Global Citizens On The Move

The Story Of Me Is The Story Of Us: How Ash Got Moving

written by Ash Shah herself

Before we develop an understanding of our race, our gender, our passions, our family histories and so on, the red thread that weaves itself through all our lives is the shared experience of being a human first. We’re all born as global citizens, but it takes us a while to learn the ropes. There’s a vast number of ways in which different individuals contribute to different causes and our goal is to help you discover a version of global citizenship that is unique to you! In this article, The Global Citizen Movement’s own Aishwarya Shah talks about her journey with global citizenship and outlines her practice.

The origin story

Did I come into this world knowing the first thing about global citizenship? Absolutely not. I went from being a hormone-filled knot of confusion that sought respite in dead philosophers and self-administered bangs to a hormone-filled knot of confusion that presently seeks respite in climbing trees, female-driven fiction and metal straws. How I achieved relative peace with myself and what I wanted to do was through the road oft taken: a Liberal Arts degree.

At uni, I channelled the guilt of my privilege in certain aspects of life as well as the frustration of my lack of privilege in others, into the study of Philosophy. Therein, I grew interested in the changing landscape of values. Tech, data, ecology, ethics, morality - these became my top concerns. Not only was it a welcome relief from pondering the mellifluous minds of twenty-something year old men, but it also gave me the theoretical framework to cast myself in the role of an actionary, an agent, someone that could actually immerse myself in the world and contribute to change. The hair is indisputably better off too.

When I began to travel, I was able to take these theoretical goals and put them into direct practice. I was able to see firsthand that the sum total of academic jargon that I had been paying lip-service to for years really only boiled down to the tenet of compassion. I remembered the first lessons in compassion I had received early in my childhood. They came from my grandfather. He worked hard and earned money only so that he could give more of it away. From him, I learned that giving doesn’t half your bounty but doubles it. This has helped me stay moored to my core - I appreciate theoretical knowledge but I will always bat for the team that engages in genuine, heartfelt, ordinary-looking compassionate practice.

The storyteller’s tale

After university, I took the gruelling but entirely rewarding decision to live my life without a singular place to call home. I hit the road with a backpack, a vague understanding of Marxist theory and a determination to find somewhere I truly belonged. My work first led me through Goa, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Subsequently, the ability to work remotely gave me the opportunity to backpack through Europe and get voluntarily stuck in Lombok during the pandemic.

In all of this, the milestones in my travels were the places that took me in, gave me a temporary home and allowed me to be a part of their story. Connecting with various communities kept me grounded, kept me sane and allowed me to both give and receive compassion. It also allowed the adventurous part of me to thrive as I kept getting myself into unusual situations. For work, I once had to interview a jungle reforestation community in Goa, The Tribe - I ended up staying there for months in a bamboo hut, volunteering at the project. In Budapest, I met a like-minded spirit who asked me to join him at a sustainable farmstead in Greece where we worked with people from worldover as well as fifty-five thousand goats. Over the course of the pandemic, I lived in the tiny fishing village of Gerupuk, Indonesia where the local community was at the heart of everything I did.

What is it about stories?

After years of living out of a rucksack, it struck me that the only belongings I had accumulated over time were the stories of people I had met along the way. Stories of people, stories of cities, stories of communities, stories of cultures. As humans moving through the sweep of our lives, we don’t engage with facts and figures. We engage with the fiction we weave around them. When I bridge-jumped in South Africa, I didn’t remember it as “the time I took a 216 m leap off a bridge”, but rather, I remembered the friends I was with, I remembered the Lady Gaga tunes that were playing on the speakers, I remembered dancing with the ecstatic staff and jumping off the bridge with a manic smile on my face.

Moments make up stories which make up lives. The same holds true for how we engage with concepts and ideas. We might have a desire to contribute to the world in a grandiose sense, but it is the details that make up the plot. So we might not see ours as a particularly heroic arc, but we don’t have to. We just have to notice the details and allow the story to emerge.

I came back to India and joined hands with Rosa to co-found The Global Citizen Movement, which is very much a culmination of all the areas in which I have found myself flourishing over the years. Now my bags are packed for another stint in Europe. None of my outlandish experiences were part of any plan. They happened because I said yes to a much larger way of life, accepted the uncertainty and the inconsistency of that path and let the tenant of compassionate action guide me.

Since I didn’t have any one place to call home, my heart was wide open. I could participate in any community that inspired and welcomed me. Everything I do is underpinned by this instinct: coming together with those that are moving the world in a similar direction and coming together with love. It was only by staying open to adventure that I was able to arrive at a global citizenship practice that felt true to who I am and allowed me to do good in the world.

My advice to global citizens

I am lucky enough to make a career out of my global citizenship practice. Finding a business model that enhances stories and is fuelled by compassion is no easy feat. And yet, I get to wake up every day and engage with inspiring people who are all trying to shape the future of their cities through compassionate action. I never intended to become an entrepreneur, but here I am, with a business card and a story to tell.

I found global citizenship uniquely empowering because I was able to construct my practice around something that came naturally to me - storytelling. Reality can often be stranger than fiction and occasionally, it can be more beautiful too. When I interact with the world and the people in it through their narratives, I have a sense of collectively surging towards the common goal of compassionate action. We are all minute plot points on the arc of change. The story of me is the story of us.

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