I embarked on my first overseas trip to Australia at the age of 19 — backpack filled to the brim, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed — ready to take on the world. For two years previous to my travels, I had immersed myself in the practice of yoga and meditation, diligently reading the Yoga Sutras by Patangali and excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita. I was convinced I had my life and spirituality figured out.
Little did I know that this trip would have such a profound shift on my perception of the world I lived — including what I considered my “spiritual awareness” — and kick start a lifelong journey towards making this world a better place for all.
After living three months Down Under, I had spent nearly all my money and couldn’t afford any of the yoga classes in the city. I decided that it was time to venture out into the desert where there were farm-work opportunities and a place to quiet my mind.
I bought a horribly mustard yellow-colored station wagon that only ran on leaded fuel, and veered out into the literal unknown. The days seemed to drag on, sun beating down on the black tar, nearly melting the tires. Kangaroos and snakes frequented the sides of the road, while bush fires burned in the distance.
What really caught my eye was the people. Driving throughout the small towns, I would see faces of women, children, and elderly men sitting along the roads. Many weren’t wearing shoes. I learned from locals that most of the people were homeless — Australian aborigines who continued to suffer from the effects of colonialism and residential schools — people who had been pushed out of their land and homes, no where to go. I felt helpless about the situation.
When I returned home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the faces I had seen in the seemingly endless, dry, Australian desert. One evening, I was chatting with a friend and told him about the people sitting along the sides of the roads. “I don’t know what I can do,” I mused. “Well, don’t just talk about it. Do something.” His words hit me. Hard. I had been talking non-stop since coming home about what I could be doing that, until that moment, it had not occurred to me to actually do something about it.
So I did.
The next few years, I dedicated my time to volunteering for international organizations to raise awareness on the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons. I then pursued a BA in Political Science and Middle Eastern and African Studies where I deepened my understanding of the various political situations that created a lot of the issues I was so impassioned by. I studied religion and befriended folks with various spiritual beliefs — which made me look at my own in a way that I became less concerned with seeking truth and more about living it.
To me, this truth was in peace, in justice, and in finding ways for others to live their lives without fear, hunger, persecution, oppression, and war. And in so many ways, this speaks to all that I learned from my yogic studies those years ago. I just didn’t know it then.
Before I graduated, I set off on my second overseas trip — this time to the Middle East — a little bit older and a tad bit wiser. My intention was to document my travels through listening to stories, taking photos, and making videos of the people I interacted with. I learned about the issues faced by several individuals on a daily basis, and the struggles they had endured over the years. When I came home, I had plenty to share — with blessing from those I spoke to — and felt there had been purpose in this trip. I presented what I had documented to friends, family, and my university colleagues. These stories were seen, heard, and honored. I chose to do something. In this, others felt empowered to do something as well.
Now I am nearly 34 and have continued to travel, doing what I can to make a difference. I realize “doing something” looks different to everyone. And it’s not always about trying to save the whole world. Sometimes, it can be about buying a homeless person a coffee on your way to work, volunteering for an inner city school program, or signing a petition to make policy changes on issues you care about. For me, I found my passion in international human rights.
There is so much we can do to get involved and give back to the world that has carried us in this life. First, find an issue that speaks to you. Whether it is about the environment, animal rights, indigenous activism, or social justice, pick something that speaks to you and fight for it. There are some great ideas out there for the types of organizations that you can volunteer for to make a difference in your own community or abroad.
I believe that whatever is calling to us, is important. It’s much too overwhelming to take on the entire world alone. Let yourself be heard and empower others to find their voices as well. Each voice echoes, and together these voices can reverberate across oceans.