Inspirational Guest Posts

Meet Paola Rivera

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Below is a guest post from Paola, initially published on Paola’s blog LIVE. TRAVEL. BLESS:

Life is weird.

Not in the sense that you spend four years falling in love with an entire community of people and bars and a big white M made of rocks and pizza Gumby’s at midnight and a set of six columns, and then are expected to uproot and start over somewhere else without all of that in an arm’s reach (can you tell I’m struggling with some post-grad angst?)…but in the sense that your life can be irrevocably changed in a matter of seconds. On a random July evening. Without even a hint that your life is about to be turned upside down and inside out.

So, let me give you a brief history of the Riveras –

Dad: born in Guatemala, has two brothers, grew up in Colombia.
Mom: born in Czechoslovakia, has one brother, moved anywhere you can think of while growing up. She’s lived in Africa and stuff – casual.
Me: born in Guatemala. *Fun fact* I was considered a ‘legal alien’ until my freshman year at Mizzou. K. Thanks, America.
Sister: born in Texas (someone got the short end of the exotic stick).

Typical somewhat foreign family living in the land of the free, right? Right. So what’s the deal, why is any of this important? Well, you see, this is where that super-weird-life-changing moment comes into play for us. Allow me to elaborate on the history of my momma – and by elaborate, I mean paraphrase, because a full background could take hours and many cups of coffee or even an autobiography (ESPECIALLY after this plot twist). The quick and dirty: mom was born in Czechoslovakia, emigrated to Austria when the Russians invaded Prague, hopped around the world a bit, married my dad in Guatemala, bore yours truly, moved to Houston, bore the baby sister, moved to Kansas City, USA where she currently resides. (I KNOW, RIGHT?)

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Again, why do you care?

Bear with me…the good stuff is coming (like Paramount Pictures/Jodi Picoult good). So last July mom and I were bonding sitting looking at our Facebooks on our respective computers like mothers and daughters sometimes do – I noticed she had an unnecessary amount of notifications and offered to clean that up for her (type A, OCD, fastidious, guilty as charged). As I’m accepting and deleting a plethora of friend requests, I come across a woman from the Czech Republic. “Mom, do you still keep in contact with anyone in Prague?” I ask. “No one other than Suzana, my cousin,” she replies. Intrigued, I scan the woman’s profile and immediately chills were sent from the nape of my neck down to the tips of my toes. This woman was related to my mom, no doubt. From the thin lips that fought to stay pursed through a smile to the eyes my sister surely got through the maternal side of a punnett square, everything about her seemed familiar – maybe even too familiar for my mom. While I got the chills, I think she felt something along the lines of sheer panic. After noting the ever-so-familiar face had the same birth place and birthday as my mom, she was then convinced someone was essentially ‘catfishing’ her or trying to steal her identity. She was literally searching for her own jewelry through the pictures, sure that photoshop had something to do with the similarities – yes, even down to the rings on her fingers. Mind you all, they were not the usual silver and gaudy Silpada rings Katrina is known to sport.

Fast-forward through a night of trying to decipher what the hell is going on and not much sleep. This is what we (I am now just as active on my mom’s Facebook as she is) wake up to the next morning.

Hello Seeking a twin-sister Catherine Strumhausová born: April 29, 1957 in Příbram, Czech Republic. Whether it’s you could you contact me. thank you the only person you show me yours, whether it is a mistake I apologize in advance, please reply, but who looks at us, saying that we are twins. Have a nice day Dana

You can re-read that over 20 times again and not feel crazy because you’d still have read it 55 times less than I did. Okay. Hold on while I compose myself and try not to vomit or cry or curl into the fetal position – for those of you that don’t know me personally, I’m a ‘feelings’ type of gal. In this moment, my mom has stopped believing someone is trying to steal her identity, but the panic has yet to subside – rightfully so. Remember how I gave you a family history when you started reading? My mom does not have a sister, therefore, she is not said twin, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

Told ya there was some good stuff coming. After a few emails to her cousin and some time to process, my mom confirmed that, unbeknownst to her, not only was she adopted, but she was separated from her twin sister at around eight months old. Her adoptive father had taken her from the children’s home in Kolín while another family’s adoptive process for both of the twins was in the works. At this point I was probably hyperventilating due to overstimulation of all the emotions. I was experiencing a blackout of emotions, while my mother had come to a crossroads of too many to count. A crossroads of fear and hope. Confusion and clarity. There were so many questions, but no resources for answers; she had lost contact with her brother (Surprise!  Adopted as well.) and her adoptive parents had passed away even long before that.

At the same time my mom was going through sheer shock and awe, Dana was experiencing something completely opposite – relief and comfort. On a spectrum of all the feels, I imagine the appeasement to feel like the most grand exhale of one’s life. In 1974, at the age of 17, Dana’s adoptive parents gave her the greatest gift and biggest burden by revealing the most precious part of her past: she was not alone in this world. This woman spent the next 40 years searching for (literally) her other half.

Hi Catherine, yes we are sisters, twins!!! Here crying with joy. After so many years..at least you know about me. I hope to meet, a long time looking for you. Your sister, Dana

Today, the journey to bridge 5,000 miles and recount 57 years has begun and I could not be more excited for my mother. While some unexpected plans and rising plane ticket costs ground me in Kansas City for the initial meet, my joyful heart and eager eyes will be there in spirit. Tears streamed down my face as I said goodbye at the airport, but the tears were not those of sadness or jealousy, rather ones of joy and euphoria. My mind continuously stumbles across all the stories that might be brought back for me enjoy: how their mannerisms mimicked each other’s within the first five minutes of meeting, the strange coincidences that could not have happened solely by fluke, and the beauty my sister would witness in a cafe full of people when my mom and her twin meet for the first time.

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So, here’s to you, Mom.

Here’s to spending the next 10 days in complete and utter bliss with your sister, daughter, and cousin right by your side. Here’s to redefining your youth and replacing memories of toy-like tanks and stern soldiers with those of walks across dusty cobblestones and miles of red-roofed views. Here’s to letting go of unanswered questions and finding peace in the bonds of sisterhood. But most of all, here’s to embracing those couple of seconds last July and turning them into the greatest blessing of your life.

I love you like the whole wide world and will be eagerly awaiting your return – complete with e

nough photos to make me feel like I was there and enough stories to last me through my time left living at home.

xo,

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Part 2:

Full disclosure: it took me almost two months to sit down with my mom and get the full story on how the reunion went. For whatever reason, I thought that if we set out a time to get dinner and have this lavish evening with all of those words, it would make the experience seem even more grandiose than it already was. It turns out that a night on the couch with a replay of Young and the Restless murmuring in the background was all I really needed to soak it all in.

Surprisingly, after everything was said and done and my ears had finally been graced with the story of the reunion, I came to the realization that I had been listening to so much more than just a story of two twins reunited. I had been receiving little reminders about this breath of a life we are give and was sprinkled with inspiration to embrace every curve ball that is thrown our way. So, rather than boring you all with every detail of what my mom ate while she was in Europe and how many trinkets/nail files made of Czech crystal she came home with in the midst of meeting her sister, I decided to focus on what my mother walked away with from this reunion and the beauty she showered me with as she recalled it all sitting on a couch in the middle of America.

The initial reunion was (from what I inferred) everything you might be imagining it to be: my mom waiting eagerly in a café until a woman who looked identical to her started running toward her with tears streaming down her face and a determined translator following close behind. My mom told me that throughout the entire meeting day, she was still half convinced this wasn’t her sister, that somehow, this was all just fake. She giggled as she told me this, but I know there was a serious undertone to that somewhat naïve comment – although, I think I would be stuck staring at her until I could prove the genetics one way or another! The language barrier was a bit tough, but from the sounds of it, I don’t think it was any harder than practicing self control with the breadbaskets at every table. My mom told me how beautiful it was to just sit there and feel comfortable with this woman she had never once met before and how blissful it was to be walking down the cobblestoned streets of Prague hand-in-hand with this identical image she now knew as her sister. They didn’t speak about the past, because there is nothing they could have fixed – nothing they could have changed to make this moment any different.

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At this point in the conversation, I so eagerly wanted her to recite every detail down to the type of carvings in each bridge she crossed over. The more I tried to pry the swatches of the flowers and shapes of the architecture out into the air, the more my mom spoke about struggling with a language barrier and the sensation of having lived 57 years of a completely separate life than the one her own sister, let alone twin, had lived.

What was interesting to me, though, was that throughout most of this conversation my mother wasn’t speaking about herself – she was speaking about her sister. She talked about how much joy she felt knowing that Dagmar’s wish was fulfilled and that she not only found my mom after a lifetime of searching, but the unthinkable happened and they were able to meet. She spoke of how outlandish, yet incredibly easy it was to care so much about a person she had just met. I think the most heartbreaking, but at the same time, heartwarming comment my mom made was this:

“I never could have imagined how much it is humanly possible to miss someone after spending just four days with her.”

It is obvious my mom yearns for the day she can see her sister again and I can only hope that I will be right by her side the next time around. If you take anything from this story, let it be a reminder to not dwell on the past, to put others’ joy before your own, and to find beauty in the chaos that we call life. If you’re able to do those three things you’ll find yourself radiating a much more positive outlook and periodically reminding yourself that in the end, sometimes the storms you’re fighting through now may expose their own rainbows 57 years down the road…I’ve seen it happen in the most beautiful way.

Meet Fluro Zebra (FZ)

A LITTLE INFO ABOUT THE FLURO ZEBRAfluroThe Fluro Zebra, otherwise known as FZ, is a 10-year-old Australian girl who is living with chronic pain. At nine years old, FZ injured her left foot, which resulted in a nervous system dysfunction and has caused her to live in pain, every moment of every day since. Unable to walk or to withstand any normal stimuli touching her foot (even so much as a gentle breath would cause her screaming pain), FZ was formally diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and has had three lengthy inpatient rehabilitation treatments with her mother, at a hospital four and a half hours away from her home and her family.

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Through a daily routine of medication, intensive therapy treatment, an ever optimistic attitude, and a determined heart, FZ has learned how to walk again with crutches and almost a year later, her pain level is slowly reducing.

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Throughout her journey, FZ has found that a happy heart, a busy mind and simply appreciating life kept her learning, growing and laughing which helped her cope with the chronic pain.

fluro16FZ decided to turn her negative situation into a positive experience by giving back to others, just as so many had given to her. FZ’s blog ‘The Life of a Fluro Zebra’ was born.  FZ wants to share her pain relieving tips and tricks with others and she also wants to inspire all people to try new things, such as arts and crafts, as she believes that new experiences and adventures fill your soul.

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FZ wants to give her readers at least one reason to smile with each post she writes. FZ believes that by making others smile, you are not only filling your heart, but that you are also filling the world with happiness.

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When FZ discovered Project Light to Life, she took inspiration from the ‘Kind Acts and Volunteering’ ideas and decided to follow suit by sending some of her own favorite quotes in anonymous letters too. When asked why she decided to do this project, FZ replied “Everyone goes through rough times and if you have good support from family and friends, you can turn a negative into a positive. Some people don’t have a lot of support from others so I wanted to send them a note to let them know that someone else in the world believes in them and that they can make it through.” FZ explains that “helping people makes the world a more safe, enjoyable, and happy place to live in”.

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I was honored to read FZ’s post about how she sent anonymous letters to strangers and immediately wanted to share her post with my readers. Without further ado, here is a post by Project LTL’s youngest guest poster thus far:

Sending Strangers Sprinkles of Hope

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Ciao!

I have followed an amazing blogger, Christine Barba- Project Light to Life, that always does nice things for people and the world. I wanted to do one of those good deeds by sending a nice quote and letter to random people all over Australia. Christine Barba is such a good person and has inspired me to do the same good deeds. I loaded up White Pages Residential (but you can use the phone book if you want) and typed in random surnames and a State or Territory. It comes up with lots of names of people in that State or Territory. I scrolled down while having my eyes closed and stopped it with my finger. I sent a quote and letter to the person my finger landed on. With the quotes, I found them on the internet, pasted them on a word document, printed them out, laminated each page, cut them out and stuck magnets on the back. I attached magnets on so that people could stick their quotes wherever they wanted and see it everyday. I am hoping that the quotes will make everybody feel really happy inside! It is so easy and fun, and makes you think of all the people’s lives you could be touching. You could even change the way they think, you never know. But I am sure that people will appreciate the effort that I have put into these. You can make as many as you like, and just remember the whole way through you’re making them that everybody you are sending them to will be so excited to find them in their mailboxes!
I have made 14 notes and quotes and drew a special picture for each one. (Each picture was different to another.)
“Making one person smile can change the world- maybe not the whole world, but their world.” ~ Unknown ~

FZ Out!! 🙂

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If you get a chance, please check out FZ’s incredible blog to see the other projects she has been working on in efforts to spread positivity. She is truly an inspiration! An additional pat on the back to FZ’s mom, who is continuing to encourage FZ to pursue such wonderful projects. I believe their positivity will work wonders for them both.

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Meet Jack Christensen

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I’m Jack Christensen. I am a college student, a writer, and an avid outdoorsman. I am also 1 in 25,000. Nine years ago, when I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called neurofibromatosis type 2— usually shortened to NF2. NF2, which only affects 1 out of every 25,000 people, arises when chromosome 22 lacks a protein that normally suppresses tumor growth. As a result, individuals with NF2 develop non-malignant tumors throughout the brain, spine, and peripheral nervous system. These tumors, despite being benign, can have many negative implications: they can cause muscle atrophy, loss of sensation, facial paralysis, mobility problems, and even death. Most notably, people with NF2 develop tumors on the auditory nerves that transmit sound from the cochlea to the brainstem, usually leading to deafness.

When I was diagnosed, I had already undergone one surgery in 2003 to remove a brain tumor. But since diagnosis, I have undergone three more surgeries for tumor removal, as well as a scoliosis surgery (scoliosis can be a symptom of NF2). My most recent surgery, performed in January of this year, was a brain surgery to remove the tumor that had developed on my left auditory nerve, leaving me deaf on my left side.

Losing my hearing has definitely changed my attitude towards my medical condition. Prior to this most recent surgery, I never let anybody know that I had any sort of disease. I didn’t want to create an appearance of vulnerability. But since becoming partially deaf, I’ve come to realize that NF2 has made me stronger, and I’m proud of that. I’m stubborn not to let NF2 become an excuse for disability, and that has made me a more determined, hard-working person. Less than a month after this recent brain surgery, I was going to the gym for hour and a half-long workout sessions, shoveling snow from my family’s driveway, and applying for part-time jobs. Two months after surgery, I was ocean kayaking in Florida.

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Kayaking in Florida March 2014, two months post-op

Another thing I did after surgery was start a WordPress blog. I was lying in bed unable to fall asleep on one of my first nights home from the hospital when a narrative for an essay started spontaneously taking shape in my mind. The narrative was about my life with NF2 and how living with a chronic neurological illness had made me value both the good and bad in life. After years of keeping quiet, I wanted to get my story “out there.” So, within the next 24 hours, I had written the essay in its entirety, created a WordPress blog, and posted my story of my life with NF2. That essay, entitled “Waking,” was even published in a national NF2-related newsletter this past May.

But my blog is not about NF2. There’s so much more to my life than my disease and I use the written word — prose and poetry — to capture those other aspects. I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors and much of my writing can be categorized as nature writing. Specifically, I use nature as a framework to delve into questions of what it means to be human and alive on this planet. I have been especially influenced by the writings of Annie Dillard. Her 1974 work of narrative prose, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I read in my sophomore year of high school, is what made me want to become a writer in the first place. Overall, I feel that I often see the world differently than most people and use my writing, as well as my blog to share those different perspectives.

I also occasionally enjoy international travel, although my enthusiasm for travel has waned somewhat as my interests have shifted towards writing and the outdoors. I spent part of my junior year of high school living and studying abroad in China. The most memorable experience from my time abroad was volunteering for several days as an English teacher at a school in Beijing for the children of migrant workers. That experience was eye opening, as it made me realize that I had potential to be both a teacher and a leader. After returning to the US, I started doing research into the possibility of spending a gap year after high school teaching English in China. For medical reasons, though, concrete plans never came to fruition.

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Volunteering in Beijing

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At the Great Wall

In the meantime, however, I’ve become more involved with the neurofibromatosis (NF) community. NF2 is only one form of NF, the others being NF1 and schwannomatosis. Despite being deaf on one side, I recently volunteered as a counselor at Camp New Friends in West Virginia, a camp for children diagnosed with NF. It was an amazing experience and one I plan on revisiting every summer. It was the first time I had actually met other people living with NF and the first time I had taken on a serious leadership role. Although I wasn’t able to take a gap year and teach English in China, I am more than satisfied with teaching children diagnosed with NF how to live and cope with their disease.

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New friends at Camp New Friends

In one month, I will be returning to St Lawrence University in upstate New York after a semester-long medical withdrawal; I am pursuing a combined major in English and environmental studies. I may be partially deaf, but I have a lot to look forward to going into the future. My life isn’t always the easiest, but at the end of the day, it’s always worth it.

Below, I’ve included links to two organizations that provide information about neurofibromatosis:

http://www.ctf.org (Children’s Tumor Foundation)

http://www.nfnetwork.org (Neurofibromatosis Network)

Meet the Daytons

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Hey Christine and peeps!

We have had so much great stuff happen this year! We have given our assembly in Jr High and High schools in New Jersey to about 10,000 students! What an amazing ride and an honor to have a moment in front of a large group of school kids for an hour with the opportunity to reach that one kid in the audience who doesn’t know how valuable they are. We now have over 23,000 wristbands circulating the USA, UK, Canada and UK. It is a privilege to do what we do.

You Can NOT Be Replaced just had a really cool concert with musician Will Evans from Barefoot Truth (willevans.com) that was a fundraiser and story telling concert. We paired the night with a local band called Chevy Lopez and film interviews we did in the spring with some local young adults. The topic for our Step Back or a Moment concert was Heroin: reality|recovery|hope. Heroin is a huge issue in New Jersey and we felt that stories were a great way to start conversations. But in YCNBR fashion, we focused on the hope. Recovery is possible with structured support, as well as hard work and we wanted people to remember that so we can help our loved ones who are having a hard time. It was a beautiful night. Then we had an “AH-HA” moment.

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We’ve decided to take YCNBR on the road to Colleges and Universities, work with the students to put on a really cool event with awesome musicians and films on various topics. We’ll use topics like finding your passion and purpose, kindness, mental health and substance abuse, and bring in some great musicians. We’re going to bring our speakers the day before, have an art show, music, film and then…create chapters on campus to create a grassroots culture shift toward awesomeness!

The very best part is that the shows are going to be fundraisers for our high school program. So when students buy a ticket, they’re actually funding our assemblies so we don’t have to charge schools: http://bit.ly/YCNBRstepback!

If you are interested in bringing us to your campus email us at youcannotbereplaced@gmail.com

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Next up for us is: The Color Run Kaleidoscope Tour in Central Jersey on August 30th at Raceway Park. We are soooo excited we are the official charity partner for the race. EVERYONE can do this race! It’s a bucket-list-life-changing event of fun, music and color. Sign up now before it sells out or come volunteer with us for the day! We’ll also have an opportunity to meet you and hear your story! We’ll have wristbands and info with us too: http://bit.ly/YCNBRcolor.

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Below is a press release for the color run:

The “Happiest 5k on the Planet” plans for Thousands in August

Englishtown, NJ – The Color Run, one of the largest event series in the world, will be in Englishtown, NJ. The event will be held at Raceway Park and will begin at 8 am. Registration is open for individual runners and teams.

In 2014 The Color Run is introducing the brand new Kaleidoscope Tour. Kaleidoscopes demonstrate the beauty of motion and change. Whether it’s new runners getting ready for their first 5k, or seasoned athletes remembering what it feels like to just run for fun, the Kaleidoscope Tour will be an unforgettable event that will be filled with 5k magic. Participants can expect novel course attractions, fresh participant gear and new store merchandise.

Participation in, and buzz for, The Color Run has exploded since its debut in 2012 with more than 3 million “likes” on Facebook and more than 8 million views on YouTube. The Color Run has recently been featured on ESPN, Runner’s World, Sports Illustrated and Wall Street Journal, to name a few.

The Color Run visited over 50 cities in 2012 with more than 600,000 participants, a feat following their first event in January of that year. 2013 was a monumental year, launching more than 170 events worldwide with well over 1 million participants.

With no winners or official times, The Color Run celebrates healthiness, happiness, and individuality, bringing the community together to create a five-kilometer canvas of colorful fun in which thousands of participants are doused from head to toe in different colors at each kilometer.

“We call The Color Run the ‘happiest 5K on the planet’ because our events bring together friends and family in a unique, healthy, and fun environment,” said Travis Snyder, founder of The Color Run. “Our only rules are that people wear white and prepare to be covered in color at the finish!”

“Color Runners,” vary in demographics and reasons for running. With no winners or official times, The Color Run caters to anyone – first time runners to professional athletes. Close to 50 percent of Color Runners are first-time 5k runners and participate as a celebration and capstone of their healthy living accomplishments.

The Color Run, a for-profit company, loves the opportunity it has to partner with charities to help shine a light on their amazing work within society and highlight the causes they stand for. The Color Run has partnered with You Can NOT Be Replaced® for the Central Jersey event. YCNBR provides ‘proactive prevention’ through school presentations and parenting workshops focusing on the value of life including; science of the irreplaceable person, mental health, substance use, the brain and the importance of family and good friendships. The group contributes to prevention work in their community and work with other organizations educating on substance prevention and mental health awareness.

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To learn more about The Color Run, visit www.thecolorrun.com or watch this video.

To check out what we’re doing go to www.youcannotbereplaced.com or www.YCNBRtalk.com for our assembly program

Meet Cathryn Campell

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Education is said to be the road to a brighter future. That it provides the key for the locked door guarding the room to self-progression.  However, these two sentences can be considered extremely controversial in terms of their control over culture.

When I was 16, I was fortunate to travel with my school to Uganda. The purpose of the trip was mainly to raise awareness for and visit the various charities and partner schools that my school helped to support.

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It was on the 5th day of the trip that really got me thinking.

We arrived at a small rural village to work with RHUEPAI, a Ugandan based charity with aims ‘To advocate for improved health and poverty alleviation initiatives geared toward better peoples’ livelihoods through their own participation.’ After a four hour journey from the capital, Kampala, we arrived at the RUHEPAI base centre. Leaving behind the capital meant leaving behind all of our luxuries, including a toilet, and so we were all faced with our first emersion into rural Ugandan life with the dreaded experience of the Pit Latrine. Whilst nowadays, this would not faze me, a slightly more immature and naïve sixteen- year-old me, was indeed fazed.

Toilet humour aside, we travelled from the base centre for about an hour on sandy dirt roads that weaved their way through fields of banana plantations, before climbing their way up green mountains. It was beautiful. Growing up in Wales, greenery was nothing new to me. However I had never seen anything quite like that. The bright vivid green was lit up by the strong Ugandan sun and contrasted against the clear blue sky. Uganda really is a beautiful place, populated with beautiful people.

The people in the small rural village we went to had an intense and lasting effect on me. Arriving at a small-holding, I first learnt that pineapples grow underground, not on trees. But that wasn’t the most important thing I learnt that day.

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We walked through the garden of the small-holding and entered into a small courtyard. Surrounded by low built mud buildings with straw roofs sat a group of smiling women. We greeted them and they invited us to sit with them to talk, all through a translator. There was a young woman there, 22 years old with a child. After talking to her for some time, she asked me if I would like to hold the baby and with that she put her in my lap. The little girl smiling up at me was named Tress.

We were there to build a Lorena stove, as previously all cooking was done by open fire. In the middle of the courtyard, in-between a spread of drying peanuts and a goat hut, was a large mound. A mound made of a mixture of mud and cow feces. However unsanitary or unclean you may think this is, it is a sustainable and useful mix to create clay brinks to build with. So we dug in, molding brinks out of what is essentially cow waste. Here was a lesson in not wasting anything. A product which, in the western world is considered useless, here is used for building and creating.

Many of the girls stayed sitting with the women and picking peanuts off branches which would later be added to the masses already out to dry. However, I and my friend got our hands dirty. We were there to do one job and that was to build. The stove was nearly complete and my friend, becoming weary in the heat had no choice but to take a rest. The boys, in the kitchen, (a small, empty room, with no floor and mud walls) continued to help with the more tricky parts of the build. I noticed one of the men, working to clean up the mound and the area around which we in our enthusiasm had spread mud all over. I went over to help him, realizing that although we had built a stove and picked some peanuts, we had not done so without some damage. After working to clean the vast puddle of mud we had managed to create, the man thanked me in Ugandan. Unfortunately being welsh, I was not and am not fluent in Ugandan, but the man did not accept that I wouldn’t understand. He walked away, and I thought nothing of it until he bought a friend over who translated for me. The man wanted to thank me for helping to clean, he said I did not have to, but that I did.

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I learnt that even small acts of kindness, which might not seem like much, can really have a lasting big effect on people. That man did not have to thank me, or go to so much effort to communicate that he appreciated what I was doing, but the fact that he did, had a lasting impact on me. I hope that what we did that day, however seemingly small it may be, had an effect on the lives of those we were trying to help.

I often think about Tress. Whilst we may have made life a little more comfortable at her home, did we really do much good for her at all?

Living in the UK, from the age of five, we are given free education and whilst many may find issues within the system, the fact that we are given the opportunity for it at all is amazing. Tress will live her life at the small-holding and go to the small primary school down the road (which we also visited). However, after her education there, her only way to further her education or to get qualifications will be through sponsorship or the growth of charities that aim to provide an equal education for all, due to the lack of secondary schools in the area.

I feel there is a difficult balance here that cannot be ignored. Whilst we went to help at the small-holding, we did not do so without a damaging effect (the mess made). Many charities provide education for those who are not given the opportunity for it through the state, however, it is important that that education is tailored to the customs, traditions and cultures of the youths it is teaching.

Education is important for progression in terms of employability and development. This concept cannot be denied in the workings of the world today. However, retaining a rich and varied culture in my opinion is just as important. I recently read ‘Wild’ by Jay Griffiths, a wonderful and very enlightening book in which she explores several indigenous communities and gages the effects that western influence has had on them. In some cases, suicide rates increased an unbelievable amount and undeniably, customs and cultures began to die out.

Whilst I undeniably feel with great enthusiasm that children such as Tress should not be denied their basic right to an education, giving them the opportunity for employment that they would otherwise not have, is just as important for her to keep her Ugandan traditions and heritage alive.

If you would like to support RUHEPAI please follow this link:

http://www.ruhepai.org/

If you would like to learn more about supporting the education system in Uganda to develop here is a list of charities that aim to enhance the system there, but are also sensitive to the Ugandan culture:

http://www.aicmuganda.org/ (Provides vocational courses for youths)

http://www.salveinternational.org/salve-explained/what-we-do/

http://www.peas.org.uk/

 Meet Jessica

Jessica from Turquoise Compass is a teacher at heart, but her true passion is traveling (especially to turquoise beaches), adventure, and trying new things. She has been to 17 countries and she is ready to see more. She has completed hundreds of items on her bucket list and encourages others to live life to the fullest, while taking advantage of every opportunity that comes. As you can tell, this hyperactive traveler loves visiting beautiful turquoise destinations.

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Below is a guest post from Jessica:

 Making a List, Crossing it Off

 I’ve always been interested in the idea of bucket lists since my early twenties, but it wasn’t until I turned thirty that I actively pursued a life of creating yearly bucket lists and checking them off.  I took 14 months off from my job to travel the world in 2013; I have already completed my 2013 bucket list and I’m making headway into my 2014 list. A friend of mine, Bucket List Publications, inspired me through her yearly bucket lists to start making my own. I’ve always been in the process of completing things I’ve been passionate about, but never really put pen to paper until I transitioned my life from a full-time teacher and Master’s student to a full-time traveler.

 Before 2013, I completed countless items on my bucket list over the years including swimming with whale sharks, rappelling, riding in a helicopter, driving a mustang, and river-boarding among others, yet it wasn’t until 2013 when I made a list of 45 items and checked everything off  in one year. I started my sabbatical and 2013 bucket list off with a leap of faith by jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. 2014’s list is even bigger and better with over 80 items on my list. I’ve already almost completed the list and I’m only halfway through the year. I need to start thinking about making my 2014 bucket list longer so that I have more to pursue this year. Do you have any ideas?

 Here is a highlight of some of my 2014 bucket accomplishments:

 Canada- As much as I want to stay in a turquoise paradise forever, I always make it back to Canada in between trips whether it be Atlantic Canada, central Canada, or northern Canada. There is no place like home. It’s easy to complete bucket list items home and away. As much as I love the sun and sand while being in a hot turquoise destination, I still want to experience everything Canada has to offer from snow shoeing, hiking, wildlife tours, kayaking, and beyond.

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 Miami & Key West, U.S.A- I made it to another one of my dream beach destinations: Miami and Key West! Miami’s South Beach and Key West are two of the most turquoise USA beaches I have yet to see! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw them for the first time. It was more turquoise than I expected and even better than I expected! Can you sense my excitement? Now that I got a taste of Miami and the Keys I want to return. The trip allowed me the opportunity to sample a little bit of what Miami, the Everglades, and the Keys have to offer and to figure out if it’s a place for me. Indeed it is, and I would like to return there again someday to explore more of what they have to offer.

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 Australia-Australia’s east coast is a place where I completed countless bucket list items and adventure sports. Visiting Australia’s east coast is a dream come true. Exploring the eastern region of Australia for 6 weeks allowed me to complete countless items on my bucket list. From hang-gliding to sand-boarding I tried to do it all. I like to think I am an adventurous person, although not fearless, I am open to experiencing anything unique and out of the ordinary.

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 New Zealand– My busy three week tour of New Zealand’s south island and north island with Stray Bus allowed me the opportunity to see all of the main sights in the little time I had without any compromises. I met new friends, saw unexpected turquoise destinations, and explored unprecedented national parks. New Zealand is a dream–exactly what I have seen in countless films, and the reason why I wanted to visit in the first place. It’s no wonder why people love New Zealand. I couldn’t help but look around at my magnificent surroundings and be left in awe of the world I roam, especially in Middle-earth.

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Cuba– After spending 6 weeks away from a turquoise beach, I started dreaming to be on a white sand turquoise beach again. It wasn’t long before dreaming turned into a reality and landed me on one of the most perfect turquoise beaches I have ever seen: Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba.

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 My year thus far had me seeing pristine turquoise water, one of a kind landscapes, unique and interesting animals, World Heritage Listed ecosystems, and one of the seven wonders of the world. Where will the rest of the year take me? Next up…Europe!

 Keep making your bucket lists and checking them off!

Meet Susan Seymour

A Time to Heal

My life hasn’t always been easy. My earliest memory was when I was about 5. My mother was in the hospital due to a miscarriage. My father came to visit her and brought me with him, but left me in the car by myself. If my dad did that today he would have gotten arrested, but ahh well different times back then and he had a lot on his mind.

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I remember standing outside of the station wagon with the door open and this young couple came over and helped me. I don’t remember the rest other than what my mother told me and I ended up in her hospital room. Apparently, children weren’t allowed in at the time and my father just didn’t plan this trip out well. The day ended on a fairly happy note; my dad stopped at a convenience store, to get some snacks. I fell asleep in the back of the station wagon and woke up with a lollipop in my hair. Don’t you hate when that happens? Ahh, once again I was left. Hmm, I see a pattern here, but at least the car was in the driveway this time.

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My father is no longer with us; he passed away May 29th 2004, so I guess this article will be dedicated to my dad. My dad was a writer and editor for the Wall Street Journal and he published his own small town newspaper, so I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree where my writing ability comes from. I always brag about him. He didn’t graduate college due to the passing of his mother, but I guess it was a different time back then. Unfortunately, today my father probably wouldn’t have gotten that same job without a degree. Go Dad!

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Fast forward to November 15th, 2012, the day my life was forever changed. This was the day I was diagnosed with stage 2b breast cancer. This has been an emotional roller coaster to say the least. I went through all the stages of grief: denial, depression, anger, and acceptance. Thankfully, I am in the acceptance stage, but it took some time, soul searching, studying with spiritual teachers, talking to other survivors, and good old fashion crying out to God in prayer; I chose not to have the suggested mastectomy with reconstruction, chemo, etc, etc. My boyfriend was also helpful at this time. I highly recommend bringing someone with you to these appointments to have a second set of ears to take in all the information you will receive.

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Cancer has taught me many things:

1. I am much stronger than I ever thought I was.

2. Even at your darkest hour, there’s always hope.

3. The Internet can be a valuable tool for support; I have made several connections with people that I may have never met otherwise.

4. Getting back to basics: Being kind to others, being grateful — this one is a big one —finding joy in each day, appreciating those in your life because none of us are promised a tomorrow.

I have also made many other changes. I sold my car, haven’t been without a car since I was 17. Ahh well, that’s sorta a blessing in disguise. I needed a break from car ownership, from dealing with the expense of repairs and cost of car insurance. Luckily, my boyfriend has a car and we have been managing. Also, I gave up my small pet sitting service of 18 years. I loved working with the animals and it was fun meeting all the great people I had the opportunity to work with over the years. Actually, one of my pet sitting clients, who is a doctor, helped me to get diagnosed. But, it became too much for me to continue the pet sitting with my unknown future, so I gave some of my current clients to a local woman I had met. She had lost her job, and well, my misfortune was her gain. Another blessing in disguise. This one was spirit led, I believe. I met her the year before; I was coming home from a pet-sitting job and she was walking dogs on my street. My boyfriend mentioned that he thought she was a pet sitter and that I should talk to her. I tend to be shy approaching people, but I got up the courage, and exchanged emails. I remember her being excited hoping I had work for her and little did I know a year later, I would.

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I found reading and watching spiritual teachers on YouTube helped me a great deal: Panache Desai, Doreen Virtue, Bernie Seigel, and many others became faithful companions on my journey to healing. Also, rediscovering those things that bring me joy: Crafting, baking, cooking, listening to music, being around water, such as a lake or river, spending time with my animals, spending time with friends, getting back into writing, and, add chocolate because chocolate makes it all better!!

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So the lessons I have learned in the last year are lessons we all can remember: Life is beautiful. Angels come in all different shapes and sizes. Some have fur. Chocolate makes it all better; that statement just needs to be repeated often. Bring as much joy into your life on daily basis. Life is about giving and receiving; sometimes, there is more joy in giving, something as simple as smiling at children, holding a door open for someone at the convenience store, feeding the birds.

We only get one life. How will you use it?

Meet Ezster (Kukolina):

Imagine a room-and-a-half-apartment where the kitchen and bathroom have no heating in Hungary. The year is 1979. Six of us live there.

My father signed a petition that was not to the government’s liking, so he was not able to get hired for a job for ten years. I can really say I come from a family that is made up of great survivors when it comes to financial difficulties.

My father got a scholarship in the United States to do research on a philosopher. We went after him, after a year. We became illegal immigrants when I was 8 years old.

We returned to Hungary in 1989. End of communism. A few years after, my parents got divorced.

At age 15 or 16, my younger sister and I followed our mother back to the States. After a year of struggling to find friends, I flew back to Hungary by myself. I lived in a dorm and I asked people to take me in on weekends and during school holidays.

I studied psychology for seven years. My first job with mentally disturbed teenagers was in England. By that time, I already lived with my fiancé (who is now my husband). He was managing a cocktail bar.

We moved back to Hungary for a few years. I worked as a psychologist; my husband was a general manager in hotels. We moved to Thailand for two years when the opportunity came.  My husband became the general manager of a five-star hotel that was not quite finished when we arrived on the island.

My husband found Katan when she was 12. She is a tall girl, so nobody guessed that she was a child working on the construction of the hotel. It turned out she was helping her mother out who had a baby a little while ago.

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The deal was that Katan stops lifting heavy sand bags, and instead, she will look after her brother. Her mom got a job at the hotel and Katan came to see me for English lessons.

Katan, her brother, and mother lived in an area that was not too far from the hotel, but where they lived, one has to say it was in the jungle. Katan had to walk to the hotel for her English lessons. Her brother Tata was one year old at the time.

Besides teaching English to her, I enjoyed being an older sister figure. We took her to the movies. She had never been to the movies before. You have to understand that the poverty one faces in Thailand means they had no windows on their house. They slept and ate on the floor. They did not have chairs or other belongings that come natural to us.

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I showed her Youtube and Facebook. We used Google Images quite often. I sometimes gave her some fruit to eat. We took her to a fair that she really enjoyed. We decided to give her a little money to have her experience what it is like to have pocket money that you can spend on your own.

When we had to move to Spain for a year, my husband gave Katan his old computer. By that time, she was able to become a trainee at the hotel’s spa.

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After Spain, we moved back to the island. I started blogging a month after.

On the Thai Queen’s birthday, the whole nation celebrates Mother’s Day. Katan always puts on her school uniform to show respect towards me. Her blessing warms my heart. This year, I felt a joyful happiness because now I have a son. Before, I admit, it was difficult for me to be attached to Katan because my husband and I were trying for years to have a baby. Being near any child was painful for me.

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Now, in my blog I am able to show a more cheerful side. I realize that even when you are carrying a sad heart (as I was before Zoárd was born), you can always do good in this world. Changing even one person’s life will change yours forever.
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Meet Rafa van Oppen

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I have changed my way of thinking 180º in some years. Some years ago I was unable to really make the best out of the experiences I lived. I always wanted to live “something more” than other people. A bit extra. A bit better. A bit crazier. I wanted to spice up my life to always have something to tell. Time was running out anyway, right?

I mean, think about it. This second. THIS ONE. The one that just passed. You will NEVER EVER live it again. This minute, this hour, today, this age, whatever. It´s once and it´s over. No re-spawn counter strike style. It´s over!

Back then I was horrified with all this. Time goes by, you can´t stop it, AND in any moment, BOOM, it´s over. Forever. It really stressed me out. I hated thinking that whatever I missed, I would miss, maybe, forever.

Of course this didn´t help me. It only made me envious of others who lived experiences I hadn’t, or stressed out when I missed something awesome because of choosing another plan. I wasn’t happy with the way things were going.  I wasn´t a sad, misunderstood, suicidal young guy, but I wasn’t making the best of life. I was continuously stressed out with the idea of time passing by.

In the last years I have changed a whole deal! How did it start?

MY BEERASMUS in Germany.

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During my Erasmus, or, a program for students in Europe who live abroad for a semester or two, I also met someone who has maybe triggered the biggest changes in my life yet. I started to see that what I was living was actually pretty epic because, wtf, I´m alive and healthy (Although, I was pretty fat. Too much Bier and Schnitzel!), I had friends and a great family, I was living/partying abroad, and doing many things I wanted to do.

And around that time, I read two books, The Monk who Sold his Ferrari and The Alchemist. The second one really dug deep in me and put me into the “Let´s make a huge life change here” mindset. The first one helped give me ideas of how to do it in a realistic way!

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It wasn´t a one-day-to-another change. Not at all. Slow steps. Giving myself more time to relax and think about my life. I read books and watched movies that inspired me and put me in that “mood” for making decisions. And specially, I started to notice those “small things.” If you are always looking for the big epic things, like I did, you will miss all those little awesome things that make life great.

Step by step, I started to change. I put more effort into AEGEE, which gave me so many chances to do awesome things and talk to the most incredible people. I started to work on my will-power, which I´m sure is the main pillar for becoming a happy person. I started to care less of what people thought of me and started giving more credit to what I thought of myself. I started putting more time into the things I really wanted to do. I wrote a bucket-list and started to write once in a while about how I felt and how life was going. I finally started to try to be the guy I really wanted to be.

I decided to put more energy into finding things I might like, but I hadn´t tried out yet like meditation, blogging, travelling like I dreamed, playing an instrument, learning to cook, repairing clothes, pushing against buying more unnecessary shit, hitch-hiking, couch-surfing, random solidary acts in the streets, etc.

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And, although some I haven´t achieved, I have tried all of them. I have really tried to do what I wanted to. I haven´t let shame or fear pull me down.

There are things in which I FAILED, but nothing that I would change. I´ve been a horrible student in the University, but I don´t regret it. I might not have known the people I met, lived what I lived, or written in this GREAT BLOG!! I smile when thinking of my past (except for when I remember some blurry images of last Saturday).

Some movies that have helped me to keep motivation up:  Into the Wild (surprise, surprise hahah), UpOn the Road, Di que si, The Bucket List, and Fight club (Don’t be a copy of a copy of a copy).

Some books: Practical Ethics, The Life You Can Save, The 100 Thing Challenge, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?,  Indignaos!

Now, I consider myself tons better off than years ago. I´m living true to my ideas. I´m still not the hippy-van guy who lives traveling and inspiring others, but for the moment I´m going in the right direction. I´m not scared of new beginnings.

I guess it´s just a process everybody goes through until they find what kind of person they really want to be. It took me time, and it’s a continual learning process.

So, Tempus fugit, time flees. Yeah, true, but the journey is fucking awesome!

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Meet Keith Maginn

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“I’m not what I ought to be, I’m not what I’m going to be, but thank God I’m not what I used to be.”

This famous quote sums up where I am these days. I am still a work in progress, but I am light years beyond where I was just a few years ago. There were times back then when I wondered if life was worth living. I do not feel that way whatsoever anymore.

About five years ago, I found myself sitting outside of a psych ward in Atlanta, Georgia. My fiancée was struggling terribly with bipolar depression. I had done everything I could, but was powerless to help her. I was also fighting my own battle with chronic pain and anxiety. I had no idea what I could do to turn things around. No matter how hard I fought, how much I prayed, things seemed to get worse and worse.

I soon found myself slipping into a deep depression, though I remained outwardly happy. Few of my family, friends or co-workers had any idea how desperate my predicament had become. My fiancée was adamant that no one know what she was going through, but I knew I couldn’t keep everything bottled up inside. I was perilously close to a complete nervous breakdown. Not wanting to betray her trust and talk to anyone, I started writing. It was my therapy, the only way to get some of the anger, sadness and confusion out of me.

I have been writing most of my life, as far back as I can remember. But it was never focused writing, just here and there. Now the words (and emotions) poured out of me. The story seemed to write itself. I realized that others might benefit from what I was writing. I felt people could relate to at least some of what I went through: heartbreak, depression, chronic pain, frustration…

Despite more hardships and heartbreak initially, my life gradually started to improve. I felt I was doing what I was meant to be doing, fulfilling my purpose. My mental and physical health improved and I had a new direction in life, a new focus. Things were looking up, finally.

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When I started writing what eventually became Turning This Thing Around, I had no plans of ever publishing it. I wrote for myself, for my own sanity. But what started as a very personal diary evolved into something that I wanted to share with others. If I could overcome what I had, then others could, too. I decided to take a chance and self-published my writing as a “self-help memoir” (changing my fiancée’s name to protect her privacy).

I had no idea how people would react to my book. Would they think I was feeling sorry for myself and looking for pity? I had my doubts, but I am very glad I decided to go ahead with the project. The response was wonderful. I have gotten many replies from people that relate and share their own stories with me. I am happy that people can learn from what I went through and that we can connect on an emotional level. I now know that people are often going through more than they show, making empathy, kindness and understanding all the more important.

As Eckhart Tolle said in The Power of Now, my challenges helped me grow as a person and gave me more “depth, humility and compassion.” I knew it was time to be around my family and closest friends after ten years of living four hours away. Once I swallowed my pride and reached out to them, their support was overwhelming.

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I moved home two years ago and threw myself into writing. In January, I self-published my second book, Goodwill Tour: Paying It Forward, about a philanthropic road-trip that I went on with a friend around the southeastern United States. After working at a library for the past year and a half, I took a leap of faith last month, leaving my job to pursue writing full-time. I don’t know what will happen, but I will in no way regret not giving my dream everything that I’ve got. Though I may never understand why I have gone through what I have, I remind myself often that I am right where I am supposed to be and that everything happens for a reason.

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[As an unknown, independent author, I am grateful to people like Christine for giving me a platform to help spread my message. I also appreciate people like you for reading my story. I would love to connect with you on Twitter (@Keith_Maginn) or at my website (keithmaginn.com). Thank you and all the best!!]

Super Keith

Meet Ula

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Hi there! I am a 17-year-old teenager and I am on my path to finding out who I truly am, while unraveling my passion to help and inspire others. I grew up close to my family with little friends around me, especially at a young age. It was hard for me to make friends, as I was always somewhat different. I was and still am lucky to have a super supportive family guiding me on my path.

When I was 12, I was mocked and bullied in school by the guys in my class. We were a class of only 15 people of which one girl was my friend. As I said, I was different and didn’t fit in. I was made fun of because I was chubby, had glasses and braces. Obviously, this was a very depressing time in which I was lonely in school and felt worthless. I would come home every day and be miserable, which I kept from my family and anyone else. At one point, I had enough of it and told the teacher, but that just made it worse. Therefore, I took the great amount of free time I had, as I had no friends, and focused on my studies. Well, that resulted in being a nerd on top of fat and ugly. Not feeling good about myself completely lowered my self-esteem and confidence, plus I started believing all the things they said about me.

After a year of the bullying I realized that having no self worth is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. The realization hit me rather abruptly and I practically made a change overnight. I turned vegetarian and I still am today; it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Before this, I loved meat and had it almost every day. However, I also loved animals and felt bad for them, so I always wanted to turn vegetarian, but it never lasted long. That decision showed me that I was capable of being disciplined and standing up for my own beliefs and opinions. After that, I began eating more healthily and lost a lot of weight, as well as getting rid of my braces. It boosted my confidence immensely and I haven’t been the old me since.

A year later, my mum read the book “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay, which brought me on a new path. I learnt that thoughts become things and the more positive you think, the more positive your life turns out. That’s how I started loving myself and I developed into being a positive, happy girl. I made more and more friends and I value my friendships the most after my family. Over the years, I learnt more and more about new age thinking and applied it to myself. I grew as a person and practically changed who I was.

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I am still learning now and going to inspirational talks like Nick Vujicic’s.

Through my own development, I recognized people who were in similar situations that I was in at the age of 12. Some of my friends (of which I had more of) started asking me for advice about random things. They trusted me with their secrets, family and school problems. Therefore, I often found ways to deal or solve these problems and soon enough I felt like a young counselor.

I have guided my best friend in many parts of her life and helped her believe in herself again, as well as reach her full potential. When I met her, she was in a really bad place and I gave it my all to get her to smile and be happy every single day. She now loves who she is and is the one giving advice to her friends.

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This advice giving resulted in me starting an inspirational blog, ‘The Journeys Of Life,’ on which I write about how to live life to the fullest. My goal is to make people smile, help them recognize their uniqueness and find their purpose in life. I am sure there is enough happiness and peace for every single person on this planet, and everyone is capable of love. Then, my best friend and I put up a Facebook page, “The Beauty Of Life,” with the same aims and now are the closest best friends ever. We help each other as well as anyone else on their Journey in Life by inspiring and motivating and I absolutely love this.

I am incredibly grateful to have the family that I have, as they support me with everything I do and they were the ones who brought me where I am today. If my mum hadn’t read that one book and told me about it, I wouldn’t have started my blog. Everything happens for a reason; we just need to find out what that reason is.

I soon have to decide what to study and where to go. I am not sure what to study yet; however, I am completely sure that I will forever show people the good and happiness in life, in whichever way that will be. And I am so looking forward to it!

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Meet Jess Stoltz

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Hi friends!

My name is Jess Stoltz and I’m 23 living in Salisbury, MD. I’m a big believer in our STORY: we’ve all got one and we’re all in the midst of writing it. I hope my story shapes out to be one worth reading:

I was raised a Midwestern athlete with a big heart and a small perspective before I left for college. There, I was a part of the softball program, felt what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus, and learned quickly to meet as many people as possible. I run a blog, Daily Illuminations, and this month we are challenging readers to a September Slow-Down Challenge to make room for the important aspects of life!

My grandfather had been going to Haiti for eight-ish years. He is the closest individual I have as an example of Jesus on Earth; he is 70+ years old and still traveling to spread love! In 2011, I asked if I could go with him. I really didn’t anticipate actually being able to go. He said I could, and every January since, I’ve been going to Haiti to spread love to people who, before I went, I thought were less fortunate than I am. How wrong I was.

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My grandfather and his church sponsor the small village of Balan where they (we) are in the midst of building a medium-sized medical clinic and implementing a farmer’s education through some students at a Haitian University. He and his crew have also installed a swing set and basketball hoop on the school’s playground, installed a well for clean water, and have gotten to team up with Tufts University students to set up solar panels for a nearby school- all things I’ve been so blessed to be involved with.

I can’t tell you how much it changes my attitude and outlook being in Haiti each year. I truly believed we were better off than them until I spent time understanding their lives.  It turns out that they live a beautifully simple life of reliance on God and a love of Jesus at their very core- not clothes, not entertainment, just simple, wonderful love. I say this all while they are fighting for food and shelter daily, have a few articles of clothing, and by no means are protected from diseases, let alone, they cannot afford to see a doctor. But they LOVE. The men hold other men’s hands. The people don’t have “comfort zones” where someone is in their space. They just love.

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It’s something we can’t get a grasp of until we go. It might be scary, and new, and out of the “comfort zone,” But what better way to learn about loving people. Go if you ever have the chance.

I had to get over the obstacle of being scared, not knowing what to do or how to act, how I’d eat and sleep and react. I tell you, it doesn’t matter once you’re there with them. Because I’ve overcome that fear, I can say I’ve been to Haiti with my best friend and my grandfather!

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Currently, I am an assistant softball coach as Salisbury University earning my Masters degree. I moved out here the summer after I graduated college. It was a move that I knew I had to do but, again, that fear was present! I learned by moving that taking the jump brings you more confidence the next time you have to. I am blessed to be 25 minutes from the shore and I’ve found a fabulous spot where I love to do my reading on the bay; I call it my “God on the Dock.”  I love my little local coffee shop, Viva Espresso. If I could do all of my work from there, I’d be set for life!

I encourage everyone to share their story- whatever way suits you. For me, it’s writing, encouraging people through my blog and on the field, passing love on and getting to know people who are different than I am. The last of which may be the hardest and is a constant jump. But jumping for others is the best jump of all. 🙂

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Meet Michael Boyd

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Two years ago I went to my optician who saw what they described as a freckle on the back of my eye. I was referred to a specialist who eventually confirmed it was an ocular melanoma, which is a fancy word for eye cancer.

Obviously, this news hit me hard. I was a 28-year-old man who felt fit and well and wasn’t expecting to get the big C so early! It turned out that this form of cancer affects five out of every million people. Statistically, there is more chance of being struck by lightning, which, to be honest is a much cooler way to die.

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This news led to a lot of eye surgery, radiotherapy, and finally, six-month check ups for life. The worst part though was that the radiotherapy destroyed the sight in my left eye. The doctors explained that people who lose an eye go through a grieving process and this is what I did for a long time.

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When you have a disease, which has a 50/50, essentially meaning you have a ticking time bomb in your head that may or may not go off, you look to the people around you for support and that’s exactly what I did. This situation has made me want to help people with similar problems. I currently volunteer for both Guidedogs for the Blind and the Royal National Institute for the Blind. I know what it’s like to lose sight in one eye, but I’m so inspired by these people who live with complete blindness everyday.

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So how has this impacted my movie blog? Well, my lack of sight means I can’t see 3d films. This led to me writing a rant on my blog about it. You can read it here

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Anyway, I’m back to kicking ass, which is harder now as I can’t judge distances, but I’ll keep kicking anyway. I hope someone who’s had a similar experience reads my story.

Meet Carl Honeysett IMG_2632

What’s up World!? My name is Carl and I’m a travelling volunteer who runs a blogsite/website called “Volunteering Abroad.” I grew up in the amazingly safe and beautiful country known as Australia. My hometown is even safer and more beautiful (The Sunshine Coast, Queensland), where opportunities and lifestyles are handed on a silver platter. I’ve since left the comforts of my Australian coastal surfing hometown to give, inspire, learn, adapt, share & teach abroad. I made a decision to volunteer and help others instead of chasing monetary wealth in a pointless rat race. I haven’t always made good choices and I’m glad to be on the right side of life now. Let me tell you about my journey so far.

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When I was 17 my brother died in a motorbike accident. Obviously this was difficult to deal with and even more so because I had recently/stupidly ‘dropped’ out of my final year of school. I had previously been in and out of homes due to issues with divorced parents. I just couldn’t seem to get anything right. All of these things happening at once mixed with an adolescent/arrogant teenage attitude resulted in me living on the streets, just three months after my brother passed away. Things from there got worse. I got involved with teenage gangs, fights and drugs. I was breaking into houses and cars to pay for drugs and food. I went to court several times and saw friends go in and out of jail. During this time, I wasn’t talking to any family and it wasn’t until I was 19 that I spoke to them again. That’s when things finally started to get better. It wasn’t until I was 21 that I had a fully repaired relationship with my family and now at 24 I’m happy to say it’s all in the past.

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Last year, I decided to focus the rest of my life, career and/or spare time helping people in unfortunate positions and hardships. I also want to encourage people to travel, volunteer and leave their comfort zones, especially those who have made or are making the wrong decisions. The homeless, hungry, sad, beaten, angry, hurt, selfish, immature or lost are simply misunderstood people who have been dealt the shit cards in life or just need somebody to help/care. I know this all too well, though I’ve been through nothing compared to billions of others. It’s estimated that one fifth of the world’s population falls below poverty line standards. If I don’t do something about that crap, then who will?! In short, I want to volunteer, help others, teach others from my mistakes and take an army with me whilst doing it.

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I volunteered in Cambodia at the start of this year for 5 months as an English teacher, which can only be described as the best decision I have ever made in my life and anyone else’s! This lead me to create my website, Volunteering Abroad. The site focuses on helping people start their volunteering projects. Many of us have the desire to volunteer but don’t know where to start and subsequently give up. Those who do follow through with the idea can sometimes make bad decisions, which I try to eliminate; others just need a little inspiration. The site has pages with inspirational and wise quotes. There’s information on how to get started with volunteering and pages on where to volunteer. There are also heaps of stories from travel experiences too. It amplifies the seriousness of volunteering overseas, but magnifies the fun to be had while doing it.

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Just to clarify, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of a few key people. One is a friend who gave me a place to live when I was on the streets. A few more friends helped along the way too, and of course my family is now the cornerstone of what I do. I want to thank Christine for allowing me to share my story, along with my mission. It’s now time for me to “Pay it Forward.”  With the risk of sounding preachy or corny, I’d just like to add that when I’m selfless and humble enough, I take the time to thank god for the oppourtunity I’ve been given to do something that matters. It’s more blessed to give than it is to receive, trust me. Check out Volunteering Abroad and have fun!

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