I am at the end of my Fellowship experience and in fact have been back home for about two weeks. What I have come to realize is what a life changing opportunity I had and how it makes me want to do bigger and more important things in the world. I started the fellowship in the hope that it would be a great learning experience and as a 38 year old I figured it would be a rare opportunity to stop working for a few weeks to travel and pursue an issue that I am passionate about. I thought it might be like a study abroad program for adults further into their careers, but it was so much more than that.
To be successful in my fellowship took a lot of planning to make sure that I was meeting the people and organizations that accurately reflected my fellowship goals of looking at poverty and how the countries of India and New Zealand were using education and social services to end generational poverty. I also had to be willing to leave behind my expectations from home and learn to live in the moment. I had to learn to accept each country and culture as I found it. That turned out to be the correct attitude to have a successful fellowship. It also made it really fun because I had to learn to go with the flow, which is quite a change for my type A personality. I learned to take people and places for who they were. I was there to observe and share not to try to change my environment. I tried to not make judgments on what I was seeing. Of course I did, but not as much as I would have normally done. I learned how to be in the moment.
I feel like I’m a different person and maybe even a better person because of this experience. I have even more gratitude for the life I have. Even more so I have developed a greater passion for people to have the opportunities that I have been given. I always say that education has allowed me to be more of who I was supposed to be instead of someone just trying to survive. This fellowship was a part of that education and showed me how much I have grown.
I was in some of the worse slums in the world but I met some of the most intelligent and content people I have ever come across. I went to a leprosy colony and met people who had no fingers and toes but I was able to see who they were as people not just what their circumstances were. I met so many people who had so little material possessions but had hope, an amazing work ethnic, and a thirst for education. It really proved to me that it is not where a person starts but where they end up.
I will always say that one of the best parts of my fellowship experience came long before I got on the plane to Delhi, India. It started from the day that I was chosen and became a part of this Eisenhower Fellowship Family. One of the greatest aspects was meeting my counterparts from all over the country and world who were doing important and significant work in the community that they lived.
I will admit that in the beginning I was a little intimidated by so many accomplished people and did ask myself a couple of times whether I was really in the right place to take part of something so big. The Fellowship was all about lifting each other up and it made me realize that although my background was different from some of the other fellows and maybe my job as a Tax Attorney was not as sexy as some of the other fellows, the work I was doing with poverty was important and that my differences in experience gave me a different, but equally valuable perspective. The other fellows also helped me to see that for which I am grateful. Through this process I have been blessed to have gained some lifelong friends.
We as Eisenhower Fellows have had many successes over the last year, but most recently suffered a great loss by the sudden death of 2012 New Zealand Fellow Greg King. Greg was a well known criminal defense attorney, advocate for the disadvanatged, former television personality, watch collector, art lover, husband and father from Wellington, New Zealand.
Greg and I became fast friends during our Eisenhower Fellowship orientation in March 2012. Greg was incredibly funny and kind he was probably the most popular member of the 2012 Fellowship class. He was smart and could always help you come up with a solution to any difficult situation. He is a huge reason my program took me to New Zealand. Greg found out about my interest in poverty and invited me to come to New Zealand to study and compare what they were doing there. The next thing I knew I had changed my Fellowship plan to include New Zealand and was on a plane from New Delhi to Wellington. Greg was just that kind of guy, he was incredibly persuasive and had the ability to get things done.
More than just colleagues, Greg became my friend through this process and had personally hosted me on the New Zealand part of my Fellowship. Greg and his wife Catherine generously put my husband and I up in their home for 10 days and treated us like members of the family. Beyond personal hopes and dreams, we spent hours talking about our Fellowship experiences and the hope that all of the Eisenhower Fellows would continue to do significant work in the world. Greg will be missed for his brilliant legal mind and advocacy work, but more importantly his welcoming smile and warm friendship that he gave so freely to all that crossed his path. His loss to the world is significant, but pales in comparison to that which is felt by his family and friends that were privileged to have known him. In his honor the 2012 Eisenhower Fellows are planning to fund a small scholarship to help others continue the social justice work that Greg believed in so deeply.
During this journey I have experienced the full range of emotions from nervousness to joy and sorrow to hope. The world we live in is surely full of challenges and the road to ending generational poverty unknowingly long, but I am honored to be part of a such an exclusive group of people who do not turn away from adversity and hardship, but instead ask what they can do to make positive change.