Life gets challenging in unique ways when working internationally. You find yourself in a different landscape with different cultural norms, often different languages you may not understand, and different methods to accomplish the same goal. I feel I have become pretty good at rolling with the changes and ambiguity of this work, however, this last month has challenged me in ways I never expected.

I’ve been with a group of university students from New York. We have been volunteering at an orphanage in Northern South Africa. The moment my group first met with the matriarch of the community, we were inspired and moved by her candid approach to the circumstances at the orphanage. The essence of what she said to us was, “Find your light.”

Despite my optimism and constant ability to be patient and open, I tend to lose my light. I lose it in logistics, outcomes, and other people’s needs. I feel this is normal and not negative but since Mgogo (grandma) said this to us, I’ve been unsettled by it. This last month has had me questioning, how can I keep my light all the time? What if our light was constant just like a happy thought in Neverland? So I’ve been trying.

The first weekend here, I got thrown into a situation of selflessness, courage, but mostly need. The community was putting together a funeral for a young mother who lived in the informal village next to the orphanage’s campus. It is tradition for the younger men to be very involved with funerals. Most men my age have passed away from AIDS in this community, so I was needed to be a pallbearer and then assist in burying the coffin. While shoveling dirt in front of family and loved ones, I couldn’t help thinking, “How do I find my light in this?”

Fortunately it has been easy. I find my light in the faces of these children who always have love to give. Despite being refugees, being raped, losing parents to HIV/AIDS, and some being HIV positive themselves, they are always giving love and able to receive it. One woman in my group described these children as, “warriors of battles we will never know.” As I venture into the day care today, I will remember this and hug my heart alive.

I also have been able to find my light in my Peacework participants. These ten courageous young adults have left the comfort of their homes to come volunteer in the most non-traditional of circumstances. They are up at 5am to get 200 children ready for breakfast and school while handling their individual projects, which are more challenging than most jobs they will be offered out of college. Even though they are tired, overworked, often ill and homesick, there are always smiles on their faces.

I believe to make our light the most available, we must better know that human connections are important. We must acknowledge that we are apart of nature and that real human connections are the key to unlocking the light that we already own. The light must be accessed but it is always there. We must train ourselves how to reach it when we need it; Just like a happy thought in Neverland to fly.

How do you access your light? Who helps your light appear immediately? How often do you connect/see/interact with them? Do you make their light appear?

I get reminded all the time that just like food and water, I need interaction with certain people. I try to be conscious of this and work it like a muscle. We must train ourselves on what connections are healthy and assist us in finding our light so it is always available. I don’t think this strategy will change the world, but anything is possible when bettering us on an individual level.

Good luck on finding your light!