I wrote in another post about girls’ empowerment. I want to zoom in on a part of that post where I said, “in my experience, the core of empowerment lies in being vulnerable and building a community. And sometimes, all it takes to empower someone else is asking her the right questions and trying to understand her answer.”
Everyone has their baggage, and it’s definitely not easy to serve or work overseas. But having your own problems and weaknesses doesn’t prevent you from helping other people. In fact, it might even enable you to help more people. I couldn’t really identify the power of question asking until I was lucky enough to be coached by my friend Alanna Sousa, an Atlas Corps Fellow from Brazil.
Goals Are Just a Coping Mechanism
Alanna helped me break down my career anxieties and identify goals for myself. Around the same time, another Atlas Corps Fellow named Deepa wrote a blogpost entitled “Every wondered? Why is it so important to have something to look forward to?” As Deepa alluded to in her blogpost, identifying my goals and receiving feedback gave me a sense of security, hope, and peace. It made me feel empowered, even if my goals have changed and will continue to change countless times.
Along with this concept of measuring value not by productivity but by relationships, it seems to me that while goals and dreams are elusive, they are a coping mechanism to keep us moving forward. Along the way forward, we affect and are affected by different people—and that’s where a lot of our real value lies.
Psychologists need Psychologists; Coaches need Coaches
I have a friend here in Morocco who I have been informally coaching, just as Alanna did with me. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have plenty of anxieties and unknowns, but it doesn’t prevent me from asking this friend questions about her future. As an outsider, I can offer a different perspective on life choices, opportunities, and relationships. I can ask my friend questions—such as “What are your obstacles? What opportunities do you have? What are you afraid of?”—that a lifelong friend wouldn’t normally ask so point-blank.
Talking to this friend about her future helps her feel empowered. We discuss plans for university, what makes her feel excited, and how things inside her head and within her environment might be affecting her. Our friendship is one of equality, and I would feel lonely and less supported in Morocco without her. In addition, my experience in Morocco will offer more growth for me than it will for anyone I meet here.
Yet the “coaching” aspect of our relationship epitomizes for me an important benefit of international exchange. New questions from people outside our communities are the fuel we need to see ourselves beyond our everyday contexts like traditions, gender roles, religion, family expectations, or self-perception.
Exchanges Don’t Grow On Trees
You might be thinking “wow, I’m starting to understand why Julie’s so obsessed with international exchange! I wish I could help build capacity of people on exchange programs right now.” Well lucky for you readers that are real people and make money, you have the opportunity to directly fund the rest of Alanna’s fellowship.
For Alanna to continue her fellowship, she needs to raise $15,000. She already has an anonymous donor who will be matching contributions dollar-to-dollar in this campaign. As an Atlas Corps Fellow, Alanna is serving at Liter of Light USA, which is a charitable organization dedicated to telling the story of more than one billion people around the world who suffer from the debilitating effects of energy poverty.
As one of the founders of Liter of Light in Brazil, Alanna has unique perspective and know-how for building sustainable strategic and educational programs for Liter of Light USA. As you can see from this video, Liter of Light's work makes a direct difference in people's lives around the world. On an even more micro level, though, you would be supporting Alanna, and the impact she has via not just her work, but also her relationships with people like me.
Unfortunately, we can’t solve global, cross cutting issues with a credit card. But we can impact each other’s stories by asking the right questions. Can you be a part of this story?