Dressember and Starting Where You Are

“The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” -Fredrick Buechner

For much of my life I believed that I must forego my own talents and interests in the interest of altruism. I felt like it was selfish of me to pursue what I liked while there are so many in the world who cannot. I spent most of my undergrad trying to forget the “trivial” interests I had like fine arts, dance, fashion, etc. which were not seen inherently bad, but distractions from what I perceived as the “real work”: advocating for the rights of those who are marginalized.

So when I came across the quote above, it immediately made me uncomfortable. What did gladness have to do with anything? In my mind dance couldn’t change the world; art couldn’t end oppression; fashion doesn’t matter when people are starving to death.

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While the intention is good, and these thoughts are not completely wrong, I’ve realized just how limiting this kind of thinking is. It is the voice of the cynic, creativity’s antithesis.

A better way of looking at it is through the lens of “how?” How can dance change the world? How can art end oppression? How can fashion feed people? How can a beautiful meal end violence? How can running challenge inequality? How can good design make a meaningful impact on people’s lives?

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For many (the cynics), the initial response is: it can’t. For them, life is a zero-sum game, so they hoard, and steal, and blame, and complain -but never do they transcend the binary world they’ve created. They see the world as “us vs. them.” It doesn’t matter which “side” they claim to be on, the projected superiority in their choice is what speaks and contributes to the disconnectedness of the world.

But then there is another group, the creatives, who realize that everything is connected and if one person wins it does not mean everyone else loses. These people and groups are truly open. Love, compassion, and kindness flow out of them. They seek to contribute to the beauty of the world. They do not resent anything or anyone, but recognize the brokenness of the world and, through their own wholeness and joy, seek to change it.

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Currently I am participating in a unique awareness/fundraising event by started by a group of these “creatives.” International Justice Mission (IJM) -a non-profit that rescues victims of human trafficking- has organized a campaign called: Dressember. The premise is that participants wear a dress everyday during the month of December to raise awareness about human trafficking and money for IJM to use for rescuing more victims. (85% of the money IJM receives during the Dressember campaign goes directly helping victims.) The event is the brain-child of Blythe Hill, who started Dressember just for fun/the challenge of wearing a dress everyday for a month because she loved dresses and fashion. It was only recently that she attached it to a greater cause when she and IJM got connected. The event has since taken off, fundraising more than $200K to fight human trafficking.

I believe the order in which this story developed is important. She started where she was, with something she loved, and THEN used it to change the world through her creativity. So often those who want to change the world get too fixated on the problems facing the issue and ignore what brings them joy. They forget that what the world really needs is more joy. That’s what it looks like to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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If you’d like to contribute to my Dressember campaign, I would love it! Follow the link! support.dressemberfoundation.org/rlcreations

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“Where There is Despair, Let Me Sow Hope.” -St. Francis of Assisi

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While I have written a lot about Kiva in my posts about micro-finance, there are many other organizations that do micro-finance work that deserve recognition. One such organization is Sow Hope, a non-profit located in my surrogate hometown, Grand Rapids.

After my seasonal job ended in November, I went on a trip through several parts of the country including Pennsylvania, Maryland, and eventually ended up in Chicago for a weekend. While there, I had the opportunity to attend a showing of the documentary that Sow Hope produced and to participate in the question and answer session afterwards. I learned a lot about the good work the organization does; it has helped nearly 40,000 women globally to become empowered through programs in healthcare, micro-finance, literacy training, and clean water initiatives. I also learned that despite the volume of women it has helped, it is a rather small, and streamlined organization: having a small, volunteer board of directors and two paid staff members. I was drawn to that aspect of the organization because it reminded me of an organization that I interned for my sophomore year of college, ANSWER. What drew me to both of these organizations is the transparency that they offer as well as a stronger emphasis on community.

So I urge you to check out Sow Hope, and if you feel compelled by its story, find a way to volunteer your time, money, skills, and talents to further its cause.

Today (July 12) is Malala Day

When people think of role models, they usually think of those who are older, who have lived long enough to have gained some amount of wisdom about the life that we are all living together. Rarely does a 16-year-old girl come to mind, but when one watches the video footage of Malala giving her speech eloquently, calmly, and passionately to the United Nations, one can hardly keep from admiring her.

Growing up in The West, I can’t count how many times a minor infraction can lead to much anger from myself and others during the day. A sloppy parking job, cutting in line, or even indecisiveness on someone else’s part can make another person fume for several minutes, or even hours.

Grace is nonexistent in those scenarios, and yet one can find it abound in this 16-year-old girl who has been shot in the head for simply trying to go to school. In fact, instead of reverting to anger, she draws upon the strength and wisdom of some of the most peaceful people to have walked on this planet–Muhammad, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., The Buddha, Mother Teresa, as well as a few more. She understands Martin Luther King Jr.’s words that “hate cannot drive out hate,” and inspires those who watch her speech to understand and believe in those words as well.

While I was left in awe of her strength and eloquence while watching this speech, what I felt the most, as I am sure was her intention with her speech, was inspiration and empowerment. I was inspired to keep going, to continue to use my voice as often as necessary and appropriate for justice, peace, and equality. I was also inspired to stop taking my freedom for granted but at the same time to keep fighting for freedom until equality for everyone is achieved.

So today, Malala Day, I am taking up my “pen” (well, cyber-pen) as Malala suggests because I can and because it is my right as a global citizen. I am writing to encourage others to take up Malala’s cause and empower themselves and others through education and using their voice to push against the status quo. I am, as Malala said, “call[ing] upon our sisters [and brothers] around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”