Sometimes I love my job. Today is one of those days. I recently had the opportunity to take on a pro-bono client, a New York based organization called Dancing Classrooms, which teaches middle school aged children how to ballroom dance. (Was also the inspiration for the movie “Take the Lead” with Antonio Banderas)
It wasn’t until our third or fourth call that I learned about this amazing project that Dancing Classrooms founder and renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine had created. Dulaine was born in Jaffa, Israel, to an Irish father and Palestinian mother. He took his Dancing Classrooms program over to his birthplace in the middle east, fulfilling his lifelong dream of teaching dance to Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli children – together. His program forces the young people to meet each other face to face and work together to coordinate the steps involved in partner dancing. Dulaine had a documentary crew follow four children as they embarked on this program in Israel – you’ll be able to see it soon…but I can’t give away too many details yet.
These children, despite their cultural, religious and political differences, are now being introduced to each other in a way that enables them to work together at a young age. They actually make friends with one another through dance, movement, and cooperation.
Think dancing can save the world?
Another night finding myself unable to sleep, I give in to the insomnia and sit up in bed, pulling my laptop off the side table (no room for a desk in my tiny bedroom in my NYC apartment).
Looking for distractions on the Internet, I’m thrilled when I see my good friend Michele sign online. See, Michele left for Uganda this weekend to start her 12 week stint as a Kiva Fellow.
Seeing her sign on showed me that she had arrived safely, and that in her different time zone, she might be up for a chat. It’s also crazy to think that if this had been 5-7 years earlier, this instantaneous conversation could never have happened between two people so far apart.
Part of her program requires that she blogs about her experience, so I’ll be sharing that as soon as she starts posting, but for those of you interested, here’s a quick snippet of our conversation – an update from the beginning of Michele’s adventures in Uganda.
me: are you there?
me: how is it?
Michele: it’s ok here still getting acclimated
Michele: got in late sat night and my luggage was lost
Michele: this is my 2nd day at work
Michele: so not much sunday i tried to explore a bit but was more focused on getting my luggage
me: and work is in an office?
Michele: yea and all the gov’t protests apparently take place on the road right infront of the office
me: oh wow
is it safe
Michele: yea i think so
yesterday there was a ruckus outside
but it ended quicly
Michele: i’m working out of 2 offices actulaly
this one is in the capital
the other is about 30 min outside
so not a village
but i have to go to villages to meet borrowers eventually
me: so awesome
did you get a motorbike
Michele: no you have to flag down dudes and hop on the back of their motorbikes – it’s kind of crazy
yea i need to get a helmet
it’s really the only way to get around the other way is a share taxi with like 50 ugandans
Michele: and it would take me an hour to get to work
me: ok get a helmet asap
Michele: yes i definitely will
So, this post is dedicated to Michele as I wish her luck on her African adventure – here’s hoping she gets herself a helmet to deal with that crazy Ugandan transportation… and that next time I find myself unable to sleep in the middle of the night, she’s signed online on the other side of the world.
Last week, I met Rebecca after work and we headed to Lord & Taylor for an epic moment in Nest history. We attended the launch party of the limited edition FEED Guatemala bags. FEED is an organization that donates a percentage of their sales to help fight child hunger in developing nations. Rebecca met the founders, Ellen and Lauren, at an event we threw at the Ralph Lauren Rugby store last summer, and their friendship evolved into a partnership where the FEED ladies agreed to create a limited edition line of bags that were to be handmade by the artisans Nest works with in Guatemala.
After a year of hard work and collaboration, these bags were finally produced and shipped to Lord & Taylor, where they are now being sold exclusively. Seeing our bags on display at this department store reminded me that it was that very trip to Guatemala in 2008 that transformed my own personal involvement with Nest into what it is today – needless to say, that trip changed my life.
I wear my FEED Guatemala bag every day now, and find any excuse to tell people the story behind it. I’m like a proud mother, gushing over the pattern and handiwork of the bag, and mostly over the label inside that reads, “Handmade by Nest Artisans in Guatemala,” with our logo and website stitched right into it. Yes, maybe I’m a little obsessed, but wouldn’t you be?
Adjusting back to the U.S. after our amazing journey to Morocco went more smoothly than anticipated. The transition was made easier by the enthusiasm my friends and family showed in listening to me go on and on about my trip, looking through hundreds of photos, and reading the in-depth recaps I posted on this site.
But I couldn’t have expected how much the people around me were about to surprise, overwhelm, shock and inspire me two weeks after my return. Remember that fundraiser we talked about doing for Rachida so she could rebuild her house and her loom that were lost in the fire? Well, that fundraiser went live on our website on May 3rd. I sent around an email to my friends and family, telling them about Rachida and what had happened, and asked them to throw in a little money towards rebuilding if they could.
A little more than 24 hours later, I was astounded by the generosity these people showed. By May 4th, we had raised enough money to rebuild Rachida’s home, and more than half of those funds came from my friends and family – my two amazing roommates and some of my favorite brides-to-be, my incredible mother, and even an old friend in St. Louis. Even a dear friend in danger of losing her job contributed. A few ex boyfriends even kicked in some cash – and donated very generous amounts! You never know who will come through and rally together when you believe in a wonderful cause that has genuinely touched all our lives.
Needless to say, I’m incredibly lucky to surround myself with these people every day, and they’ve certainly made the post-Moroccan transition much more bearable.
The last night in Morocco, we sit down to dinner and talk about our trip highlights. Every single person reminisces about a memory they had with a loan recipient, either in Brian’s village of Midelt, Tim’s village of Tigmijou, or meeting Naima from Khenifra at the craft fair. I talked to Brian on the bus earlier that evening, about what he would do when he gets back to the US. He wants to go to business school, or maybe work for US Aid. I can’t imagine what it will be like for him to come back to the US and assimilate after spending so much time in this beautiful place, adapting to Moroccan culture for so many years. I’m worried about how I’m going to adjust after only ten days.
We say our goodbyes after breakfast and leave for the Marrakesh airport. The airport is filled with stranded European travelers. Joya’s boarding pass reads “Joshua,” but she gets through security anyway.
About ten hours later, I’m looking out the window of the plane as we pass over Long Island. I’m not sure I’m ready for this. We’re landing at JFK in ten minutes and I know I won’t be happy to go back to real life, to work, to the materialistic culture of NYC. But even here at home, I still have Nest. And I need to keep this experience close over the next few weeks…and for the rest of my life. Knowing what I do, when I’m running around the city trying to get restaurants to donate food to our event, when I’m stressing out trying to convince venues to host our event at no cost, I have to sit back and remember that every little effort we make helps the women we personally met here, who invited us into their homes and broke bread with us – knowing what we do every day helps them and people like them – that will make the post vacation transition more bearable, and will bring me back to how I felt in Morocco. This is why I do this, why all these amazing people around the world have come together for this cause. This trip made me realize that I’m living my dream, and helping others do the same.