The root of happiness

Ashley Muller reflects on the experiences which have shaped her passion to work for change.

I have a unique multicultural identity – born in Canada, raised in Taiwan, speaking Mandarin and holding a Swiss passport.

We moved to Taiwan when I was nine. Part of my parents’ motivation was to expose our family to cultural values different from the individualistic approach of the West. This desire stemmed from my dad’s experiences in the 1970s.

My dad was a professional football player, with celebrity status. After becoming a Christian at university, he volunteered with World Vision during the football off-season. He spent three months working with refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge in camps on the Thai-Cambodia border. As a way of furthering reconciliation, he organized sports matches between refugees in different camps. Each match was followed by a time of fellowship, relationship-building, and reflection; and he saw the first steps of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation begin. The suffering he saw in the camps shaped who he is today.

I have not stopped travelling since we went to Taiwan. I have already been to 25 countries. When I was 16 and 17 I took part through my school in two community development projects in the Philippines. We built an orphanage in Mindanao; we worked in orphanages in Manila; we built a community centre in a shanty-town outside Malaybalay; and we ran clinics and sports camps in slums on different islands.

These families lived on less than a dollar a day, but the children were smiling, jumping and dancing at the sight of a foreigner. How could they be so happy when they had nothing? Eventually, I had a revelation – it was not the things in my life that should make me happy, but the joy of being in relationship with others. The joy of these people was contagious. I couldn’t help noticing that it was not I who was there to help them, but they who were helping me.

When I was 18, I returned to Canada, and took a gap year in a justice-themed training programme. Our team facilitated workshops on womens’ rights and on freedom of expression and religion in Morocco, China, the Netherlands and Japan. The year inspired me to centre my life on addressing injustice.

Since September I have been working full time with Initiatives of Change. I resonate with its vision of inspiring individual transformation to foster global change and its emphasis on open and transparent intercultural communication. Where there is inspiration, there is challenge, and where there is challenge, there is growth. Growth is an absolute if one wants to be effective in making a
difference in the world.

Photo credit: Kara Fox

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