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First of all, I want to thank Makafui, a fellow blogger over at “That African Girl,” for featuring an interview with me! I enjoyed writing about what got me started blogging and my views on culture, women’s rights, and feminism. Please click here to read the interview. Thanks, Mak!

Second of all, today is 9/11 – a day that is forever etched in the hearts of Americans. We can’t forget 9/11; it changed our lives, defined the course of our country, and altered international relations. Many people have been posting about their experiences on 9/11 and where they were at the time. To be honest, my memory is blurry — but I know I was in middle school, and as a 12-year old, I hardly comprehended what had happened. We were in class, but suddenly teachers got word that something horrible had taken place. Back then, we didn’t have Twitter or Facebook, and I didn’t have a cell phone. But all of the teachers had turned on the tvs, and we were all standing up, watching with utter dread, and shock. I lived in New Jersey, and many of our parents worked in New York. We were all frantically trying to find out where our parents and family members were, and whether they were all right. It was a frightening moment. Some of my classmates heard horrible news from their families. Someone’s father had been at the World Trade Center. We were all quiet, devastated as the news spread like wildfire through the hallways, which soon became empty, echoing with silence.

As a 7th-grader, I didn’t fully understand it all. I didn’t know what was happening, why the towers had been hit, and what I should be doing or feeling in that situation. Today, I know far more. And I am sad for those lives lost and the trajectory we have taken since that day. It is a day of mourning, and today I read these notes in silent remembrance:

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I have a lot of interests and passions. I am driven to find ideas in justice & social change that make sense, are about the people, and fill real needs. So what excites me? Carlos recently asked me, “So how do you keep yourself motivated when it doesn’t seem like things are changing in this world?” Well, here’s part of my answer. This is what inspires me, even when the going gets rough. Change is not easy, so we have to selfishly reach deep inside and pull out what drives us, at the core.

I get excited when I find people driven by a cause larger than themselves. Whether on social media or in the “real world,” I want to have long late-night discussions over coffee & hot chocolate (well, okay, I guess “IRL”) about justice, oppression, feminism, human rights, the law, social enterprise, traveling, and building something out of nothing. I want to find others who think outside the box, who are not confined to narrowly defined career paths, who are willing to take a risk to better this world. Perhaps selfishly, I want to find a team of people who will be completely dedicated to a vision and will work ruthlessly to achieve it. I get excited when I find people who understand what social justice is really about. And I get excited when I have the opportunity to converse with them, work with them, learn from them.

I get excited when I find something that works. Most non-profits suck. There, I said it. But when I find a non-profit that seems to work, whether it is “grassroots” or “multilateral,” whether it is domestic or international, I get excited. Because many non-profits (and social enterprises) are flawed, it’s not easy to find one that has the right mindset of change and makes a real impact. Not many people (and thus, organizations) get it. I mean, really, get it. When I find something that is really making a dent in the horrific things that exist in this world? Yeah, that gets me excited.

I get excited when I find ideas combining social innovation and the law. I am fascinated by projects expanding legal services to the poor, and am excited by the idea of rebuilding fragmented justice systems. I don’t know why, but this inspires me. At the same time, I have had one foot in social enterprise for some time now. I get excited when I see someone combining innovation and the law. I get excited by organizations that are innovative and new, while also harnessing legal solutions. Law is a conservative profession and somewhat slow to change — so to see someone taking a risk and going for their idea in this context gets me all fired up.

I get excited when I have an opportunity to write something meaningful. Writing is my deepest passion — which is why I started this blog, and can’t keep myself away. But beyond blogging, the chance to write something meaningful makes me want to stay awake. Anything from a personal statement to a grant to a case analysis — if it’s important and can make an impact, I want to write it. If it’s about something I love, I am endlessly excited.

I get excited when I find myself on a plane to somewhere new. Ever since I found myself criss-crossing oceans alone to return to my motherland at age ten, I have found myself with a permanent case of the wanderlust. Today I am in D.C., but planning my next adventure enthralls me. This is selfish, yes, but I want to see the world. I want to understand people and cultures everywhere. I want to make friends scattered across the map. I want to learn, absorb, grow, challenge myself. When I am on a plane headed somewhere across the globe — that is a moment to treasure.

What gets you excited?

*I got the idea for this post from the wonderful Diana Kimball. Did I ever tell you about her? She may not know me, but she had one of the first blogs I ever found and fell in love with. Her writing was beautiful, and formed part of the inspiration for me to start blogging. I just found her blog again yesterday, and she did not fail to inspire me yet again. Thank you for inspiration.

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I found the following quote/graphic on Tumblr and fell in love with it today.

Although it’s from 2009, I find it extremely relevant to my life today. I think I’ll adopt it as my personal manifesto for 2011.

Life is short. Get rid of things in life that make you unhappy. Live your dream, travel, follow your passion, be with people you love, open your mind and soul, do what energizes you.

I think we all know these simple truths at heart, but sometimes they are hard to implement within the chaos and confusion that can be life. Sometimes, we just need an extra push. Sometimes, we need a personal manifesto to help us get there.

Wishing you a brand new start to a new year full of love & passion.

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Hope you have all had a great week(end)! The past few days have been absolutely perfect one for me – delicious cupcakes from Molly’s, a friend’s birthday celebrations, Dillo Day (annual day of fun, sun, and concerts from Regina Spektor, Guster, and Nelly at Northwestern), a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo (although I am still not a fan, morally, of zoos…this did confirm this viewpoint), and the excitement of another close friend visiting NU from out of town.

After I handed in my thesis on April 30th, I’ve just been trying my best to enjoy the time I have left in Chicago. Now that I’ve finally found the time to relax and explore, it’s just begun to sink in how very much I am going to miss this place and the people I love. I am, of course, excited to graduate and move on to a new chapter in my life. I haven’t really mentioned this on my blog, but I’ll be doing an internship with the ACLU’s National Prison Project in D.C. and then I’ll be working full time for a civil rights law firm – also in D.C. And while I am eagerly anticipating exploring my chosen field of public interest law in the nation’s capital – the perfect environment for public interest work – I am incredibly sad to leave behind the life I’ve built here in my three years at NU. But what would life be without change and growth, right?

Since this weekend has been busy, I thought I’d start the week off with some of the articles I’ve been seeing around this week. Lots of news here, so enjoy!

That’s it for now. More blog posts coming soon. Happy Monday & Memorial Day to all! :)

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This is the time of year for reflections, and I’m certainly no exception to the rule. So here goes (though I don’t usually talk much about myself on this blog):

In 2009, I finished studying abroad at the London School of Economics and fell even more deeply in love with London and LSE. I also continued working with the Student Microfinance Development Initiative (SMDI), a student-run nonprofit which I helped start up. SMDI connects student volunteers with microfinance institutions, and spending so many late nights and long strategy meetings working on the organization was one of the best experiences of the year – I learned so much about microfinance, became part of a team, and met some incredibly passionate and intelligent students. While at LSE, I also visited The Hague, Netherlands with the ICC Student Network. There, we met with representatives from the Coalition for the ICC and Special Court for Sierra Leone. We sat in on the trials of Thomas Lubanga and Momcilo Perisic (at the ICTY). We even met with Chief Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo. This incredible trip immersed me into international justice, which has become one of my main passions today. While abroad, I also traveled to Spain, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, and within the UK to Oxford, Bath, Canterbury, Leeds Castle, Brighton, Windsor, Stonehenge, and Stratford-upon-Avon. And at LSE, I got to see the Queen from afar, as well as hear lectures from Navanetham Pillay, Bernanke, and Paul Collier! It was the most amazing time of my life!

Over the summer, I got an internship grant from Northwestern and moved to Geneva, Switzerland – the world’s peace capital – for a summer internship with International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), an amazing non-profit that works to reform malfunctioning justice systems and end torture in the developing world. I worked on so many exciting things, mostly related to online communications. I got to visit the UN headquarters in Geneva, learn a teeny bit of french, visit the Alps and some beautiful Swiss towns like Montreux and Aigle, lounge by Lac Leman, and experience the beautiful Fete de Geneve! I somehow got featured on Fortune for my internship (believe me, it was sheer luck – but still cool!). It was an amazing experience, and I have become very passionate about access to justice issues. More recently, I raised $1,274 for IBJ for their fundraising campaign, and was very happy with the outcome (thanks to all that donated!).

The Swiss Alps (taken by me)

The Swiss Alps (taken by me)

After that, I returned to the U.S., experienced reverse culture shock (or maybe I just missed London!) and started working on my political science senior thesis, which is on transitional justice mechanisms in Sierra Leone and Rwanda. It’s challenging but fascinating. Last quarter I also took an amazing class on Sudan with the former US Special Envoy to Sudan! I also became the Co-President of Amnesty International’s NU chapter, so that has been exciting and also time-consuming. As the year wraps up, I’m applying to jobs and fellowships in the hope that I’ll have some exciting options for after graduation.

In 2009 I bought my own domain name and created this website! This year, I also fell in love with social media. I really became addicted to Twitter and to blogging, and learned the value of an online community. Never before have I been able to connect with so many other intelligent young people who share the same passions and interests. Social media has really impacted my life and taught me a lot – and I have made some great friends and met some wonderful people through the process! I started the Be the Change series, in which so many Gen Yers came together to share their thoughts on social change issues. It was an inspirational affirmation of the fact that my generation does care about the world.

Of course, there have been some failures too, but all in all this year was an amazing one. All my experiences have helped me figure out what I ultimately want to accomplish in life and have made me much more independent. I have truly grown as a person. But for some reason, it feels like this year has gone by too fast. I’m not ready for the next year – which will bring with it uncertainty and numerous challenges. I have only one wish for 2010: to find a job I love! If this happens, all will fall into place :)

Wishing you all a happy 2010 with more successes and growth!

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Maybe it’s just me, but I increasingly see a problem with activism: it can easily slip from passion to elitism. I’ll be honest; as I became more passionate about human rights issues, I started feeling incredibly upset. I started wondering: “Why doesn’t everyone else care? How can they hear about genocide, conflict, women’s rights, torture, lack of access to justice, and not do something about it?” And yes, it made me mad, it made me frustrated and disappointed. But I realized that while I can try to encourage some people to care, many of them just won’t. I also realized that simply because they have different priorities in life, it doesn’t mean they can’t still play a role in activism – and it certainly doesn’t mean that they are “bad” people. Indeed, instead of getting angry at all these people, I should continue to work on human rights issues myself and continue trying to involve them in my work. Ultimately, inclusion will be far more effective than anger.

A lot of activism – whether related to human rights, development, or any NGO work – can turn off the general public when it becomes elitist. It becomes a battle of morals and can even lead to looking down upon those who don’t donate, who don’t seem to care about the issue, who don’t come to events/participate in your non-profit, etc. People start thinking they are “better” simply because they care more. In the case of some development and human rights issues, it starts to seem like the average joe is dismissed as completely ignorant.

But of course, this isn’t realistic. It’s not realistic to expect everyone to be passionate about the same thing; everyone has different roles in life. Not everyone is cut out to be an activist/non-profit person/social entrepreneur. People have their own talents, skills, interests. And an activist is not, in any particular way, a more selfless person than a non-activist. It is just too simplistic of an assumption.

Ultimately, elitism isn’t going to get activists anywhere. Instead of alienating people, activists need to be patient about reaching out to everyone. I feel that there is even some amount of elitism in the online community because I can tell a lot of young people are feeling left out from the discussion. Those who don’t know as much about the issue feel they cannot contribute. I feel that’s one of the reasons Nick Kristof succeeds, because he appeals to the everyday person while also bringing up important issues. He gets people to care and makes everyone feel like they have a say in social change, whether or not they are ‘experts’ or NGO professionals.

Not everyone is going to be an expert on your cause or topic, but that’s also not reason enough to write them off immediately. Yes, everyone has a different role in life — yet, I think every person has the time to contribute in some way to social change. I genuinely believe that everyone can become more informed & civically engaged, but only if activists take the time to make sure that they are being inclusive and making everyone feel like they can play a role. Bottom line? Social change needs everyone - not just NGO experts or scholars. This requires more inclusion, less alienation.

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Rebecca Thorman over at Modite has a great new project called the Monthly Goal Meet-Up, where participants write down their goals for the month on their blog and check back to see progress by the end of the month. I think it’s a great idea, and although I don’t usually get personal on this blog, I figure why not? Now, I’m a bit late on this but better late than never, I suppose. Hopefully I’ll have accomplished something by the end of the month.

So, here are my September goals –

  1. Continue prepping hard for the LSAT and score well on Sept 26.
  2. Make progress on my senior thesis and writing by the time school starts. Be ready to discuss the thesis with my adviser and seminar class.
  3. Ensure that Amnesty International @ NU (school society) is ready for all the events we are going to hold this quarter. Get everything up and running.
  4. After school starts and things get busy, put aside 1-2 hours a week to write in this blog so it doesn’t get neglected.
  5. Finalize and send out emails about a new blog project/series I’m contemplating!
  6. Finalize fellowship/job opportunities to apply for in the next couple of months.
  7. Begin law school applications.

Phew! So I’ll admit that this list is slightly intimidating. But it’s gotta be done – so wish me luck!

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International human rights law comes with a lot of jargon attached to it. There’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social, and Cultural rights. And then there are countless more protocols, conventions, and councils.

Although these conventions and documents are all a testament to the sheer power of words, they aren’t what make people passionate about human rights. Well, perhaps that’s a blanket statement: that’s not what makes me tick. True, I am taken with law because it imbues language with an almost mysterious authority. It gives words the capacity to be universally applicable and respected – gives them the ability to save lives. That is truly powerful.

But beyond this, what makes me tick, what makes me addicted...is something deeper. It’s not just human rights, but human nature. When you begin to learn about human rights issues, you begin getting at the very core of what makes us all “human”….but also, you start encountering things that you can’t even believe exist in human nature. You begin to slowly strip away what makes up the reality you believed in; the reality that makes up our privileged lives right now. And you start realizing that human nature is far more frightening than what you previously believed. Or at least, I felt this way.

What simultaneously fascinates and angers me is the fundamental question: how can people do such unimaginably horrible things to fellow human beings? A year ago, I began reading about the Rwandan genocide, and the question still haunts me. Forget lack of education, forget mass hysteria, forget following orders from above – bottom line, how can genocide even happen? How can a person kill without thinking twice? And how can it happen over and over again, without anyone stopping it – even when the signs are clearly beneath our noses? How can leaders so easily commit war crimes and leave destruction in their wake? But these things happen in everyday life too. How can police forces lock up a poor bicycle thief and then torture him to force an interrogation? Forget training of the police forces – how can anyone purposely cause suffering like that? Isn’t there some shred of basic humanity that prevents this?

The truth is, it’s downright scary and shocking to read and think about these issues. That’s why eventually you can become passive when talking about genocide and war crimes. After a while you have to go numb to it, otherwise there’s no way you can ponder these issues on a daily basis. Otherwise you simply lose faith in humanity.

But at the end of all this questioning, I don’t want to lose my faith. Despite reading about the world’s worst atrocities, I want to believe in the inherent good in people. That’s what addicts me to this field, and even though I haven’t gone far yet, I hope to assist in finding solutions. I want to help figure out how we can stop basic violations of human rights, and I want to believe that human nature really isn’t that bad. That we are all just products of our environment, and that if we can establish solid rule of law and robust institutions, we can change this. Deep down I already know this is true. I just have to confirm it to myself through this work.

I want to work towards this just so I can have more hope. You might think that I’m idealistic because I want to contribute to these causes. But the truth is, I started out cynical, wondering how the world could be this way. But I have no illusions about my own capabilities — I know I’m not going to change things overnight. In fact, I know that despite immense hard work, it’s possible I still may not be able to do much. The world is a hard place…and it’s hard to improve. Still, I think I do retain a deep sense of hope — hope that I can contribute in some way, however small. And hope that I’ll figure things out as I go along. Hope that I’ll confirm that humanity may very well be inherently good…but that we ourselves, through our everyday actions, have brought about the world we live in. And for that reason, hope that it is possible to change the reality of our world.

Photo credit: here
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I just want to take the time today to send some appreciation the way of Samantha Karol of Lifes Chocolates, who has started an amazing, energetic, appreciative revolution. She’s featuring a series of guest posts from fellow bloggers about the meaning of appreciation, and she’s given me the great opportunity to join in.

So check out her blog and read all the latest posts about appreciation. And while you’re at it, read my guest post for her series: Thanks to the “Invisible” Heroes of Our Generation.

Some of these people are famous, but the vast majority of the people doing some of the most grueling, dangerous work out there are not. They’re not doing it for the recognition. Most of them don’t own their own domains and blogs, and don’t try to “brand” themselves like we do. Instead, they remain anonymous. While I’m sitting in my comfortable room in Europe, enjoying pasta and bread, these brave people are living in difficult conditions and putting themselves in danger to fight for what they believe in. I know I am immensely lucky to have what I have, but I think I lack something that these people have: courage. I talk so much about international issues on my own blog, but I haven’t actually gone and volunteered in a conflict zone, nor have I ever experienced living in conditions of poverty. I’m not sure I’d ever have the strength to become an aid worker in Darfur, or a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote village. I’d like to think I’m up for all these challenges, but I still think it takes a special type of person to dedicate their lives to such work.

Read the rest of the post here.

Thanks Sam for facilitating such an engaging series, and encouraging people to value appreciation. I feel that far too many days, we forget to truly appreciate how lucky we are and what we have in life. This series gives you a chance to do that. So take a look now!

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If you haven’t already, please pop on over to Matt Cheuvront’s blog, Life Without Pants. I recently wrote a guest post for his Inconvenience of Change series, describing my viewpoint on why social change is so important and why it’s so hard for people to understand that. Here’s an excerpt:

“Why is helping someone thousands of miles away so important? It’s because we are all truly, deeply interrelated. We can’t separate their poverty from our success. My success depends on the success of a farmer in India, or a small business owner in Mali. By making the world better as a whole, I’m improving my own life. By improving the economies of developing countries, we here in the U.S. are finding more emerging markets to export to. By helping Somalia establish a stable government and helping Somalian fishermen, we are preventing piracy attacks on U.S. ships. By educating children in poor areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, we are helping to reduce extremist Islamic ideology that recruits future terrorists. Helping others helps us. Good karma comes back to help you when you need it. This isn’t selfless altruism: it’s the virtue of selfishness.”

So please head on over there to read my full post, and while you’re at it check out the rest of the excellent posts in Matt’s series. I thank Matt for the great opportunity to participate, and it’s been really great to hear everyone’s unique viewpoint on change. Enjoy!

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