Then, within a few weeks, she decided they could sleep inside the store, because no one was using it at night. As she got to know them better, she realized they had never done anything wrong, they just had really difficult pasts and bad fortune. So what she wanted to do was get them some sort of small apartment that they could maybe stay in in the evenings. She went to all the local organizations in the community to see if she could get some funding. One of them was Doctors Without Borders.
Now, they didn’t have funds to give her, but they were so moved by her passion and her love for these kids, they thought they could find her something else. They happened to need someone who spoke fluent French and fluent Mandarin to help them with some of the emergency needs that they had in the community. Marine started working with them, and 12 years later when I met her, she was the Secretary General of Doctors Without Borders. She didn’t get there by potting her resume with all of these impressive achievements. She just did something small, and more importantly, she did something that she loved.
Contribute in your own way
That brings me to my second tip: contribute in your own way. Nobody else’s but yours. I am so saddened nowadays when I see that the way we’re training young people is to follow some calculated recipe that will lead to this inevitable and wonderful end goal. Somebody says they want to go to med school, we say, “Well, start tutoring or volunteer in your local hospital. Do whatever you can so they know you are really excited about doing it.” And I think these are all great things and they do end up getting you to that end goal, but sometimes I worry about that when you get to that end goal, you might find out it wasn’t what you really wanted in the first place.
Larry Smith, who will be speaking later and is one of my favorite professors at the University of Waterloo, said something to me that changed my life. He said, “You better love what you do, because I guarantee you cannot compete with the person beside you that reads about business trends, or health statistics, or human resources on their weekends in their leisure time for fun.”
A few years later, I am sitting with my best friend on the side of a lake. It is really quiet, we are on vacation. He is in Human Resources. He pulls out of his backpack this magazine and starts droning on and on to me about the wonders of e-recruiting. I literally couldn’t believe it. He was reading about his career in Human Resources on the weekend for fun.
So here is how you contribute in your own way: you find what you love doing, what you are good at, and you use that to contribute to your community. Here is another example I love. You have all heard about Doctors Without Borders, most of us know that organization. How many of you have heard about the organization Clowns Without Borders? I swear to you this exists. It is a group of people in North America that go to war-torn countries, into refugee camps, and literally serve as clowns. Having worked in these areas, when I first heard about this organization, I was baffled. All I could think was, “What these people need is food and shelter. They don’t need clowns traipsing into their community.”
And then I read and learned more about what they do. One of the things that struck me the most when I worked in these countries and areas was working with malnourished children. When kids are so malnourished, when they are that malnourished, they don’t have energy or any vitality. And no matter what you do, you can’t get a reaction out of these kids. So you tickle them, you take them on plane rides, you tell jokes, you act crazy, and you cannot get children who are that malnourished to laugh. And these clowns come in, they put on a red nose, and they bring laughter into these communities.
And more than that, when you look at the results, you learn that they’re building self-esteem in children, they are involving children in theater, getting them to speak. They are building community, and if nothing else, for a few short moments, they are bringing laughter. So that is what I say: that if you can start somewhere and contribute in your own way, it will make a difference.
Make sincere connections
My third tip is, that in order to do all of this, you need to make sincere connections to people, to the community, to the Earth. I think that most people that are here today want to dedicate some of their time to doing something, but don’t really know where to start or how to get started. And so I say: pick something that you are genuinely connected to, and it’ll grow.
Here is my story. When I was an undergrad at the University of Waterloo, I was part of an organization called Habitat for Humanity. So what we do is, on the weekends every once in a while, we would go and help to build homes for people who couldn’t afford them. And I have to tell you while I loved the concept of putting a house up that somebody could live in, the best part was the amazing people that I met. So this group of people decided we would participate in a collegiate build. The collegiate build is when students decide that instead of going crazy on March break in some exotic area, they’re actually going to commit to a week of service.