We are going through a very tough and tragic time in history. At times it can seem like there is no hope, and there is only more sad news. Here is an inspirational interview Teen Mindset Magazine had with Anna Rago. Please take the next few minutes to read this interview and allow it to restore hope in your capabilities and your big dreams!
What advice do you have for achieving dreams?
“My advice is quite simple. You can do anything that you set your mind to no matter what situation you are in. This to me is one of the most motivating concepts. Think about it. You can at any moment in your life make a change. You do not ever have to be stuck, even when it feels like it. It doesn’t take years. Right now you could make a change in my life. The change doesn’t have to be big, but it can give you a breath of fresh air that will refocus you on your dreams and goals. I feel like we are always taught that we have to follow our culture. We are taught to go to school, get good grades, get a job, raise a family. But look at those in history who have broken societal expectations like Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Park, and Malala Yousafia. You can break expectations too. Now I am not saying don’t go to school, or don’t get a job. I am saying to tailor your life to what you want. Do something unexpected. Do something unimaginable. And don’t let anything, and I mean anything get in your way. Now I know this is easier said than done, but you make your own destiny. You are the only person who can stop yourself. Don’t worry about friends or family. Those in your life who really matter, will stick with you and support you no matter what. Remember to take the road not travelled. It may be scary, sometimes achieving your dreams means taking risks. Lastly, try to always keep in mind these two things: 1) Always have a dream because dreams are important. 2) Stay motivated: surround yourself with people and places that inspire you to continue working hard to achieve your dreams. You’ve only got one life to do something. So do it. Dream big.”
Do you have any advice on how to find your dream or passion in life?
“Finding your dream or passion can take days, weeks, years, or even a lifetime. I recommend taking time to yourself every so often to reflect on your life thus far. Ask yourself some of the following questions: What do you like to do? What have you done? What is most important to you in life? What changes do you want to make in your life? Where do you see yourself in a few years? If you cannot answer them, that is okay! Continuing trying new things and find what you truly love to do. The most important part in finding your dream or passion is understanding yourself, and understanding others: perspectives! Attend conferences and retreats because you will learn new things that you did even knew existed. Travel if you can and expand your worldview.
Now for those of you who can answer these questions, then congratulations! You have taken the first step in achieving your dreams!
The next step is to write out your personal mission statement. Put it everywhere. Make it your screensaver, write in on the mirror, keep it in your pocket, etc. Allow it to evolve. Continue to do the things I suggested above.”
What is your dream?
“My mission in life and overall dream is to serve others through community outreach and traveling to areas where I can make a difference. I work to touch the hearts of others. Pravinee Hurbungs says it best, ”Making one person smile can change the world; maybe not the whole world, but their world.” My dream is to work to change at least one person’s world. I want to leave the world just a little bit better than when I entered it. I firmly believe that the more generations that initiate change, the better the world will be for generations to come, creating a world that is educated, safe, and happy. My life up to now has been fulfilling that mission.”
How are you achieving your dream?
“I’ve organized many events for local nonprofits, traveled for many service opportunities (domestic and international), started initiatives in my community, organized many fundraisers, and inspired individuals I’ve met. Some of my current projects include, researching and creating a solution to the sustainability issue in North Philadelphia, beginning a “peace in action” movement with my school community, creating a business plan for a nonprofit I hope to create one day soon, organizing a large fundraiser for another nonprofit I work with, and interning for a nonprofit that helps teens achieve their dreams. I strive to create a better community and give back as much as possible. More so, I have been working hard at what I believe in.”
What has helped you become more knowledgeable about what it takes to achieve dreams?
“Ever since I was younger, I had big dreams. I think it was because I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household that fostered my simple goals. My parents were always making sure that I had what I needed in order to thrive. The summer between 6th and 7th grade I attended a leadership camp at Villanova University called Wave Week. This camp was led by an organization called Spark the Wave. They work to provide young leaders with the tools they need to change the world. I was personally affected by their work and realized that I really can achieve my dreams. I formulated my mission statement during my time at Wave Week and began working towards fully living it out. During this camp I was challenged to organize and execute a service project for the organization of our choice. We were asked to choose a nonprofit to work with. I had a personal connection to non-profit Pamoza International. Pamoza’s mission is to unite people in alleviating suffering and despair through Christian outreach and sustainable community development in the areas of education, entrepreneurship, agriculture, and health. This organization works pamoza (together) with people in rural Malawi, Africa, the third poorest country in the world. Their approach is to offer support while teaching community members how to meet their own needs. I originally found out about Pamoza International when they presented at my grade school in sixth grade. Hearing about the lives of students in Malawi really touched me. It made me feel lucky to have the education that I do. I knew that I wanted to do something to help the children in Malawi. I chose to organize a 5K run to benefit Pamoza. This event was a success and I raised over $1,000 for education in Malawi. After that I continued to volunteer with the organization. I worked with my grade school to bring Pamoza’s mission to the students and give them an insight into what life is like in Malawi. I then organized the movie night for Pamoza, went to Malawi, and continued to organize events for Pamoza and other nonprofits. I knew that this was the start of me achieving my dreams. Executing such large scale events at such a young age allowed me to know that dreaming big is realistic. I understand that not everyone has these opportunities. The support system I have is special and I feel blessed to have such amazing people in my life like my Pamoza family, those at Spark the Wave, my immediate family, and my wonderful friends. With that said, for those reading this who don’t have a support system, have big dreams, and/or just need someone to bounce ideas off of, reach out! I would love to talk to you and help you achieve your goals. You are not alone in this world. I will always have your back.”
Can you talk about the non-profit gala that you organize?
“I was the event coordinator for the 2019 Pamoza International (NGO) First Ever Gala Fundraiser. I became involved after a mission trip to Zowe, Malawi (where the organization works). I saw a need there and chose to make a change. I was responsible for the organization of the event from start to finish. I exercised my leadership skills to the fullest and raised $31,000 for the organization.The summer of 2018, I joined six other people on a nineteen-day mission trip to see Pamoza’s work in action and to participate in some of their projects in a community called Zowe. I saw firsthand how so many lives in this community have been improved by the work that Pamoza is doing there. Seeing what I saw gave me hope that together, we can provide people in Malawi with even more resources to help them grow. I met a woman named Witness in a village in Malawi. Witness lives with her husband, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in a tiny brick house. She has severe health challenges and was abandoned by her son. Like most rural Malawians, she lives off of what she grows, but this year, she will only have enough food for six months. With all of her struggles, Witness still had a smile on her face and graciously welcomed us into her home. Why? Because Pamoza’s programs have made her life a little less rough. When Witness was unable to attend church because of pain in her legs, Pamoza started a Bible study group in her own village so she wouldn’t have to walk so far and could still connect with others. Witnesses can receive medical care at a Pamoza-supported clinic near her village so they don’t have to walk to the nearest hospital six miles away. Witness is just one example of a woman whose life has been changed and enriched by Pamoza’s presence in her community. I went to Malawi with an open mind and an open heart. I came back determined to make a difference for people like Witness. Pamoza needed more funds to continue to make a difference in Malawi. Therefore, I decided to organize a Gala Fundraiser. I was responsible for all aspects of this gala. For those who don’t know, a gala is a giant benefit event to celebrate an organization’s work and inspire others to continue supporting their work. I took on this challenge at the beginning of my junior year. I started off by finding a venue and creating a budget. I visited many places that I thought would be a good fit and eventually chose one that would be the most profitable. I then secured sponsorships, invited guests, and found raffle items, silent auction items, a band, a keynote, a photo booth, etc. I organized volunteers, created the event booklet, marketed the event, and finally designed the layout for the evening itself. Through all of my responsibilities, the hardest part was managing my school work and organizing a gala. Junior year has been said to be the most difficult year of high school and I agree with that statement. While I still ended the year with a 4.03 GPA, I struggled to maintain the high standards that I set for myself. I was constantly stressed, but always reminded myself of my purpose for hosting this event. I knew exactly the impact I could make. This event was a huge success. 200 people attended the event and $31,000 were raised. Attendees were inspired by the speakers to continue working with Pamoza International. (please note this is a bi-annual event)”
What have you learned from organizing that gala?
“By organizing this event, I learned that I am capable of more than I thought I was. During the event I took a step back and looked at what I accomplished. I saw people laughing and listening. I saw joy and in the attendees’ eyes. I took it all in. I learned that I can truly make a difference in people’s lives. I learned that leadership is a responsibility in which one must take initiative in their own daily life to be able to delegate, inspire, and create change. If young people realize this and start to work towards a simple goal of leadership then he or she can be an exemplary leader. When I think about the way that I want to live my life, three things come to mind: integrity, honesty, and concern for others. I want to be a role model and do the right thing when no one is watching without the need for recognition. I want to speak the truth in the hopes that I can spread a positive message to the world. I want to show care for anyone who crosses my path no matter their color, age, shape, or size. I feel that I enhanced these skills through the organization of this event. I crave this feeling; the feeling that I can do anything.”
In what ways has organizing that gala allowed you to achieve your dreams?
“The funds raised went to continuing Pamoza’s programs in agriculture, entrepreneurship, health, education, and christian outreach. One of the biggest projects that these funds went towards building a skills center in Malawi. This skills center provided villagers the opportunity to learn or improve on a trade that can help them to make a living. I can proudly say that this skills center is on its way and villagers are already learning new skills like sewing and carpentry. The villagers now have the opportunity to learn a skill that they can make a living off of. The funds also went to bringing a nurse to the village of Zowe. The nurse is now living in Zowe and able to tend to all the ill in the community. The health of the community will increase because they now have more access to affordable healthcare. People here in the United States were inspired to continue giving to Pamoza so that they can continue to improve their initiatives. I believe that through this Gala I did change someone’s world. I gave many people access to healthcare which can save their lives. I provided them with greater access to education, which in turn can help them have opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. Knowing that I can actually make a difference motivates me to continue to work towards fulfilling my dreams.”
Anna, you are truly an inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and advice with Teen Mindset Magazine. You stated in response to one of the questions that you wanted to be a role model. Rest assured that you are a phenomenal for all who read this interview. Keep achieving your passions and enabling others to do so as well!
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