What is your offering? This is a question that I have asked myself since I can remember, a question that has fueled me throughout my life and continues to stir in my soul. Does this question have one singular answer? Does this question get asked often enough? And when the answer comes is it coming from my ego or is it coming from the deeper part of my being that truly recognizes my place in the world.
At a young age I began asking this question and the answer that continued to arise was my offering is to help people find a greater sense of peace and meaning in their lives. This offering has taken on many forms but the prominent form has been through my work in Africa, a continent that embodies both the extreme suffering of the world and also the incredible magic of this human life; for Africa is not afraid to remove the masks of illusion and ask you to bear witness, even if it makes you uncomfortable, even if it makes you feel helpless, even if it changes the way you view life forever.
Africa has become my greatest teacher and most loyal love affair because the people of this continent have taught me time and time again the incredible resilience of the human spirit and the unbelievable ability to forgive and still have hope and genuine joy despite the darkest of circumstances. I first traveled to Africa thinking I could be of service now 10 years later I have recognized that I need the experiences and people of Africa probably much more than they will ever need me, for I have discovered that the greatest joy in life comes when you can authentically express the calling of your soul.
In my life I have been very honored to be able to work in many different countries throughout the continent with many different populations of people including indigenous peoples, genocide survivors, former child soldiers, orphans and women living with HIV/AIDS in the slums of Nairobi. Each one of these experiences have taught me something different but the overall thread that has run through them all is that there is no magic formula for development and poverty alleviation and every situation needs to start with really understanding the needs of the community by hearing it directly from them and then responding authentically from that point forward. We can do all the research in the world but it is not until that exact moment where you are sitting down with community members that you will truly know how you can be of service and if you even can, for nothing is worse than false promises that you know you can never fulfill. For it is in these moments that true collaboration occurs and we can either choose to authentically listen and learn about the needs and culture of the community or we can choose to continue on with the agenda of our egos that we all so often get stuck in. A very important lesson I have learned through development work is to constantly check in with myself and ask “what is my motivation” am I motivated to work with a certain community or project for selfish reasons or am I truly coming from a place that feels I can authentically be of service and work together with the community to create further opportunities for them and their families. This question can be a tricky one because often times our motivation is seeped in guilt that wears the mask of selfless service; this one I know all too well from my own personal journey with guilt and working on letting go of the victim/savior complex that you can so often feel when working in developing countries and to which I owe the Maasai people for they have helped me to finally release this complex after witnessing time and time again their incredible joy and connection with the earth and ability to truly live a life that is simple yet so profound. When I am with them I feel as though I am a victim of my culture that has become so detached and cut off from the simple pleasures of everyday life, it is in these moments that they become my saving grace reminding me once again what is truly of value.
Over the years I look back upon these experiences and ask myself what continues to fuel me, the answer that I have found is that I truly believe that each one of us has a unique offering and we all deserve the opportunity to express that offering. I have been drawn to the work of development because I feel when people do not have food, water, income, healthcare, education, safety, gender equality, love, etc. their opportunity to discover their offerings become very difficult and in this I feel people are being denied the most basic of human rights, to live the life they were born to live.
I owe so much to the continent of Africa and to each person who has shown me vulnerability, ecstatic joy, unimaginable suffering, forgiveness, compassion, fear and whom have helped me to see that nothing is black and white for it is not until we are in a situation that we will truly know how we will react, and it is in that we can release judgment of ourselves and judgment of others.
So my invitation to you is to ask what is your offering and what is the way in which you want to express it. For each one of us holds a valuable and unique piece of the puzzle and by expressing it we give others permission and inspiration to do the same and it is then that we truly uplift the world.