The first time I came to Kenya was over 4 years ago & I stayed for 3 months.
The country captured my heart in a way I hadn't expected.
Or, perhaps it was the IDP community (Internally Displaced Persons) who I worked with that should
take credit for such a claim.
Either way, 6 months later I sold everything I owned, bought a 1 way ticket & moved there in pursuit of my dream to start my own non-profit.
As many of you know, this is when & this is where Go Light Our World was born.
What many of you don't know is what happened to me upon my return.
Because, quite frankly, I don't like talking about it.
But it's time.
So here it goes:
Since the projects that I had set up at the first IDP Camp where I was originally working were already sustainable- I decided to move on to another camp in need.
The members of the first camp took this choice very personally.
They felt I was abandoning them, despite my choice to continually visit on almost a daily basis & still help out in the school.
When their hostility started to become violent, I (understandably) decided to leave the camp altogether.
Shortly after, they started following me home on a daily basis- threatening me, throwing stones at me, even SPITTING at me.
It got so bad that I had to move.
I uprooted everything & moved to another town about 40 minutes away.
I didn't tell anyone where I lived.
The only person who knew was my assistant (who lived with me) & her sister.
I came to find out later that she was actually the culprit initiating the hatred & continually telling them of my whereabouts in exchange for a cut of the ransom once they were finally successful in kidnapping me (they made it very clear that this was their end goal).
I think the most afraid I ever was in the situation was about a month after I'd moved when they followed me out to the new camp where I was working (which is a solid 90 min drive into the bush). There was an all out brawl between the two communities & I was grabbed as they tried to shove me into a car.
Luckily a man called Francis (my motorbike driver and member of the new IDP Camp where I was working) saved me- which is not only something I will never forget, but is also a memory that still brings tears to my eyes, as well.
To make matters worse- the general security of the country was quite unstable at the time (it wasn't even safe for local women to be out past sunset).
I relied on public transportation to get around & our buses would get robbed on a regular basis.
One time it was even at gunpoint.
A girl in my neighborhood was kidnapped by her own driver who had worked with her host family for years.
He even stole all the clothes she was wearing & finally dropped her off at the gate completely naked.
Despite the fact that my apartment was surrounded by a 40 ft concrete wall complete with electric wiring & a Gaurd with an AK47- it still got broken into.
To say I was living in fear would be an understatement.
I was so paranoid that I couldn't sleep more than 2 or 3 hrs every night.
And (of course) the lack of sleep wasn't helping my sanity or general well being.
This was also the time in which my allergic reactions were getting out of control & I was hospitalized on almost a monthly basis (I have no doubt this physical reaction was mirroring my mental instability).
When I decided to go to Indonesia to scout projects, I planned to come back after just one month.
I left my fully furnished apartment & everything I owned except for the small backpack I brought with me- because I had every intention of returning.
But I didn't.
Not only did I get bit again before I left- forcing me straight off the plane & into the hospital.
But I also felt the massive weight of anxiety lifted from my chest, as well.
Once I'd removed myself from the situation, I was able to observe how unhealthy my living situation actually was with a new sense of clarity.
And I made the choice to value my well being first.
I went through every array of emotions once I'd decided to stay in Indonesia.
There were days where I would still suffer from anxiety.
And night where I'd wake up from flashback/night terrors in cold sweats & panic.
Then, there were days where I was angry.
Angry at myself for feeling like a quitter.
Angry at every stupid insect that sent me to the hospital.
And angry that the people who took my trust & broke my heart.
As I continued to find out more about the betrayals, lies & stealing that had happened right under my nose- I was convinced that I would never go back to Kenya again.
I can't pinpoint what exactly initiated my change of heart- but I do know that it happened about a year & a half ago when I was still living in San Diego & staring at the large map on my wall.
I decided I needed to go back & make peace with a place that damn near broke me.
So that's just what I did.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous about my return despite the structure of my visit & the credibility of my local partners.
Because I most certainly was.
But I CAN say that my nerves dissolved almost completely the moment I landed.
I couldn't be happier with my decision to come back.
Not only have I seen major growth within the security & development of the country, but I've also come to terms with just how far I shoved all of those experiences down.
When it was happening, I didn't want to talk about it because I didn't want to scare people who loved me & were already worried with me being gone.
Afterwards, I suppose the trauma silenced the truth & the shame of perceived failure masked the healing.
There was also this sense of wanting to still protect a place & a group of people that I continually love.
Now I feel a new sense of liberation that's pretty god damn sweet.
And I can say with certainty that I'll be back again.
Probably sooner than later this time around
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a high school girl asking if she could do her Leadership Project on me.
Because there isn't any information on Go Light Our World's site about my personal story in the creation of the organization, she wanted to ask a few questions.
Surprised & flattered, I agreed without hesitation.
Our encounter has gone on to inspire my choice to share more (because it certainly has been a wild ride to get where I am today):
I went to Africa for the first time over 6 years ago.
Although those 3 months living & teaching in Ghana certainly planted the seed of passion to one day start my own non-profit, it didn't take long for me to wander off of this path once I returned back to California.
Not only did I jump into a new, serious relationship, but I also allowed myself to get sucked back into a world of drugs & partying that I thought I'd left behind all those years ago when I lost my best friend to an overdose 5 days before my 19th birthday.
To make matters worse, the relationship almost immediately became abusive- verbally, emotional & physically.
I felt trapped, although I knew the choice was mine to stay.
I felt incredibly alone, although I was surrounded by so many people.
And, i felt stuck in a world of paradox, contradiction & overwhelming shame for a year & a half.
I thought the only way out was to actually GO as far as possible.
So, I clung to the dying remnants of my dream & begun to plan my next trip to Africa & Asia for the following year.
This was my escape.
Unfortunately, things came to an explosive end 3 months before my planned departure.
It was the night of my 24th birthday to be exact.
A night where a fight became so violent that I ended up in the hospital, and the guy was arrested & taken to jail.
A night where I experienced the legitimate fear of losing my life for the first time.
And, a night that shattered my soul- landing me at (what I consider to be) my rock bottom.
Not only was I suddenly involved in a court case, unable to work because of my physical injuries- but I was also mending a broken heart that still resulted at the loss of even the most twisted kind of "love."
Despite the ugliness of that night; I found the aftermath to be questionably worse.
For the next 3 months, most days were consumed with doctor appointments & meeting with lawyers.
I was in physical therapy three times a week to get my right hand back to full functioning.
(Handstands were out of the question. In fact, I was told not to count on being on my hands much at all after that.)
Nights were sleepless- as dreams turned to nightmares each time my mind replayed scenes of that night.
It always felt so real & so terrifying over & over again.
Even in the safety of my own bed, I could feel the weight of his hand around my neck.
I could feel the warmth of blood pouring from my head- seeing only red through just one eye, as the other was swollen shut from the impact of being thrown face first into a rock wall.
The lack of sleep only contributed to my nearly crippling anxiety that robbed my body of holding onto any extra weight.
I struggled to maintain even 100 pounds.
It didn't help that each time I sat in a courtroom, I had to see him.
I had to point him out to a judge as i looked him in the eye & battled the schizophrenic reaction of wanting to smack the smug grin off of his face & beg him to forgive me all at once.
It also didn't help when all of our mutual "friends" began dropping like flies.
To put it mildly- everyone thought I was a liar.
Or just plain crazy.
I was told that I shouldn't go to Africa anymore as the process of the trial worsened.
If I wasn't there to testify in front of the jury, it could hurt the case tremendously.
But I didn't care. I refused to let him take this away from me too.
So I went anyways.
A choice that naturally changed the course of my life once more.
It was here that I fell in love with the IDP (internally displaced people) community in Kenya (perhaps because I could relate to their feelings of being displaced, violated & betrayed).
It was also here that I created my first sustainable community rehabilitation projects- something I was now sure that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
After 6 months, i reluctantly went home for the sole purpose of testifying until i was blue in the face.
And guess what?
After losing the trial, I felt like my entire world had crashed down around me.
I realized that I was able to endure each hardship & betrayal over the last 9 months by holding onto the hope (the CERTAINTY, even) for justice.
When I heard the words, "not guilty" fall from the judge's mouth- all of that hope was suddenly stripped away.
I felt like it was all for nothing.
A grand waste of time & heartache.
I continued to wallow, until one morning when I took a snowy stroll with my dad.
He looked at me & said:
"I know that you're disappointed with the outcome of the trial- we ALL are.
But the longer you allow this to keep you down, the longer you allow him to have control over you.
What do you want to do?
You're young, healthy, smart and CAPABLE.
You can do anything you want starting right now.
You want to start your own non-profit?
Then go. There's nothing holding you back here anymore."
Within 3 weeks, I sold everything I owned, bought a one-way ticket to Kenya & filed the paperwork to officially start Go Light Our World (GLOW) just a few months before my 25th birthday.
When I first started GLOW, I didn't have the singular focus of solar, as I do now.
I was still primarily invested in the IDP community & interested in creating entire community rehabilitation projects that would generate sustainable increased income.
I was also passionate about improving education, which is was drove me to construct a nursery school at the new Camp where I was working.
I named the school after my best friend who had passed away & I thought my heart was going to explode that morning the doors opened to the public for the first time & 50 children flooded in with wide grins & bare feet.
I was exactly where I was meant to be.
I had never been so sure of it.
Unfortunately, there was a greater plan out there telling me otherwise.
I started having severe allergic reactions to various insect bites- landing me in the hospital on a monthly basis.
My immune system was shutting down & each instance became worse than the last.
Finally, a specialist looked me in eye & said:
"If you stay here, this is going to kill you. You chose the wrong way of life."
Being the Taurus that I am, I stubbornly refused to believe the doctor when he told me the sickness would kill me if I stayed.
I felt too invested in the projects, too invested in the IDP community & too invested in the creation of Go Light Our World- my BABY, my DREAM- to let a few hospitalizations stand in my way.
I felt that if I left Kenya, then everything I had worked so hard for would simply crumble & I'd be back at square one, probably more lost than ever before.
So I didn't leave then, even with that grave warning.
I did, however, compromise by promising both the doctor & my mom (who flew in from Europe) that if I got bit again, then I would go.
And, in the meantime, I would go to Asia for a month to scout prospective regions for similar work- so if I did end up leaving Kenya, I would at least have something else to fall back on.
Again, a bigger plan got in the way of my own.
I was bit again 3 days before my departure for Indonesia.
Although I didn't tell anyone about the bites, it ended up being pretty obvious when I was forced to jab myself with my Epipen in the KL airport- and then go straight off the plane to the hospital in Bali.
Long story not so short- I never went back to Kenya.
I abandoned my fully furnished apartment there & survived a year in Indo, traveling across upwards of 20 islands with the only backpack that I'd packed for a month.
Everything with GLOW was put on hold, as it took me that entire year (& then some) to get healthy again.
I worked with a few communities in Timor & Rote, but nowhere seemed to strike the same chord as the Motherland did.
I felt that same familiar ache of loss, confusion- but mostly just utter failure.
Instead of seeking reasonable solutions, I just beat myself up over all that I let fall apart, instead.
I accepted defeat. I didn't fight to keep my dream alive in the face of one tiny hiccup.
Finally, it got to the point where I ran out of money & I was forced to move back to California.
I'd been out of the country for 2 years & adjusting back to the pace of Western culture was jarring to say the least.
It was here in this time of deep discomfort & depression where everything changed.
Suddenly the burden of my shortcomings & failures seemed too heavy to hold.
I was incredibly lost & I didn't know where to begin looking for answers to claw myself out of such an abyss.
This was when i discovered meditation.
Although I had been practicing yoga for years, I was still mostly drawn to the practice from a physical aspect at that point.
When I began to incorporate meditation & journaling gratitude into my daily life- I started to notice an internal shift occur as I lessened that death grip of control & surrendered to trusting a greater process, instead.
Shortly after, I decided to go through my teacher training course- not so much because I was interested in teaching, but because I wanted to have a better understanding of the practice as a whole.
During my program, the philosophical language & ideals stirred a part of my soul that I had accepted as dead already.
This was when I chose to resurrect my dream of Go Light Our World.
And, I brought it back to life with full force.
Rather than continually focusing on all that I had done wrong- keeping me stagnate in terms of progression- I began to seek solutions & modify, instead.
I decided to have the singular focus of solar not only to keep the vision clear, but also because I saw how solar solutions have the power to impact all aspects of people's lives.
One of my biggest problems before was that I wanted to do everything.
I wanted to help everyone I met.
I wanted to save the world.
Not only is that unrealistic, but if it's not done thoroughly- then it's not sustainable, either.
Choosing solar ticked all the boxes for me: helping all people & the planet with sustainable solutions to poverty.
Having just completed my teacher training, it seemed only natural to teach a few donation classes in the park to get the ball rolling on fundraising for my first project in Ethiopia.
But, never in my wildest dreams did I foresee how those few simple classes would evolve into what I'm doing today.
The thing was, I had finally stopped fighting the current by forcing my own agenda into a greater plan.
I let go, instead.
Allowing for the real growth to occur.
Let me to bring you up to speed on where exactly this wild journey has led me to today.
I brought Go Light Our World back to life & completed my RYT 200 hr just over 2 years ago.
Teaching that one fundraiser class in the park, suddenly sparked an idea that allowed me to tie together my love for yoga & philanthropy in a more seamless way.
I reached out to teachers across the globe (most of whom I'd only connected with through Instagram & had yet to meet in person), asking them if they'd teach a donation-based class in their community over the same weekend worldwide.
I was blown away by the unquestioning generosity & enthusiasm of just about everyone I asked who said YES.
On that one weekend, there were about 35 teachers who taught.
Some classes were big, while some had no more then 3 people.
But guess what?
Every single amount added up to raise almost $6k- funding nearly half of GLOW's pilot project with community yoga classes alone.
This first project took place in Ethiopia in April 2014, where we illuminated 250 homes that were otherwise relying on kerosene fueled lamps for light.
Since then, GLOW has expanded to Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Philippines & Indonesia.
With the help of incredible local partners in each country, I have refined our model to be completely sustainable by offering a variety of products through a micro loan system- allowing even small donations to multiply in value as they're continually paid back.
GLOW has now provided light to upwards of 3,000 homes, 6 hospitals & 4 schools in our 2 years of operation.
We have also built (and are currently building) 4 Solar Centers in areas that would otherwise not have access to such technology.
These Centers have also helped to create about 40 jobs.
Now, our MAIN source of fundraising comes from yoga.
Those same teachers who said YES 2 years ago, now voluntarily teach global retreats with me to fund our projects.
From Mexico, to Bali, to Philippines & now preparing for our first Africa retreat next month in ZANZIBAR- it still takes my breath away each time I sit back & actually observe the growth & overwhelming support that's occurred.
Thank you for helping me shine.
I asked her what happened, although I already knew.
The scar carved from her swollen, purple eye down to her jaw matched those which sliced across both of her wrists before running up the entire length of her lean, weathered arms.
Her body had become an irate map of violence. Each mark a symbol of proclaimed territory, of perceived weakness.
Of ownership, even.
Engraving her skin empowered the immorality of such memories, no doubt. Etching their way from her body's canvas, right into her heart.
And then- of course- into my own, as well.
"He only comes at night," she whispered without looking up.
"The alcohol can make someone a monster, you see. And the darkness- oh, the darkness will mask the violence, and swallow your screams. When we live in darkness, we live in silence."
She gestured to the small, solemn girl glued to her side.
Her skinny limbs littered with a spectrum of fading blues & angry violets; colors so heavy they weighed the corners of her mouth down into a permanent frown.
"I named her Angel, because I believe she will be saved from this life I've been given. And it's true. Don't you see? This is not only light. This is hope. Soon, my voice will be completely free."
This is just one of many stories that has made a comfortable home in the center of my being.
One out of HUNDREDS that I've heard. Sometimes every single day.
These are the moments which often manifest themselves into reawakened fear and self-doubt of my own. The simplistic honesty of such words beginning to fester, and then thrive, in the deepest part of my core- curdling years of internal repair and newly cultivated self-love.
I can feel it. All of it.
I can feel the toxicity bubbling up within, threatening to spill out and cover those around me with that same suffocating pain if I don't take the time I so desperately NEED to remove myself from these beautiful, but often extreme environments.
And, the thing is- I love the work that I do.
I get absolutely high off of each five-hour jungle trek out to these remote villages, and sleeping on wooden planks under nothing but a star-studded blanket of velvet sky.
More often than not, my heart is exploding with gratitude for those who so generously house me, feed me, and keep me safe.
For those who have so little, yet offer so much.
These are the people who have illuminated my life over the years.
The ones who have inspired me to live the life that I've created. And the ones who unknowingly contribute to my constant evolution of highest self.
But there's another side to it, too.
A side that is typically goes unrecognized- completely unseen, even- especially through the glorified snippets of information and stunning images shared through social media platforms.
Amidst this bombardment of illuminated moments, there still lies a daunting darkness.
One that I've struggled to find the balance between over the years.
Teetering the line between wanting to give my whole heart to alleviate the hardships of others, yet losing parts of myself in the process.
In the past few years, I've come to appreciate the genuine vitality of emotional stability in this line of work.
When I first started out, I dove in headfirst- giving to everyone, except myself.
I never considered the repercussions of internalizing such heart-breaking moments, because I was too focused on how to "fix" them, instead.
To be completely honest, I felt like an asshole if I even spent a moment feeling bad for myself, or comparing my hardships to those of the communities with which I worked.
I diminished the worth of my own pain, because I felt the burden of unfairness in the ovarian lottery of life.
I felt that whatever I was going through (or had gone through before) was essentially irrelevant when I was living with people who struggled to eat more than just one meal a day.
Yet, over the years, I've realized how unnecessary it is to compare one person's hardships to another.
The reality was that when I was struggling mentally or emotionally, I was unable to offer my full potential of self in regards to serving others.
If I didn't take time to mediate on the value of my own thoughts, my own reactions, and my own feelings- then I only perpetuated those innate feelings of inadequacy even further.
I told myself that I didn't have the right to feel certain ways.
That I wasn't worthy of taking time to indulge in even just one day of complete relaxation, let alone removal from the environment, altogether.
This is still something that I still struggle with in my line of work.
I still have that nagging voice in the back of my mind. A tugging sensation at bottom of my heart that feels like the weight of guilt in the face of happiness and comfort.
Because, no, it's not fair.
It's not fair that I although I work in these remote villages for weeks at a time, I can still go back to the comfort of my guesthouse at the end of each experience. Relishing in the luxuries of things like electricity and hot water.
Sipping tea and writing about it all on a laptop as though it were all a dream, rather than a reality being lived by millions in that exact moment.
It's not fair that I just because I was born in another part of the world, I have the option to seek justice for the same violent wrongdoings that Angel and her mother suffer from each and every day.
It's not fucking fair that so many people live in silence.
Live in fear.
Live without ever receiving love, or seeing hope.
The difference between my present day reflections on this unfairness, and those which nearly ate me alive years ago- is that I can acknowledge when this tidal wave emotions gets to be too much.
When I simply need to take a god damn break. To reflect, to decompress, and to filter through all that dark, gooey toxic stuff building up within.
The past two weeks have been dedicated to just that.
After spending several months out in the field, I needed this break more than I realized.
In fact, I tried to write about Angel's story weeks ago when I first met her, but nothing came out.
I sat down COUNTLESS mornings, hands hovering above the keyboard, waiting for the words to spill through my fingertips with ease.
Instead, I continued to dream in visions of red each night.
My subconscious conjuring blood-stained memories back to life in the darkest hours of the night.
I would wake with a face wet with fresh tears, and a throat full of strangled screams.
Yeah, the past few weeks have a been difficult for me, as I've struggled to readdress some old scars which have resurfaced in the wake of doing work that I truly love.
Yet- despite the difficulties- writing here now, I can say that I finally feel like I'm coming out of it on the other side of it all.
With less than 24 hours to go before embarking on yet another five-week-long project, I couldn't be more grateful.
Grateful for granting my own feeling worthy.
Grateful, then, for the time I took to invest in such internal repair.
I'm grateful for liberated words which fell out the mouth of Angel's mother, and into my heart.
Hell, I'm even grateful even for all the fucked up shit (yes, those are the only words that adequately explain it all) which has brought me to exactly where I am today.
Most of all, I'm grateful for that unwavering light refusing to be extinguished, even in the face of the most grueling darkness.
It's time to let it shine.
Africa attracts a certain type of backpacker.
There is a sense of familial connection between both tourists and volunteers in our hearts’ collective response to the Motherland’s calling.
We are unified by the unabashedly raw beauty of Her land and Her people, alike.
We are hypnotized by Her abundance, Her mourning, and Her most simplistic joys.
And, we are magnetized to the depth of Her roots as we learn to sing in harmony with even the eldest of Her songs.
We are a tribe of people in and of ourselves.
After venturing to this wildly wonderful continent five times now (staying in six countries), I can say with certainty that the bonds I’ve forged with those I’ve met along the way have claimed a uniquely deep quality, even if after only a couple of days.
Our hearts have been tethered through our experiences of both fulfillment and horror. Empowering one another during those inevitable moments of fleeting defeat- as the weight of the world threatens to suffocate our greatest dreams with insurmountable doubt.
We challenge one another- through inspired thoughts rather than condescending beliefs- unlocking both our minds and our hearts to depths we perhaps did not know were even accessible before.
I’ve found that more often than not, we are people who have dedicated our lives to a greater need or cause, people who promote conservancy and equality, and people who are- at the end of each day-
are driven by love.
Throughout my time in Malawi, I came to know a married couple called Christoff and Sophie.
Although I chatted with them briefly during our nightly communal dinners at the volunteer accommodation where we stayed; it wasn’t until my final 48 hours in the country (when they so graciously offered me a ride from Nkhata Bay back to Lilongwe) that I had a chance to actually get to know them.
Sophie insisted that I sit comfortably up front in their roomy Land Cruiser for the entire 7-hour journey South, giving me a chance to talk with Christoff about everything under the African sun.
We went from chatting about GLOW’s projects, to our most horrid wounds, to our greatest wild animal sightings, to our upbringings and families, then back to the challenges and rewards of non-profit work. The ever-present theme, resurfacing with each changing topic- was the notion of love.
Throughout their nine months of traveling the Motherland (all by land, in that very vehicle), Christoff would ask nearly every person they met the same question:
"What is your definition of love?"
I wasn’t caught off-guard by his question, as it had circulated countless times already at the lodge on the lake- but that also didn’t mean I had any sort of answer prepared for when he finally asked.
I thought about it for a moment, before replying, “I don’t have a definition, really. I mean, I couldn’t just say that love is…and simply fill in that blank. But I do know that- for me- the most important component in love is compassion.”
He looked and me and simply said, “That word has been popping up a lot in the past few days.”
We went on to discuss our encounters with compassion- or the lack thereof- within the local villages and towns.
Don’t get me wrong, I have met some incredibly lovely African people who have displayed outrageous displays of compassion in an effort to help both myself, and their own people, in really wonderful ways.
However, generally speaking- there is a certain kind of indifference to suffering.
It seems this numbness is a likely result of commonality in that people are constantly exposed to pain and struggle- so it is no longer jarring, but simply the way of life.
There is also a large element of lacking education- especially related to issues of mental help and/or disabilities.
I’ve worked with young adults in slums who were locked in closets for the first 20 years of their lives because they were born with a disability.
I’ve been saturated in the tears of young girls who were raped by men infected with HIV in desperate attempts to rid themselves of the life-threatening virus.
I’ve bathed, fed, and laughed endlessly with orphaned children who were shoved in latrines or dumpsters just hours after their birth.
I’ve recorded the testimonies of hundreds Internally Displaced People who were brutally driven from their homes, raped, tortured, and nearly killed as a result of a Presidential Election.
I’ve visited the gravesites of boys who bled to death after being kidnapped and circumcised by their own classmates, simply because they looked different.
I’ve seen an autistic boy tied to a tree, and believed to be possessed by the devil- wetting himself in his helpless captivity.
These are the instances which really confuse my tangled meaning of love and compassion.
Is the opportunity for education suddenly an element that contributes to the cultivation of compassion?
Do the most basic needs of survival swallow the possibility of compassionate love, or do they simply morph these ideals into something which we- as Westerners- struggle to understand?
After all, these are the same people who invite their sick parents into their one-bedroom mud huts (already full with at least 5 children), and care for them until they take their last breath.
These are the people who struggle to provide just one meal a day to their families, yet provide feasts larger than your stomach can even contain upon the arrival of any guest or visitor.
These are the people who work 12 hours each day to be paid less than what we have the opportunity to make in just one hour- all in an effort to fund their children’s education, in hopes that this gift will create a new life for them.
These are the people who see that you’re cold, and insist for you take the only blanket in their home- halting their own quaking bones for the sake of a visitor’s warmth.
All of which are certainly acts of compassionate love, right?
Which leads me to Sophie- a woman whose vast heart is consumed by a fierce passion for animals of any shape or size.
She hopes to spread awareness to people in the developing world about the interconnection all living beings.
And, how a thriving animals can, in turn, positively affect (as well as increase the most basic survival needs) of a human.
During one conversation about her struggle to focus solely on her passion (animals) in a place where so many people were suffering just as badly (or worse), she spoke a simple string of words which really resonated with me.
“Conservation is a luxury.”
I couldn’t agree more.
And, I bring this up due to the fact that (I believe) the promotion of conservation stems from compassion.
Whether it comes from a place of caring fiercely about the Earth, or about the animals which are becoming extinct, or the people who are affected by deforestation- the common denominator is simply caring about various lives outside of your own.
The same can be said for something like the dietary choice to be vegan. For me, I choose to veganism in an effort to incorporate love in every arena of my life, even on my plate.
However, imagine each hour of your day revolving around maintaining basic survival needs (typically not only for yourself, but also for other family members, as well) such as: gathering enough food and water, providing sufficient shelter and clothing, sustaining general health, etc- how is there time and/or energy to care about external hardships of other living beings?
In the Western world, the NEED to apply our survival instincts has been stripped away- allowing us the OPPORTUNITY to learn about, and then focus on, the preservation of other living beings.
Is compassion- like the notion of conservation- a luxury?
A passage written by an incredibly talented Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, further amplifies Sophie’s statement, but from the perspective of an African, instead:
“There was a certain luxury to charity that she could not identify with and did not have. To take ‘charity’ for granted, to revel in this charity towards people whom one did not know- perhaps it came from having had yesterday and having today and expecting to have tomorrow. She envied them this.” (Americanah, p.209)
It’s quite typical for Westerners to observe developing countries with criticism, pity, or unspoken authority.
But, the truth is- we are the ones with the resources, the means, and the opportunities to devote our energy to lives outside of our own.
Yet, even with these luxuries at our fingertips- the majority of us still chose to cocoon ourselves with selfishness, falsely cloaking the heart’s innate desires with worldly possessions upon the infinite climb of society’s ladder that so hollowly defines our success.
What if we started seeing the idea of compassion and charitable outreach (whether domestically or abroad) as the luxury, instead?
As a gift that we were so undeservingly given, simply by winning the ovarian lottery of life.
Do you think, then, more love would be spread?
And- continuing to play with this hypothetical- by increasing the amount of time, energy, and resources which are given back to various communities in need-wouldn’t the overall quality of life, financial stability, health, and education of our worldwide population be elevated as a whole?
In turn, don’t you think those same recipients would more likely be inspired to pay it forward (charitably speaking), once armed with the mindful tools of how and WHY it’s important.
Until meeting Sophie and Christoff, I never fully considered the impacts of education, environment, and economic status as contributing factors to such a complex emotion.
It seems to me that no matter where we’re born, we come into this world with love in our hearts.
That same love is influenced, transformed, sometimes completely shattered, destroyed, and then rebuilt again and again as we progress through life.
From what I can tell, we have so much to learn from one another in order to tap into our greatest potential for love; and more specifically- compassionate love.
Perhaps, as Westerners, we can bring forth the luxury of our increased opportunity for education- offering long-lasting, sustainable solutions with a gaze broader than an immediate survivalist bubble.
And from the developing world, we can soak in the loving qualities of family values, hospitality, and happiness in simplicity.
And, from this tapestry woven of global hearts will the purest kind of love radiate with boundless reach.