She Is Here: Journey Of Barbara Arredondo
Posted by Bela Shah on May 9, 2012
In 2009, after watching an REM concert, the lyrics of “Everybody Hurts” were still playing in her mind when Barbara Arredondo boarded a bus to return to her hotel. But as soon as she stepped onto the bus, she knew it was going to crash. The voice of reason told her she was crazy, and so she collapsed into a seat near the front with her friend against all of her mother’s warnings about sitting in the front of the bus. Not soon after the bus started up the road, it collided with an oncoming truck.
This type of premonition has characterized Barbara’s life since she was six years old. Since that young age, something inside told her that she was meant to give back to the world, she just didn’t know how or what. When Barbara was 22 years old, she went through a six month period of little or no sleep, troubled by a fear that she couldn’t explain. It was only after searching deep within herself when she realized that her fear was a reaction to a truth that was finally emerging from the darkness. The truth was that the time had come for Barbara to begin making her contribution, even if she didn’t know how or where to begin. Gazing into the universe, she asked for one thing. “Please help me meet the people I have to meet in order to facilitate the work I’m supposed to do because I know I can’t do it myself. Show me the way, I will follow, and I am ready.” That night, for the first time in six months, she smiled from the light of this knowledge and she was able to shut off the bright lights in her room as she fell asleep. But it wasn’t until after the bus accident, when Barbara was almost 26 years old, that the universe delivered the person she was supposed to meet. And that’s when everything shifted.
In 2009 Barbara had the opportunity to interview Zainab Salbi, the founder of Women for Women International. After learning about her incredible story, Barbara felt so inspired to share Zainab’s experience beyond an article that she called her parents and told them that she was going to organize a peace conference. Of course they laughed good-naturedly and asked how on earth a journalist of 26 years was going to organize a conference! Answer: Barbara had no idea.
In Mexico, when the drug war started in 2006, Monterrey had been known as the safest city. Three years into the war, Monterrey had become one of the most dangerous. Horrible stories about killings and kidnaps on the news pervaded conversations at work, at coffee shops, and at home. People were overridden with a fear so palpable that almost 1000 families had moved away. Barbara thought, “How will we ever overcome this situation if everything we are being fed is directed and controlled by fear?” After interviewing Zainab, she realized that what was needed was a physical space where people could come together, share, and connect with each other; a safe space where people could open their hearts to each other.
After thinking about it for months, Barbara took a leap of faith and emailed Zainab’s agent and other inspiring people she had met or interviewed in the past. She told them that she was organizing an “event”, even though at the time, the idea was just a seed in her heart. The email invitees included His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kim Phuc, among many others. They all magically said yes.
After working nonstop for six months, with a maximum of 4 hours of sleep a night, a few days before the conference, Barbara was lying in bed with a huge smile on her face. Her mother commented that she looked like the cat in “Alice in Wonderland.” “In a way, I knew before it even happened what each and every one of the people invited would come to share, how the audience would receive them, and how it would change their lives.” She told the speakers before they even came that it would be the best event that they would ever participate in, and afterwards, they all agreed with her. They commented that they had never been to a conference that felt so intimate, even though there were thousands of people. “I just wanted everyone to feel at home. Usually, at these conferences, we put these people that we’re listening to at a higher level that is so far from us. As a journalist designing a conference, I asked, “How can we bring everyone to the human level of really listening to our stories?”
At the conference, Kim Phuc shared her deeply poignant story of meeting the man who had dropped the napalm bomb in her village of Vietnam. And after meeting him face to face, Kim Phuc forgave him. In response to her speech, a huge line of people queued up to speak with her and hug her. One woman waited for an hour, and when she reached Kim, she said, “After hearing your story, I’m going to go home and call my best friend who I haven’t spoken with in over 15 years and I’m going to forgive her.”
After watching these types of interactions, Barbara reaffirmed this truth: “The real work has to start form inside. Everyone in Mexico was talking about drug cartels and the name of this political party or that party and I just thought that change had to start from inside, with us. Sometimes we want to assume this expertise, we read the papers and we all have an opinion and we point fingers, but I learned the responsibility that each and every one of us has in creating that safe space, because I really don’t think it helps a lot in just blaming the other.”
How was a 26 year old journalist from Monterrey able to pull this off? Many people asked Barbara that same question at the conference. Her response: “I sent out a lot of emails.” Barbara did send out a lot of emails, but she did it in faith. In her mind, even when designing a conference for 6000 people with guests such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Barbara was still a journalist. When building the website and writing its content, she thought, “I’m just writing an article.” And when designing the content for the program, she viewed it like storytelling. “I thought about curating the conference in way that asked, what do I want people to listen to first? It was kind of like writing a play; it’s very magical because you already kind of know what is going to happen next but then when you listen to the audience and feel their response, it’s amazing when you hear their standing ovations!”
In her blog, Barbara recently said, “I have dedicated my life’s work to inspire others to find their own potential. I have dedicated my life’s work to restore peace in my city and my country. My life’s work is only 5 years old. It is innocent, playful, unfiltered, determined, and honest, which naturally reminds me of my childhood.”
Someone asked what keeps Barbara honest. “I make decisions based on the heart and I’ve learned how to recognize this space of my ego, from where fear originates. I know it’s an honest decision when it’s coming from the heart and not the ego.” She explained that before, when she wrote, she would always think about how the reader would feel or perceive her writing. But someone advised her not to think about that at all. This very wise person told Barbara, “If it’s flowing from the heart, just keep on writing and when you think about someone else’s response, just don’t. Just keep going back to your heart.” Now when she checks in with herself, Barbara does a similar thing. In this process, she learned that she was very judgmental toward herself. “I don’t want that anymore, it’s not good. I used to say, “I shouldn’t have done this or said this, and it was never anything wrong or bad but I was judging myself once again. The kind of checking in that I’m doing now is making sure that I’m embracing myself as well and that I’m comfortable with who I am and why I’m taking certain decisions.”
“We’re an orchestra…if I’m a guitar pretending to be a drum it’s not going to work. I finally embodied what I came here to do. It’s an everyday job, but I keep honest by checking in with myself every night. I’ve had this smile on my face constantly and that’s how I know. When I’m just walking down street and I’m smiling and people smile back because they feel this happy person walking down the street, that’s how I know.”
Barbara’s heart has guided her through the design of a very special series in the upcoming months, titled “I Am Here”. In her words, the series is “an ongoing journey to discover who we are and what we came here to do.” The first edition “Discover the She in Us” is a 5-month series featuring 10 noteworthy female speakers who will address 350 women in Monterrey, Mexico. What better way to close this introduction of this illustrious young woman than with this intention for “I Am Here”: “Move past the imagined borders and limits of fear…and learn that the gift of love is nothing but the joy of giving.”
And as we all continue our journeys, discovering our purpose during our limited time on Earth and moving past our imagined borders, may we all dance, dance, dance in the midst of loving and giving.
Barbara Arredondo is a noted cultural curator and journalist in peacebuilding. Her work has taken her to dozens of countries and has resulted in profiles of a number of her generation’s most promising peace-builders. Though young in age, she managed to gather 6,000 peacemakers in her hometown of Monterrey, Mexico for a weekend of intensive conferences and workshops with notables ranging from the Dalai Lama to Iraqi-born women’s activist Zainab Salbi. Barbara worked as content director for the Second & Third Worldwide Meeting on Human Values (EMV2011.org) and has advised diverse projects and events such as the Lincoln Center Institute’s Imagination Summit and the Newark Peace and Education Summit.
In her own words, she says "I have dedicated my life’s work to inspire others to find their own potential. I have dedicated my life’s work to restore peace in my city and my country. My life’s work is only 5 years old. It is innocent, playful, unfiltered, determined, and honest, which naturally reminds me of my childhood."