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I have been quite fortunate in my life. I have a wonderful, loving, supportive family. I have had a good education. I am and have always been healthy, and in the instances when I have not been, I have been able to easily access the care I need. I have never known hunger. I have never gone to bed truly afraid that I will not wake up in the morning. I have had the freedom to make choices in my life as to who I will vote for, where I will live, the job I will hold, the religion I will practice and so on and on and on.
The majority of the people in the world simply do not have anywhere near that good fortune.
I want to do something about it.
When I was in high school, I just knew that it was time for me to escape the very sheltered life I lived. I decided to move to Washington, DC to work at a homeless shelter that housed 1350 people. My eyes were instantly opened. I had heard all of the typical judgments about homeless people…that they were lazy, that they were bums, that they were drunken, drug addicts. Quite simply, that is not what I found. I found people who struggled to make a living at a minimum wage job, people who were so ill that they couldn't make a life for themselves and who had no one to care for them. I found people who had no positive examples in their lives. And, yes, I did find people who had almost given up on themselves.
But, I also found that I could do something. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it was not much, but it was something. I worked in the Arts and Education department. Mostly, I spent my time in adult education, teaching GED classes and tutoring. I saw firsthand how an education could benefit someone. Whether it be through a better job, improved self-confidence, or just setting an example for someone else, the difference was obvious.
After spending nearly 2 years in DC, I decided to move on to a drastically different shelter. This time, I was in Philadelphia and, this time, the shelter housed just 25 people. My job was multifaceted. My favorite part, though, if you could even call it a 'job', was eating dinner with the 25 men who stayed at the shelter each night. I decided that the most important part of my job was to simply be nice, to make them feel at home and make them feel like they were, indeed, cared for.
While in Philadelphia, I came to the realization that I still had a very limited view of the world and the issues facing the people of the world.
At that point, I chose to join IICD and go to Mozambique for more reasons than I could count. A major reason was that I wanted to see poverty on a global level and see, first hand, how the interactions between countries can harbor economic injustice.
Additionally, I have always had a fascination with things that are clouded in misconceptions, as Africa most certainly is. Most people, when they think of Africa, think of jungles and wildlife, war and famine. I even tried to recall all that I learned about Africa in school…my very short list came to ancient Egypt and the slave trade.
My year in Mozambique, obviously to the readers of this website, was everything: fulfilling, motivating, a struggle, an intense learning experience, a long year, a short year, satisfying, gratifying, and utterly a pleasure. While I was in Lamego, I came to the realization that to be even more effective and to create more widespread, lasting change, I needed to complete my education. I returned to the United States in May of 2003 to begin the college search process (for what felt like the 100th time!). This time, the process was much simpler, I applied and was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania and began my studies at Penn in the fall of 2004. I am also fortunate enough to have a job that I simply adore. I now work at the Philadelphia AIDS Fund and feel quite pleased to be able to contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
And all of that brings us to the present: I am going back to Mozambique to rejuvenate myself and to remind myself of all that I learned during my first year there. I am going back to help in whatever modest ways that I can. I am going back mostly because life is too short not to.
I would like to share a quote I stumbled upon and often return to. The late Samora Machel, the first president of an independent Mozambique, said, 'International Solidarity is not an act of charity. It is an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains towards the same objectives. The foremost of these objectives is to aid the development of humanity to the highest level possible.' We all have the ability to make a contribution to humanity, to alleviate pain, to bring about greater happiness. Teaching in Lamego is one way for me to achieve that.