Who Am I?
“Be the change you wish to see in the world”. This has been the quote that has carried me through my life. The connection to Ghandi sparked when I was told he and I share a birthday, but it did not stop there. The resonation and meaning I yield from the thoughts he left behind have helped to shape how I strive to live my life.
My drive and desire to protect things that do not have a voice began at a young age. It started with my dog, Sandy, who joined our family when I was only 5 years old. The two of us would sit at the front door together side by side looking out into the neighborhood. She was and still is more than just a pet, but one of my best friends and a loyal companion. My feelings towards Sandy are biased because she is my dog, but I felt this way about all animals. I was born with the drive and need to speak for the animals that do not have a voice. I would sit in class reading books about endangered species and the lives of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. I would beg my parents to let me watch Animal Planet's new special on wildlife animals. One of my earliest memories and first time I displayed my activism and drive to make a change was when I was seven and sat in my basement and wrote a letter to the then President, George W Bush, to help protect the endangered animals. Whether he received that letter or not is still a mystery, but this sense of urgency and determination I had back then still exudes through me today. This empathy, compassion, and care I had for animals extended into taking care of their home and my home, the environment. The passion I feel towards justice extends itself in multiple aspects, especially my passion for the issue of how climate change disproportionately affects people of lower economic status. My drive to help facilitate sustainability in all aspects attributed to my desire to work in the field of social entrepreneurship.
I grew up in a small, sheltered, bubble of a town in Northern New Jersey. My view of people and life soon changed after my freshman year of high school service trip with the Rustic Pathways organization and it was one of the most difficult weeks of my life. It was the longest time I had ever been away from my family and a trip on which I knew absolutely no one. It turned out that the majority of the kids on the trip were there for the wrong reasons, either as punishment or a service requirement, the dissimilarities grew bigger and bigger with each passing day and I soon found myself feeling extremely isolated. In addition to the lack of relationships and personal connections there were many other environmental instances that tested my fifteen year old self, such as encountering a shark while surfing, getting attacked by a swarm of bees, and having to be the first one to float down the river rapids in order to get help after our white water rafting kayak got lofted. This trip might have been one of the worst two weeks of my life, but it played a vital role in who I am today. It allowed me to discover my ability to handle discomfort. Not once during the entire trip did I complain, or even hint to my parents that this was happening instead, I just stuck it out and tried to find the positives. Overall I learned a crucial lesson, before I thought that if I was in a beautiful place I would be happy but realized that it is not where you are but who you are with. If you are with inspiring people in a beautiful place then you are truly lucky
My horrendous experience in Costa Rica left a scar, but I did not let it stop me. I applied and decided to attend Santa Clara University even though I knew absolutely no one who was was attending the school or who had ever attended the school. I put myself out there and went on an immersion trip to Nepal through the Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship. During this time is when I discovered the importance of a value exchange. Unfortunately before this trip I had the classic view of service as just one helping people who are not as fortunate as you, but never experienced or was exposed to a value exchange. My host families in Nepal and the people we met in the villages and at the schools most likely left a more meaningful impact on my life than I provided them. Trekking through the exquisite mountainous region of Nepal and talking with the various people living in the villages made me realize how you really do not need a lot to be happy. The people living in the village had a sense of community, respect, and love for each other I had never seen before. Even though we did not speak the same language when villagers passed you and greeted you with “namaste” the eye contact expressed more than words ever could. The soulful eyes communicated their genuine interest and care for your wellbeing. Not only was I positively affected by their community and treatment of others, but learned how they intercropped and used the terraces to grow food for their sustainable village. This experience allowed my affection for traveling and learning about other cultures to flourish, and sparked my interest in action research with a fellowship that values the exchange of culture and knowledge.
My sentiments towards fighting and advocating for the equal treatment of women, and understanding how gender plays a role in many aspects of life, specifically the environment stemmed from an experience that was buried in my brain. I always had the drive to fight for justice, but was never truly involved in women's rights until I felt a true moment of vulnerability at fifteen years old. The father of the boy I was babysitting caused this feeling through inappropriate touching and comments. At first, I thought it was because he was drunk, I shouldn't have been wearing shorts so short, why did I wear that low cut tank top again? I kept quiet for months, embarrassed to tell my friends or family. Then I had an English teacher in high school who changed my perspectives and added one more passion and injustice to fight for. She led the Girls Learn International Club at our school and inspired me to join, and the next thing I knew I was leading the club, bringing in speakers, organizing self defense events, and sharing about my experience. This involvement allowed me to turn an unfortunate event into a positive by channelling my discomfort into education for others. This was the beginning of my self awareness in my ability and interests to pursue challenging projects and difficult tasks that work to help change and dismantle an unjust equilibrium. The most comfort I found from this situation was not surprisingly from my mother, who unfortunately had a similar experience as a young woman.
I could not begin to express myself without touching on my mother, she is my rock. I have always been attached to my mom by the hip. She raised me with the confidence that I could do anything or be anything if I put my mind to it. She is solely the reason I am the woman I am today, and have the confidence and self love that I do. My mother was raised by her parents to be a wife and mother, nothing more. They did not pay for or encourage her to attend college (although she did), but encouraged her brother. As a result of my mother growing up in this environment and because of the incredibly strong woman she is, she raised me with the intent to make sure I knew I had the ability to do anything and be anything. Both her and my dad encouraged and supported me to follow my passions at a very young age. They have instilled in me the confidence that it is okay if I did not want to have children or get married. They are the reason I have put myself out there and continue to follow my vocations in life. During my time in New Zealand my mom was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease and had to undergo open heart surgery. Almost half a year without seeing my parents and having to go through my mom’s surgery from across the world in an unfamiliar setting challenged me to my core. My heart was aching for my mother and part of me just wanted to go home so I could be with her. I was able to stick it out and pushed myself to enjoy my time in New Zealand, adventure, and study in order to make the best out of my time I had. Not only was this a time in my life that shaped me emotionally, but my parents had always been people who constantly checked in on me calling and texting to see how I was doing. This changed drastically after the diagnoses of my mom's condition, and understandably they did not have the time or the energy to dedicate to me like they usually did. The occurrence of the situation happened during an extremely unstable time in my life, I was in an unfamiliar, scary, but exciting new environment abroad and I had to get used to not getting support from my family. The fact of the matter was that I gained confidence, independence, and became a stronger person from this experience. It opened my eyes to know I have the ability to endure things I could not even imagine. The strength this experience gave has given me the confidence to challenge myself and the independence that I needed to become my own person and continue to take on challenging tasks.