How it All Started……
In June of 2016, I was actively prepping for my second year at Burning Man. I had chosen a camp, managed to get my hands on a ticket, and was looking for ways to help my camp get ready for the burn. However, at some point during this process I came to the realization that with each passing day I was getting less and less excited. This took me a bit off guard. Since returning from last year’s burn, I had every intention of returning to the playa this year and exploring the beauty of Black Rock City a little further.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, there seemed to be an increase in the amount of violence and bloodshed. The sudden increase may not have been new, but, to me, it felt that fear and hate were tightening their grip on our society.
This combination of elements awakened a period of deep reflection in me.
I thought about Burning Man and why I valued the experience so much.
I thought about my goals and dreams.
I thought about the concept of the greater good and what I was doing for it.
I thought about past obstacles, those I face now, and those that are faced by others around me.
I thought about how fortunate I am to be where I am and how easily things could’ve been different.
I thought about the human experience- what it means to be human, to connect with others, and to share this unique, interconnected adventure we call life.
These reflections led me to many ideas. I considered going back to the playa but focusing on a spiritual burn…which then led me to the possibility of going to Bali to study yoga and meditation and to immerse myself in the people and the culture. I, also, considered going off into the woods for a period of isolation and reflection.
But none of these options resonated with me. So, I decided to change my perspective to try to figure out why last year’s burn was a life shifting moment for me, kind of like the seismic activity caused by the shifting of tectonic plates.
Last year, what I needed the most was to focus on me. I needed the time and space to be self-concerned and to get to know my own desires and needs. I needed to be in a position where I can meet people, share a drink, and have a conversation. This time last year, what I needed most was to open my eyes and heart to the idea of cultivating relationships with others. And that’s exactly what Burning Man offered me. This year, I came to the realization, that what I need most is to focus on others. To put all my energy into helping others move forward in their lives, like others had helped me.
For as long as I can remember, all I have ever wanted to do was fight corruption and help
build a free and equal society for all. I remember being a child living in Egypt and seeing the effects of corruption on a society firsthand. When my parents left me in the care of extended family to travel to the United States, I was told that because they love me and want me to be successful we have to make this sacrifice and split our family. As a young child, all I could think of was why. Why is America so much better? Why can’t we be better in Egypt? Why do we have to leave at all?
I remember when I decided that I was going to save the world by becoming president of Egypt and overhauling the system. But then the sad realization came that because I was a female the chances of gaining any political power in Egypt were slim to none. And when my heart was crushed a second time by learning that you need to be a natural born citizen to be president of the United States, I turned to a radical idea. I considered finding a man to be the face of the campaign but who would allow me to do the actual job of running a country. I quickly abandoned that idea when I realized that my perfect world would have been built on a foundation of lies and deceit. I would not have that.
It took me years to be able to understand and be able to articulate the feelings of anguish and despair I felt towards society. It took me even longer to be able to conceptualize real ideas that I felt could help bridge the gap from the society we are living in now to the free and equal one I dream of being a part of. So when I was sitting there, digging into the deepest corners of my soul, I realized the time has come for me to take action and to start doing my part in building this dream world.
When I gave up on the idea of becoming president, I turned to psychology as my weapon of choice in fighting corruption. My plan was to fight it from the bottom up. I was going to empower those who have been disenfranchised and forced into the bottom rungs of our societal pyramid through education and emotional and mental healing. I figured through this long and tedious process, slowly, but surely, we would eventually force corruption out. I planned on working in war-torn countries. Places where the people have limited opportunities for growth because of the constant violence around them. And so when I was sitting there trying to figure out what to do and where to go, my thoughts naturally gravitated to a refugee camp.
There were three things I was looking for when researching organizations to work with:
- That our visions aligned.
I want to be able to provide care to those who need it most. I want to help empower those who have been ignored or silenced. I want to spread hope by sharing stories that show that no matter the color of the skin or the word used for God, we still have the same fears, worries, needs, and desires. At the end of the day, we are all same. We are all human.
- That they have a clear and concise statement of purpose and set of goals.
My short term goal is to help in anyway possible the people impacted by the war in Syria. I chose Syria because it is one of the worst ongoing conflicts. With thousands dead and millions displaced, Syrian civilians are attempting to flee the violence in order to have a chance to live a normal life.
- That I would be able to learn about how the camp and the organization is run and gain insight into how to be successful when running such operations.
This will, hopefully, be the first of many similar trips. I wish to one day develop Shimmering Lights into more than just a blog where people come together to discusses ideas on how to improve our society. I wish to one day build Shimmering Lights into a network where ideas, resources, and people can connect to create a better world for all.
I wanted to work with a small organization because I felt it would be best suited for learning the intricacies of the operation. Much like a startup.
I was surprised to discover that finding the perfect fit required a lot of time and energy. Most organizations were too large and run by even bigger organizations. I found that these organizations were very fragmented in the causes and projects they support. Also, they didn’t clearly convey stories of their success and accomplishments, and they failed to lay out their vision and goals. Light House Relief (LHR) stood out amongst many options (i.e United Nations Volunteers and CARE International) and quickly became my number one choice. They met all my personal requirements, including literally being an organization in its infancy.
Launching in September 2015, (happy first birthday LHR!) as a direct response to the refugee crisis, LHR is a Swedish based non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides relief to Syrian refugees stranded in Greek camps. Their mission “is to provide immediate crisis response, as well as long term relief, for the most vulnerable groups, such as women, children, elderly and disabled, in a dignified, respectful and empowering way”. Their goal, ” to act like a lighthouse- to stand firm in harsh conditions, lighting the way to guide people in need”.
LHR runs four projects in Greece: Katsikas refugee camp, Ritsona refugee camp, Lesvos environmental relief, and Lesvos reception camp. The Katsikas and Ritsona camps focus on long term relief and support by building a community for the refugees and providing them with resources that will enable them to rebuild their lives. The Lesvos camp is focused on providing immediate relief to those refugees just arriving to the shores of Greece by providing them with dry clothing, shelter, food, water, and medical care. And since the local environment has been devastated by this crisis, they also run the ECO relief project.
Because of my experience as a firefighter and a paramedic, I felt that my skill set and experience would be best suited for the Lesvos projects. And so I sent them my application for consideration.
What I Will Be Doing……
At this point, I don’t really know! Because of the constantly changing climate, it can be difficult to plan projects and major tasks ahead of time and to ascertain what is needed. What I do know is that the camp is run in a very fluid manner and that the responsibilities can range from environmental cleanup to providing care to arriving refugees, helping the locals rebuild their community, prepping meals, and completing various operational tasks to ensure the camp runs as smoothly as possible. I’m going into this with no expectations and a desire and willingness to help in anyway possible. I feel like that is the best approach to any situation where one has more questions than answers.
To prepare for this trip, Shimmering Lights has launched a fundraising campaign. A small portion of the money raised will help fund this trip but the majority of the money will be spent on material needed to help the refugees recoup and rebuild their lives.
My plan is to find out what is needed the most and use the funds raised from this campaign to address those needs. It can range from trash removal, or replenishing depleted camp supplies to collecting and organizing clothes, books, or food for the refugees. Whatever it may be, the funds will go towards making the greatest impact in the quality of life of the people living there.
Shimmering Lights believes in complete transparency. This means that every penny raised will be accounted for and reported through clear, easy-to-understand documentation. You will be able to see a breakdown of how each dollar was spent and the direct impact it had. You can trust that your money won’t get stuck in the bureaucratic shuffle of larger organizations and that it will have a direct effect on the people who need it the most.
I humbly ask that you consider donating money at www.youcaring.com/shimmeringlights, even if it’s just $5, the equivalent of that one cup of coffee or pint of beer we all love so much. You can trust that any amount that you contribute will go to someone who has been forced out of their home and can only dream of enjoying the comfort and normalcy of, what is to us, a mundane drink.
Thank you for reading about my journey so far. I’d like to conclude by sharing a quote that is inscribed onto my heart and soul:
“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity”.
– Horace Mann
What will your victory be?