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Several years ago, while I was living in the Philippines, my life was changed by two selfless strangers. I got lost in the mountains, and I didn’t speak a word of the local dialect. I thought it was the end for me. But then, two women—locals—appeared. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me. We could barely communicate with one another, but I trusted them to bring me to safety. And they did! 

Me, on top of Gethsemane Prayer Mountain, one day before losing my way.

Women and girls are too often taught that their soft skills—including their empathy—make them weak. But I believe it takes courage to be a kind, charitable, and helpful person.

My trip to the Philippines taught me to own my soft skills as a source of uncompromisable strength. 

Here, drawn from my experience as a bona fide empath, is a guide to standing in your power and helping others find their way—whether you’re stranded on a mountain, just trying to get through the day, or working to change the world.

Lesson 1: Your Heritage Is an Asset. Use it!

Our worldview and life experiences are forever flavored by our upbringing. Growing up in a southern California suburb—a place that was far from diverse—was no walk in the park for the daughter of Filipino immigrants. But I am immensely proud of my heritage, and what it has taught me about our shared humanity and the goodness of perfect strangers.

My mother marched in the streets with the People Power Revolution in the Philippines, a movement that effectively ended the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marco and restored democracy to the country. 

My mother and I on my first birthday.

Caring for others is built into my family’s values, and social justice is in my blood. 

But, even if you don’t have revolutionaries for parents, you can still contribute to making this world a little better for your fellow man and woman. Your background and experiences make you unique. Your story is important—so tell it!

A great example of young women celebrating their heritage while making a difference for others is the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association (EESA) at the University of Virginia. The group seeks to build community and to preserve the culture and traditions of its members. 

EESA recently fundraised for Fistula Foundation, the organization I work for. At Fistula Foundation, we help women in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia who suffer from fistula, a devastating childbirth injury. The funds raised by EESA at a recent charity date auction will help give three women life-transforming surgeries. 

“Any contribution to healing women and giving them their lives back is worth it,” one member of EESA told me. Kalkidan (Kal) Woubiset, EESA’s special events chair, added: “We don’t have the direct struggle, but to know we could help them—it really is a heartwarming feeling.”

Students from the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association (EESA) at the University of Virginia.

I’m so proud of these young philanthropists who, in service to our shared humanity, stepped up to help women they will likely never meet. No matter what community you call home, you can be an uplifting force for women across the world.

Lesson 2: Privilege Doesn’t Have to Be a Dirty Word. Stand in the Gap.

I was practically predestined to work in fundraising, and I can’t believe I get to do this work for a living. Even as a person of color, I feel very privileged that I can help others find their purpose, fulfill their dreams, and make a difference. 

A very wise boss once told me that if you are privileged enough to be of service to others, it’s important to “stand in the gap.” In other words, use your privilege for purpose.

Most of our donors at Fistula Foundation will never know, see, or meet the fistula patients and survivors whose health and happiness they are helping to restore. But they know that—unlike the women they help—they are privileged to live in places with quality obstetric care, functional transportation, and the means to access surgery that will allow them to live freely in their society.

For many fistula patients, transportation to the hospital is made difficult by poor roads and infrastructure.

When you use your privilege for purpose, you recognize all that you have and apply your talents to helping people in need. You give what you can. And you do it without making moral judgments of yourself or others. 

I’m honored to do this work at Fistula Foundation, which has given me the confidence—and allowed me to help others gain the confidence—to stand in the gap.

Lesson 3: Philanthropy Is for All.

There’s an unfortunate misconception that you need to have a lot of money to engage effectively in philanthropy. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The word “philanthropy” derives from an Ancient Greek phrase that means “to love people.” It’s a shame that philanthropy has become synonymous with being rich. At its core, it is about loving your fellow humans and giving what you have, no matter how big or small your gift might be.

It warms my heart to think about the EESA members who found a way to compassionately contribute funds to fistula patients while honoring their heritage.

EESA’s Vice President, Meron Samuel, summed it up perfectly: “Every donation counts, and it ends up meaning something—whether you’re donating a lot or donating a little.”

Philanthropy is a lifestyle. If you can help someone, in some small way, you may just change their whole world.

When you encounter suffering, you have a choice to be a light for that person, or continue to perpetuate darkness. You can be their guide on a journey from sorrow to joy. Donate your money, your time, or your talent—whatever you can give. All of these gifts are important and invaluable. Know your worth, trust yourself, and use your unique skills and passions for good. 

You are an important part of this world, and you can play an important role in making it better for all of us. Let’s get to it!

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The Conversation

One Response

  1. This is a really beautiful, nuanced, uplifting writing Sajira. Especially appreciate the line “Know your worth, trust yourself, and use your unique skills and passions for good.” Much respect to you.

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