All of a sudden wooden shacks surrounded me, miles and miles of shantytown. I asked our local Brazilian guide how many people lived in this community. "Anywhere between 100 and 200,000, crammed into only (0.80) square miles" she replied.
Everywhere we walked, I saw the most drastic contrast between tough conditions and an incredible alegria -- an optimism that I had never encountered before. In each interaction I began observing an appreciation for the small pleasures in life. The conversations about the last night's episode of the popular news program "Fantastico," or how the family is preparing for next year's carnaval.
We walked down into the center of the community, where the Legion of Goodwill had set up our open-air soup kitchen, barber shop and nurse's station. One by one, families were attended to with kindness, dignity and empathy. I stayed focused on my task of serving soup, and tried not to get wrapped up in the emotion of the situation. With every dip of my spoon I felt lighter inside -- that finally I was doing something that mattered to someone else.
I had spent so much of my life worrying about appearance and what people thought of me, but in this moment all I felt was a purity of purpose. I know my story is not unique, because everywhere I go I meet people who were transformed by helping others, not as a momentary distraction, but true transformation -- in the way we view our lives, the world and attitude. It was there on the dirt and under the sky of air-dried laundry that I found myself, where I healed, where the Martin Luther King Jr. quote made so much sense to me, "anyone can be great, because anyone can serve."
I took a long hiatus from the working full-time in social good. I dedicated myself to climbing the corporate ladder, and when I turned away from my passion, something inside of me began to dim. The faces of the people in the field, and those in need would frequently appear to me. I told myself that I wasn't experienced enough to follow my dreams of running an organization full time, and that the world would laugh at me.
But with the help of my friends, family and many mentors, including Paul Kaye and Arianna Huffington, and the incredible team of Chelsea Brownridge, Chris Kempes, John Townsend, Alziro Braga, our all-star selection committee, and the impeccable team at the Huffington Post, we find ourselves embarking on this long awaited journey. We will now support the incredible, energetic, idealistic, bold millennials who also are looking to move humanity forward with the funding and mentorship that they need; those courageous individuals who are staying true to the voice inside of them saying that now, more than ever is the time to give.
This post was originally published here.
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