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Anjhula Mya Bais Headshot

Runway to Rwanda: Reflections of a Fighting Pacifist

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I'd been asked to write, blog and contribute for various publications before. The Huffington Post's open policy of absorbing the best of the world in an all-you-can-eat intellectual buffet (fully attributed, of course) and being at ease with "competitors" coalesced with my belief that knowledge is a great leveler and should be made available to everyone from as many places as possible. It inspired me to open the MacBook and kick the writing block to the curb. That, and October 24, 2010, was the catalyst to make the switch from the clinical psychology track I was on and harness the affinity for International Psychology (IP).

On that day, which happened to be the last day of our wedding, my husband and I were held hostage in Deogarh, Rajasthan, in India. For 16 hours we were held on the grounds of extortion. As we negotiated with the threat of a gun to my head the myriad cultural, socio-economic and religious differences between the captors and us, something was imperceptibly ignited inside of me. I realized in that moment that my mission is to positively channel the anger, hopelessness and sadness I felt as a strong and educated voice for justice and human rights. Remaining silent about global issues both on the micro and macro levels was as good as committing or condoning the act itself.

Life is an intriguing mix of interconnectedness. It is imperative that we take a holistic view of cause and effect. It was the individual, the collective members of society, the government, the prevailing culture and ethos of the time and country that came together to form this life-changing experience. Through soft power we negotiated the release of ourselves. In everything that ensued in the aftermath of this hostage situation in the media and otherwise, I gained first-hand experience of legal, cultural, ethical and environmental facets that collide to give rise to global issues -- corruption and lawlessness, in this case.

A former social relations and global intelligence researcher. An international runway model. A contributor for Vogue. A conductor of Buddhism Webinars. A passionate and disciplined applier of social media. A former MTV VJ highlighting the AIDS epidemic. An American Psychological Association Graduate Ambassador. These are all hats I have donned or continue to wear, interweaving my media and psychology background whilst simultaneously defying the assumption that they are mutually exclusive. Expanding one's life condition and horizons enough, anything and everything is truly possible.

Certainly, I have never experienced poverty as developing countries do, yet I am familiar with underwhelming messages every day: from in-laws and the media to Rajasthan police, who said the hostage-taking did not happen at the wedding. "You are a model" (not particularly intelligent); "you are a girl" (gender inequality); "why a PhD" (threatening); "take care of the home" (only option); "do not adopt" (reproductive choices, referring to the Rwandan orphan my husband and I became guardian of); "you are too young" (ageism); "forget about the gun that was at your head" (denial is easier). I am South Asian; by necessity I must love elephants. People in the U.S. have asked if I rode one to school and my answer is yes: I love the pink elephants in the room that people worldwide won't speak about.

I am unflappable on Twitter when I am accused of being pro-Tutsi because apparently they did not die in the Rwandan Genocide. I am completely present when a 15-year-old tells me she is so happy I am not endorsing whitening creams in India because she is dark and told no one will marry her. When Times of India, the largest English paper in the world, skipped a daily recapping of Bollywood and published a story on my trip to Rwanda, perhaps people saw the beginning of another world. Do I pay the price in my fashion career? Absolutely. I've been told by many an agent to "dumb it down," yet I do it in reverse; I model in part to further humanitarian causes, not to have a Kodak, hugging moment with an orphan before I go to court on DUI charges. Before Angelina Jolie embarked on her mission of U.N. goodwill ambassador, she took a class in International Relations. It was thought at first that Mia Farrow couldn't hack Darfur. Embarking on The Huffington's Post social impact section as a blogger gives new meaning to Model UN -- in other words, material for the sapiosexual, thinking person.

Buddhism teaches that any poison can be turned into medicine, that every instance has deep significance. It is with fellow HuffPost bloggers that I serve and raise voice to the under represented, disenchanted ideas and members of society and spur all of us to find the mission that only we individually can fulfill.

In reality, the world is overwhelmingly jaded with technology and unrest. Repeatedly I find that people are at a loss on where to start because they feel they will make negligible impact. I answer with an analogy to airplanes. Each flight tells you in the case of turbulence to put your oxygen mask on before helping others. Interpreted, this means that unless one questions and conducts their inner human revolution, they are of no use to the larger world context and unable to answer the quintessential existential question of what is the meaning of life? I started small and still stay small at times and yet I observe the most mystical of ripple effects. Go to a veteran hospital and say thank you to an injured soldier not known personally. Sign an e-petition. Give a kiva loan. Go to a section in Barnes and Noble that you've never broached and buy a book on topic you have no idea about. The world can and will change, one human by one human. Our environment is no more or no less a reflection of ourselves. This is what I see every time I gaze into a backstage mirror of a fashion week runway.

By the way, to answer to a recent reader's question on how to address a warlord: I went to University in India with one of Charles Taylor's daughters. One day she unexpectedly handed the mobile to me and utterly flabbergasted, I responded: "Hello, Charles Uncle." I agree with New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, when accused warlords are not busy conducting human rights breaches, they are like any other dad: making sure daughters do not flaunt curfews and keep good company. Oddly, because of this, I find a sliver of reassurance that world over we have a shared humanity.