In fall of 2010 I had the idea of creating a non-profit to help encourage, organize and fund volunteerism on a global level. I’d just taken my first trip to India and knew in my heart it was the right thing to be doing at a time when our world needs it most. Cool. So what do you do next? I’ve never worked for a non-profit. I’ve been an activist and volunteer since I was a teenager, but that doesn’t mean I know anything about starting or running a non-profit. In fact, I’m a professional dancer and I’ve never had a non-dance/entertainment job in my life. I knew I was incredibly lucky to make a living doing what I love, but something else was tugging at my heart.
So, I just did it. I bought a text book, did major research, found amazing people to help me and filed some paperwork! Then last year became a whirlwind of change and activity! I spent most of the year creating our name and fundraising. I started a blog about the process and found my tribe! The next step was taking a two month long research/outreach trip to get the hands on experience I needed and practice what I preach. Stops included: a mini adventure in China, volunteering at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, a week at a Thai orphanage, a quick break on the Andaman Coast then heading off to India to spend 3 weeks working at an animal sanctuary and starting an educational outreach program with local children. From there, stopping in the UK and Germany on the way back home to the US.
In order to do all that though, I had to do something crazy. It meant giving up the life I had so carefully crafted for myself and leaping into the unknown. Could I give up my cozy beach bungalow, dancing all day and take off for a world adventure? I had to. So I did.
After a crazy adventure in China, I arrived in Thailand on 11-11-11 just in time for the Loy Krathong Festival. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. The sight of lanterns in the sky and floats filled with candles and incense in the Ping River was breathtaking. Then it was off to spend, probably the most fun week of my life, at the Elephant Nature Park. I arrived solo but quickly met 5 other girls who I felt I’d known my whole life. My soul mates! Then there were the else. I learned so much about love, wisdom, compassion and forgiveness from them. I went straight from the sanctuary to working with toddlers at a Thai orphanage. They were the hardest to leave and still most difficult for me to talk about.
Before taking off to India, I decided to take a break and head down to the Andaman Coast for a bit sea and sand. I’ve never seen anything like it. I had my own little hut on the beach for a few days and soaked in some sun and went island hopping. It was exactly what I needed.
Though it was sad to leave Thailand, I was excited to be back in India. I fell in love with it on my first trip and missed it in a way that I can only describe as homesickness. It was a relief to be back and catch up with friends. The work I did in India was incredibly rewarding but also difficult at times. There was the language barrier with the children and especially working with little girls, who were afraid to speak up. They’ve never been told that their opinion matters, so I told them. Then there were the animals… Great highs when they recovered from their injuries but great lows when we lost them. One of my self-appointed jobs was being the one who held puppies as they passed. I preferred to let them die in loving arms than alone in a kennel. Sometimes knowing that you made even that tiny difference is all you need.
Every day I marveled at the fact that THIS was my life! After long days of work, I’d shower and head out to dine with new friends or visit the night bazaars and temples. I’d catch a glimpse of my refection and barely believe who I saw. The moments where I got to just sit and enjoy my surroundings and be present were the most magical. I try to keep that peace and joy with me every day.
After some fun in Europe, I finally made it back to the US. I am adjusting to life back home but still feel like I am on the trip. Perhaps it is because I’m already planning new adventures, not just for myself but for others as well! My new life consists of combining the arts, activism, travel and giving back. I haven’t lost anything, I have only gained.
-Brenda (Guest Contributor)