The Battle of Helping Others While Remaining Sane Yourself

I have always been someone who feels extremely sensitive to what others are feeling and going through. That is one trait that caused me to dive so far into human rights topics. For me, it stays with me all the time that people are suffering, being treated unequally, or going through some type of injustice that is just hard to make sense out of. It seems that many people involved in international affairs and politics in general are lead primarily by wanting to get to the top, that power, or just pure intelligence that sometimes lacks feeling. The more I care the more I want to learn, but the more I learn the more I care. The problem I have, is I can’t just learn and disconnect myself. Maybe I’ll read a book on child trafficking and become informed and filled with motivation and ideas for ways to solve it. I put down the book and then maybe I have plans to get drinks with friends and enjoy a night out. The problem is I can’t. I have no on and off switch. The topic stays on my mind as my brain constantly runs in circles thinking and rethinking of ways to possibly solve the problem, help these people, and just not getting past the fact that it’s happening right now. Right this second, as I enjoy my honey jack and coke (drink of choice, when I can afford it) and listen to conversations at the bar that seem pretty unnecessary to even spend energy on, right during every sip someone is suffering, feeling pain, and hurt.

It might be good that I feel this connection to people I don’t know, but I’ve also found it can be extremely inhibiting. It’s hard to find a focused problem to solve, which causes me to spread myself to thin and not effectively help anyone. I just don’t see any problem as more important than any other, but I know to make an impact I have to find a place to start. I also recently read a post on Tiny Buddha (one of my go to inspiration blogs) that hit right on after a weekend of no productivity because of overactive brain work.

It was a Friday evening in the midst of a four day weekend. I was excited for the long weekend to finally have a chance to process my thoughts from Ghana. My recent trip made the sensitivity to other people much more intense than those I read about, which is already very strong. Now that I had seen some characteristics of a developing country first hand, they were constantly on my mind. I recently wrote about the happiness and positivity that the country of Ghana contained. That is all very true. But it didn’t take away the extreme poverty, hunger, illness/death, and lack of running water or even electricity that remained. Knowing that Ghana is one of the stronger democracies in the developing world, it also put into perspective those countries that are even further behind on those issues along with more violent situations that Ghana sees less of. It made me remember what Nick Kristof said when I heard him speak in the spring. “Everyone in this room has won the lottery of life.” The majority of the world is suffering and lacking these luxuries we take for granted. The MAJORITY, meaning MOST of this world. People in first world countries like the United States who are even middle or in some cases low income citizens, they have still won the lottery of life compared to MOST of the people in this world.

So on this particular Friday night, as I wanted so badly to be productive in figuring out my life, I found myself stuck. My brain was moving so fast that it in fact was accomplishing nothing because all of my energy was burned out on negativity. Sadness for those I couldn’t reach. Anger to those in the U.S. and other countries who just didn’t realize how lucky they were and still have ridiculous luxuries while others don’t have the basic necessities to live.  I felt frustrated as I came back to the height of the upcoming election and seeing energy being wasted on attacking, conspiracy theories, and just stupid games rather than helping others which these people in power actually have the capability to do. I also felt uneasy with myself. The day I got back from Ghana I found out I had to move and switch apartments. This meant buying furniture and stressing out over the cost of beds. It seemed silly to me since entire countries just sleep wherever they land. These little things that we need, they don’t have at all, so what’s the point of having them? Why can some people live comfortable, when others suffer? Shouldn’t there be a way to just even it out? And how do some people just simply not care? I had a hard time going about my regular life, knowing that I had so much and feeling guilty, like if I were comfortable I should give to someone else so that the comfort can even out. It might sound crazy to some, but how can some things that don’t involve helping others matter so much with the insane things that are going on in this world? It just does not make sense, and I don’t see any excuse for people not to help or ESPECIALLY for corporations to use the extra energy and money to do the right things to make things better rather than worse.

This rant that just turned into a gigantic paragraph is literally what is going on in my head 24/7, all the time, always, never ending. I know they say that you can’t help others unless you help yourself. I never really liked that. I know I’m not perfect, but I know I am more fortunate so I should be able to help people who are far less fortunate than my current status. One thing that did make sense to me, however, is the fact that I still need to make myself happy. Because without positivity in my mind, the negativity takes over and causes me to accomplish nothing. Where as if I remain positive, I have more energy to learn and act and spread that attitude onto others. So that’s what I’m working on now. How can I make a large impact, but be in a mind set that is actually productive. Right now I’m finding interest in Corporate Social Responsbility (CSR) but we will see. This world would be so much easier to tackle if people would just do the right thing and put it some effort if and when they can. And the journey of trying to help people and create a better world continues. I know my feelings toward it, and I imagine I’m not alone, so I felt it was important to finally get some of these into writing. Not only for my own sanity, but for others to relate to as well.

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Meeting A Role Model of Mine, Nick Kristof

On Monday evening I got to meet someone who is toward the top of my list when it comes to people I want to meet in life. Currently a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Nick Kristof has lead his life as an adventure to help others and also get the message out on problems going on throughout the world that need exposure. I look forward to reading his work every single week and strive to live the kind of life that he has accomplished. I was unable to take notes during his Lecture at NYU Monday night after arriving late because Washington Square is VERY confusing, the hall was already filled with people eager to hear him speak and honestly we didn’t mind standing to listen to every word. Though I don’t have any notes, I wanted to post on a few points that really stuck out to me and have stayed with me ever since.

Near the beginning of his lecture, Nick Kristof told a story about a girl who just needed $13 in school fees, but did not have the money to spare. The New York Times began posting about these girls and soon enough letters started flooding the office, many with $13 donations.  One day, a donation of $10,000 showed up. Thrilled at this generosity the money was quickly used to sent many girls to school enough years to graduate and support programs that help them as well. Turns out, the $10,000 donation was an accounting error and the man actually meant to donate $100. Oops. As an error of the bank, Kristof told a senior level employee that he could take back that money, pulling all of those girls out of school and having a column written about it, or he could stand with his donation. Without hesitation the man exclaimed that the bank was thrilled to match the amount to keep the $10,000 donation. This made me think, if this bank could spare that money which impacted dozens of girls lives for the better, can’t others? This mistake was fortunate, but what is unfortunate is that it took an error to get the money in the first place. With the impact that it made, think of other that could go to school and create better lives for future generations through corporate social responsibility.

Kristof also drove home the point that it is extremely important for people to travel and have the influence of local communities in the movements and causes they are working for. He mentioned that if a group of people here sat down at a table and found a solution that worked without ever setting foot into the community and talking with those who are there it would be pure luck.  I couldn’t agree more, I’ve been wanting to travel abroad myself to experience my passion for helping others and cultural communication first hand, though it’s usually easier said than done. I’m always open to suggestions for great volunteer abroad opportunities that won’t take my entire savings.

One thing I did not know about Kristof is that during his time abroad, he actually purchased girls living in brothels to take them back to their families. It was shocking to hear him say that he was actually given a paper receipt for the transaction, and the brothel owner was a woman. Sadly, in many cases including one of Kristof’s rescues, the girls will go back to the brothel voluntarily after becoming addicted to meth and knowing they can access it there.

Though people talk about many of these girl and women issues going on abroad, trafficking and forced prostitution is actually a very large problem in the U.S. as well. Kristof told a story of a Brooklyn girl who was taken in by a pimp and sold on websites such as backpage.com. This girl in particular was dropped off at an apartment for a John and as she made her way to his door and the pimp waited outside, she went to another door and began frantically banging. Luckily, someone answered and she was able to call the police. Most situations are never found however, and it’s very rare for a pimp to actually get caught and charged severely for a crime. The Johns who buy the girls often don’t completely know the violent scenarios that go along with forced prostitution. A recent solution is to send them to John school once caught where they learn what issues they are fueling, so far it has been affective.

Kristof’s work does focus a lot on women and girls. However, he believes men are not the main problem. Women often support many of these harmful practices do to cultural beliefs. This is true in many cases such as FGM, forced labor, and forced marriage. I learned a lot about this at the Women In The World summit where it was often the grandmothers who were the most severe when it came to forced marriage. To change these cultural customs, Kristof believes education is key for a different future. He then shared a photo of a Ugandan girl who received a goat and support from Heifer International and just recently graduated from the University of Connecticut.

Though of course women are not always the main problem. Domestic violence is an issue that is still commonly accepted in many cultures who think that women should be abused in order to understand their place. However, Kristof told a story about a woman who brought in more of an income then her husband. This trend is becoming more common now, and will continue to grow as more girls are educated and getting good jobs. Usually when the woman does make more money, there is an absence of the domestic violence.

To close, Kristof reminded us of how much is going on the world that is often unfathomable to those here in the United States, which is another reason he believes everyone should spend some time abroad. “We won the lottery of life,” he said, reminding us how lucky we are no matter how we might sometimes complain. He then told a story of his friend was was a humanitarian worker in Darfur. The woman stayed strong through all her time on the ground. It wasn’t until one day at her grandmother’s birthday party she looked at a bird feeder and had a complete breakdown. The bird feeder reminded her of how much we have here, even enough to spare to make sure birds don’t go hungry, when the people she saw in Darfur were suffering immensely, starving, and facing unthinkable violence. It just never seems fair.

After Kristof’s lecture we enjoyed a reception to do some mingling. My two friends and I even had the privilege of meeting and speaking to him, a moment I know I will never forget. As he shook our hands and listened to our questions and goals, he remained very open and easy to talk to. It was great to see someone with such a huge following so human to a group of young professionals striving to make a difference in human rights. He left us with this advice:

” It’s not about confidence, it’s about humility. The more you question yourself the more you will find the answers within others and your adventures of travel and learning.”

I highly recommend checking out Half The Sky. The organization, book, and soon to be documentary share stories that the world needs to hear.

The Inspiration of Catchafire

My next set of writing samples to add to the blog were going to be from my internship last winter with Catchafire.  It also just so happens that I went to their summer event last night at Wix Lounge.  Over drinks and snacks we celebrated the success and growth of an organization trying to change the world one professional at a time.  It was a great opportunity for networking, thought-provoking conversation and to learn.

It was great for me to be reunited with the team.  My internship with them helped me grow and gain skills to enter into my career.  I came in as a small town Ohio girl unaware of how to use my background and education in a professional setting.  With the responsibility and support of the other Catchafire employees I ended up not only working on my assigned research project, but also attending networking events, writing for the blog, updating their social media and getting the opportunity to attend meetings and interviews with the CEO/Founder Rachael Chong.  The experience made me more confident about what I had to offer in a career I was so passionate about.  The event last night reignited the spark of motivation I needed to keep learning and growing towards my goals.

Catchafire was an idea by Rachael Chong as she spent countless time looking for an opportunity to share her professional skills without finding anything.  Today, Catchafire matches working professionals with the thousands of nonprofit and social good organizations in New York City.  People are able to donate their skills such as finance, design, marketing, communication and technology to make an affective difference and helping organizations grow to create more positive changes throughout the world.  It’s a great opportunity for CSR.  If you’re looking for a fulfilling volunteer experience, I highly recommend checking them out and creating a profile.  I, personally, can’t wait to see them grow even further.

Here are links to the writing samples I wrote when I contributed to their blog last winter.  Enjoy!

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/03/my-catchafire-endeavors-working-to-build-my-future-in-helping-others/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/23/matt-miller-the-technical-side-of-catchafire/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/22/my-catchafire-internship-wrapped-up/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/16/the-story-behind-jane-slusser-campaigns-causes-and-burger-clubs/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/15/my-catchafire-project-introducing-the-service-station/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/10/the-passion-behind-catchafire-meet-rachael-chong/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/09/food-and-friends-our-breakfast-with-atlas-corps/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/09/food-and-friends-our-breakfast-with-atlas-corps/