LearnServe Fellow 2010
I love to dance. I’m absolutely horrible at it, but I can’t help myself. The other day, my mother walked into my room and found me attempting to dougie to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” We had a good laugh at my expense, and then got to chatting.
Our conversation covered a range of subjects – including how we both love the song “Man in the Mirror.” It has a message a lot like we’re taught in LearnServe programs. MJ says we should make positive change in the world, but we should also take a close look at ourselves in the process.
Last year I took a month-long service trip to India, which underscored this very lesson. Over the years, I’ve started a number of fairly successful ventures, and I’ve done some great things for meaningful causes, and in the process, I have realized how very hard it can be to be that positive change.
In India, I traveled with a group of students from my university and our main purpose was teaching English to Tibetan refugees. I was exposed to extreme poverty and many other challenges associated with being a refugee living in India. Many of the people I met are struggling to make ends meet, and they experienced significant trauma in their flight from Chinese-occupied Tibet. And yet, nearly all of the people I met found a way to be happy.
After I returned home, I looked around my bedroom and all the stuff I had. And I thought about how frequently I was grumpy or annoyed, and how very silly it all was. I am so lucky! I am surrounded by people that love me and I have the freedom to do what I want with my life. And what I want is to be happy, and to spread that happiness as much as I can.
LearnServe helped me figure out what makes me truly happy. As the great Mahatma Gandhi said, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. LearnServe empowered me to launch Woodson4Haiti, a school-wide fundraising campaign to support relief efforts after the earthquake in Haiti. That initial LearnServe venture project soon spawned Woodson4Pakistan and Woodson4Japan. We raised several thousand dollars, all through the hard work of high school students.
The lessons I learned at LearnServe stayed with me after high school. Spring semester of 2012, my first year as a Tulane University undergrad, I won $5,000 through a business plan competition to launch Sudz Soap. Sudz is a student owned and operated L3C business that sells all-natural bars of soap in the United States and uses the proceeds to implement sanitation improvement projects abroad. This past summer I went back to India with a Sudz team and worked with Indian and Tibetan non-profits to pilot our sanitation programs in India. I’ve found that this kind of work makes me happy.
I think Michael Jackson would be proud of me. I’ve started making some changes in my life, like trying to be more caring, compassionate, and loving. I’m giving more and buying less. And that has given me the energy and focus to pursue a social business that has the power to make a real difference in people’s lives. All of this feels really good.
So take a little time today – maybe a spontaneous dance break – and think about how you can make yourself happy, so that you can spread that happiness to others.
Melanie Barlow graduated from the LearnServe Fellows program in 2010. She is a graduate of W.T. Woodson High School and is a student at Tulane University.
LearnServe 10×10 interviews and profiles compiled by Melanie Barlow (Fellows 2010) and Julia Peck (Fellows 2011)
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