mindsets and values come from completely different perspectives and experiences and knowledge. No one stories is like the other, yet the story they are trying to create for themselves, and for the future, hold the same truths.
For Anna and me, it is interesting to see how we are split in two. We know full well what it is like to come from Iowa City, to depend on that town and be loyal to it and stick by it, and we also know what it is like to wipe that aside, to declare “home” as whichever place draws our attention and liking at the moment. We know we can always return, but that it doesn’t necessarily mean it is where we belong.
How exciting to realize that the place we feel the most ourselves, the place we feel is meant for us, we may have not discovered yet. Or that we never will, and we will instead trace a little piece of our hearts into each place we love.
How terrifying and disorienting to think that we may never feel completely full. That no matter where we go, we may always feel something is missing. How saddening to know we cannot bring every aspect of every place we love together to create the home that holds it all.
I suppose we can, though. With our minds, with our conversations, and with the way we raise and love each other.
The world isn’t as big and scary and people sitting comfortably think it is.
We cannot allow ourselves to be so comfortable that anything not in our comfort zone becomes scary. Or untouchable. Or wrong.
This is a trap.
We cannot allow those who have never experienced the unknown, who have never made the decision to let themselves go, decide our paths for us.
This, is also a trap.
Traps come in all forms. They can come out of love, out of protection, out of worry.
They can come from being comfortable, unaware, and unsure.
We must protect ourselves from the traps that hold us back, that decide for us, that shut us in.
We owe it to ourselves to discover.
There is no ending where you find your purpose,
the journey is the purpose.
Do not ask, “How do you know how to sing?”
Ask, “How do you know why you’re singing?”
It’s not about the how, or the what,
It’s about the why.
A man named Michael Jr. did a TED talk. He asked the crowd to raise their hands if they liked to sing, and then called on a man.
Michael said, “Sing amazing grace,” and the man did.
Then Michael said, “Sing amazing grace the way you would if your uncle just got out of jail. Sing like you had been shot in the back when you were a kid. Sing as if you lived in the hood.”
The man sang again, and the people in the crowd laughed and cried.
Michael said “The first time I asked the man to sing he knew what he was doing, the second time, he knew why he was doing it. When you know your why, your what has becomes more impactful, because you’re going towards, and with, your purpose.”– Michael Jr.
Look for your why’s.
Resonance & Dissonance
Pay attention to the lightening of your spirit. Pay attention to the moments that make you feel at ease with yourself and your conscious. Pay attention to the silences and the sounds that make you relax and smile. Pay attention to the activities that draw you to them, that make you reach out your hand before your mind gives you a reason why.
These are your moment of resonance. These are your clues. Clues that lead you to get to know yourself.
When the world gives you opportunities and meaning, don’t give them back.
To get to where I am today, I had to do it all.
Not only did I have to play an instrument, I had to win competitions.
Not only could I play two sports, one being varsity, I had to have a no losing streak as the number one player and make it to the top 8 seed in the state two years in a row.
Not only could I be a part of some clubs, I had to write the winning essays, be awarded most valuable participate, and be the president and founder of multiple.
Not only could I volunteer, I had to win awards and scholarships.
Not only could I enjoy writing, I had to have my work published in magazines and articles.
Not only could I be passionate, I had to be interviewed and make the front cover of multiple newspapers.
For every activity and skill I have learned, I have also learned to excel. I am lucky to be talented in so many ways, and I take advantage of my talents to make the most of them. There is nothing wrong with this, these activities have made me happy and proud and disciplined.
But they have also made me busy, to the point where every moment of my life was on a schedule, a timer, and there was never enough time.
They have made me focused, to the point where I hardly had the luxury of trying new things, and if I did, I wasn’t able to give up time to do it just for the sake of trying it.
Time is precious, and sometimes I had to favor time over discovering new interests.
I decided I need to put all of that aside for a while.
I need time to discover what gives me resonance. What I am drawn to when I am alone in una puebla where I don’t know where to go or how or why.
I need time to have the freedom to learn los bailes tradicionales for no other reason than it feels important, so important that I cannot not do it.
I need time each day to focus on my writing, to write about anything in whatever way I feel, because I know that the writing comes from a place of understanding and yearning that I have never given myself the chance to have before.
This gap year is about acknowledging the dissonance. The things I don’t miss and can live without. The things that don’t poke their finger at me, taunting and asking why I don’t pay them any attention.
This gap year is about getting to know myself differently. It’s about not needing to strive for anything other than just that– knowing myself. It’s about being human, in the way that I need to be.
If your conscious can call you its friend, who gives a damn about your enemies.
(Ecuador Fellows playing soccer)
North Ecuador Fellows saying bye to South Ecuador Fellows