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I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I took a bit of a long break this past week, both from work and social media, to visit California! The land of tech, startups, environmentalism, and social entrepreneurship. And simultaneously, a hotbed of Occupy Oakland activism combined with shocking police brutality that has drawn national attention to issues of police misconduct. I didn’t get to witness much protesting, beyond Occupy general meetings, during my time there, but it is a truly remarkable location with so much to offer and many contradictions. San Francisco is a beautiful place and I loved my time spent in the bay area. Here are some memories made in the bay — taken completely by my iPhone (so excuse the poor image quality!):

I also had some time to reflect on my year, and though I didn’t post on Thanksgiving, I’d still like to give thanks for what I have. I’m thankful for a warm bed, a roof over my head, and not having to ever worry about homelessness. I’m thankful that I always have enough to eat and drink, and perhaps too much delicious food on some days! I’m grateful for the simplest of things – clean water to drink, sanitation, health care, employment, and a steady paycheck. I’m grateful for my education and the ability to read, write, and study things I love. I’m thankful because of my privilege, and the ability I have to donate, act, speak out freely, organize, fight for what I believe in, and write what I want to online and offline. I’m thankful because I have so much that I can give something back. I am grateful beyond words for the opportunity to follow my passion, to craft a career based on what I want to do. I am thankful to have the chance to travel and see the beautiful landscapes and meet wonderful people in my own country, and also across the globe. I am thankful for activists, movement leaders, social entrepreneurs, social justice organizers, feminists, nonprofiteers and community leaders changing our world for the better! But most of all, I’m thankful for deep love and true friendship – both of which I have in abundance.

I suppose none of this is particularly unique or particularly poignant, but for me, remembering all I have is enough. All too often, I adopt a pessimistic face – about life, my work, my seemingly limited ability to affect change, and all that is wrong in this world. But remembering all the positive things in my life and on this planet sparks gratitude in me – and that is invaluable.

I am also immensely grateful for my journey towards justice. If you notice, I’ve changed the name of this blog to just that. I wanted something a little more emblematic of both the personal and professional journey I’m on and that I write about here. I believe in savoring the journey too – not just the end goal. So I’m grateful for the opportunity to keep learning about the world, about human rights and social change issues, about feminism and domestic violence, about war and post-conflict reconciliation, and about the potential of the legal system to protect basic rights, address poverty, and promote peace. My journey has thus far taken the form of studying political science and development economics, writing a thesis on transitional justice and reconciliation in Sierra Leone and Rwanda, working to raise hundreds of thousands for an Afghan NGO focusing on rule of law & access to justice for women and girls, traveling to Afghanistan, working at a civil rights law firm, and becoming a trained advocate on behalf of domestic violence survivors and immigrants from Asia. My next step in this journey: most likely spending more time abroad to learn about these issues, and starting law school!

I am endlessly enthralled by this journey, and even in the not-so-thrilling-moments, I am remembering to be grateful. And I can’t tell you how excited I am about the next step on this road!

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When I heard about Steve Jobs’ death, I felt a sudden flash of sadness hit me. Why was I so sad about the death of a man I never met? Because Steve Jobs is not just a man, but a legacy — an inventor, innovator, entrepreneur, and creative genius. Steve Jobs changed our lives by creating beautiful technology infused with love, passion, and the desire to “think different.” His marketing of Apple products was successful not simply because iPhones, iMacs, and iPods have sleek, fashionable design — but because of the brand he associated these technologies with. By purchasing a Mac, you’re daring to think differently. You’re not just purchasing a phone or a computer, but a brand — a new way of living, thinking and breathing.

I am sad that the life of such an incredible innovator has ended too early — and I wish Steve Jobs could have spent the next twenty years changing the world even further. But I am thankful that he has lived a full life — and most of all, I know that his legacy will live on. And not just in the devices that we spend our lives using — but in his words, and his inspiration to young people.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is a message from Steve Jobs:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Apple Inc.

I’m sure many of you have read this quote already — but whenever I read it again, I feel inspired. It’s a reminder to me to follow my passion, to do what I think is right — even if I think differently. It reminds me that the only way I can participate in change is to believe, crazily enough, that I can change the world.

This message, to me, is at the heart of Apple’s success and Steve Jobs’ legacy. Steve Jobs dared to think differently, and his message resonated with us all. The only way we can succeed is to follow our hearts, even if it leads us to reject the status quo.

The world beats us down, every day. People tell us that our goals are impossible. We are told not to dream so big, but to be more realistic. Not to follow your heart, but be practical. That your visions of shifting paradigms are foolish. That you’re crazy to think differently, or to do what you love.

But Steve Jobs tells us that we’re not too crazy, but maybe just crazy enough to change the world. And I believe him.

Thank you, Steve Jobs. You will be missed.

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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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