I haven’t seriously written in awhile and I’ve spent quite some time racking my brain over an original and meaningful story to share and weave my words into. But in the midst of Gamergate, the horrifying allegations against Jian Ghomeshi, and the response to Hollaback!’s catcalling video, I realize that the meaningful story I have to share right now is so terribly unoriginal. It is so common, it hurts.
It's been a damn long year.
2013 will go down in my books as one of the craziest, most unpredictable and unbelievable years I've had. But I'm not entirely surprised. I opened this year telling myself that this was the time to really push myself out of my comfort zone and put myself out there. An old journal entry from exactly a year ago today has these simple words splayed on the page in gigantic, capital letters: DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY.
So I did. And oh, the places it's taken me!
Those three simple words have taken me to Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda in a journey that I still find myself daydreaming about, wondering if it was actually real. That experience taught me about patience, understanding, empathy, friendship, leadership, and what true cross-cultural dialogue and solidarity really looks like. It taught me the importance of staying present in every moment. And it connected me to some of the most gentle souls I've ever met who will always be the shape and the depth of these dots on a map.
This year I found myself in places and situations I wouldn't have expected. I found myself--against all reason--willingly jumping off a fucking 44m-high ledge into the Nile River (or what others like to call "bungee jumping"). I found myself on a boat in the pitch dark with nothing but the boundless sky above me and the Indian Ocean around me. I found myself writing a cover story for a magazine. I found myself taking up rock climbing and being kinda obsessed with it. I found myself running a 5K and then climbing up the CN Tower again. I found myself in New York City in the same room as Bill Clinton, Muhammed Yunus, Belinda Gates, and Richard Branson. And then I found myself roaming the city alone. I found myself learning how and really loving to paint. I found myself solidifying a number of friendships, forming new ones, and truly recognizing the depth of what it means to be a family...
...and that's just a snapshot of where my heart's been in 2013.
It's been an intentional year and though I've yet to scribbe the words to define my 2014, here's hoping it will be just as purposeful and full of love.
The stockings have been hung and filled with goodies at the Operation Groundswell head office, our Early Bird prize is just waiting to be handed out, and two sets of teams are ready to start their winter adventure to Guatemala. So what else is there to do? Celebrate, of course!!
We've had a tremendously exciting and successful year and we are ending the year with style this Sunday, December 16 at Handlebar in Toronto's Kensington Market. We're bringing together our alumni from all years and all places to spread some holiday cheer while boogie-ing down to some electro-reggae jams (is there a better way to celebrate?!). And in the spirit of giving, we're asking everyone to bring a children's book (elementary school level) as a cover charge. We'll be donating these books to our partner, the Young County Change Makers, who recently opened up a community library in Kisumu, Kenya! You can RSVP here and don't forget to bring your friends and family too!
This book drive is extra special to me as I was lucky enough to work directly with Mike, Brian, Winnie, Steve, and Zaq, the inspiring people behind YCCM. I traveled to East Africa with Operation Groundswell this summer where our team helped to paint and put the final touches on this community library. In the informal settlement of Nyalenda where there is little to no access to electricity, families must rely on paraffin candles to light up their homes at night. It's a pricey expense and many go without light. Children are unable to do their homework or continue their learning after school without this basic necessity. YCCM saw this gap and recognized the need for a safe and productive space where children can finish their homework and learn to read. Their development of the community library has allowed for this.
Our team was on the ground when the library was just bare bones and it's been amazing to receive updates from YCCM about the library's progress and see photos of the space full of children. "I share, with a lot of joy, that we host over 45 children every day since the library's opening in July," says Winnie. "It overwhelmed us since we didn't expect so many, but felt so satisfied when they kept coming back! We felt like we found an answer to a question that no one had been able to address in the area."
YCCM recently held their own fundraiser within the Nyalenda community for the purchase of primary and high school books. Mike told me the other day, "We managed to raise the money for 100 text books for both children in primary and high schools, a very encouraging move!"
At Operation Groundswell, we're hoping to help continue this momentum for change and success in Nyalenda during our own holiday party. So this coming Sunday, come out and celebrate a year of incredible travels, solid partnerships, and literacy from Canada to Kenya!
Take the elevator up to the 6th floor of the Telecom House in Kigali, Rwanda and you'll not only find a stunning panoramic view of the city's endless hills, but you'll also walk right into a vibrant, open space of modernity and innovation known as kLab. While in the city, I had the distinct opportunity of writing the cover story about this up and coming tech hub and incubator for the African Business Journal. Speaking with founding member and general manager, Claude Migisha, I gained more insight into the country's burgeoning ICT industry and the various solutions local entrepreneurs are developing. "Africa will be the next birth place for innovation and the hub for world renknowned tech companies," says Migisha and it was both humbling and thrilling to see first-hand the seeds of this reality being planted at kLab.