Perhaps one of the bitterest pills I have had to swallow after deciding to serve as an Atlas Corps Fellow was that of living on a stipend. Yes, I was very much aware of what the stipend was prior to my application and yes, I paid attention during the ‘living on a stipend 101’ presentation as part of our orientation. I conditioned my mind, and I put my project management skills to work and did a one year strategic plan- [(A to Z) 2 of living on a stipend]. I patted myself on the shoulders with the confidence that I was well equipped to do this. As with all projects I’ve managed in the past, one will never be able to plan for the actual realities during execution. So there have been a lot of adjustment to the plans, constantly refining and plenty of lessons learned.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected lessons I’ve learned so far, is how humbling of an experience it has been. I’ve long believed in and, preached to my peers about living within one’s means; but, until now, I don’t think I quite understood what it really meant to live within ones means- doing much with little and still be truly happy. Over the past few months, I’ve come to enjoy myself [life] in a totally different way than I had grown accustomed to; I’ve re-discovered a more authentic joy, that of my childhood- a happiness that is derived internally and not from external sources.
I’ve become more empathetic and more driven to play my part in helping to alleviate poverty. If I thought of myself as a compassionate being before, these past few months have reminded of my up bringing, memories of mother doing much with little, of the lie I’ve told myself about not liking humanity, of why I decided serve. Having had to refine my plans, and juggle between obligations here and back home, I constantly think about the realities of persons who have to survive on no stipend; who unlike me, it’s not a choice. I’ve become more grateful, grateful that for me it’s a choice; grateful that at least I have a stipend that covers basic necessities.
I’ve become more resourceful and creative reconfirming my belief that some of the most resourceful persons in this world are those with little or nothing. It has renewed my belief in the human spirit
It has helped me to develop deep and meaningful friendships in a culture [quite different from mine] where friendship [like most everything] seems to be tied to happy hour or some other social event.
It has helped to reconfirmed who I am- I’m a humanitarian. A giver, I give not because I have it to give, but because I want to give. So from my stipend, I still give to those in need.
So while the list of cons is never ending, the pros, for me, are priceless.