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.